On February 16, 2019, nearly 100 people packed the I Street Conference Center in DC Chinatown for our monthly Talk Story event: we were honored to host a special guest, author and activist Helen Zia, as our speaker. Zia is in the midst of a national tour promoting her newest book, Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution. Her remarks and the excerpts she read exposed the inherited trauma of intergenerational memory in the Chinese diaspora, underscoring the importance of telling stories and sharing memories to identity.
Reflecting on a project of over a decade, Zia shared challenges and highlights of the research process, with one particularly moving story of a childhood horror experienced, but never-before shared, by her own mother. The discoveries, revealed piece-by-piece, shaped Zia’s understanding of an underrepresented history of diaspora and refuge flowing out of Shanghai in the late 1940s.
Questions and comments from the large crowd touched on questions of Zia’s writing and research process, as well as intersectional elements of this history with other groups, such as the Jewish refugees resettled in Shanghai after WWII as a “port of last resort.”
The event as a whole emphasized the urgency of creating spaces in which communities can tell their own stories and the broader importance of documenting, preserving, and interpreting the Chinese diaspora and Chinese American experience. The moments shared between Zia and her mother also only emphasize to those of us at the 1882 Foundation the need for the stories of Chinese American women to be remembered and shared, which has led to us our planning of the Chinese American Women in History Conference on October 24-25. Part of the conference, which seeks to engage scholars studying topics related to Chinese American women’s history, will also incorporate a story-share session through our Talk Story public programs on October 26, 2019. We hope that members of the community feel comfortable in opening up to themselves and each other in pursuit of a deeper understanding of the experience for Chinese American women.
Watch the live stream of the event on the 1882 Foundation Facebook page.