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valerie wu
li kane

what have you learned about yourself? what have you learned about someone else?

li kane

I’ve learned that even when you think that you’ve mastered something, or you think that you know all there is to know about something you’ve known basically since birth, there’s always that one angle or perspective that you haven’t considered yet. I’ve always thought about my adoption as something simple—a given, really. But when I was interviewed and asked about being raised by parents who are not the same race as I am, I stopped for a second. I had never really heard anyone else phrase it that way, and it got my attention. Interviewing helped me realize that talking to someone who you don’t know very well can help you learn more about yourself. Respectively, I’ve learned from Valerie to see writing more as a form of communication than I had previously thought to. Listening to how she uses writing and sees it as a way to communicate with people made me consider writing in a different light from how I usually think of it, and it was refreshing to see so many new perspectives, both about myself and Valerie.

valerie wu

In this interview in particular, I thought that it was especially essential to explore the nuances of identity in its many forms. Li, despite also being Chinese American, grew up in an environment that’s incredibly different from mine, and so having this opportunity to interview her really challenged me to think about limitations and how we can find the commonality between two stories--similar to the intersection of a Venn diagram. Without taking the initiative to ask these questions, I would never have formed these connections and emerged a more sensitive, aware person because of it. Without having this conversation, I wouldn’t have begun to understand the process of experience, and its wider implications in culture and identity as a whole.





 

 Artwork by Valerie! 

Artwork by Valerie! 

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interview excerpts

valerie interviews li

VALERIE:
Growing up Chinese in a white family, how do you think your perception of culture and/or personal identity has been influenced by that? How has that experience shaped you?

LI:
I definitely think it’s important to note that growing up, I’ve not really been able to talk to my family about culture. It’s not something that is accessible to me because it’s not something that my parents would understand or could serve as a primary source for, and that’s really made it more difficult to learn about my Chinese heritage and identity, even with going on trips for adopted children in China with my parents, which produces a second hand knowledge of culture. But I think that as an Asian American, not living in an Asian household means that I’m really able to see those generational and cultural differences a bit more--it gives me two perspectives, because I’m both a part of [white culture] and removed from it.

VALERIE:
What do you usually like to write about, or would like to further explore and why?

LI:
What’s really interesting to me is this idea of world-building, which I think is so empowering because it gives you the freedom to create your own setting. Whatever you say goes and to have that kind of control over your own narrative is something you don’t find in writing about real things. So I think world-building--or magical realism--gives you this kind of power over your own story and you can be whoever you want to be. It’s also really creative in that it brings your own personal perspective into the abstract. So it’s definitely fascinating to me how you can create your own world and its implications at the same time.

Li interviews Valerie

LI:
What about Asian American literature in particular interested you and led you to this program?

VALERIE:
I’ve done a few creative writing programs before, and they were predominately white. When I was prompted to reflect on or share a particular experience and I discussed my Chinese American identity, no one else really had any idea what I was talking about. I wanted to find a community with people who could relate to what I was writing about.

LI:
As a writer, what do you struggle with most?

VALERIE:
I really try not to fetishize my own identity. I feel like a lot of the time when you write about Chinese American culture, you don't get greater recognition or validation by people outside of the Asian American writing community unless you’re writing about something like dragons or oxtail soup. I’d like to write more about my own communities and experiences, which aren’t necessarily exotic.