Stories about immigration to the United States are always compelling for the enourmous fears faced and challenges overcome by the young and old. Fleeing persecution, dodging imprisonment or death, trying to settle in a country whose language is foreign, whose landscape, ditto, whose food may be indigestible and whose customs are, at best, a muddle.
Born in the south of Vietnam in then middle of the war, Andrew Lam was 10 when the war ended and the family was forced to flee because anyone connected with the old regime faced persecution and prosecution. Had they stayed his father would have been jailed. Andres did not know what was happening but he knew he had quickly gone from riches to rags, from a privileged life to that of a pauper with three families living in a 2 bedroom apartment. One day in school in Saigon and the next day in a refugee camp.
But, he was young with a fortunate disposition, a sense of adventure and a willingness to embrace American life very quickly partly in thanks to a wonderful teacher. Witbin a year or two he became, in his mother's words, an American brat and admits to having had to change himself completely to fit in to his new life - old customs down the drain.
One of the most touching immigrant experiences, with beautiful descriptions of coping mechanisms and memories, is told by Andrew Lam in his book East Eats West, a celebration of thriving in America. To hear the specifics of how a boy takes root in foreign soil is enlightening and heart-warming. He shares insights about intellectual and visceral knowledge (the different reactions to the word "sour" in Vietnamese and English is a lesson all its own) and the challenge of becoming a writer despite parental expectations of his going to Medical School.He laughingly talks about his mother's fear they made a mistake by sending him to UC Berkeley. His mother cried. They knew of no Vietnamese writers who made a living at it. Neither did Andrew, but he resolved to try to be the first. You may well want to read this book.
I invite you to hear Andrew talk about his young life, about the un-Vietnamese concept of stress, about his not becoming a hippie as his parents feared and about his landing squarely as a writer of some significance. His modesty and laughter about his own journey, his strength and his unique view of this world is a joy. He gives the impression of having adapted fast and with glee at not only all the potential facing him but for the joy of movement itself, which he seems to do with liquid ease between countries and cultures. He sees that not only people are multi-cultural but that people themselves are now multicultural.
The freshness of Andrew’s insights and vision is rare. Andrew’s love letter, which holds so many lessons, was written posthumously to Mr. Kay, the teacher so important to Andrew when he first came to the United States. I hope you will do yourself the favor of hearing Andrew's story directly from Andrew. I hope someone will make this life into a movie.