Local author Wei Wei releases new memoir, ‘Tracing Our Footsteps: Fifteen Tales of Hope, Struggle, and Triumph’
Wei Wei emigrated from China to the United States more than 30 years ago as an international student. Now she is a Fellow of the Special Libraries Association and the former Engineering Librarian at UC Santa Cruz, but she admits that, due to cultural differences, it took her almost 30 years to feel like the U.S., and particularly the West Coast, was home.
Wei Wei’s father, Yong Da Wei, journeyed to America much later in life, following the death of her mother in 2004. She had been his soulmate, and now Yong Da would start a new life in a foreign land with his daughter, Wei, and his granddaughter, whom he hadn’t seen since she was an infant.
“Aged and brokenhearted, Dad was trying to pick up the pieces, and joined me in California looking for a new beginning,” Wei writes in the introduction to her new memoir, “Tracing Our Footsteps: Fifteen Tales of Hope, Struggle and Triumph.”
Wei says she wanted to share her father’s countless stories about life in China and their family’s cultural heritage, but wasn’t sure how to weave them into a book. Eventually a friend suggested she combine her story with her father’s, and she ran with the idea.
“Tracing Our Footsteps” is not just the story of an Asian immigrant family, or a small community from China. It is a story of political tensions, cultural and generational gaps, and the universal struggle of immigrants who come to the U.S., says Wei.
“As I started reading and doing research, all of a sudden I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute, this is not my story; this is the story for a lot of people like me,’” she adds. “This is a story about people from everywhere. If you think about the United States, we have a diverse population—people from everywhere. This is a story about people from Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America. We are all similar; we have similar issues.”
It is also a love story. Chapter two is titled “Love Had Everything to Do With It,” and catalogues the unconditional love Wei’s parents shared.
“I always wonder if one can truly love another human being unconditionally and unselfishly. ... As I think about my parents’ journey through life together, I begin believing in the existence of such a wonder,” she writes. “The love between them was not dramatic and short-lived like a fireworks display, but one of enduring permanence, like the predictable bloom of flowers in spring.”
Wei says her father’s transition to the U.S. was challenging. Not only did he leave behind the love of his life, but he had to adjust to an entirely foreign culture.
“When we reconnected with each other, we had very different outlooks,” Wei says. “So I was more comfortable as an older immigrant here. Even eating—the way of life—for him everything is new, it’s different. He doesn’t speak a word of English, right? He prefers Chinese food, he prefers reading everything in Chinese.”
In the chapter titled “Bowl of Noodles,” Wei uses food preferences as an allegory to discuss the age and cultural gaps between her daughter—who was born in the U.S. and doesn’t speak Chinese or enjoy Chinese food—and her very Chinese father.
At one point, she comically discusses the day her father took a liking to Costco pizzas, “...most likely because it reminded him of Chinese pancakes.”
Continuing a story about her father's love of eating Chinese noodles, she writes, "One cannot try to substitute or improve upon a simple bowl of noodles that is steeped in the sauces of memory and culture."
Since English is her second language, and she’d never written a memoir before, Wei sought the advice of friends and colleagues while writing. She wanted to find a voice that was true to her Chinese roots, but made sense in English.
“My editor was a friend of mine, and originally I’m thinking, ‘You're going to have to edit my book to be exactly like what white people are writing,’” she says, laughing. “But my editor friend said, ‘No, no, no, you have to find your own voice that’s like you.’”
Wei stumbled upon an academic article titled, “Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach,” which she says proved to be very helpful.
“Writing English, of course, is somewhat a challenge, but amazingly I found that I really enjoyed the writing process,” she says. “Every day I would sit there at the computer to write, it was kind of like therapy.”
The series of experiences woven throughout Wei’s memoir come together in a profoundly human tale. Near the end, she writes:
“Although China, the place I once called ‘home sweet home,’ has changed dramatically, I haven’t changed with it.” She continues, “I cannot predict what lies in my future. One thing I am sure of is, I have not yet reached my final destination.”
‘Tracing Our Footsteps: Fifteen Tales of Hope, Struggle, and Triumph’ by Wei Wei is available for purchase at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. 423-0900.
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