Gene Luen Yang


There are things I do that other people think are crazy but I think are totally normal. Like driving almost an hour to see an author I love and admire. (Margaret Atwood is going to be at Indiana University this week and I am seriously considering taking the day off work to drive 4 hours to Bloomington, IN to go see her!!) I suppose it all started when I began working at a school district where author visits are a regular occurrence. This was not something I had experienced when I was growing up. I think I would have passed out if I had met Ann M. Martin or Madeline L’Engle!

In the past 10 years, I have seen and heard some amazing people talk about their books. I love to hear about their writing process, their inspiration, and what they learned by writing. Libraries and bookstores are my hiding places when I need to get away from the stress of work. I don’t know what I would do without them. Reading is an escape as much as it is a way to travel to places I would otherwise never get to experience, live a life different than mine, and learn something new.
So when I heard that Gene Luen Yang was going to be within driving distance, I had to go. I have read everything he’s written and loved it all. I was especially curious to hear more about “Boxers and Saints”, which he was coming to talk about.

First of all, Arlington Heights Memorial Library, where the event was held, is an amazing library! It was my first time there and I wished I had gotten there earlier just to explore. The things that stood out to me: the kids’ section is AH-mazing, there is a computer lab but there is also tech support desk, there are places throughout the library where you can sit and eat and have a cup of coffee. I could spend all day there.

Then there was Gene Luen Yang. Some authors I’ve met are almost as awkward as I am, which makes for a painfully awkward meeting where I walk away mortified. I walked in and Gene immediately stepped forward and thanked me for coming! We chat for a few minutes and I sat down even more excited than before I had arrived. It didn’t take long to see that he was also a charismatic speaker.


He talked a little about the Boxer Rebellion, which I only knew by name. It was a very interesting mini history lesson. And I loved how he saw a connection between today’s geeks who turn to pop culture for empowerment and inspiration to the poor boys who turned to the traveling opera performers of their day.

But what struck a chord with me was how he couldn’t decide who the “heroes” were. The more he read, the more ambiguous it got. Depending on what point of view he read from, he went back and forth on who was right. Was it the Christians who thought they were trying to bring the Chinese out of the dark ages? Or was it the Chinese who were trying to defend the old way of life, their culture and history? That’s why there are two books, telling the story from two points of view. Neither is wrong or right. In the end, the outcome is the same – tragic.
Gene Luen Yang said that his inability to decide on one side of the story was due to his own ambiguity but in my opinion, this is the plight of anyone stuck between two cultures. Being first generation, children of immigrants, we are stuck between the culture of our parents and the better life in America that they came for. But what is better? My parents gave me a Korean name and refused to let me choose an American one. I hated it until I gained a better understanding why they felt the way they did. Part of me laments the fact that my children will probably have less of a tie to the Korean culture that I love so much. But then the other part of me thinks they probably have opportunities here they wouldn’t have had in Korea. Not to mention, they wouldn’t even be here since I wouldn’t have met their father if I wasn’t born and raised in the States. It’s all confusing and ambiguous. But maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. Because there’s probably a story there.

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