Author shares immigrant writings
Published: Friday, February 28, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 28, 2014 18:02
The Friends of the Contra Costa College Library and Poets & Writers, Inc., hosted an Author Talk event in the Library and Learning Resource Center Saturday.
The Author Talk’s guest of honor was author Andrew Lam, known for writing about the immigrant experience in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Lam read several passages from his three books and discussed his cultural upbringing and feelings of alienation at a young age.
“My work is very pro-immigrant experience and it has always shown immigrant experience and how that can change people’s experiences when arriving in a new country,” he said.
Lam’s latest work, “Birds of Paradise Lost,” is a collection of short stories that focus on Vietnamese immigrants in the Bay Area. Lam was born in Vietnam and forced to move to Guam at a young age, which is when he first began to feel alienated.
“I remember one of my first times in Guam hearing about the end of the Vietnam War and being unable to return. It broke my heart at the age of 11,” he said. “It took years for me to mourn that fact and, when I got to writing, I talked about the loss of a home country through my eyes.”
He said his foray into creative writing came about when one of his English as a Second Language professors at UC Berkeley read his work and convinced him to change his major.
“And my mom didn’t like that,” he said. “She was already telling people her son was a biochemistry major at Cal.”
He mentioned how technology removed letter writing as a popular outlet for venting or voicing opinions and is now predominately relied upon by prison inmates and refugees.
“It’s unfortunate that the only people who do practice (letter writing) are the only ones who have no other way of communicating,” he said.
Lam asked the attendees to write a letter to their younger selves and to read them aloud when finished.
“Letter writing is the most natural form of writing because you’re addressing someone and you have to be true with what you feel,” he said.
Lam also said that writing fiction can contain many different forms of emotions.
“Fiction can allow you to live from the inside out. In fiction I can live all the lives, I can claim to know various perspectives,” he said.
Much of Lam’s work revolves around the perspective of a refugee migrating to the United States and the cultural shock that comes with being an immigrant.
“We build our composites on who we know and some of the time people do not like how the writer envisions them,” Lam said. “I had one uncle tell me he wouldn’t speak to me unless I vowed not to write about him anymore.”
Although this occasion marks Lam’s fourth visit to the college and the first time a workshop was included during the reading, the turnout was surprisingly low.
Library coordinator Ellen Geringer said, “The fact that (the event) was on a Saturday had a lot to do with the (low) turnout. I was really sad, I thought people would’ve liked it because we got to see lots of different sides of him as he read and spoke about writing.”
Only six people attended the event, two of whom were students of adjunct English professor Nora Kenney.
Dr. Kenney said, “I was interested in discovering his work and, as a professor, am always looking for new writers and content that would touch on the things I like to teach. It is a privilege to have this discussion here and for students to hear about the immigrant experience, independent of color.”
She said that inviting an immigrant writer is an ideal way of unifying a crowd and that there tends to be a tendency to “otherize,” or de-emphasize, strangers without knowing them, and hosting this type of event shows how much people have in common and in ancestry.
Student Audrey Webb was glad to hear Lam’s experiences.
Webb said, “People who do not know about immigration should read his stories. It’s good to hear from someone who has gone through that experience and has his own personal account.”