Author proves old cliché wrong
He joked that decades ago, most people knew what the expression “a Chinaman’s chance” meant — no chance in hell. But Eric Liu has spared no effort to prove the cliché wrong, as have 4 million other Chinese Americans.
With his mom’s gleaming smile in the audience at the Politics and Prose Bookstore on Wednesday evening, Eric Liu proudly talked about his newly published book, A Chinaman’sChance:OneFamily’s JourneyandtheChineseAmerican Dream.
Liu is no stranger to dealing with audiences. He served as President Bill Clinton’s speechwriter from 1993 through 1994. He is also the founder of Citizen University, a nonprofit organization that teaches the practice and art of being an effective citizen in America. Liu has thought deeply about what “a Chinaman’s chance” is — to serve a larger community and culture.
“I founded Citizen University because I feel right now in America people are forgetting how to participate, how to influence policy and politics, and they are forgetting they have the opportunity and therefore the obligation to express their voice,” he said.
Because of their forgetting, there is a need to create a culture in America for people to want to do these things again, he said.
Liu’s parents were both born and grew up in China. Later his parents moved to Taiwan and then to the US. Liu was born in Poughkeepsie, New York. Liu graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School.
However, his journey to these accomplishments was not smooth. Growing up in a Chinese household, he often worried about his family and his obligation to them.
“My father was very sick much of his life,” Liu said. “So I started to develop a sense of the responsibility to take care of my family as a child.” He took care of his father by helping him maintain the appearance of not being sick, because his father was a proud man and didn’t want people outside the family to know he was ill.
Liu lost his father at the age of 22. However, his life had already been infused with a deep sense of responsibility.
When asked by China Daily if, being so accomplished, he had a tiger mother growing up, he burst into laughter, saying, “Quite opposite of a tiger mother!”
Liu said his mother was open and caring, mixing both Chinese and Western ideas in parenting. “When she saw I was interested in something, she would direct lots of resources and attention there,” he said.
When he showed an interest in drawing, his mother took young Liu to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Later, when Liu showed an interest in music, she got him a great violin teacher. Liu said he is definitely not a big fan of tiger parenting.
“It limits the ability of a kid to identify his own sense of internal motivation,” Liu said. “For my family, I will do the best I can do to pass on what my mother passed on to me.”
Eric Liu, founder of Citizen University and speechwriter for former president Bill Clinton