In celebration of the release of Red Eggs and Good Luck: A Memoir, here’s a Q&A with Angela Lam, the author:
1. One of the first scenes in your memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck, describes your experience, at eleven years old, being taken to get a makeover–a face makeup application and your hair cut and permed–by your father, “to look American, like [your mother].” How did that experience shape your self-esteem and sense of identity, as a young girl?
(AL) That experience made me feel inadequate and ugly. It wasn’t enough to be who I was. I had to enhance what I was given in order to attract attention, affection, and love. Later in life, I broke up with men who wanted me to wear more makeup than I was comfortable wearing. I ended up marrying a man who doesn’t care that I don’t wear any makeup at all.
2. As the daughter of a Chinese immigrant father and an American (caucasian) mother, it feels as if you are born into distant worlds. Did you ever feel conflicted about your Chinese heritage and your American heritage, and whether to be proud or ashamed of your multicultural background?
(AL) I always felt ashamed and misunderstood about being both Chinese and Caucasian. I never felt like I fit into either world. I was half of this and half of that, never a whole person. It’s easier now to accept both sides of my upbringing, but the world is a more accepting place than it was in the 1970’s.
3. Your father constantly strives for perfection–for his family to be “American,” and for you all to “keep up with the Jones.'” What do you think pushed him down that unattainable path as you were growing up?
(AL) American movies inspired my father to be “American” and to “keep up with the Jones.” All movies end with everyone living happily-ever-after. American movies showed him that if he just fit in, then he would be happy.
4. You are the oldest of three girls in your family. In Chinese culture, girls are frowned upon and boys are held up on pedestals. When did you first recognize that the lack of boys in your family was causing issues for your father and your father’s family? How did it make you feel?
(AL) I realized the lack of boys in my family was causing problems when my grandmother, Mah-Mah, stayed with us. She constantly bickered with my father in Cantonese. When my youngest sister was born, Mah-Mah removed the diaper to verify the baby’s gender. She was highly disappointed that my father never gave her a grandson. Their relationship affected me indirectly. Because my father didn’t feel complete love and acceptance from his mother, it was hard for him to give it to my sisters and me.
5. Your mother struggled with weight and self-esteem issues. As a girl, did you recognize signs that she may have been suffering? How did her self-esteem and weight issues impact you?
(AL) I just remember my mother being the most beautiful sad woman in the world. Her self-esteem and weight issues led me down a rocky road toward anorexia, bulimia, and overeating. I still struggle with my weight and self-esteem and never feel quite as beautiful as I am told I am.
6. Talk about the roles that art, writing, and faith, played in your life? How did each help you through hardships, as you were growing up?
(AL) Art, writing, and faith sustained me as I grew up. Through art, I was able to express my feelings. Through writing, I was able to rewrite my life into the way I always imagined it should be. And faith gave me hope that I would one day have the power to transcend my circumstances and create the life I wanted for me.