Today we welcome author, Wai Chim to the draft table. Her motivation to write Freedom Swimmer, stems from the little known history of her father and the need to understand more about the horrific events that took place during the period of China’s Cultural Revolution. Here is her story about his story.
Writing my father’s story
As a child, my father’s journey from a poor farming village near Shenzhen to ultimately living and working in a small Chinese restaurant in Long Island was fascinating to me. But for the most part, he was tight lipped about his past. While I can recount so much detail about my mother’s family and her childhood in Hong Kong (from her primary school friends to how she was always in the trouble with my grandmother) – I knew very little about my father’s past.
Part of this was because he was pretty much the typical ‘Asian dad’ – quiet, emotionally distant and he didn’t talk about his feelings or say much about his life.
Back then, I could probably tell you three things about his life in China:
- His parents had passed away when he about sixteen and he only had a younger sister left in China
- His family had been very, very, very poor
- As a teenager he had left his village and made the swim to Hong Kong
I was particularly fascinated by ‘the swim’, probably because I was (and still am) such a terrible swimmer. I knew from a very young age that ‘the swim’ was an important part of his life story – and that terrible things must have happened for him to have made that choice.
A large part of my initial inspiration and motivation for writing Freedom Swimmer was to come closer to understanding my father’s history and this important piece of his past. However as I started writing, it became so much more than that.
My father was a great resource and opened up about a lot of the details of his life, but through my research, I found out there was so much more going on behind the scenes. My father and his family suffered greatly as a direct result of some of the horrible policies that were put in place at the national level. The events that transpired weren’t isolated to my family, a single village or even one particular region. An estimated 45 million deaths occurred as a result of the manmade famine caused by Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward while millions more suffered at hands the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.
And like my father, the people who went through it all simply weren’t talking about it.
I was shocked. The loud-mouthed, ‘my first amendment rights are sacred’ American in me was floored that that this had happened and people like my dad were just keeping quiet. As I delved deeper and deeper into the past, I wanted to wrap my arms around the young boy that was my father and cocoon him from some of the tragedies of his past.
My father, of course, is an incredibly strong and amazing man – he couldn’t have made it this far if he wasn’t. And it was because of his dreams of a better life, of finding better opportunity for himself and his future that I can even be sitting here today, writing a book based on his past. That I could be so shocked by some of the things I learned, and that all of his suffering is completely unfathomable compared to the silly #firstworldproblems that I complain about.
And for that, I am eternally grateful.
Thank you Wai.
Read the full review of Freedom Swimmer, here.