Did you know that the stories you hear from us on NPR and our podcast are excerpts of interviews pulled from the StoryCorps Archive? Participants visit one of our recording locations with a friend or family member to record a 40-minute interview with the help of a trained StoryCorps facilitator, or record a conversation using the StoryCorps App. We’re sharing this unedited interview from the StoryCorps Archive with you in its original form.
In October 2008, Norma Mai Tsen Wang Braun talked with her friend, Dava Weinstein, about what it was like to grow up in China during World War II, her family’s emigration to the United States, and her experiences as a child of mixed race parents. Their conversation was recorded at the StoryCorps’ Lower Manhattan StoryBooth in Foley Square.
Norma remembers always having to run during her childhood: “I remember my legs weren’t long enough to run fast enough.” She shares the story of Englishman in Hong Kong who took them in, remembering that “He allowed us to stay the whole week, which is the longest we’d stayed anywhere when we were running… And the day we left was the day he was interned by the Japanese, and we never saw him again.”
She tells Dava about wandering around markets as a young child and how one day, she came across a homeless woman suffocating her baby. The woman told her, “’I was able to sell my son, but no one wants a daughter, and I can’t watch her starve to death.’”
When Norma and her family moved to the United States, her and her siblings were beaten up by the other kids in school because they “looked Asian” and “any Japanese had to be an enemy.” She recounts the story of a kind teacher who kept them after school and took it upon herself to teach all of them how to speak English: “I think these are America’s unsung heroes, our teachers.”
Throughout the conversation, Norma recalls stories about her mother’s strength and sense of humor. She tells Dava about the time her mother took over a luncheonette in Philadelphia so that her family would always have something to eat. When her customers would give her advice, Norma remembers, her mother would say, “’It’s so wonderful that you give me advice, and whenever you pay my bills, I’ll take them.’”
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