Two Revolutions, Many Secrets

This is the stories of two women refugees, one who fled Shanghai during Mao’s Chinese revolution, and the other, my grandmother, who escaped the Bolshevik Revolution and Ukrainian pogroms. Both had secrets they held onto for years until, in an extraordinary turn of events, one opened up to her daughter, and the other to me, her granddaughter. These stories explore the question: when immigrants flee trauma and loss, what stories get told and passed on in families, and what remains unspoken, kept hidden in silence? What healing can happen in families when the past is finally revealed?

I interviewed Helen Zia about her mother’s story for this program. I recorded my grandma Katie in 1976 on a home cassette recorder. I was 25 at the time and she was in her early 70s. Thank goodness the cassette survived to be digitized. You will hear my young, higher pitched voice with a heavier New Jersey accent. Enjoy!

Helen Zia is a Chinese-American journalist and activist for Asian American and LGBTQ rights. She is the former Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine, and author of several books, including Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People. As a Fulbright scholar, Helen interviewed over 100 Chinese emigres who were among the great exodus fleeing Shanghai in 1949. Her research led to the book Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution. Her mother is one of four main characters in that book.

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