bigWOWO rating: Asian American Gold
In order to prevent people from buying goodwill, the new law states that bloggers have to disclose whether they received a free product when writing a review. In the case of I Love Yous are for White People, I didn’t get a free book, but Lac Su bought me a beer while we were down in LA for the Banana Conference. And no, I drank that beer right there; I’m not writing this review drunk. In any case, I want to give an unbiased critical review, so I’m going to tell you both what I liked and what I struggled with. I’ll write it in two parts. If you don’t want to read the entire review, then I’ll tell you right now that I recommend this book. Highly. I think you should buy this book. But you’ll have to check out the two parts below to find out why.
I started this book right before the Banana Conference, which was in November, and I just finished it a few days ago. That’s a lot of time to spend reading a book. With the kiddies running around, I’m used to the slower read times. Still, blaming the kiddies is only part of it. The truth was that the first 68 pages or so was hard for me to get past, mostly because the voice was hard to grasp. Was it the voice of Lac Su as he remembered being 4 years old, or was it a 30 year old Lac placing himself in the eyes of a 4 year old? The kid seemed to have a 30 year old’s sense of humor.
In Lac’s defense, it’s a hard story to tell. Our culture glorifies Horatio Alger-style struggle, and it’s all too often that we hear suburban prep school kids saying, “Yeah, I’m poor. I’m ghetto. I wear my baggy pants round my knees.” Or some young men saying, “Yeah, I was poor. I was ghetto. And now look how far I’ve come.” When I hear these guys, I always want to say, “Dude, your dad is a professor/software engineer/owner of a restaurant. You’re not poor.”
Lac’s story unfortunately was competing against this deluge of similar stories, and at times, I felt myself struggling with doubt–not so much with the facts, but with the emphasis and style–in the face of our culture’s overemphasis of rags-to-riches struggle (someday I might blog about evangelical testimonies that I’ve heard in my life…but not today). Lac’s first pages were decent, but it wasn’t until after page 68 that the human side came out.
The rest of the book was beautiful. It was a story about Lac’s family’s escape from Vietnam, and his consequent upbringing in a poor section of LA with an abusive father. Lac talks about his involvement with gangs, and how he managed to pull himself up to eventually earn a PhD. He credits his father for placing education first and making sure that Lac knew not only that he had to be smart, but that he also had to be willing to work hard.
What I loved most about the book was the love between Lac and his father. Despite the vicious beatings, Lac’s father demonstrates his love by protecting his children, and throughout the book, Lac never doubts his father’s commitment. There is one part in the book, for example, where Lac decides not to tell his father about his cousin’s pedophilic tendencies because he knows his father will kill anyone who hurts his children. Similarly, in Lac we see a child who constantly tries to earn his father’s love, who constantly tries to become the man that his father wants him to become, who endures the beatings without a word because he loves his father so much. I seriously started to have tears in my eyes at some points of the book (Keep in mind that if I were bawling in tears uncontrollably, you wouldn’t be reading about it here…or anywhere else for that matter.).
My favorite part–one which I’ve already retold to friends at least twice in the past week–was the story on p. 201 about how Lac’s father taught him that being smart was not enough. He has Lac dig through trash, and then asks how Lac plans to succeed in life. I won’t ruin the story for you, but the best quote was “Don’t ever be afraid to get your hands dirty, son. Any crap you get on your hands from hard work can easily be washed away with soap.”
Anyway, buy this book. It’s one immigrant’s story about acculturation and love. I think most of you will like it.