As I have said, in order to make it bearable for people to read this terribly serious story, I loaded it with humorous stories from my fun relationships with my wonderful (often foreign-born) co-workers, whom I loved. Both because the stories lighten an otherwise very tense mood, and because of my affection for my colleagues, I would have loved to share more stories about them. Space did not permit; this book would have been three books if I had written it like a normal novel. Some things had to be summarized, and some people unfortunately have much smaller roles in the book than they actually had in life.
But despite all the awful political decisions made at the top levels of these institutions in the time frame the book discusses, know that these universities are full of good people doing lifesaving work. Extremely caring and talented people come from all over the country and planet, including many from China, to join the fight against fatal illnesses, often because of a family tragedy such as the childhood loss of a mother to breast cancer. You see a sampling of their dedication and kindness in the book; I could fill volumes with not only the humor we shared but also with their courage and determination to do good. Many people who came from all nations held little power but still did whatever they could to help. Besides the practical assistance, their caring attitude was indispensable to me emotionally. Thank God, somebody else also cares, I thought.
And very important work continues at these institutions, especially in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. Many of my former classmates and colleagues are heroically battling for lives on the hospital wards, for cures in research labs, and for justice in the healthcare system. These days, I pray for their survival all the time.
And they are of all races and many are first- or second-generation immigrants. Of the second-generation immigrants, many of their parents had it rough when they came over, and now their kids are doctors. This is America.
I will share some more of their stories here. In the meantime, enjoy a small collection of our more light-hearted conversations amidst the tragic arc of the overall story.
This book is also a love letter to the people and culture of China at a time when the Trump administration is pandering to the ugliest xenophobia in our country. In The Last Rose of Summer, you’ll meet a number of brilliant professionals from China who are kind and decent human beings, often understandably disaffected with the Chinese Communist Party’s rule. I could have gone deeper into what they told me about how their government had constrained and disrupted their lives until they finally decided to leave, and while I feel badly for the people they might have served in their homeland, I understood their decision and felt grateful they were here. Along with everyone else in America, I personally and professionally benefited from their decision to throw in their lot with us.
Many of these dedicated Chinese-American scientists, doctors, students, and technicians had fabulous senses of humor because of all they’d been through, making them excellent company on top of the value they added with their talents. Their contributions truly make America great.
In the kind of narrow-minded monoculture idealized by those who can’t comprehend the cultural and scientific greatness of the Chinese people, none of this research which yet may save lives could have possibly happened in the first place. Much of the initial research I built on came from China, and in the book you will read some references to how people laughed at me for seriously considering science done outside the US.
Attitudes have improved, thank God, but back then I caught hell. Though I am white, I indirectly experienced anti-Asian discrimination: a tiny, glancing blow, a mere scratch compared to the gaping wounds inflicted upon most, if not all, Asian-Americans. I only endured jokes mocking my research; others have their very identities mocked and, these days, their safety threatened when they have done no wrong, something I now sympathize with more than ever. Thanks to Trump, Asian-Americans are trying to survive hate speech and hate crimes all over the country.
Hell if I’m going to be quiet with that going on.