‘What do you illegals have to gripe about?’: Author Qian Julie Wang says she faced racism at book event

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New York Times bestselling author Qian Julie Wang recently shared on social media that a woman called her an “illegal” and told her she was “lucky to be in America” during a book event in Larchmont, New York, on Friday.

What happened: Sharing the incident on social media last week, Wang said she was heartbroken by what she experienced at a women’s association book event that she and two other authors – a white man and a white woman – had recently attended.

  • Although the author did not specify where the event took place, the events schedule on her website indicates that she was at The Woman’s Club of Larchmont on Dec. 10. Her name was also listed on the club’s event calendar for a band author program, along with two other authors, Paulina Bren and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, for that same date.
  • My heart is broken,” Wang wrote in the opening of her Twitter thread. “Today I had one of those book events that authors of color warn each other early about, and that we hope no one else has to ever endure.”
  • In her post, Wang described how no one at the event could pronounce her name correctly despite the guides given to them by her publicist and the one on her website. She also had to repeat the pronunciation of her name three times to the event’s host, who “even wrote it down phonetically.”
  • When she introduced the other authors, she gave an original introduction, saying things like ‘we are so excited to have her here,’ and ‘you might have read about his book in…’ but when it was my turn, the MC just read the description of the book from the jacket and mispronounced my name not just in one way but three different ways (quinn, kwang, kian),” Wang wrote.
  • Then she said, ‘and she’s the daughter-in-law of [my mother-in-law’s name]!’ as if my relation to a white woman justified my presence, and as if it had been a family favor for me & not a personal and enthusiastic invitation the organization made to my publisher,” she continued.
  • Wang also said that servers began moving around and making disruptive noises with dishes and cups while she was speaking onstage. Although she noted that it could have just been bad timing,  she also wrote that “nothing like this occurred during the other authors’ speeches, no one did anything to stop the disruption from mine.” 
  • Wang said she spoke with several people who lined up to see her during the signing of her memoir, “Beautiful Country,” describing some of them as “thoughtful, genuine and intelligent.” However, others she spoke with only wanted to tell her that “their manicurist was Asian or that their sons were dating Asian women.”
  • Wang shared that a woman toward the end of the line approached her and asked, “What do you illegals have to gripe about? Why are you always complaining about America? I know Blacks complain about being poor but you? You are lucky to even be here.” The woman in question told the author that “she had no interest in reading [Wang’s] book.” 
  • My speech was about how America made me feel small, erased. my book was about how America made me feel small, erased. and today, America prevailed yet again,” Wang wrote at the end of her post. 

About the author: Born in Shijiazhuang, China, Wang moved to Brooklyn with her parents at the age of 7, according to her website bio. Her memoir, which is also her first book, is about what she and her parents experienced while living as undocumented immigrants in New York City for five years.

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  • Wang is a graduate of Yale Law School and Swarthmore College and is now a litigator and a managing partner of Gottlieb & Wang LLP, a firm “dedicated to advocating for education and civil rights.”
  • Her memoir was selected as one of The New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2021.

Featured Image via Central Synagogue

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