Guest post by Continuing Education student Haig Chahinian
I’m embarrassed to say I’ve often ignored Veterans Day. That is, until I met Victoria Moy, author of Fighting for the Dream, an eye-opening oral history of Chinese-Americans who served from World War II to Afghanistan. Moy and I are both alumni of the Continuing Education program at The New School, where she got her start in writing.
Speaking at the New York Public Library recently, Moy said “40% of all Chinese New Yorkers between 18 and 36 fought in the second world war.” That huge statistic caught me off guard. I wanted to know more. I recently sat down with her to talk about her book, and I walked away with more affection for her countrymen, the November 11th holiday, and the soldiers it honors.
Victoria Moy: In my early twenties, as a reporter for a small downtown radio station, I covered the Memorial Day parade in Chinatown. Meeting a lot of veterans, I started interviewing them.
HC: How did you choose veterans to interview?
VM: I spoke with anyone willing to talk about their life before, during, and after the military. I was trying to understand the American experience in a deeper way. Serving the nation is undeniably patriotic. I wanted to dispel the idea that Chinese people are perpetual foreigners. We’ve been here for generations.
HC: What did their stories reveal?
VM: I grew up in Manhattan and had no idea why anyone—including my grandfather Tommy in Chinatown—would volunteer for this kind of work. I could never do it, so I came to respect those who have. For many, the military was an entree to mainstream society.
HC: As the daughter of immigrants, did writing this book change you?
VM: I think every immigrant thinks she’s the first to deal with the dual identity struggle. It was enlightening to talk to 90 year olds about how they negotiated being Chinese in America back in the day.
HC: What about troops on active duty? I never know what to say to sailors during Fleet Week.
VM: A simple “thank you for your service” can make a big difference.
HC: Tell me how civilians can honor Veterans Day.
VM: Do any kind of volunteer work. Giving back mirrors what veterans have done. Crack open a U.S. history book, like Fighting for the Dream. Help an unemployed warhorse find a job. Watch the parade along Fifth Avenue. Take a veteran to lunch—on Wednesday, Applebee’s, Olive Garden, and California Pizza Kitchen will offer free meals to those who’ve served.
Victoria Moy was born and raised in New York’s Chinatown and currently lives in Los Angeles, where she is pursuing a MFA in Playwriting/Screenwriting/TV Writing at the University of Southern California. She has written for Brooklyn Rail, Huffington Post, New York Press and other publications. She is a graduate of Yung Wing Public School 124, The Dalton School, and Dartmouth College. Find her on Twitter @writervickymoy.
Haigh Chahinian is a career counselor in New York City. His writing has appeared in Salon, the Washington Post, and Cosmopolitan. He's working on a memoir. Follow him at @chahinian.