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Monday, April 19, 2021

When Amy Sohn Returns to Virginia for College, Her Parents Are Very Different

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When Amy Sohn returned to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in 2000 to begin her freshman year at the University of North Carolina, she was one of few Asian American students at her university, one of only two Asian American students in her freshman class, and so she wasn’t really sure where to start. “We felt like we were so different than other people,” she said.

Ms. Sohn’s professors were maybe a half-step ahead, warning students before they came out of their classrooms to bring a book, a journal, a tape recorder. The internal set-aside, Ms. Sohn said, fed a sense of alienation, even if she had surrounded herself with traditional American values, like her team’s “Never Let Girls Sit Alone on the Bus,” a recipe for an assembly line of privacy precautions that contained phrases like, “Never allow herself to fall asleep.”

“It would be a privilege to travel on public transportation by herself,” Ms. Sohn recalled them saying, “and then break those rules before a meeting.”

It’s just one of many imagined social realities that Ms. Sohn conceived of around “The Silence Breakers,” the sobering book she wrote after experiencing the way discrimination shaped her parents’ marriage in China.

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