2020年4月10日 星期五

The Daily: Sonic Postcards Across the Ocean

Seeing yourself in another’s story, amid anti-Asian racism during the pandemic.
Author Headshot

By Stella Tan

Jiayang Fan and her mother, with the Statue of Liberty in the background, in July 1992, their first month in the U.S. after moving from Chongqing, China.

Our producer Stella Tan on today’s episode:

I first heard about it from my roommate. As coronavirus cases climbed in the United States, she’d seen reports of Asian-Americans being targeted in New York City. Should she, a daughter of Chinese immigrants, wear a mask in public or not? She wasn’t sure which would draw more attention.

I noticed the personal stories and articles picking up on social media. In wading through comments and in conversations with people around me, I felt a hunger both within and outside the Asian-American community to talk about this discrimination.

But with the coverage came a lot of questions. What was reasonable caution, and what was bias? Did the severity of an attack change its newsworthiness? What was the right way to talk about these incidents when they felt newly threatening to some, but were already daily realities for others?

Several of the articles mentioned a tweet from Jiayang Fan, whose writing I’ve admired for a long time. When our team decided to tackle the story of racism against Asian-Americans, I called her up, along with Michael Barbaro and producers Lynsea Garrison and Neena Pathak.

What struck me about our conversation was how openly Jiayang grappled with her complicated feelings, and the many ways she turned over in her mind what had happened to her.


She spoke of the paralysis she felt when a stranger looked directly at her and verbally assaulted her outside her apartment. But she also looked at herself in the eyes of her mother — an immigrant whose religion was survival, as Jiayang put it — who might shake her head at her daughter for making a big deal out of so little. And she imagined herself in the place of the stranger who accosted her. Had he lost a job, or a loved one, because of the pandemic? Was his anger just waiting for a target?

She didn’t have answers. But she had a lot of memories — of how her earliest beliefs about identity were formed, of watching her mother pretend to be in on the joke when someone made fun of her pronunciation, of the pride she felt when she could say, “C’mon!” to a friend in English without thinking about it first.

There’s one part of her story in particular where I saw a piece of myself. In today’s episode, you may have noticed warbly, dreamy sounds of a tiny voice speaking Mandarin. That comes from a cassette tape that Jiayang’s mother made with her in China in the 1980s. Jiayang told us that her mother would mail these cassettes overseas to her father in the U.S. in lieu of phone calls, which were too expensive.

In the cassette tape, a 3-year-old Jiayang recites lines of Tang Dynasty verse that Chinese parents love to teach their children (sort of like “Humpty Dumpty,” but from 700 A.D.). As I listened to the tape, I realized that I’d heard recordings of myself reciting the same verses as a kid, but in Cantonese.


When my mom and dad, as immigrants, found it difficult to take care of an infant while setting up their lives in a new country, my grandparents brought me back to Guangzhou, China, and raised me until I was four. They did what Jiayang’s mom did, recording my early fumblings and sending them across the ocean. Those sonic postcards helped my parents hear my first words.

Jiayang’s story is her own, but you might find echoes of yourself in it, too. Listen here.

Talk to Stella on Twitter: @stellatan.

A soundtrack that soothes

From left: Sufjan Stevens, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Nicks.Patrick T. Fallon for The New York Times; Associated Press; Tyrone Dukes/The New York Times; Chad Batka for The New York Times.

A couple of weeks ago, Andy Mills helped produce an episode about the songs that are bringing a bit of relief to Jody Rosen, a writer for The Times Magazine. That got him thinking about his own coronavirus playlist. Here, Andy shares the artists and albums that are helping him during these uncertain times:


Over the past several weeks of coronavirus confinement, I’ve been reaching deeper into my favorite records than I have in years. I’ve rediscovered “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire, “The Age of Adz” by Sufjan Stevens and “Teen Dream” by Beach House. I’ve been bowled over by Sam Cooke, Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin. I’ve slow-danced in my room by myself to Benny Goodman. I’ve gone on walks with Merle Haggard, Hank Williams and Jackson Browne, and I’ve sung too loudly to every word by my beloved Fleetwood Mac (and, yes, maybe a little Jimmy Eat World, too).

I’m surprised by the amount of pleasure I’ve found in spending Saturday mornings slowly alphabetizing my albums, placing Tom Petty just ahead of Tom Waits and Washed Out just behind The War On Drugs. These artists have helped me find escape in their anthems about finding your place in the world, about surviving hardships, and about love, which feels particularly therapeutic in these times when we cannot be embraced by our friends or surrounded by others.

On ‘The Daily’ this week

Monday: “You wake up two weeks later, and not only does your industry not have a job for you, your industry doesn’t really work anymore.” Jim Tankersly on how we got to the worst unemployment crisis in U.S. history.

Tuesday: How and why do you hold a primary in the middle of a pandemic? Astead Herndon explains the “partisan bloodbath” in the lead-up to Wisconsin’s primary.

Wednesday: The coronavirus pandemic pitted a captain of an aircraft carrier against the head of the Navy. Eric Schmitt on the crisis inside the service.

Thursday:It’s such a lonely, lonely virus. And people are dying by themselves.” We hear from Yanti Turang, an E.R. nurse on the frontlines in New Orleans.

Friday: As the coronavirus crisis has escalated, so too have reports of verbal and physical attacks against Asian-Americans. Writer Jiayang Fan shares her story, and how it has helped reframe her conception of the U.S.

That’s it for The Daily newsletter. See you next week.

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