In her new memoir “Stay True” (Doubleday), New Yorker writer Hua Hsu recalls her teenage years as a time of overcoming great distances—both generational and global—one page at a time.
When I was a teenager, my father moved from our California home to Taiwan for work. Me and my mother stay in So, my family bought a pair of fax machines.
In theory, my father could help me with my math homework. This was the early 90s and faxing was cheaper and more efficient than long distance calling. There was no awkward silence.
I was starting high school, and everything, like my grades and extracurricular activities, suddenly seemed consequential. Like many immigrants, my parents believed in math—you couldn’t discriminate against the right answer.
“I’m sorry that I can’t be there all the time to support you when you need me.”
I could always fax a question to my father in the evening and expect an answer by the time I woke up. My homework requests were usually marked as “urgent”.
He answered with equations and proofs – and I’d be interested in comments he thinks.
“This year’s World Series was very exciting, wasn’t it?”
We were like two strangers doing petty business at a hardware store.
“That’s the dilemma of life: You have to find meaning, but at the same time, you have to accept reality. What do you think?”
Through these temporary dispatches, he tried very hard to parent, and build relationships. When Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana took his own life in 1994, my father wrote:
“We have to have emotion. That’s what separates humans from machines, robots. But we also need to know how to control it.”
But I was a teenager. It was the rise of the alternative culture, and I was desperate to break away – from my parents, and from everyone around me. My father’s fax helped me grasp challenging mathematical concepts. Still, there were questions that neither he nor my mom could help me navigate.
“What I want to say is that in order to make the world better, we have to have ideal thinking.”
Just as he was reinventing himself in Taiwan, a place he had abandoned decades earlier, I was trying to find my way into the suburbs of Silicon Valley.
We managed to stay connected. But I was an American kid, and I was restless, and I was searching for my people.
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Story produced by Mary Raffalli. Editor: George Pozderek.