Because Wong was not always able to overcome these toxic customs, her legacy may have suffered.
“She’s unfairly forgotten and neglected,” said actor Paul Giamatti, a longtime fan of Wong’s.
Like his subjects, Huang himself has crossed cultural divides. Sitting at Cafe Formosa, he explained that he had studied at Peking University hoping to become an English teacher in China. But during his second year, in the spring of 1989, soldiers gathered to quell student protests in Beijing—demonstrations in which he and his friends participated, sometimes even sleeping in Tiananmen Square.
At the end of May, he received a telegram telling him that his mother was seriously ill. Worried, he traveled for three days to reach his family home, about 300 miles south of Shanghai. When he arrived, he said, “my mom was standing in front of our house, smiling like a bride.” His parents had tricked him into going home to get him out of danger. Days later, government tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square, leaving thousands injured or dead. Watching the scene unfold on his parents’ TV, Huang knew he couldn’t stay in China.
“Mentally, emotionally, it just wasn’t for me anymore,” she said.
Two years later, he arrived in Tuscaloosa to earn his master’s degree. He had chosen Alabama because it was first in an alphabetical guide to US universities, he said. He didn’t have a car, so on Sundays he stood on the corner holding a Bible. When people pulled over, they asked, “Which church are you going to?” and Huang would say, “Yours.” So he experienced the Calvinist, Baptist and Mormon offerings of Tuscaloosa.
He applied for four credit cards and used them to open a Chinese restaurant. “Like in ‘Out of Africa,’ when Meryl Streep says, ‘I had a farm in Africa,'” Huang said, “well, I had a Chinese takeout in Tuscaloosa.”
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