Interview with David Yang
Our interview with David Yang was very powerful to say the least. He is such a phenomenal storyteller and I think his stories and experiences hit everyone hard. He talked about the experiences he had as a refugee in the United States and all the lessons that he learned growing up. He spoke with such emotion and was very real with everyone.
David Yang was a very inspiring man and it was a pleasure to get to interview him. He has worked hard in life to get to where he is, and I have an enormous amount of respect for him and what he has gone through. His stories were stunning and he was very positive throughout the interview. After eight total interviews, this was probably the best way we could possibly end our online Washington, D.C. journey. David Yang, thank you so much.
Today, we interviewed David Yang, a Chinese-American refugee and Vice President at Applied Conflict Transformation in the United States Institute of Peace. He seemed to be a jolly man with much to say.
He told us about how he’s been working with his international partners online during this pandemic. They have been continuing their work on social media, and teach through calls. His spoke about how the tools for peacebuilding, what he called “adaptive peacebuilding,” had to be flexible during the pandemic.
He also spoke about his family’s past and his early life, and what led him to be a peace worker. It was very interesting to hear about his father’s flight from China to Hong Kong and then eventually the U.S. He went from being a General in pre-communist China, to a political activist in Hong Kong, to a grocery bagger in Stockton, California upon first arriving in the U.S. He said that hearing about his father’s previous work to combat China’s authoritarianism influenced his direction in life. David Yang went to UCSC and, after many twists and turns, became a peace worker.
What was most interesting to me, however, was when he talked about how fragile democracies are. He said, “Democracy at its best is still very fragile.” He went on to speak about how populism rises from social and economic inequities. He told us that one who appeals to the masses could be dangerous. I admire that he has spent his career trying to build peace and support democracy.
Today, on our last day of our virtual trip, we got to interview David Yang. When we first got the interview with him we didn’t know what to expect. Immediately, he showed us how kind and excited he was, by sending multiple communications to Ward and even a short letter to us, the students. When we got on the Zoom call with him, I could tell that he was a thoughtful and truly authentic soul.
He said so many things that caught my interest and I took lots of notes, but the moment that really struck me was his response to a question that AnMei asked. She asked if he had any perspective to share about identity. In response he said, “Craft your life in as beautiful a way as it can be.” This is a piece of advice that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life. I think I try to focus on making everything I do perfect, and when I give up because it’s impossible, I give up completely. This quote made me realize that even if it’s not perfect, I can still try to make it as beautiful as possible.
I think that this interview was a wonderful closer to our journey. David Yang was very articulate and it was clear that he was brilliant but humble. He explained things that we had heard from other people we interviewed in new ways, that hadn’t been brought up. This allowed us to connect themes that ran through our previous interviews so it really felt like our journey was well wrapped up. Overall, the conversation really struck me, and I hope that future groups will get a chance to talk with him and hear more of his wisdom.
During our interview with David Yang, he shared some personal stories from his past about growing up as a Chinese refugee in California, and he talked about how his identity led him on his journey of figuring out what he wanted to do with his life. As a young, adopted Chinese American woman about to go out into the world, I too am trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, and over the course of this past year I’ve come to realize how my identity affects the way I view the world and myself.
I sometimes feel at crossroads though with my different cultural identities, and I asked David Yang if he had any advice for me. He immediately acknowledged that we don’t have the same backstory but we do share, not having the classical Chinese American immigrant story such as having our families coming to work the railroads or mine gold, and growing up in middle class predominantly white communities. His advice was to have courage in embarking on the journey to finding my place in the world, while also maintaining ties with the community that holds me. This really hit home for me because community is something that is important to me but I think I’ve also resented it at times, since I sometimes feel like an outsider, in the predominantly white community I live and grew up in. I’m going to take this piece of advice with me as I move forward in life, and my community grows.
I am really glad we got to talk to David Yang today and hear about his life and work. His humbleness, vulnerability, and passion for his work was really inspiring to me! And I hope that one day I too will be able to find something that is as meaningful to me.