Funny, even though I was born in Brooklyn, I couldn’t understand English when I was young, because my parents only spoke to me in Chinese. I didn’t realize it, but this would cause some problems when I entered the public school system. At that time, my family and I all lived in an apartment on the 19th floor of a very tall building. Climbing all those stairs was horrible, but we all had to do it to get home. I felt the same way about school. My classes were a chore, but I loved playing with my friends.
Over time, with the help of some kind teachers and wonderful friends, my English improved and I started to enjoy school. My favorite subject was social studies. I loved learning about different cultures! One day I was going to move to Africa and save the elephants from extinction. Another day, I would daydream about discovering a lost Incan civilization. My dreams and I grew up on the 19th floor of that very tall building we called home and I ended up loving every minute of school.
My earliest childhood memories were of my mother. She worked long hours as a seamstress in a sewing factory and sometimes she brought work home. Listening to the hum of the sewing machine, I would fall asleep on the huge rolls of brightly colored fabric which piled up next to her.
In my first book, COOLIES, I used my grandmother’s memories to tell a story about how two young boys from China survived the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. In my second book, BROTHERS, I used my memories about friendship and learning English to tell a story about two immigrant families in early America.
Storytelling is sharing. In my family, stories about our ancestors are passed down from generation to generation. My grandparents would fascinate me with tales of a country I had never seen, people I had never met and food I had never eaten. They inspired in me a hunger to learn more about Chinese history, culture and language. This passion continues today and is the reason I do what I do.
Whether I am speaking in a large auditorium, in front of a class or at my computer, my first priority is to encourage sharing and help everyone find their own stories to tell. Our country is unique in the fact that we are a melting pot – a rich fabric of family histories and cultures from all over the world. There are so many untold stories to discover and share with each other.
These days, my story is quite simple. I have a wonderful husband who gives me inspiration and support. I love my work as an author and being a mother to my two amazing children. And at night, when I’m working on my computer, sending out emails or composing thoughts for a new book, my daughter sometimes enters my office to watch me. Occasionally, she even falls asleep waiting for me to finish. As I watch her resting so peacefully on the brightly colored couch next to my desk, it reminds me of myself so many years ago.
“In an impressive debut, Yin illuminates a dark corner of American history–the monumental labor of the thousands of Chinese immigrants who helped build the transcontinental railroad.” – PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY