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Memoirist Stephanie Foo speaks on trauma and the Asian American experience

April 7, 2023

Editor’s note 04/07/2023 at 1:26 p.m.: This article mistakingly reported that Abby Wang ’23 is an ASA co-president. This version of the article has been corrected to reflect that Jacey Song ’23 is co-president.

As the weather warms and the days grow longer, the Asian Students Alliance (ASA) is celebrating Asian and Pacific Islander History Month. In collaboration with other affinity groups and the Sexuality, Women and Gender Center (SWAG), the ASA aims to shed light on the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) experience on Bowdoin’s campus. The ASA hosted Stephanie Foo, a Malaysian-born American radio journalist, producer and the author of “What my Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing From Complex Trauma,” via Zoom on Thursday afternoon.

Moderated by Pablo Patel ’23, ASA co-presidents Jane Wang ’23 and Jacey Song ’23 and Associate Professor of English and Asian Studies Belinda Kong, Foo read a passage from “What my Bones Know” followed by a question and answer session. Foo’s book explores the intersection of her mental health and her Asian American identity.

The memoir has won several awards and was lauded as one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, NPR, Mashable, She Reads and Publishers Weekly.

Growing up in the multicultural city of San Jose, Calif., Foo fondly remembered her childhood. She reminisced on the solidarity that existed between different Asian communities despite the differences in their culture.

However, the cross-cultural experience also presented Foo with the pain and pressures that accompany a hyphenated identity. At one point she spoke on her relationship with her parents, which wasn’t a painless one.

“Our parents were not taught to take slow breaths to calm down when they were angry,” Foo said. “We offered ourselves as a conduit for their anger.”

An example Foo provided was the complex relationship that some Asian Americans have with their parents and school. She recalled students panicking in the hallways of her highschool after receiving a B+.

Foo explained that the passage she read aloud summarizes what the heart of her book is about, as it deals with trauma that exists on an individual and community level within the Asian community.

Following an unexpected diagnosis with complex PTSD, Foo was compelled to read up on the subject. Her memoir unpacks complex PTSD and unveils it as something that can affect all demographics of a population, not just men or war veterans. Foo challenged the gendered perception of PTSD by pointing out that women are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with PTSD than men.

“Treatment for women’s trauma remains a half-assed endeavor,” Foo read from her book. She went on to explain that this issue is exacerbated by the fact that many Asian Americans refuse to seek help for mental health problems.

Patel, who is studying the memoir as part of his honors project, described his personal connection and appreciation for Foo’s writing.

“The book is amazing and very relevant to AAPI month and college experiences that might resonate with ideas of healing,” Patel said.

Foo’s writing on the Asian American and immigrant experience ventures into a world of intergenerational trauma, parental pressure, healing and what it means to value mental health in cultures and societies where these subjects are often seen as taboo.

“We achieved the American dream because we had no other choice,” Foo said.


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