“My mother was never allowed to take the exams to go to college. She never got over that. I’m sure I bore the brunt of her disappointment. I would have never received a scholarship to Oxford without her. Many parents push their kids. But with her, there was a kind of desperation in the pressure. Everyday I felt that if I didn’t study harder, life would never be fair to me … that if I didn’t struggle against it, life was going to get me. ”
“Oddly, by going to Oxford, I came to believe in the unfairness of life even more. Sure, I got into a great school and could, in some ways write my own ticket in life. But I was reminded everyday in Britain, in a thousand small ways that I was not as good as everyone else around me. When I was a student, Britain was very class conscious – it probably still is today, but I haven’t lived there for so long that I really can’t comment on it. “
“In that British consciousness, my Chinese face translated immediately to ‘less important,’ 'unintelligent,’ 'dismissible.’ Even fellow students and professors – and almost anyone else who knew I was an Oxford student – treated me almost as if I was an interloper in the tight knit group. I was doomed to forever being an outsider inside my own university. If I’d stayed in Asia, I might have psychologically dealt with the unfairness dealt to my mother. I might have come to believe in my own self. I might even have come to believe that one could overcome life’s natural unfairness. But my stay in Britain just confirmed my learned biases.”
“It is probably not surprising that I took a job with MTV right out of college. It was an organization full of people obsessed with proving that they “as young people” could be every bit as successful as their older and more experienced counterparts. I had dealt with class, educational, racial, and then in my first job, age discrimination.
But I will say, that here in New York City for the first time in my life, I have come to believe that my race is not an obstacle to be overcome. I am a young, upwardly mobile Oxford grad in a good company and China is seen by many in New York as the future of all economic growth.”
BoonLi glanced at the elegant wooden clock on the wall of his small but beautifully appointed apartment. He had made time to talk with me, but I knew he had to leave soon to attend a fund-raising event for his latest cause. His eyes swept around the room and then focused back on me.
“I guess, according to most people, I’ve made it in life. They would say that I have no reason to struggle any more. But the psychological patterns are so deeply ingrained that I will never lose them. I will probably spend a part of everyday of the rest of my life fighting against inequality and unfairness. It is a fundamental part of me now.”