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Chinese-American student, soldier releases memoir

Dan O'Brien
December 05, 2012

 

Frank Gao

Frank Gao '13 is releasing a memoir that reflects on his dual Chinese and American identity, his decision to enroll in Emerson and join the U.S. military.

Not many people write memoirs at the ripe, old age of 21, but Frank Gao has.

“People ask how I can end a story at 21 years old. I tell them it makes me take a harder look at myself,” said Gao ’13, a Writing, Literature and Publishing major.

His book, Escape Artists Don’t Look Back, will be released in a launch party on Friday, December 7, at 7:00 pm at the Bordy Theatre. Proceeds from the sale of the book ($8) will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, which honors and empowers wounded service members.

The son of Chinese immigrants, Gao focuses his story on his struggle with a dual-cultural identity, which led to his decisions to enroll in Emerson College – far away from his hometown of San Jose, California – and enlist in the military as a student.

“Part of the reason I came to Emerson was because I was sick of my culture,” he said. “I didn’t like the way the kids were at my high school. And I didn’t like the person my parents tried to make me into.”

But as Gao spent time away from his parents, the absence made his heart grow fonder.

“I wanted to get away from it all,” Gao said. “It wasn’t until I came to college that we had some time apart. When I came back we saw each other more as people. At that point, I started realizing my parents had done a lot for me.”

By opening up to his parents, he learned much more about their struggles.

“My father revealed to me that he was in Tiananmen Square” on June 3, 1989, Gao said, the time when the Communist Chinese government slaughtered several hundred or possibly thousands of pro-Democracy protesters. “Only by a stroke of luck he decided to leave shortly before the killing began.”

In his book, Gao also shares the history of his grandparents who were once farmers but whose land was seized by the government. And he talks about his mother, who, as a young girl, helped educate another young girl whose father forbade her from attending school so she could work on their farm.

Gao, who is a lance corporal in the military, has spent the last three summers stationed at Parris Island, South Carolina, and undergone intensive training.

“The quality of my parents’ lives was so much harsher than my own,” he said. “I wanted to understand that.”

The Emerson Undergraduate Students for Publishing has published Gao’s book for the December 7 launch, as well as a book of poems, Bad Poetry, by Kaleb Worst, a sophomore WLP major.

Check out video interviews with Gao by Emerson Undergraduate Students for Publishing here and here.

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