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Interview with Nona Mock Wyman

Author of ‘Bamboo Women’ and ‘Chopstick Childhood in a Town of Silver Spoons’

Nona Mock Wyman is a published author of four books. In 1935, at the age of two, Nona Mock Wyman was abandoned at the Ming Quong orphanage in Los Gatos, California. In her books, she touches on the themes of loss and of strength and peace found. She tells of her life-long search to understand her own roots, but also her gratitude for having a place to grow up with other girls in the same situation. Nona viewed herself as lucky to have bonded with the teachers and the girls and have a structured upbringing. Nona Mock Wyman first wrote about her childhood in the memoir “Chopstick Childhood (In a Land of Silver Spoons).” She vividly and colorfully details her everyday routines in growing up in the orphanage. Bamboo Women, her second book, intimately explores the lives of her twenty-one “sisters”. She introduces how their bonds of love and friendship carried them through life. Bamboo Women, celebrates the sisterhood and shares stories of the girls that grow with her that “mothered” her, held her hands, pushed her on the swings, etc. Her book is a courageous look into a little-known world and an affirmation of the human spirit. She also wrote Ten Thousand Flowers: After the Orphanage and Born on the 8th. Nona has owned and operated a little gift store in northern California. She named it Ming Quong as the orphanage that raised her. Ming Quong means “radiant light.”

This interview appeared first on Planet China Vol 11, Celebrating Women who push boundaries.

After my mother walked out the front door, I let out the loudest cry of my life, “Mah-Mah.” – Nona Mock Wyman

Where did your passion for writing come from? When did you get aware of it?

My passion for writing came after I got married at age 19. I began writing daily a diary if I remember correctly. I’m 87 now!

Which authors have influenced you the most? Who influenced you as a person and as a writer?

I loved Heidi, a book about an orphan who lived in the Swiss Alps with her grandpa. The book was discarded by the library when it got old. Disheartened, I found a Jack London book. The story was about a lone wolf surviving by itself in the wilderness. I started checking out all Jack London books. I loved to read Nancy Drew mystery books, they had all them to the Ming Quong Home. Later I was influenced by Silent Unity daily – Science of Mind magazine, and I re-read “ the daily ‘SECRET’ calendar.

Your books are written from the heart. What motivated you to start writing and share a very personal part of your life?

My husband Joe was a social worker, then a teacher, and he encouraged and motivated me. Later, a young Chinese professor who taught Asian Studies insisted with me that this story should be told. My first book, “Chopstick Childhood” about living at Ming Quong in Los Gatos, won an award for “Humanitarianism” for “Woman of Distinction”. “Chopstick Childhood” and “Bamboo Women” are used for Asian Studies at colleges.

Her books are also an opportunity to focus on the history of the Ming Quong Orphanage Home for girls of Chinese descent in Los Gatos, near San Francisco CA. Chinese Exclusion laws limited the growth of Chinese American families. The official policy of Ming Quong was to “protect” the children from knowing why they had been placed in the Home. Her books shed light on the heroic legacy of Donaldina Cameron, who, motivated by faith and a sense of justice, led the battle to save young “slaves” and unwanted Chinese children in San Francisco. Donaldina Cameron’s work began in 1895 she said that “when I walked the streets of San Francisco with little, motherless Chinese girls, going from agency to agency looking for help. No one cared.” The Ming Quong Home, translated to “Radiant Light”, opened in 1936 in Los Gatos and served Chinese American girls of all ages.

My earliest memory is living with my mother in San Francisco’s Chinatown. She was making breakfast while I was under the kitchen table playing house.” – Nona Mock Wyman

What was the hardest part to write?

The hardest part to write was about when my mother walked out the front door and I never saw her again.

Your memories of the day in which your mother walk out of your life forever are extremely vivid. What did the premature separation from her meant for you? How did it affect your life as an adult woman?

I’ll look to little girls with their mom and see their closeness, and I am happy for them. But I wonder how I could be parted from my mother’s and how sad it was for the two of us … The closeness to my son was strained as my husband Joe thought if we showed emotions, our child would be jealous. I obeyed, as a wife should, and he should know more, but never felt “right” about it.

Your “sisters”, love, and friendship helped you cope with the effects of growing up in an orphanage. Can you tell us more about it?

The closeness of the girls was the best thing since we were and we are friends. When reunions come around, it’s instant comradery. Is a time for joyous and a time for laughter.

Chopstick Childhood” allowed bringing to the Los Gatos History Museum, a six-month exhibition on the home, and many Ming Quong women and their families attended. The images of the orphans were included in the New Museum Los Gatos exhibition.

Your books are a time machine, but also they open a door for traveling to the orphanage reality. Do you think the conditions are getting better nowadays?

I think so. Whit professional help, the children can get more attention they deserve.

In the orphanage, there were strict rules. Did you feel well prepared for the outside world? Are you still in touch with your childhood “sisters”?

Ming Quong Home was strict, they well prepared us for the world. Yes, we were sheltered from the realities of life like ‘’upset households’, yelling, drunkards, etc… I am still in touch with the Ming Quong “girls”, just emailed them about the Ming Quong Home sign in need of repair asking for donations!!! That’s a new practice for me!!! Because I use to uplift families that first wanted my help!!! I use to send a % of my sales each year to uplift and I tell them this is their “royalty check”.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add, or say?

I’ve written four books. My third one is “Ten Thousand Flowers” about running a 6o’s type store in suburbia. My fourth one “Born on the 8th” a book of poems, as in ‘prose’ more descriptive. Note that I’m now writing HAIKU and have the honor to have some of my haiku on the art painting of Linda Scroggin.

Photos courtesy of Nona Mock Wyman

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