The Immigrant Experience (with Min Jin Lee) - CAFE (2023)

Preet Bharara:

Before we get to the show, I want to mention that my interview with Min Jin Lee was recorded on Monday, one day before the horrific, horrific shooting in Texas. It’s surreal to have to say this again, but there was another shooting at the Rob Elementary School in Texas. As of this recording, the death toll stands at 21 people, 19 children and two adults, dead because they simply went to school. To be completely honest, I don’t even know what to say. It’s as heartbreaking as anything you could ever imagine. Now the news will keep unfolding and the legal parts of the case will too. But right now, all I can say is how heartbroken I am, and you almost be, for the families and victims of this horrific massacre, which happens again and again and again in just one country, the United States of America. We need sensible gun legislation. I don’t know how many more times we’ll have to say something like this. And for now, I just hope that the Republicans holding up gun control legislation in the Senate wake up and have a change of heart.

Preet Bharara:

From CAFE and the Vox Media Podcast Network, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.

Min Jin Lee:

All my life I’ve always leaned into my identity, and it’s okay. I mean, people usually say, “I don’t want to be an Asian American writer. I want to be a writer.” And I kind of think, “Well, I’m not leaving my identity or my experience at the door to somehow sound better for people who are the ones who I guess check your credits.”

Preet Bharara:

That’s Min Jin Lee. She’s one of the most celebrated authors of our time. She wrote Free Food for Millionaires and Pachinko, which was a 2017 National Book Award Finalist. Much of Lee’s work focuses on the Asian American and immigrant experience. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Lee came to the US as a child. As you may know, May is Asian American and Pacific Islander or AAPI Heritage Month. But what does the term really even mean? Lee joins me to talk about our shared Asian American and immigrant identities, if AAPI is too broad a category, and the fight over affirmative action. That’s coming up, stay tuned.

Preet Bharara:

Now let’s get to your questions. This question comes from Twitter user @jcmcbuff who asks, “Should there be more than six January 6th committee hearings? Or do you think that is enough for them to present their case effectively?” It’s a good question. I’ve been seeing a lot of debate about this often from people who have not conducted congressional hearings and who don’t really even know yet what the format will be, what the length of each hearing will be. There are two in prime time according to reports. I don’t think it’s been confirmed by the committee and there will be four starting at 10:00 AM in the morning. I presume that the ones that are starting in the morning can go for a number of hours like we saw with Supreme Court hearings. And other kinds of inquiries, sometimes they can go 6, 7, 8 hours. That’s a long time. My guess is the prime time hearings that start at 8:00 PM won’t go to the midnight hour or to the late night hours. So those will be shorter and more focused.

Preet Bharara:

And I would imagine that the committee who’s done, I think, a terrific job so far of being thorough and transparent will be smart and savvy in the kinds of things that they present in the prime time hours. So bear in mind that these hearings are not going to present witnesses that the committee is hearing from for the first time. They’ve interviewed over a thousand people. They have tens of thousands of pages of transcript testimony. And so they can be selective and present not only particular witnesses selectively, but particular bits of testimony selectively. They can also use photographs. They can also use video. They can also use summary charts. So that’s a lot of hours of testimony. I know there’s a lot of information that needs to be digested, but I don’t know why people are so worried that six hearings of several hours a piece may not be enough.

Preet Bharara:

The other thing to keep in mind, although this is not confirmed yet, is that much of the questioning may be done by staff. And no offense to the members of Congress who are on the committee, but often it’s the case that staff are a little bit more professional, are a little bit more streamlined. We saw some of that to be true with respect to some of the impeachment proceedings as well. So I think it’s enough. And by the way, it’s not written in the constitution that the conclusion of six committee hearings, they can’t have more or do follow up investigation, get more leads, interview more people behind closed doors and may have additional hearings either immediately following these six or at some point in the future. So I see no reason for people to be pessimistic about only six hearings.

Preet Bharara:

This question comes in an email from Evan. “Today, a grand jury indicted the Buffalo alleged mass shooter. Why was a grand jury required? When can a perpetrator be charged or indicted by a prosecuting attorney? And when is a grand jury required?” So a few weeks ago we talked about the general rules relating to a grand jury, what it is, how it operates, what the votes have to be. So I appreciate your question. So an answer to your question why was a grand jury required, the grand jury is always required in the United States of America in order to bring an indictment. That’s actually a right guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the constitution which reads in part, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury.” So that’s a right of constitutional dimension which every prosecuting office, whether on the state or federal level, must take seriously.

Preet Bharara:

Now you may be asking, when the shooter actually was taken into custody, that was an arrest and there was no grand jury sitting around to engage in that activity. So the law recognizes that for some period of time, particularly at the beginning when a crime is witnessed by law enforcement officers or reported to law enforcement officers, it takes some time to convene a grand jury. So people can be arrested on probable cause based on the good faith observations or understanding the police officers. But in the federal system and also the state system, when such an arrest takes place by an arresting officer, that person must be presented to a judge within a short period of time. And then the judge, based on a criminal complaint brought by the authorities, has to agree that there was probable cause to believe that person committed a crime. But that criminal complaint, whether in the federal or state system, is just a placeholder for an indictment that has to come as provided for and required by the constitution.

Preet Bharara:

And depending on the jurisdiction, there are a different number of days that can pass before the indictment must be brought. And in the absence of an indictment being brought at some point, if the authorities delay, the complaint is dismissed and the defendant goes free. Like most rights, even rights guaranteed by the constitution, the right to a grand jury can be waived. So a defendant can decide in consultation with their lawyer that they don’t require the government to indict, present to a grand jury, and they waive it and they can proceed in the federal system on something that’s not called an indictment, but it’s called an information. So that spares the trouble of going to a grand jury, getting them to vote on something. And usually, that applies in situations where the defendant has decided to cooperate with authorities, become a cooperating witness, there’s an agreement on what the charges will be that he will plead to. And he pleads pursuant to an information. But in all their cases, as I mentioned, the constitution requires an indictment.

Preet Bharara:

This question comes in a tweet from @ABKinSTL who writes, “I keep hearing talk of Trump being made speaker if the house flips. Would it be possible for the house to recruit a non-elected person to become speaker? As I read the constitution, there is no provision for admitting an extra member who has not been elected by a state.” So @ABKinSTL, I’ve been fretting about this very possibility for some time and people roll their eyes and they have laughed at me. I think as we get closer and closer to the election, there seems to be a little bit less talk of it. So I think it remains an unlikely scenario, but it is lawful and it is constitutional. I know as you say there’s no provision for admitting an extra member, but there’s also no provision requiring that the Speaker of the House be someone who is a member.

Preet Bharara:

And scholars have a fairly good consensus on this point. There have been allies of former president Trump in the House who I think promoted the idea of Trump becoming Speaker of the House, among them, Matt Gaetz. That’s perhaps the reason why Kevin McCarthy saw fit to lie about telling the truth with respect to his conversations with Trump back in the vicinity of January 6th. So as time goes by, and I don’t think Donald Trump has floated the possibility in the very recent past, I think the possibility looms less and less large. But it is possible, it is legal, and it is constitutional, which should be reason number 4,078 why everyone should go vote in the election and keep the House in democratic hands.

Preet Bharara:

We’ll be right back with my conversation with Min Jin Lee.

Preet Bharara:

AAPI Heritage Month arrived this year as anti-Asian sentiment and violence is on the rise in the US. Author Min Jin Lee who wrote Pachinko, a National Book Award finalist, is one of the most outspoken voices on issues affecting the Asian American community.

Preet Bharara:

Are you ready for the interview of a lifetime?

Min Jin Lee:

I was born ready, Preet.

Preet Bharara:

Min Jin Lee, welcome to the show. Pleased to have you.

Min Jin Lee:

Hi, Preet. How’s it going, man?

Preet Bharara:

It’s going all right, man. So I want to point out some parallels between you and me, okay? So we graduated from high school the same year, from college the same year, I believe law school the same year. Then you practiced for a bit. I practice for longer. You’re an author, I’m an author. But that’s kind of like saying, LeBron James and I both play basketball.

Min Jin Lee:

That’s hilarious.

Preet Bharara:

It’s not quite the same thing.

Min Jin Lee:

Well, Preet, you and I… Well, first of all, I’m happy to be on a podcast with LeBron James. And secondly, I think what’s interesting to me is I looked you up in depth. Obviously, I know who you are and I know you’re work.

Preet Bharara:

To prepare for the interview?

Min Jin Lee:

Yeah, of course. Of course. I’m so interested in due diligence and homework and research.

Preet Bharara:

Oh, no. The Wikipedia page I think has some errors. So what did you learn that’s relevant?

Min Jin Lee:

Well, you and I were born the same year.

Preet Bharara:

We were, four weeks apart.

Min Jin Lee:

And not only were we born the same year, I think that we have really similar interests. And as a matter of fact, you and I have… Have we been ever in a photograph together?

Preet Bharara:

I think we were.

Min Jin Lee:

Oh, okay. Then-

Preet Bharara:

We went to that event a few months ago.

Min Jin Lee:

Oh, for Wajahat?

Preet Bharara:

Yes.

Min Jin Lee:

That’s right [inaudible 00:11:09].

Preet Bharara:

I think there were pic… I think there’s evidence. When people say, pictures or it didn’t happen, I think it happened.

Min Jin Lee:

Which means that people know that we’re not actually the same person.

Preet Bharara:

We’re not the same person.

Min Jin Lee:

But I would rather be you. My parents would so much-

Preet Bharara:

No you wouldn’t.

Min Jin Lee:

No, no, no.

Preet Bharara:

No you wouldn’t.

Min Jin Lee:

No, no. My parents would be so much happier if I were you [inaudible 00:11:25].

Preet Bharara:

Right. And I would rather be Dr. Sanjay Gupta. My parents would be happier. He’s good looking, smart, on TV, and also a surgeon. That guy pisses me off.

Min Jin Lee:

Well, the surgeon part is something that is pretty undeniably excellent. Yes.

Preet Bharara:

We’re going to talk about Asian competitiveness in a moment because I know you like to talk about that.

Min Jin Lee:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

And this is a particular month, so we should talk about all sorts of things. But I wonder, when you were in law school, you already had this ability to write well, you got prizes when you were an undergraduate in writing non-fiction and fiction writing. Did your legal writing suffer because you wrote too well? Does that question make sense?

Min Jin Lee:

It’s actually really a good question because I will confess here as I’ve confessed elsewhere more privately that I have failed the New York State Bar.

Preet Bharara:

That’s okay.

Min Jin Lee:

And when I failed the New York State Bar the first time, I’ve only failed once but I took the exam twice, when I failed the first time I was really depressed and I talked to my friend and he said, “The best thing you can do is to sign up to take the bar again and go up to Albany and see your failed examination paper.”

Preet Bharara:

Oh.

Min Jin Lee:

So I said, “Okay.” And I went to Albany. And they give you a copy of your exam, what you wrote. And so I sat there in this room. They give you a limited amount of time. And I read my answers and they were so well written, but they had no law.

Preet Bharara:

You just told stories?

Min Jin Lee:

Well, I think I just sort of cared about all this other stuff, but it wasn’t about the law. I think this is my silly way to answer your question. My writing obviously didn’t suffer, it just that it wasn’t substantively focused on the issues. I think that even though now I realize just what an incredible gift it was to go to law school because I was able to figure out, “Oh yeah, that’s chaff and that’s wheat,” but I think when I took the bar exam I was so much more focused on the fact that my wedding was the same month as when I started my new job. I wasn’t the best law student, Preet, that’s my answer.

(Video) 'Pachinko' author Min Jin Lee answers your questions

Preet Bharara:

Well, that’s okay.

Min Jin Lee:

Okay.

Preet Bharara:

It turns out that thing wasn’t free. Let’s go back further in time in your life. Like me, here’s another parallel. You and I are both immigrants. Neither one of us was born in the United States of America. I came at about 1 or 2. You came at 7. So I don’t have a memory of coming. I’m guessing that you do. What’s your memory of arriving in the United States?

Min Jin Lee:

Well, when I was on the plane, I was really excited, because I thought for some reason that America would look like a 17th century fairytale. So imagine Cinderella and all the illustrations for Cinderella. I thought when I got to JFK, there’d be stage coaches and women in ballgowns with really high hair and men in waist coats.

Preet Bharara:

Why did you think this?

Min Jin Lee:

Because I’m stupid.

Preet Bharara:

Come on. Come on.

Min Jin Lee:

No, no. I don’t mean stupid as in like I have a low IQ or I have challenges with learning issues, which I sort of do. But when I got here, my imagination was that I thought white people would be kind of like Western fairy tales because that’s what I was so steeped in as a kid. I was very odd as a child. And then I got here and JFK looked just like Seoul, but with non Korean people. And that was very disappointing.

Preet Bharara:

You know, it’s funny. Recently, two different people have talked about their arrival in the states. I had occasion to talk to Padma Lakshmi recently about her TV program, Taste the Nation.

Min Jin Lee:

She’s really good looking.

Preet Bharara:

We’re going to have to edit this [inaudible 00:15:10], a decent amount, Min Jin.

Min Jin Lee:

Sorry.

Preet Bharara:

Gosh, stick to the issue. This is maybe why the bar exam was problematic for you.

Min Jin Lee:

Exactly.

Preet Bharara:

You’re not sticking to the issue.

Min Jin Lee:

I told you.

Preet Bharara:

I’m not having any… Now, she’s a very brilliant woman and an excellent writer and chronicler of food. I asked her the question, “Would you do a show about the holiday Halloween? And if so, would you focus on the merits or the lack of merit of the candy corn?” And she said the interesting thing is Halloween is her favorite holiday because she came to America on Halloween.

Min Jin Lee:

Oh.

Preet Bharara:

And she saw people trick or treating and was like, “Wow, what a great country?”

Min Jin Lee:

I like that. I can’t say Halloween is my favorite holiday. However, I did like getting all the candy. I thought that was really interesting. And you and I grew up in a time when you’re able to go trick or treating without fear of razor blades.

Preet Bharara:

No, the biggest fear you had was you were going to get the neighbor who gives you an apple.

Min Jin Lee:

Oh, my gosh.

Preet Bharara:

Instead of candy.

Min Jin Lee:

So real. So real. It’s like, “No, you can keep your box of raisins. Thank you very much.”

Preet Bharara:

Oh, the box of raisins, yeah, no. I mean, my problem with Halloween was because my parents were worried about my catching cold. So one year, I dressed as a cowboy. It wasn’t a great cowboy outfit, but I had the vest and I had the holster and I had the gun and the hat. It was a little chilly and my mom insisted that I wear a ski jacket on top.

Min Jin Lee:

I love your mom.

Preet Bharara:

So I would ring doorbells and nobody knew what I was. I just looked like a guy who was maybe going skiing with a cowboy hat on.

Min Jin Lee:

I love your mom. I really love your mom.

Preet Bharara:

Well, that leads me… You know what? So this seems like idle chit chat?

Min Jin Lee:

No.

Preet Bharara:

But something that you and I obviously both experienced in different ways because we’re from different places, and when we grew up… I grew up in Jersey, you grew up in Queens for much of your early life. These little differences between sort of the white kids who were around and in school who had been here for generations and then you being the new kid… And obviously where you lived, it was quite diverse and there were a lot of immigrants. Where I lived, there were some immigrants. But were there moments that you remember thinking “Why don’t we do this the way the Joey across the street does it?” Are there moments like that?

Min Jin Lee:

I think my entire life was like that. It wasn’t just about Joey. I kept on thinking the way I’m growing up feels off. It feels off. And it’s funny. The reason why I think what you just said about the idle chit chat is so important, is that so often people like you and I are not in conversation in a mainstream way. So people are always so surprised when people like you and I talk about our childhoods because people know almost nothing about people like us and our childhoods. So people have often said to me at my book readings, we didn’t know that you wrote your book in English. That’s how far off the reality is for the mainstream audience. So I often live in this New York bubble. Every time I leave my New York bubble and I meet people who are not like us, they say the darndest things.

Min Jin Lee:

So when I think about Joey and all these other people I think, I kept on wishing that my parents could be my advocates, I don’t know if you had that feeling, and that they were switched on or they had other parents with whom they could exchange notes. So when I became a parent, I was so much more involved with things like the parent association. Or if the school would ask me to do something at the school, I did everything that they asked because I wanted to be the parent who knew what was going on because my parents couldn’t know what was going on.

Preet Bharara:

That’s interesting. I mean, in a sort of parallel vein, I remember these moments thinking I want to fit in with everyone else, and we’ll talk about assimilation. You have lots of thoughts that you’ve expressed about assimilation of what that means and whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing and to what extent one assimilates. But I remember one day getting on the school bus when I was a kid… And my parents listened to this podcast every week so I wonder what they’re going to think of all of this because it’s not the case that we talk about this so much. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving. I was pretty young, maybe I was 7. I don’t know. The bus driver asked, “Did you have a nice Thanksgiving?” I said, “Yes.” And then she asked “Did you have Turkey?” And I said, “No.” She said, “Well, what’d you have then?” And I said, “Oh, we had chicken.” And she said, “Oh, well that’s good enough. Chicken’s very close to Turkey.”

Preet Bharara:

What I didn’t say was we had chicken curry that Thanksgiving. I remember… And this is a terrible thing to feel. I feel… I don’t know. Maybe you can help me with some therapy on this. I feel awful that I had that bad feeling about that now as an older person, as someone who’s come to understand my heritage and my culture much better and the mix of it. But I felt I turned red and I’m thinking, “Why on earth did we have chicken curry when everyone has Turkey?” That’s what you do in America. You have Turkey. And every year since then, at the insistence of me and maybe also my brother, we had Turkey. Do you have a reaction to that?

Min Jin Lee:

I do. I like this memory very much because obviously you and I would agree that your parents were right to serve curry because it’s more delicious.

Preet Bharara:

This is the secret. Chicken curry properly made my mom who’s listening as a magnificent cook. And yet we eat the Turkey now.

Min Jin Lee:

Well, I’m going to tell you something even crazier. When I was 8 or 9, I think I was not even very close far from when I first got here. I felt so compelled to know the traditions better that I got a cookbook from the library. I think it was Better Homes & Gardens. I can see the cover right now. It’s red and white. It’s like a checkerboard table cloth cover. And I made a Turkey.

Preet Bharara:

You made a Turkey?

Min Jin Lee:

Yeah. I just asked my mother to buy a Turkey and I made a Turkey because I thought it was so important. Because my mother was working all the time, six days a week. It was this nonstop. And I thought we need to have this Turkey. My older sister helped with everything. And my younger sister, she was just adorable. And we made a Turkey. And so since then, I have always made the Turkey until I think I was almost 50 when the torch was sort of passed to somebody else.

Preet Bharara:

That’s interesting.

Min Jin Lee:

No, it’s crazy. When I think about it-

Preet Bharara:

Were you bullied? Were you bullied as a kid?

Min Jin Lee:

I was bullied endlessly.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. So was I. I haven’t talked about it much. The first time I talked about it and wrote about it, I got a very sweet note from my mother who felt awful that I had never told them that.

Min Jin Lee:

I never told my parents.

Preet Bharara:

It was just not in my nature. It was not in my nature to do that.

Min Jin Lee:

I never told my parents.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. And why didn’t you?

Min Jin Lee:

I felt sorry for them.

Preet Bharara:

What does that mean?

Min Jin Lee:

They were just working all the time. I mean, I just felt-

Preet Bharara:

You didn’t want to burden them?

Min Jin Lee:

I didn’t want to burden them. And also, I didn’t think it was their job to take care of me in that way. I think this is kind of connected to my previous answer about my son, is that I feel so strongly that I have to advocate not just for myself and my kid and also for my husband and my classes and my students and the planet. There’s a part of me that just feels like, “You know what? If I can do a tiny little thing to somehow help other people in my community who feel as immigrants that they can’t do that thing, I’m going to try.” And it gets me in trouble, not in a bad way, but kind of I’m over committed. And I need to sit down. I don’t know how to explain it in any other way, but I feel like I overdo it because of my childhood. I mean, this is what you’re talking about, is that you didn’t tell your parents. Why? I mean, wouldn’t you want-

(Video) Min Jin Lee - DeMott Lecture 2019 - Amherst College

Preet Bharara:

Well, me in part, my parents worked hard too, but for me it was a little bit I was embarrassed that I was the victim of this and it was humiliating and I didn’t want anybody to know. I just wanted it to stop.

Min Jin Lee:

I also think we have a gender problem, right? Because I think boys are supposed to take care of themselves and fight back in a different way. I think girls aren’t expected to at that age. I told my older sister and sometimes my sister had to get involved because I did not have either the language, not because I couldn’t speak English because I couldn’t speak English, but that wasn’t it because my older sister couldn’t speak English either. I just didn’t have this sort of self confidence to fight back. If the kid was bigger than me, then my sister would actually step in. And my older sister now, she works as a very fierce advocate for poor people. Her entire life has been dedicated to public service. She’s the president and CEO of Volunteers of America. So it’s almost as if you have this experience of being persecuted unfairly as a young person. And then sometimes when you grow up, you become an advocate.

Preet Bharara:

I’m confused about one very basic term-

Min Jin Lee:

Sure.

Preet Bharara:

… that we use all the time and we’ve used it today and they use it to describe the month that we’re in. What does it mean to be Asian? What does it mean? Asia is a continent?

Min Jin Lee:

Yeah. Yes.

Preet Bharara:

That subsumes dozens of cultures, scores of languages, many, many, many cuisines, different histories, some overlapping histories, some histories of war between and among the nations in Asia. So what does it mean?

Min Jin Lee:

Well, you’re correct, Preet. It’s a misnomer and it’s an imperfect term. It’s a large tent that barely shields all the concerns that we have in our community. It makes a lot of people feel an allergic reaction to it, especially members of our own community. I think non Asians aren’t going, “This is stupid.” I think usually it’s Asians and Asian Americans are going like, “I don’t like it.” Because if you think about it, like for example in your biography, I believe that you are half Sikh, half Hindu in terms of your parent, is that right?

Preet Bharara:

Yes. You did good research.

Min Jin Lee:

Thank you.

Preet Bharara:

Next time, you interview me.

Min Jin Lee:

I’m going to interview in a second. So if you think about it, there’s a lot of history there between Sikhs and Hindus.

Preet Bharara:

Oh yeah. I mean, look, you talk about and have written about brilliantly the tensions between Koreans and Japanese. And there’s a lot of that.

Min Jin Lee:

Right. So here you have, let’s say the continent of India over a billion people. And you’re going to tell me just within the continent of India, that we all get along? That we all have the same interest? So it’s preposterous. So I think I understand your question and also I think everybody else does. And yet, it’s a political identity to be Asian American. And now if you think about it, the proper term for this month is Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage month. That’s a lot of letters.

Preet Bharara:

It’s a lot of letters.

Min Jin Lee:

And very often, folks who are native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders are like, “We don’t even understand how this happened, but we definitely want to be included in this party.”

Preet Bharara:

Right.

Min Jin Lee:

And I’m like, “Yeah, come on in. Join us.”

Preet Bharara:

It’s like NATO.

Min Jin Lee:

Yeah. Yes.

Preet Bharara:

It’s like there’s just strength.

Min Jin Lee:

Yes. Yes.

Preet Bharara:

And every once in a while, a country, Bangladesh, at one point maybe applied to be in AAPI. I’m kidding obviously. I mean, the way I began to think about it, you said it’s a political identity. And I think that’s right. Because from the perspective of the people who live in the country that we came to, particularly people who are racist, and I got involved in anti-Asian violence. We’ll talk about the current surge in that, but anti South Asian violence in North Jersey back in the early ’90s and became a little bit active in that fight. I remember thinking to myself, within our community, the South Asian community, we think there are huge differences and tensions between Muslim Pakistanis and Hindu or Sikh Indians. But if you’re a white supremacist walking down the street in Hoboken, they’re not distinguishing between the Pakistani and the Indian and the Bengali.

Preet Bharara:

The people who are engaging in violence now I don’t think are making distinctions between a Korean American and a Japanese American. They see some kind of other, and their hatred does not admit of those distinctions. So in that way, Asian American sort of makes sense. Does that make any sense to you?

Min Jin Lee:

That’s exactly the reason why we have the term. And if you think about Vincent Chin, he was murdered by white supremacists who were really upset that there was a rise in Japanese auto makers. They weren’t really asking for their identity card and then looking it up and saying, “Oh, by the way, you’re not even Japanese.”

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. Well, that happened after 9/11.

Min Jin Lee:

That happened… And after 9/11, if you think about the attacks on Sikhs, a deeply peace loving people who have fought very hard against poverty. And they’re thinking, “Oh, you’re Muslim.” And I’m going, “No, you’re just a dumbass.” So in that sense, I think yeah, why don’t we band together and figure this out, because they’re not making distinctions.

Preet Bharara:

So is that the only way that term makes sense?

Min Jin Lee:

I think so.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah.

Min Jin Lee:

Because when I was living in Asia and I would say something like “I’m Asian American,” they would look at me like, “What are you talking about?”

Preet Bharara:

What does that mean?

Min Jin Lee:

What does that mean?

Preet Bharara:

Is there such a thing as European? Does European make sense?

Min Jin Lee:

No. I mean, I have to say that when I was growing up in Queens, it was so distinct. So distinct. There was no such thing as a whiteness because I didn’t ever say somebody was white, ever. Or even black. Because my friends are Jamaican or they’re Polish or they’re Italian. And they were incredible proud.

Preet Bharara:

Country specific.

Min Jin Lee:

Yeah. They’re really ethnically specific and country specific. And they would even tell you, “I’m Catholic. Don’t you get it?” And you’re going, “Oh yeah, that person is Irish and Catholic. And that person’s Irish and Protestant and they are different.”

Preet Bharara:

Do you think there’s enough solidarity between and among the communities that we subsume under the rubric of Asian American?

Min Jin Lee:

I think the solidarity will only come to fruition under two different sets of scenarios. One scenario is there’s a common enemy. The other scenario is that it’s a cool party and people just want to join. So I noticed that among the people in our communities who want to develop a stronger political identity, they kind of say, “We’re going to celebrate all the cool things about being us.” And the other part says, “We’re going to focus very hard on the people who hate us.” And I kind of think at this point, because I’ve studied history of movements, I’m happy to do both.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. Why not?

Min Jin Lee:

Yeah. Why not?

Preet Bharara:

You’ve said, “I’m extra Asian.” You said you were being glib when you said that.

Min Jin Lee:

No.

Preet Bharara:

What does that mean?

Min Jin Lee:

Well, I think the conversation that I was having, it was about being very Asian or being Asian enough. Well, I know that it was for the Los Angeles Times and these two journalists to have a podcast called Asian Enough. And they ask Asian Americans around the country and I think around the world about what it means to be Asian. And I said that all my life I’ve always leaned into my identity and it’s okay. I mean, people usually say, “I don’t want to be an Asian American writer. I want to be a writer.” And I kind of think, “Well, I’m not leaving my identity or my experience at the door to somehow sound better for people who are the ones who I guess check your credits.” And if you think that somehow it’s worse to be an immigrant writer or to be a feminist writer or any of those things that have labels, then that’s really on you. It’s not on me. I’m not going to hope that I’m going to get an extra credit for being a writer rather than just whatever it is that you want to call me.

Min Jin Lee:

I mean, you can’t really control these boxes people puts you in any way, but I can’t ever extricate certain aspects of my identity. I don’t really see the point of it. What are the goodies that I get if I do that? If I said to you I’m not a woman writer, that being a woman is something that I can just leave at the door, do I get a prize for that?

Preet Bharara:

Well, I don’t know. I mean, people do a lot of things.

Min Jin Lee:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

And people choose which parts of their identity to care about and think about and explore. For some people, that’s their religion. For some people, it’s their ethnicity. And for some people, it’s their gender. For some people, it’s a combination of all of those things. My view is you should just do what you want.

Min Jin Lee:

I guess you could do what you want, but I kind of also think that Kimberlé Crenshaw’s term intersectionality has become one of the most important terms of generation Z and the millennials. Oddly enough, it’s a very old term because people are saying they’re all interlinked in the same way I can argue as a person to studies economics. But our economies are coupled, right? So when I say, “I don’t want to make an air conditioner in, let’s say Indiana, as a corporation,” that affects not just Indiana and the people who work there, it affects America and also affects other countries that the air conditioners are made. We’re arguing for a more complex understanding of the world and I think that’s a good thing. Not a bad thing.

Preet Bharara:

Right. Stereotyping is also bad.

Min Jin Lee:

Right. It’s very, very bad.

Preet Bharara:

It’s very, very bad. We’re talking about that in a moment.

Min Jin Lee:

Cut it out. Cut it out.

(Video) Writers Are Reaching for Our Thorns; the Thorns Which Define Our Entire Being | Spotlight

Preet Bharara:

Yes, stop it.

Min Jin Lee:

Stop it. Stop it.

Preet Bharara:

At this point, it should seem not necessary to explain why the myth or stereotype of the model minority of the Asian American is bad, but some people still need to understand that. You want to take a shot?

Min Jin Lee:

Sure. Here. Just the biggest problem that I think… No, it’s not the biggest problem. One of the problems that I think I see right now in our community of fighting the model minority myth is that we ourselves are doing it. So very often we’ll say, “We’re the good Americans. They’re the bad Americans.” And I’ve seen people of our own community do this. So if you look at the Harvard case right now that’s going to go up in the Supreme court.

Preet Bharara:

The affirmative action case.

Min Jin Lee:

The affirmative action case.

Preet Bharara:

Yep.

Min Jin Lee:

This is a really good example of where you have Asian Americans who have benefited from affirmative action saying “Harvard is wrong and therefore it needs to go away.” And then Harvard actually saying, “Oh no,” and this is your Alma mater and it’s also a place that I have benefited from because I was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard saying, “No, we’ve never done anything wrong in the way we choose our candidates.” And I say they’re both wrong. They’re both wrong. And I know why they each have to say they’re both right. But a lot of this case really hinges on model minorities. Unfortunately, until we ourselves start naming the complexities and the nuances of cases like that and also of our own identities that we’re not perfect, that we have problems and that there is an enormous tent with so many diverse and diverging interests within our own tent, then we’re not going to get what we want.

Min Jin Lee:

But if you keep saying… And Andrew Yang said this during the elections when he was the first Asian American candidate to run for president, he even wrote an op-ed in the New York times. I don’t dislike Andrew Yang. There are certain things I agree with him about like UBI. I love that idea.

Preet Bharara:

Universal basic income.

Min Jin Lee:

Thank you. Universal basic income. He said we should just cover ourselves the American flag and try to tell everybody that we’re really, really American. So if Preet and I are hyper patriots, then we would actually protect ourselves. And again, this becomes a model minority idea. We’re hyper patriots, we’re hyper good, we’re hyper excellent. And look at our resumes. I mean, you and I have done a lot of things that people would say “They’re model minorities.” We’re really good Americans to have. And I kind of think, “No, that’s a really dangerous kind of idea.”

Preet Bharara:

Right. Because if you don’t live up to the model minority status, whatever that is, then you’re looked upon even worse than you would otherwise be in part.

Min Jin Lee:

It’s dehumanizing, because why can’t I have a bad day? Why can’t I fail the New York State Bar?

Preet Bharara:

You can fail the New York State Bar.

Min Jin Lee:

I already did. Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

And you were allowed not to become a doctor.

Min Jin Lee:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

And it all worked, that joke… Every time I’m in front of an Indian American or South Asian audience, I make the joke about disappointing my family by not becoming a doctor. It never doesn’t get a big laugh. Isn’t that funny?

Min Jin Lee:

Right. But that joke also hinges on model minorities.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. But it’s a little bit making fun of it, I think.

Min Jin Lee:

I think so. Well, I think you and I are trying to comment and critique it. I’m not quite sure if the audience gets it. And this is the Dave Chappelle problem, right? It’s that critiques are often seen as it depends on who the listener is because you and I are intending a critique, but sometimes the audience only just reaffirms a stereotype.

Preet Bharara:

But I think the Asian American community, at least compared to when I was growing up, is incredibly more diverse in many, many different ways. Would you agree with that?

Min Jin Lee:

I think it is more diverse because I think we’re becoming more visible. One of the things that I’ve noticed about folks in our community is that there’s a real tendency to be afraid of being shamed of being self-promoting. And self-promoting itself is a term that has a great deal of judgment behind it, right? But we’re living in a world in which platforms, and I’m going to say something, I’m going to use a big word here, but neoliberalism requires… No, neoliberalism has made this intermediated media economy in which you have individuals who have to get more attention. And getting more attention requires becoming more visible. So what has happened is that you have all these individuals of Asian descent saying, “You know what, I’m going to have to become more visible.” And that as a consequence, we know more about them. Have they always been around? Yeah, I think there have always been many people who are Asian who are doing interesting different things.

Min Jin Lee:

And even the fact that we’re talking about some of the pathways that we’re supposed to have as good model minority children, that’s a good thing. I’m going to break the stereotype. I guess what troubles me as a college professor and also as a parent is I see how the model minority myth is not just creating envy for us, but it’s really becoming used as a bludgeon against children. Our children are suffering from so many mental health issues because they feel like they’re not measuring up. And that to me is really distressing.

Preet Bharara:

We’ll be right back with more of my conversation with Min Jin Lee after this.

Preet Bharara:

You’ve spoken about the difference between the hopes and dreams and aspirations and focus of a first generation immigrant versus a second generation immigrant. And that resonated with me and I see that. Can you explain what you meant by that?

Min Jin Lee:

Yeah. One of the things that I really see as a college professor is I’m dealing with second generation kids a lot and third generation kids, and yet they still have this specter of judgment from the first generation parent. And the first generation, especially if they’re middle class and working class, they come from countries and there’s so many different countries they can come from who are Asian, where it’s really about survival. How do I survive my life? And I explained it in terms of the pyramid of Maslow’s needs, M-A-S-L-O-W. In the very bottom, you need to have food, shelter, safety. And in the very, very top, you have this whole idea of meaning and creativity. So second generation, they might have more existential wishes that they’re not being gratified and they’re very unhappy or they’re discontented. And the first generation says, “What’s the matter with you? You have everything you need.”

Preet Bharara:

“We have a home. We have running water.”

Min Jin Lee:

We have running water. Or even, “You have a nice car and you have a nice wife. Why are you complaining?” And the second and third generation says, “No, but I want more.” And wanting more and not being understood for wanting more is very painful for people. I’m always saying, before you judge somebody who seemingly has everything and wants more, I ask you to pull back and say, “Why isn’t that person entitled to more? Doesn’t that person have the right to dream bigger?” Because that’s how the great things in this world happen, is that somebody had to dream that big.

Preet Bharara:

Right. You understand where the first generation is coming from.

Min Jin Lee:

Of course.

Preet Bharara:

So it depends on where…. So for example you and I both came to America via airplane, and presumably someone had the money to buy the airplane ticket. But if you came to the United States of America in the 1970s as a refugee from Vietnam and spent some time in a camp before you came here, and this is the case of my best friend from college, and then your recollection is that you were picking fruit, picking berries in a field in Oregon. And then your family by hard work, built themselves up into people who got jobs and then opened up a business, they opened up a restaurant. And the idea that the next generation wouldn’t be happy with sort of middle class status and jobs and an Ivy League education and all of that, it must be jarring to the first generations. It’s understandable, right?

Min Jin Lee:

Well, it must be really jarring and it must be disappointing and upsetting and terrifying. One of the things that I always often caution parents is “I know you’re afraid. You’re afraid for the safety and wellbeing of your child. And out of your fear, you are saying things that you don’t really mean. And if you thought them through, then you might not say them in such a mean and judgemental way. But I understand that you’re afraid because you love your child.”

Min Jin Lee:

And I always tell my students who are really upset about the fact that they don’t want to be doctors, but their parents want them to be doctors, “Your parents really love you and they want to protect you. And being a filmmaker is really difficult. Being a podcaster is being really difficult. Being a writer is really difficult.” I understand that. And often I caution them and say… I don’t want to say, “Oh, go run for your dreams. Just do it.” I say things like, “Sit up straight. Stop saying the word like. Make eye contact.” I tried to equip them with some of the social skills, because let’s go back to personality, right? And character.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah.

Min Jin Lee:

Is that you actually have to be able to do those things too. I also tell them, “Do you know how you’re going to get health insurance? Because you’re going to need that.” But I tried to tell them, “Your parents are saying this out of love. They’re misguided and also they’re gripped by emotions so sometimes it’s really difficult to say things when you love and you’re scared.” And they usually look at me like, “Oh, I know my parents love me.” And I said, “I know. And also, you also have to grow up and at some point individuate and you’re going to have to tell them the truth about who you are.” Whether my students are afraid to tell their parents that they’re gay or trans or that they want to be filmmakers, all those things terrify parents, maybe not equally.

Preet Bharara:

I’m going to go back to affirmative action for a moment.

Min Jin Lee:

Sure.

Preet Bharara:

I learned that you actually attended some or many days of the trial.

Min Jin Lee:

I did.

Preet Bharara:

Why is that?

Min Jin Lee:

I’m working on a novel right now called American Hagwon, H-A-G-W-O-N, which is the Korean word for private tutoring academy. The central subject of my novel is education. And one of the most important issues for the Asian American community as well as for Korean Americans and Koreans in particular around the world is education. So I went to the Harvard trial. I was at the Radcliffe Institute as a fellow so it wasn’t a difficult thing for me to do. I attended about half of it. And then I probably will attend the Harvard trial in the fall if I can. It’ll be very hard to get a seat, but I’ll try.

Preet Bharara:

So we had Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University here talking about affirmative action over the course of two episodes. We were talking about that case. What struck you with the trial?

Min Jin Lee:

I think what struck me with the trial is the limitations of a binary understanding of law, because you have the plaintiff and you have the defendant. And the plaintiff is a group that’s led by Edward Bloom, who I do not believe sincerely care about the Asian American community. He believes that affirmative action is hurting Asian-American and that’s his claim. There were no visible Asian-American plaintiff so we don’t even know who’s making this claim. And then you have the defendant, Harvard University, which is one of the most powerful institutions, nonprofit companies on the planet saying that their practices of choosing candidates is unimpeachable. And I guess I found that to be difficult to accept because I thought there were aspect of the case when I heard the testimonies of the witnesses to be deeply unconvincing.

Min Jin Lee:

If that case was televised, you would say, “You know what? I think to give…” Like for example, in order to pick a candidate, there are several different characteristics that people focus on. One of them is personality scores. Asian American candidates were routinely given very, very low personality scores. And the words used to describe these candidates were deeply racist. So in that situation, I think that’s really wrong. And yet I believe very, very strongly that affirmative action is a good thing for Asian Americans, especially because the tent is so huge.

Min Jin Lee:

The other thing that I’m going to say, and I hope it doesn’t get me in trouble and if it does, so be it, is that if we want to have racial balancing because we believe that diversity is benefited from having many different people in the room, then why don’t we admit that that’s what’s happening? And when we don’t admit that it’s happening is because facially in America, quotas and racial balancing are illegal things. In other countries, quotas are not illegal. And quotas have been seen to demonstrate the eventual equalizing of historically wrong practices.

Min Jin Lee:

Like say in Taiwan, you had to have a quota of certain kinds of people in Taiwan in order to have a more fair judiciary system. But in America, quotas are considered facially wrong so we don’t have them. But the numbers are very unpersuasive to me and yet I think there has to be a third way of having affirmative action exist and to have a greater representation of all different kinds of points of view. And right now, I think that there’s too much eye rolling. I would hate to see affirmative action go. I think that it would be a real travesty.

Preet Bharara:

Who’s eye rolling?

Min Jin Lee:

I think there’s a lot of eye rolling in the Asian American community about the fairness of this case.

Preet Bharara:

Do you have a prediction?

Min Jin Lee:

Oh, I think Harvard will lose. I do. And it’s to their own fault because they made it too stark. Rather than admitting that some of these things are unfair, they just said, “No, we’re right” and they dug their heels in. And I think they’re going to unfortunately lose not also because the court has become deeply, deeply political, and it’s not supposed to be. I mean, I always thought of Montesquieu idea’s separation of powers. I’ve always felt this kind of romantic attachment to the judiciary and especially at Supreme Court. I mean, you’ve been to a Supreme Court cases, right?

Preet Bharara:

Yep.

Min Jin Lee:

Aren’t they amazing? When you see some-

Preet Bharara:

Well, it’s amazing to be in that courtroom and the majesty of it.

(Video) Min Jin Lee Discusses Her Acclaimed Novel "Pachinko"

Min Jin Lee:

Yeah. And also the best lawyers in the world argue their cases. And it’s very-

Preet Bharara:

Not always. Not always, but yes.

Min Jin Lee:

Okay. Among the best-

Preet Bharara:

Generally speaking, yes.

Min Jin Lee:

Yes. Among the best litigators in the world speak in that forum. I’ve heard the arguments and you’re always like, “Wow, this is a great country because these judges care about justice.” And I think obviously there’s so many miscarriages of justice in this country historically and today, but I have to say right now the composition of the court, there’s just far too much evidence of inequity and I’m troubled by what will happen.

Preet Bharara:

So just now we were talking about predicting an outcome in a particular legal case, and you’ve talked about outcomes otherwise but not in this context I don’t think, but it’s fascinating to me. You said recently, not that long ago, a couple years ago, “I am not impressed by people who will do whatever it takes. I disagree strongly with outcome oriented behavior. The ends do not always justify the means. Perspective and process matter.” What were you talking about?

Min Jin Lee:

I’m talking about every aspect of ambition. I study human ambition. That is part of my job as a novelist.

Preet Bharara:

Ambition in and of itself is not bad. Or is it?

Min Jin Lee:

Oh, no. Ambition is a beautiful thing.

Preet Bharara:

Yes.

Min Jin Lee:

When I meet a young person and they don’t have wishes to accomplish things, that makes me feel deeply troubled. Like I think, “What do we do wrong that you don’t have really gorgeous dreams to pursue?” Well, however, I think ambition without ethics is nothing short of craven.

Preet Bharara:

And how much do you see that?

Min Jin Lee:

I see it every day.

Preet Bharara:

In your students or among older people? Or both?

Min Jin Lee:

Both. But especially I think that the elder generation, including my own. I think gen X and boomers and older millennials, we are becoming a world where we think that the ends do justify the means because we see so much evidence of success being rewarded even though we know that they have been deeply immoral in so many aspects of their lives. I don’t mean just your personal life, because I can easily separate a person’s personal life from his, her, or their professional success. But even professionally, we find out terrible things people have done in order to get what they want, and it’s very disillusioning. It’s hard to recover from being morally disillusioned. I have to bring that up because perhaps that is a job of a writer to say, there’s a really strong consequence to moral disillusionment. It breeds cynicism and apathy and a lack of civic engagement.

Preet Bharara:

We haven’t talked enough about writing, and that’s what you do. So in the remaining minutes, let’s just talk about some of that because I think it’s always fascinating to hear how authors approach their craft. Are you one of these people who love writing or only love having written?

Min Jin Lee:

Oh, I love writing. As a matter of fact, I think in a way you and I’ve been talking about the writing the whole time, because I write social novels. I write novels about ideas and about what’s going on in the world and what has happened in the world so I have to be in the world. There’s a part of me that wants to retreat, but I can’t write with authority about these things unless I am involved and I really observe. So part of that was the reason why I go to trials and attend them because I want to understand how people behave.

Preet Bharara:

So when you said about researching a novel and it takes you a number of years, which is why… No, I mean, it’s a funny thing that I was thinking when I was reading about your style of research and the in depth nature of it, I had Robert Caro on the show some years ago, obviously not a fiction writer, but a great storyteller. And time after time, he underestimated the amount of energy and effort he needed and labor he needed to understand something. The research would stretch sometimes from what he predicted would be a month or two to a year or more. Do you find that your research takes as long as you expect it to take or it keeps just taking longer like it does in Caro’s case?

Min Jin Lee:

Well, I love Robert Caro’s work and I really believe him when he says turn every page. I’m like that. When I was an attorney, I did due diligence for corporate M&As. And very often they would send me to some basement that I’d have to review, oh, let’s say 20, 30 bankers boxes worth of documents. And I would turn the page. I would turn every page. I was astonished at how much I would find. So to answer your question, my research always takes longer, but I’ve never actually regretted ever having had that extra interview or going to the extra event or really listening to people. When I think about things, like if I… So for example, in my next novel, I’m going to have a parent who’s a judge, so I attended several trials. And then this week I’ll be talking to five different federal judges.

Min Jin Lee:

So will that take time? Yes. And how much of it will affect the book? Maybe about two pages. I think maybe two pages of probably a 500-page novel. Why is that important? Because it takes exactly one sentence to break the dream of a reader that she or he or they are experiencing when they’re in a story. And when you get that wrong, when you have that false note, you have broken the dream. So for me, I really need you to stay with me for almost 20 hours. And also, when that time is interrupted, I need you to say, “I want to go back to that dream. I want to go back to this dream that Min Jin created,” and that requires enormous energy on my part to make you want to come back.

Preet Bharara:

If one is committed to doing the research and has an open mind and an open heart and does the research, does everyone have standing to write about anything and any kind of person?

Min Jin Lee:

Yes, I do. I believe that you could write about anything and you do not have to be within the body of that person’s experience. Absolutely. I mean, I wrote a historical novel about something that happened to people that were not me. I mean, I’m not a Korean Japanese person. And perhaps that required me to do far more work and research to make sure that I get it correct. But I don’t think so. No. And if I wanted to write about, let’s say… I mean, if I felt really called to write about a former prosecutor who is half Sikh and have Hindu, and if I approached it with as much research as possible and also what’s the right attitude, I could write it. Would it be good? I don’t know, but I think I can do it.

Preet Bharara:

I bet it’d be pretty good. And what a fascinating subject.

Min Jin Lee:

Exactly.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. I’m not sure about that. I would stick to what you’re working on right now. Talk about religion for you. And you say it’s unusual in your circles to be a person who goes to church every Sunday.

Min Jin Lee:

Mm-hmm.

Preet Bharara:

Why is that unusual? Because I’ve seen the polls. And over time, the level of church attendance has gone down in this country. Why do you think that is? And do you think it matters? And what does church mean to you?

Min Jin Lee:

Well, in the same way I think that Congress and the judiciary has been held hostage by a vocal minority, I believe that Christianity in America has been held hostage, is being held hostage by a vocal minority. The average person who identifies herself or himself or themselves as Christians do not espouse the views of the vocal minority of those who are Christian. I am somebody who grew up in the church. My grandfather was a Presbyterian minister as well as a headmaster of an orphanage. I grew up feeling that Christianity was a political identity as well as a religious identity. And probably the reason why I have so much compassion or feeling towards civic engagement even though politics is something that many people in our communities really look down upon is because of my Christian identity. In the arts community however, I think the vocal minority tends to silence those who are mainstream people who believe in God.

Preet Bharara:

Well, I don’t even have a follow up to that.

Min Jin Lee:

Okay.

Preet Bharara:

I think we’ve gone an hour. Is there anything else you’d like me to ask you? Is there something you didn’t get off your chest?

Min Jin Lee:

Well, no. I guess one of the things I keep thinking about, I wonder what you think about this is, what it means to be a former lawyer. Because you and I are both former lawyers. So I’d love to ask you how does the identity of being a former lawyer have a kind of seeping into the other aspects of your identity?

Preet Bharara:

All consuming for me.

Min Jin Lee:

Right?

Preet Bharara:

I mean, I gave the commencement address at Brooklyn Law School recently and I sounded a theme that I have in the past. Everybody looks at me funny and I say, “Look, the law is the most mobile field that exists. If you don’t like corporate, you can go to litigation. If you don’t like being in house, you can go to a firm. You can do vice versa. There’s so many things you can do.” And then I say, “And if you don’t like being a lawyer, you don’t have to be a lawyer.” And I’m like, “Parents are going to start throwing things at me. ‘We spend $100,000 on this degree. What you’re talking about, don’t be a lawyer?”.”

Preet Bharara:

And I give the example of my brother became a successful entrepreneur. There are people including executives and editorial folks at Vox Media who used to be lawyers and high functioning lawyers. My brother will tell you that he’s glad he went to law school and not business school because it informs a certain rigor of approach to everything he does and everything I do. I don’t have any schooling in how to do an interview with an author or a politician. My interviewing skills, to the extent I have any, came from doing thousands and thousands of Q&As with witnesses, informally with agents, and just being inquisitive, but also being very, very careful. I mean, I think my friends sometimes make fun of me especially when I was a youth attorney that’s something that’s very lacking, we talk about the things that are lacking in folks in professions, is rigor.

Min Jin Lee:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

I don’t see rigor in the arguments being made by politicians. I don’t see rigor in the arguments being made by people from the pulpit, by people who comment on television. And part of my DNA and particularly being a lawyer who had responsibility over people’s lives and livelihoods as a prosecutor, you have to get it right. Always get it right. And particularly when you’re appearing in court and there’s someone in a robe who can yell at you or throw out your case or hold you in contempt if you lie or dissemble, that has an effect on how you conduct yourself. I think how you conduct yourself and talk about things and analyze things and defend things and rebut things in everything you do. So I think it’s a huge influence on everything that I do. How about you?

Min Jin Lee:

I feel so exactly the same way. I’ll just get a bit more emotional though, because I’m not a former prosecutor. I think I still love this idea of protecting the constitution. I still love this idea of justice and mercy and righteousness. I love it. And I think that when I stop loving it, I probably will retreat.

Preet Bharara:

Well, I love it too. One of the reasons we do this podcast is because we care about those things. You’re not the only person who cares about the constitution and the rule of law. We have so many thoughtful people who did not go to law school who want to understand not only how the constitution works and how it’s supposed to work and how accountability is supposed to be gotten and what the process of justice is supposed to look like and supposed to feel like regardless of outcome. I think even though I’m not a practicing lawyer at this moment, now I may be in the future, that we provide people with some information and education about what it means to be a citizen and what it means for the laws to work properly. I think that’s why it’s a popular show, because people are hungry for that like you are.

Min Jin Lee:

Well, I’m a listener and I think that I’m a very thoughtful listener.

Preet Bharara:

You have research to do, so I’m going to let you go.

Min Jin Lee:

Okay.

Preet Bharara:

Min Jin Lee, thanks so much for being with us.

Min Jin Lee:

Thanks so much, Preet.

Preet Bharara:

My conversation with Min Jin Lee continues for members of the CAFE Insider community. To try out the membership for just $1 for a month, head to cafe.com/insider. Again, that’s cafe.com/insider.

Preet Bharara:

So every week at the beginning of the week, I put out a call on social media for people to ask questions that they have for Stay Tuned. And every week I get a lot of questions like I did this week about the grand jury process, about the future of abortion rights in this country, about the January 6th committee. You name it, I get a question about it. But I also, especially recently, week after week, get a particular kind of question that sometimes is a little bit discouraging. And it is born of the fact that times are really difficult and painful in this country. Democracy is under attack. Immigrants are under attack. Basic rights are under attack. The truth is under attack. And even our children are being attacked in massacre after massacre. And the question that I get is, in light of everything going on, could you tell us about something good? Can you tell us something that’s good in the country at this moment? And in recent weeks, I’ve been trying to do that and I’m going to do it again this week.

Preet Bharara:

I’m going to tell you about something good. It’s an organization called the New York Legal Assistance Group or NYLAG. It’s a nonprofit organization that operates here in New York and helps countless people who can’t afford to get access to justice and they bring it to them. It’s an organization I support wholeheartedly, very strongly. And as you may know, I’m donating all the proceeds I get from the sale of my picture book, my kid book called Justice Is… to NYLAG.

Preet Bharara:

Earlier this week on Tuesday night, I had occasion to be at their annual dinner, their fundraising dinner, with lots of people who work for the organization and support the organization. What an inspiring evening it was. NYLAG, for those of you who don’t know, was founded in 1990 to provide free civil legal services to low income New Yorkers. In their own words, “NYLAG exists because wealth should not determine who has access to justice.” They know that members of marginalized communities face barriers to justice. NYLAG aims to disrupt systemic racism by serving individuals whose legal and financial crises are often rooted in inequality. NYLAG does what other institutions don’t do and what the government often doesn’t do. It meets people where they are. They provide services at more than 150 community sites like courts, hospitals, and libraries. And their staff of 300 had an impact on the lives of nearly 90,000 people last year. NYLAG also tries to address the root causes of inequality through impact litigation, policy advocacy, and community partnerships. They do all kinds of things.

Preet Bharara:

In the wake of the crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine, NYLAG has provided representation for refugees in need of a home. They help people who are transitioning legally change their name. They help tenants stay in their homes. Their typical clients include veterans, seniors, survivors of domestic violence and people with disabilities. We heard last Tuesday the moving story of one of the clients that NYLAG helped, a woman named Shanita, who was the victim of an abusive husband over a long period of time who was separated from her children for 15 years. It’s people like Shanita that NYLAG helps.

Preet Bharara:

So I was at the dinner on Tuesday because I had the great honor of receiving an award from the organization. And as I said to the group, I brought my children to the event not so my children could see their father get some kind of honor. They could really care less about that. I brought them so that they could see the work of NYLAG and they could see as they grow older, that there are opportunities to serve other people. And the best thing you can do in addition to whatever you do in your occupation is to serve and help other people. Any bit of inspiration that I can give them to serve the public and serve their fellow human beings and citizens is I think worth it. And so hopefully, they were inspired as much as I was. And I hope wherever you live, in whatever community, there are organizations like NYLAG that exists here in New York.

Preet Bharara:

If you’d like to learn more or make a contribution, go to their website at nylag.org, that’s N-Y-L-A-G.org. And to the people of the New York Legal Assistance Group, thank you for your work. Thank you for your assistance. Thank you for your service.

Preet Bharara:

Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest Min Jin Lee.

Preet Bharara:

If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics, and justice. Tweet them to me @PreetBharara with the hashtag #askpreet or you can call and leave me a message at 669-247-7338. That’s 669-24-Preet. Or you can send an email to letters@cafe.com. Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE and the Vox Media Podcast Network. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper. The technical director is David Tatasciore. The senior producers are Adam Waller and Matthew Billy. The CAFE team is David Kurlander, Sam Ozer-Staton, Noa Azulai, Nat Weiner, Jake Kaplan, Sean Walsh, Namita Shah, and Claudia Hernandez. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m your host, Preet Bharara. Stay Tuned.

(Video) Musings & Writings: Asian-American Voices | Min Jin Lee | Talks at Google

Videos

1. Are Koreans Human? | Min Jin Lee || Radcliffe Institute
(Harvard University)
2. Notes from the Reading Life with Tim Gunn and Min Jin Lee at the Jefferson Market Library, New York
(National Book Foundation)
3. Writers Speak | Min Jin Lee in conversation with Claire Messud
(Mahindra Humanities Center)
4. "Pachinko" author Min Jin Lee takes more of your questions
(PBS NewsHour)
5. Min Jin Lee on "Pachinko" at the 2018 AWP Book Fair
(PBS Books)
6. Writers Speak | Min Jin Lee in conversation with Claire Messud
(Harvard University)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Gov. Deandrea McKenzie

Last Updated: 01/05/2023

Views: 6321

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (46 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Gov. Deandrea McKenzie

Birthday: 2001-01-17

Address: Suite 769 2454 Marsha Coves, Debbieton, MS 95002

Phone: +813077629322

Job: Real-Estate Executive

Hobby: Archery, Metal detecting, Kitesurfing, Genealogy, Kitesurfing, Calligraphy, Roller skating

Introduction: My name is Gov. Deandrea McKenzie, I am a spotless, clean, glamorous, sparkling, adventurous, nice, brainy person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.