In Oh My Mother! A Memoir in Nine Adventures (Viking, May), Connie Wang, a former executive editor at Refinery29, documents her evolving relationship with her mother through trips they’ve taken together. Wang spoke with PW about the privileges and challenges of travel, and what it’s like to interact with a stripper in front of your mom.

Why do you call yours an “accidental immigrant” story?

We were accidental because it was always supposed to be a temporary stint abroad. Dad came to the U.S. to get a PhD soon after China opened, and my mother visited for what she thought was going to be only a year. In 1988 he came to Nebraska, and when the Tiananmen Square protests started happening, he was energized by student involvement. His photo was taken at a protest, and it was no longer safe to go back. My parents took advantage of the green card program and decided to stay. I was two when we arrived, and four when we decided to stay.

How does travel offer a window onto your relationship with your mother?

It’s a journey every child goes through: coming to the understanding that your parents are full human beings. It wasn’t until I traveled with my mother as an adult that I saw her go through a big change, saw her think about what she felt was worthwhile, the opportunities she had. By traveling, seeing places out of her context, unfamiliar from either a western or mainland China point of view, she could understand who she was. And I began to understand her as multidimensional. For many reasons, my mother and I are often ignored in our day-to-day world. We don’t stick out, people don’t see us, we don’t feel very visible, which can also be a blessing. She was able to change how she interacted with people depending on where she was, which allowed her to feel she could make those changes. She became more open-minded and could let go of the rigidity that used to guide her decisions. Travel has so many minor inconveniences, and they’re never as bad as you think they’re going to be—you have to adjust or you’ll never enjoy your trip.

What was the most surprising journey you took with your mother?

The Magic Mike Show in Las Vegas, which I never thought I’d do with my mother. Like, absolutely not! But that trip just exceeded my expectations. She did that trip her own way: Normally you go with girlfriends, you drink, you participate with the dancers. She went and didn’t drink and didn’t say a word. I got pulled up in the latter half, which was a mortifying experience, but she filmed it and was really proud of me. She loved the movies, especially the Andie MacDowell character—she took away the message that older women were desirable and valuable, which she loved. When they announced that there would be a live show, I threw out the idea of our going as a joke, and she forced my hand.

What have you learned from your travels?

The biggest lesson was humility. Travel has been sold to Midwestern Americans very specifically as time away from your life, a reset where you get pampered like a baby. While we traveled I really thought about what a privilege it was for us to be there, to understand how things are somewhere else, to learn the etiquette and the mores, even if you don’t agree with them. When we traveled to places with customs very different from ours, we were forced out of our comfort zones, which was exhausting but also rewarding.

What adventures will you take with your own son?

I gave birth during the pandemic, and honestly, I’ve gotten too comfortable staying put. I need a kick start to get traveling again. I want my son to be brave about new experiences; in new situations he’s an observer first and participates eagerly afterward. I want to see him eagerly try out new places and explore the world.

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