I’ve been entranced with Maya Lin’s sensitivity and talent since I first learned of her when she, at the age of 21, designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.
If you’ve been there, you know how tears come as you’re touched by the strength, power, and honoring in her design.
Now, in reading about her redesign of the Neilson Library at Smith College, I learn this.
“I owe my existence to Smith,” she answered bluntly. “I owe them everything.”
She related the story of her mother, Julia Lin, who was attending college in Shanghai in May 1949 as Mao Zedong’s Communist army besieged the city. The day Mao’s forces marched into Shanghai, Julia received a scholarship to transfer to Smith in the fall — if she could get there. That August, with two $10 bills and her acceptance letter sewn inside a dress collar, her father had her smuggled out of the country on a fishing boat, even as bombs were falling overhead and pirates cruised the harbor looking to rob seaborne escapees. It took a month for her to finally make it through Nationalist Army lines, sail south to Hong Kong, and eventually arrive here in Northampton. But once on campus, Lin said, her mother thrived, graduating in 1951 and then going on to earn a Ph.D. in Chinese language and literature at the University of Washington. There she met and married a fellow Chinese refugee grad student. Both became professors at Ohio University.
The article in the NY Times is here: