Love Letters From Janey –
50 Years Of Breaking Barriers Together
Author: Richard Cheu
Cheu Writes Press
“Love Letters From Janey – 50 Years Of Breaking Barriers Together” is author Richard Cheu’s memorial to his wife, Janey Mildred Young Cheu. In his preface, Cheu gives the background of Janey’s parents and grandparents. Janey and her parents were American-born Chinese, as was her grandfather. Janey had adult responsibilities from the time she was six years old, helping her mother run a gift shop while her father was on active duty with the United States Army.
Cheu talks about the racism that they faced being Chinese (and educated), and how Janey wanted to become a doctor, but her mother Mary was adamant that she not do that, as she would never find a husband. Janey did get her education and worked for Bell Laboratories as a curriculum developer and systems engineer, and the only Asian American woman at Bell to receive the highest technical award that they offered. She was also associate director of the Institute for Science, Technology, and Social Education at Rutgers University, where she received an EdD in psychology and education. She was also a California state-certified microbiologist.
This book is broken into four parts, representing four different parts of Janey’s life. Part 1 talks about the 1960s, Part 2 contains excerpts from letters divided into twelve categories, representing different parts of the relationship between Janey and Richard, Part 3 talks about what energized and motivated Janey to do what she did in her career and personal activities, and in Part 4 Janey tells her own story, in her own words.
Part 1 talks about the changing world, and women’s rights. It referenced changing roles within society and within the home. It references how Janey was a product of her cultural heritage, her family, and the historical moment she came of age. We have to remember that this was the time of people like Betty Friedan and the feminist movement. This was all interesting to me because I lived through these times – the Kennedy presidency, the creation of the Peace Corps, and more.
Part 2 talks about growing up Asian American in California, referencing the influence of three cultures: Chinese, American, and Chinese-American. Speaking Cantonese at home and English in school allowed her to become fluent in both cultures. We also read about the author’s background and that of his parents. He also explains the process of choosing what to share from Janey’s letters to him. (As he notes, she wrote about anything and everything that was on her mind any given day.) Not incidental was the issue that Chinese Americans were not fully accepted as Americans.
Part 3 begins with Janey’s yin and yang personality. It talks about her Chinese name, which means “peach blossom”. It also talks about the author comparing his Myer Briggs score with Janey’s, which brought him to a greater understanding of her. Janey’s sense of precision is mentioned, as well as her passion for cooking. (Indeed, wanting to be left alone in the kitchen so that she could totally focus on cooking.)
Part 4 starts out with an oral history interview with Janey and the author. It is absolutely amazing to listen to them talking about different things that happened in their lives, and Janey’s take on them. Including her ambition to learn to ski, and to teach her children how to ski. Then there is their 50th anniversary, which they spent in Montreal (courtesy of their children). It is also interesting to note that Janey used her personal page in the Stanford Class of 1960s 50th class reunion book to share her life story with her classmates. (The information from this page is included in the book.) Also included is a very beautiful photo of Janey.
I very much appreciated the opportunity to review this book. Janey Cheu was/is a lady with spunk, determination, and the ability to care about herself and those around her. She moved between Chinese and American cultures at a time when there was a large divide between them. She honored both cultures, got an education, married and raised a family, and was not afraid to take a leading role in her work environment. It is because of women like her that our world has evolved to the point that it has. This is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it.
© March 2022 Bonnie Cehovet
Reproduction is prohibited without written permission from the author.