Amy Chua Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Myths of Globalization: Markets, Democracy and Ethnic Hatred: Conversation with Amy Chua, Professor of Law, Yale, and author, *World on Fire*; January 22, 2004, by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Background

Amy, welcome back to Berkeley.

Thank you very much.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Champaign, Illinois, and spent the first eight years of my life in West Lafayette, Indiana. And then my father -- you can figure out that he's an academic -- we were at Purdue and then we moved to Berkeley, California, when I was eight, and I grew up here.

So you went to the public schools in Berkeley?

I went to El Cerrito High School, a public school -- yes, very public.

Looking back, how do you think your parents shaped your thinking about the world?

It's complicated. A lot of it was inadvertent. My parents were both immigrants from the Philippines. They were ethnic Chinese, but they grew up in the Philippines. And my parents actually eloped to MIT, so, not the first place --

I hope they took books with them!

-- not the first place I would elope to, but that's where they ended up. I grew up with my three younger sisters in a fairly typical Chinese immigrant family. We had to work; we had to work very hard. My parents were fairly strict and a lot was expected of us, and we did not enjoy the same freedoms that a lot of our friends did.

I would imagine a real emphasis on education and books?

Yes. Yes, principally education, books, and family. I think that would be the core.

Where were you educated after El Cerrito High?

I went to Harvard. I applied just to that one place. I was going to Berkeley, but I went to Harvard. I went to Harvard Law School, as well, and then practiced on Wall Street for a while, and then eventually moved my way into academics, and I now teach at Yale.

As an undergraduate in Harvard, you majored in economics, right?

Yes, that's right.

What led you to the law? Why did you decided to go to law school?

Sadly, I think it was really just a default decision. Again, maybe playing to stereotypes too much, but my parents had high hopes for me in the sciences. I was actually pre-med, and I chose economics because it wasn't applied -- I started off in applied math, and economics was, I thought, at least a soft science; [hoping] that maybe that would appease my parents. But I enjoyed it very much and I focused on development while I was at Harvard. I applied to graduate schools also, but I sort of knew that I wasn't going to be a scientist, and just took the plunge, and it worked out very well.

What kind of law did you practice, once you started practicing?

Well, here the themes start to come together. I took a lot of international law courses. You kind of try to escape who you are, and I've always been interested in developing countries, international issues, cultural issues, because we were immigrants and outsiders in this country. My parents grew up in a developing country, two developing countries -- China and the Philippines. After graduating, I had clerked for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for a year, and I wanted to go straight into teaching. She said, pretty frankly (she was wonderful), "What are you going to teach? You don't know anything!" She suggested that I get some experience.

And this was ... which judge? Tell us who the judge was.

She is Chief Justice Patricia Wald* of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. A real role model for me. But I decided to go to Wall Street. I joined a very large, international corporate practice, and it worked out really well. I spent four years working exclusively on international transactions -- some in Europe, some in Asia, but principally in Latin America. So I saw a whole other set of developing societies -- not Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is the society I'm most familiar with, my own background. But I saw another very different one, and saw commonalties and differences.

Next page: Origins of an Idea


* Judge Patricia M. Wald, a former chief judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals also served as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

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