▶ Watch Video: New Yorker writer Hua Hsu on connecting family via fax

In his new memoir “Stay True” (Doubleday), New Yorker writer Hua Hsu recalls his teen years as a time of overcoming great distances – both generational and global – one page at a time.

When I was a teenager, my father moved from our home in California to Taiwan for work. My mother and I stayed behind in the U.S. So, my family bought a pair of fax machines. 

In theory, this was so my father could help me with my math homework. It was the early ’90s and faxing was cheaper than long-distance calling, and more efficient. There were no awkward silences.

I was starting high school, and everything, like my grades and extracurricular activities, suddenly seemed consequential. Like many immigrants, my parents had faith in math – you couldn’t discriminate against the right answer.

“I feel sorry that I cannot be around all the time to support you whenever you need.”

I could always fax my father a question in the evening and expect an answer by the time I woke up.  My homework requests were usually marked “Urgent.” 

Hua Hsu

He replied with equations and proofs – and comments he thought would interest me.

“This year’s World Series was very exciting, wasn’t it?”

Hua Hsu

We were like two strangers trading small talk at a hardware store.

“That’s the dilemma of life: you have to find meaning, but by the same time, you have to accept the reality. What do you think?”

Through these makeshift dispatches, he tried so hard to parent, and relate. When Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, took his own life in 1994, my father wrote: 

“We have to have emotion. That differentiate human being with machine, robot. But we also need to know how to control it.”


But I was a teenager. It was the heyday of alternative culture, and I was desperate to be different – from my parents, and from everyone else around me. My father’s faxes helped me grasp challenging mathematical concepts. Yet, there were questions neither he nor my mom could help me navigate. 

“What I want to say is that we have to have ideal thinking to change the world to be better.”

Just as he was reacclimating himself to Taiwan, a place he had left decades prior, I was trying to find my way in the suburbs of Silicon Valley. 

We managed to stay connected.  But I was an American child, and I was restless, and I was searching for my people.

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Story produced by Mary Raffalli. Editor: George Pozderec.