New Watering Holes: Brenda Wong, South Asian Art History and U.C. Berkeley
Roger R. Hale
We were first introduced to Brenda Wong and her family in Three Chinese Travellers to India, which Roger R. Hale wrote collaboratively with his wife, Elizabeth Chien-Hale.
In the second of three short stories, Brenda Wong is a proud mother, daughter and wife who, along with her husband Milton, is starting a family in Cupertino, California. As a result of Milton’s job, the family relocates to Bengaluru, India for three years before returning to Northern California. While in South India, Brenda builds on her interest in architecture by researching temples in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
New Watering Holes is the story of Brenda Wong’s decision to pursue a PhD in South Indian Art History at age 30 at U.C. Berkeley; her two children are young and Brenda fails to receive full support and encouragement from her husband and her mother.
This story explores three themes: First, it looks at the challenges in maintaining a healthy family while pursing ambitious personal and professional goals. Second, the book grapples with the contradictions surrounding wealth and inequality, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area. Political progressives at Berkeley live nearby the economically motivated engineers in Silicon Valley, and yet their beliefs about money and wealth could not be more different. Finally, Brenda’s story sheds light on some of the complexity of interpreting culture and cultural artifacts: Who has the right to interpret the culture of others?