A Feeling of Belonging: Asian American Women's Public Culture, 1930-1960

By Shirley Jennifer Lim | Go to book overview

Preface

To paraphrase Alice Walker citing Toni Morrison, I wished to create a book that I should have been able to read in school, but had not found.1 Since there were no models for what I murkily envisioned, I considered “acceptable” topics, ranging from the social history of Chinese American women in Los Angeles to a labor/organizational history of Asian Americans and entertainment. After uncovering previously unexamined historical sources such as actress Anna May Wong's Chinese American Paramount Studio films and the papers of the Chi Alpha Delta sorority, my topic finally resonated with me and evolved into an analysis of Asian American women's reworking of American cultural practices during an age of racial segregation and immigration exclusion. As an Indonesian American woman, which signifies that I come from a numerically small American racial minority group, I did not grow up with Asianethnic community practices and was fascinated when I discovered their historical prominence in the mid-twentieth century.

My own life history influenced how I understand the importance of cultural practices for female racial minorities. Having lived outside the United States for most of my childhood, I became acutely aware that despite my being born in the United States, people were not willing to grant me my birthright of cultural American citizenship. Rather, I had to earn it. The way I proved my Americanness on the playgrounds of Scotland and Libya despite my Asian face was to speak the latest American slang and show that my lunch box contained Kool-Aid and Toll House cookies, to wear Wrangler jeans. By showing my Americanness through my cultural knowledge, I gained prestige on those playgrounds. My successful displays of being American resulted in my entire class at the Oil Companies' School in Tripoli, Libya, voting me the coveted title of seventh-grade Valentine's Day Dance Queen. As the daughter of people who had come of age under Dutch colonialism and subsequent Indonesian independence, I

-vii-

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