Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context

By Elaine H. Kim | Go to book overview

4
Portraits of Chinatown

Asian immigrants' autobiographical writing can provide important insights into the social history of particular groups as well as apt portrayals of community life. The autobiographical writing of Younghill Kang and Carlos Bulosan offers readers a vivid understanding of the writers' self-image within the social context of the Korean and Filipino American experience. But East Goes West and America Is in the Heart are more than mirrors of their creators; they are windows into Korean and Filipino immigrant community life. Second-generation Asian American autobiographers, preoccupied as they seem to be with trying to win individual acceptance in American society, often present a much less complete view. Their efforts to win acceptance are perhaps more desperate because they cannot take comfort in the possibility of finding a place in any society but America's. The negative attitudes towards the Chinese American community expressed in Lowe Father and Glorious Descendant and the exoticized depiction of Chinatown life presented in Wong Fifth Chinese Daughter present only a partial picture of community life. Both Lowe and Wong are primarily concerned with the issues facing American-born Chinese, particularly within the context of their immigrant families, and this orientation represents but a fraction of the concerns within the Chinese American community at large. Even during the times described in the two books, the vast majority of Chinese in America were single men or "married bachelors" -- men separated by miles and years from their wives and families in China. Chinatown life was largely organized around the needs of these womanless, childless men who had been segregated from participation in the mainstream of American life by race discrimination.

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