Of Orphans and Warriors: Inventing Chinese American Culture and Identity

Of Orphans and Warriors: Inventing Chinese American Culture and Identity

Of Orphans and Warriors: Inventing Chinese American Culture and Identity

Of Orphans and Warriors: Inventing Chinese American Culture and Identity

Synopsis

Gloria Heyung Chun is currently teaching Asian American History at Bard College.

Excerpt

"We were as American as can be," said Jadin Wong in recalling the days when she used to dance at a nightclub noted for its line of exotic dancers and Sinatra-esque singers. In the 1940s, a club like hers, the Forbidden City, could be found in any large city. What was unusual about this one was that it was in Chinatown, San Francisco. Jadin Wong belonged to an all-Chinese chorus line at a time when Asians were addressed as "Orientals" and when many Americans thought that Chinese women had bound feet. In light of this, what did it mean for Ms. Wong, an American-born Chinese, to say that she thought of herself as an "American"?

For countless American-born Chinese like Jadin Wong, who occupied a marginal status in society, the question of identity was inescapable. Identity has remained a central preoccupation for Chinese Americans, given the delegitimization of traditional terms of reference, and of their cultural difference, by mainstream America. Of Orphans and Warriors: Inventing Chinese American Culture and Identity provides a window onto the way in which American-born Chinese negotiated their identity over a span of several decades. The phrase "of orphans and warriors" underscores both the struggles and the opportunities unique to American-born generations. Like orphans, they came to occupy a marginalized position sandwiched between generations, cultures, languages, and geographies. Even as they resented being measured by the ethnicity standards of the immigrant generation, they also refused to succumb to American mainstreaming. And while their doubly marginalized position as second-generation Chinese Americans easily became their "riverbanks of life," as described by Maxine Hong Kingston, delimiting their opportunities to . . .

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