Academic journal article The Geographical Review

"That Is Real America!": Imaginative Geography among the Chinese Immigrants in Flushing, New York City

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

"That Is Real America!": Imaginative Geography among the Chinese Immigrants in Flushing, New York City

Article excerpt

"If you love him, send him to New York, cause that is where Heaven is. If you hate him, send him to New York, cause that's where Hell is." --Glen Cao, Beijinger in New York, 1993. 

This paradoxical image of New York City reflects the mental gaps between living and imagining among Chinese immigrants. In the novel Beijinger in New York, the leading character Qiming and his wife landed at Kennedy airport with the idea of America as a paradise where everybody is rich, eats meat, drives cars, and owns large houses in suburbs. However, they end up living in a basement in Chinatown and working as cheap labor in garment factories and restaurants. The realization of their American dream in the end came at the expense of day-to-day survival, separation from their family and friends in China, and growing apart as a couple. Qiming's story represents the life of the large waves of Chinese who migrated to New York City and experience the gaps between imagining and living.

This article seeks to expand on imaginative-geography literature through an examination of formation of imaginative geography in everyday life of Chinese immigrants in Flushing, New York City, and how that affects integration, identity, and sense of place. Imaginative geography derived from Edward Said's Orientalism, refers to the representations and knowledge of space that are formed and dramatized by power and perceptions (Said 1979; Gregory 1995a; Driver 1992). Edward Soja's trialectics of spatiality illustrate three dimensions of imaginative geography: perceived space, conceived space, and lived space (Soja 1996). Built on Edward Soja's lived space--also Thirdspace--this article begins to address three current gaps within the imaginative-geography literature. First, this article attempts to interrogate the impacts of locality and everyday mobility on the production of geographical knowledge. The creation of the knowledge is a recursive process that results from everyday practices (Thrift 1996). The formation of imaginative geography is not only a consequence of a sociocultural power from above, but also a lived process from below: the process of knowing is a result of both imagining from "the outside in" and living from "the inside out" (Marcus 2011, 22). Therefore, imaginative geography is lived, contextualized, and placed. The formation of geographical images and the building of a sense of place are grounded in the everyday practice and facilitated by various media and infrastructure that connect people to the environment by paradoxically mobilizing and distancing them. Second, the formation of knowledge of the East by the West is largely determined by the unequal power dynamics between the colonizer and the colonized (Said 1979). The social and political power relationships between the colonized and the colonizers create the imaginative geography of the East by the West, as well as the politics of knowledge production in the studies of subaltern space (Said 1979; Gregory 1995a, 1995b; Jazeel 2014). However, seldom discussed is the imaginative geography of the West by the East, which equally exists due to the power hierarchy and impacts on the structures of global economy, culture exchange, and population movement (Holloway and Valentine 2000; Sun 2002; Buruma and Margalit 2005; Fong 2011; Beech 2014). Thirdly, the postmigration imaginative geography of the receiving country is understudied within the literature on migration and diaspora. Yet, the subjective factors of migration have significant implications on migration patterns, cultural integration, identity formation, and community development (Halfacree 2004; Gilmartin 2008; King 2012). The imaginative geography of the United States draws waves of Chinese immigrants like Qiming, who stands at the forefront of clashes between the West and the East. They arrive at the foreign land with a preperceived image and experience mental gaps between expectation and living experience. Very often, the imaginative geographies of the adopted country are reconstructed and reformed across the social and cultural distance, rather than physical distance. …

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