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

By Shirley Jennifer Lim | Go to book overview

Introduction

Lightbulbs flash. Pop! This way Miss Wong, over here. She smiles, turns, then smiles at the camera from a different angle. Her straw coolie hat is set at a rakish angle. Fashion writers note the details of her cream suit that is cut in the current Western style with Chinese fastenings, her rectangular clutch handbag made in Paris, customized with her Chinese name, Frosted Yellow Willow, in Chinese characters down the right side. She has won the Mayfair Mannequin award for her style. Reporters ask her about her upcoming film role as a Chinese American surgeon. In melodious tones modulated by her theater-trained British accent, she replies that she is pleased to play professional roles. As she will be on the March 1938 cover of Look magazine, people all over the United States, including young Chinese American women, read about her.

A Feeling of Belonging: Asian American Women's Public Culture, 19301960, is a historical exploration of the significance of Asian American women's engagement with cultural venues such as beauty pageants, sororities, movies, parades, and magazines. During an age of restricted citizenship rights under immigration exclusion and racial segregation, the adoption of such cultural practices by racial minority women cannot be interpreted merely as assimilation but must be seen as a set of transformative social acts that constituted Asian American culture. From the writing of the three-fifths slave clause into the U.S. Constitution to immigration policy in the twentieth century, race is at the core of the American nation-state. How a racial minority group such as Asian Americans represents and portrays race is of the utmost significance since race permeates every aspect of modern life. This book explores the historical significance of Asian American women's experiences, such as those of Anna May Wong's, through the lenses of performance, modernity, and cultural citizenship.

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