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Chinese Americans

Warning: This post should be filed under “Psychotic Ranting and Anonymous Foaming”, a category available from NaBloPoMo, (Thank you to whoever was wise enough to create this category…) in which I whine about stereotypes that caught me by surprise.  Please feel free to ignore me when I am behaving like a rabid dog.  Come back when I am normal, or normal by my standard.

The thing about reading a fiction is that a good book sucks you in, lures you to identify with the protagonist, even more so if it is from the first person point of view.  Most fictions have an underlying universal theme: family, betrayal, love, hate, loss, reunion, found happiness, redemption,  self-discovery, at least the successful ones do.

I went into the library in search of a good book to read. I do this by browsing the book shelves and see what strikes my fancy. Like many things I do in life, I trust it to chance. Serendipity. I love the sound of it, more so since I learned how to spell it correctly.

I came across a book by one Jonanthan Tropper, This Is Where I Leave You.  The front flap promises a “riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind — whether we like it or not.”  Wonderful! Besides, this book apparently was being adapted into a feature film from Warner Brothers Studios. Even better! This way I can just read the book and skip the movie: since we all know, as a rule, the original books are infinitely better than the adapted films, right? (Except Marvel heroes movies of course. IMO.)

So imagine me, a universal reader, Everyman (Or, Everyperson if you want to be all PC about it…), following along the storyline. Everyperson, moi, going merrily down the road with the narrator who just lost his father and whose family is not mourning/coping properly, (Ok, so not so merrily after all. Sorry, my bad), I thought, “Dysfunctional family,” yup, we all have one of those.  But wait.  Hmm. The author could have lightened up on some of the cliché phrases and expressions, but that is not a good reason to put down a book once you started it. Or… is it?

Then on Page 11, BOOM! it came. Out of nowhere.  The Chinese showed up.

My landlords are the Lees, an inscrutable, middle-aged Chinese couple who live in a state of perpetual silence.  I have never heard them speak.  He performs acupuncture in the living room; she sweeps the sidewalk thrice daily with a handmade straw broom that looks like a theater prop. I wake up and fall asleep to the whisper of her frantic bristles on the pavement. Beyond that, they don’t seem to exist, and I often wonder why they bothered immigrating. Surely there were plenty of pinched nerves and dust in China.


<I am going to take a breath. In the mean time, please watch “Really with Seth and Amy” on SNL>

I am back. Here are the thoughts that went (are going) through my mushroom-cloud head:

  1. Maybe this book was written in the 1960s before the Civil Rights Movement.  Or maybe it was published in the late 20th century since you know, we were oh so unenlightened back then.  (Nope. It was published August 2009…)
  2. Maybe the narrator is what they call an “unreliable narrator”,  like John Dowell in The Good Soldier, Frederick Clegg in The Collector, and even Humbert Humbert in Lolita.
  3. I can’t really “demand” authors to start censoring themselves on the basis of Political Correctness.
  4. I guess all that “identifying with the narrator” was for naught. I am the “inscrutable” Chinese. Wow. Imagine that!

Anna May Wong in "Daughter of the Dragon"

Well, Mr. Tropper, this is where you left me befuddled and where I leave YOU! On Page 11…

Sax Rohmer published the Fu Manchu novels in 1913. Wasn’t that like, hmm, almost a century ago?

And, really? Just because someone does not talk to you, all of a sudden, they are inscrutable?  Maybe they just don’t like you because you are living in THEIR basement.

Is it because of our eyes?  So small, you can’t see “into our souls”?

Manga Eyes Real Life

Oh, and news flash: The whole inscrutable Chinese thing? MEGA TROPE! Done to death since the 1870’s.

Until you also think the French with their obsession with wine and cheese, the Italian with their obsession with impeccable fashion style even when they are just sitting inside their own house, and the Germans with their inherent love for logics and orders, and all the FOREIGN languages they speak with, are also inscrutable, don’t call ME inscrutable.

And if you are keeping the landlords in the movie, I dare you to make them inscrutable. No, seriously. More jobs for Asian (Asian American) actors.  I support my kind.  I can’t wait to see it.

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There is so much theorizing and critique one can do based on this one image, I don’t even know where to start…

Or, if you don’t mind, I find it hilarious.  Is it a sign that we have come a long way now that we can feel confident enough to make fun of it?

This photo is found on Dr. Macro’s HQ Movie Scans

I am facinated by pictures of Anna May Wong, especially these other photos from Daughter of the Dragon:

Anna May Wong - Daughter of the Dragon

Anna May Wong (Daughter of the Dragon)

Anna May Wong (Daughter of the Dragon)

Anna May Wong (Daughter of the Dragon)

She was a third-generation Chinese American.

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For Chinese people or people in the know, American Born Chinese are known as ABC, and different from Chinese immigrants (be their parents or their distant cousins), they have to cope with a different set of tribulations, and many of these are psychological. This book, or rather, graphic novel, follows the tradition of Frank Chin's angry plays ("The Year of the Dragon" and especially, "The Chickencoop Chinaman") and Maxine Hong Kingston's Americanization (or rather, Asian-Americanization) of Chinese folklore in "Tripmaster Monkey", and provides a 21-century spin on growing-up Asian/American in the USA. In fact, I have to wonder whether the young brilliant author Gene Luen Yang has read Chin's and Kingston's works — he must have since these are part of the "canon" now. 
All the above probably makes the book sound rather dry, it would be my fault. The book is a wonderful combination of humor, irony, insightful reflections, and great story-telling. It is a wonderful and short read: my husband, my 10-year-old, and I passed the book along and finished reading it in one night. You obviously do not have to be an ABC, or an Asian American, or an Asian for that matter, to appreciate the underlying theme of this book: you have to learn who you really are and appreciate who you are to begin to reach your full potential, and to truly feel that you belong wherever you go.  The theme of "trying to fit in" will resonate with any young person (and not so young) trying to find a place in the world for themselves. 
The book has won several awards, including the National Book Award for Young People. 

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