Of Orphans and Warriors: Inventing Chinese American Culture and Identity

We were as American as can be,” states Jadin Wong in recalling the days when she used to dance at a San Francisco nightclub during the 1940s. Wong belonged to an all-Chinese chorus line at a time when all East Asians were called “Orientals”. In this context, then, what did it mean for Wong, an American-born Chinese, to say that she thought of herself as an “American”? Of Orphans and Warriors explores the social and cultural history of largely urban, American-born Chinese from the 1930s through the 1990s, focusing primarily on those living in California. Chun thus opens a window onto the ways in which these Americans born of Chinese ancestry negotiated their identity over a half century. Past scholarship has portrayed these individuals as desiring to assimilate into mainstream American culture, but being prevented from doing so by the immigrant parent generation. Taking a new approach, Chun uses memoirs, autobiographies, and fictional writings to unravel complex issues of ethnic identity as both culturally defined and individually negotiated. She concludes that , while indeed many Chinese Americans were caught between the lures of mainstream American culture and their parents’ old-world values, this liminal position offered them unprecedented opportunities to carve out new identities for themselves from a position of strength.

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