A Chinese-American professor and writer reflects on the social and cultural ramifications of his ethnic identity.
In this collection of essays, Gee (English/Georgia Coll.) engagingly probes his thoughts about living as a man of Chinese origin in the United States. Feeling different from other Americans was a constant of his life that began in childhood. Representations of Asian people he saw on TV and in the world “failed to correspond with who [he] was.” Forced to deal with Chinese stereotypes—such as math geek and music prodigy—Gee had to defend his right “to belong,” even among other nonwhites. But being considered a “model minority” didn’t always equate to better treatment. He tells the story of how a state trooper assumed criminal intent on his part because of what he looked like. At the same time, his Chinese background was also a source of fascination and even desire. Gee recalls how a young white woman asked him to a dinner and then later invited him to sleep with her. “She wasn’t interested in me as much as the idea of me,” he writes, “…based on the hue of my skin and shape of my eyes.” Cultivating visibility and nonviolent means of retaliation against all forms of anti-Asian racism is crucial. In one essay, Gee celebrates the efforts of a young man who, in 2011, combated a white student’s video rant against Asian students in the UCLA library. Commenting on the fact that he is part of a tiny Asian minority in his small town of Milledgeville, Georgia, where he lives and works, Gee remarks that his presence—like that of Chinese-American NBA star Jeremy Lin, whom he discusses elsewhere—is not just a defiant marker of difference. It is also a reminder that he is “part of the grand experiment in democracy” that is America.
Provocative and mostly thought-provoking essays.