Travel journalist Tsui (She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War, 2003, etc.) ventures behind the tourist facades to find out what life is really like in five Chinatowns in the United States.
For many visitors, Chinatown means cheap souvenirs and noodle houses. But Tsui—who grew up visiting her grandparents at work on Canal Street in New York City—knew there were countless untold stories. In San Francisco, the author studied the history behind the iconic architecture and learned about the problems facing Chinatown youths across the country—specifically the brain drain caused by a strong emphasis on education and a fledgling gang culture among those who stay. In New York, the author observed a public-school classroom and worked a day at a fortune-cookie factory. Tsui examines the long-standing relationship between Chinatown and the movie industry in Los Angeles, as well as the new wave of West Coast immigration. Tackling the food in Honolulu, the author focuses on the open-air markets and looks at one local boy who used it as inspiration to become a chef. Finally, Tsui evaluates the future of the American Chinatown, traveling to Las Vegas, the first “planned” Chinatown—a nonresidential neighborhood completely housed in a mall and built and engineered by a local developer. Through these slice-of-life stories, the author uncovers intriguing facets of Chinese-American people—the often unnoticed poverty, the strong community support, the ways in which the rest of America has long exotified them—but it’s somewhat unclear how the communities differ from one another and how they band together as a national identity.
An interesting sociological collection in need of a more definitive conclusion.