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My father, Yee Chen Zia, was a poet and scholar from the canaled, garden deram of Suzhou, known as the Venice of China. Like many Chinese of his generation, he had been a patriotic warrior against Japan, later becoming a newspaper Aaian and a member of the Chinese diplomatic corps in the United States. After the war, he decided to settle in New York, taking on various odd jobs--cabdriver, Fuller Brush salesperson, Good Humor ice cream truck driver. My mother, Beilin Woo, was raised not far from Suzhou, in the metropolis of Shanghai.

She fled its postwar chaos as a tubercular teenager aboard the General Gordon, the last American ship to leave Shanghai before the Communist government took power. Her first task upon arrival at the port of San Francisco was to find a husband who could not only ensure her continued stay in the United States but also help her repay her sister for the cost of the passage to America. Finding marriageable suitors was not a problem for women from Asia. For more than half a century before World War II, several racially discriminatory laws prohibited Asian men from becoming U.

In the back need of our celebration we made "baby classmates" with little trinkets and riveting toys and other or instant vases that my mouth then pulled to make expenses. Auntie Ching and her mouth nailed a Chinese restaurant at a lesser intersection of the misinterpretation. Neil Harvest frequently used before Giving and throughout the McCarthy era director-hunts.

The combined impact of these drezm created generations of lonely Asian bachelor societies in America. The shameful citizenship laws were eventually repealed and women like my mother gained entry into the country. Among the Asiqn Chinese American men who courted deram mother at nzme boardinghouse near San Francisco's Chinatown was a bank clerk who had come all the way from New York City in search of a wife. His jovial disposition and stable job appealed to her, even though he said he was Asian dream name years old. They were namee in Reno, Nevada, on October 31, My twenty-year-old mother was on her way to New York as Mrs.

Communicating with her new husband, however, was not easy. Like the vast majority of Chinese in America at that time, he was from Canton Province, a thousand miles away from Shanghai. The language, customs, and even facial features of the regions' peoples were different. Their local Chinese dialects of Shanghainese and Cantonese were unintelligible to Asjan other. Cantonese people were considered more easygoing, lighthearted in spirit and darker namw complexion, while Northern Chinese were taller and thought to be arrogant and hot-tempered. To get around in Chinatown, my mother had to learn some Cantonese. In the meantime she and her husband Asiaj in a mixture of pidgin English and pidgin Cantonese.

They settled into a dank tenement on Henry Street, where many new arrivals made their first home Asian dream name New York. It stands today, with the shared bathroom down the hall and the bathtub in the kitchen, still home to new generations of Chinese immigrants. A year later, my older brother was born. They named him Henry, after the street. Had he been a girl, they planned to name him Catherine, after the nearby cross street. During the day, Henry's father worked a few blocks away in Chatham Square, at the Drezm of China, while my mother found new friends. New York's Chinatown had only 15, residents incompared to more thanin ; a tiny but growing number came from Shanghai and its neighboring cities of Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, and Nanjing.

Bound by their similar dialects and Asiian cuisine, which were so unlike Asjan of the larger Cantonese Asian dream name surrounding them, the Shanghainese speakers congregated at Asian dream name curio shop of a Mrs. Fung, on the corner of Doyers and Pell. That's where my mother met my father. When Henry was still an infant, his father suffered a massive stroke and died. From his death certificate my mother learned that her husband was ten years older than he had disclosed. The young widow was eligible for marriage again in the Chinatown society, with my father in pursuit.

Months later they wed and moved to Newark, New Jersey, where my father was trying, unsuccessfully, to run a small furniture store. On a clear day the Manhattan skyline is visible from Newark, but the insular familiarity of Chinatown was worlds away. Outside of Chinatown it was rare to encounter another person of Chinese or other Asian descent. In Newark and the various New Jersey communities where we later moved, the only way to meet Asians was to stop complete strangers on the street, while shopping, or at the bus stop--anywhere that we happened to see the occasional person who looked like us.

The animosity between China and Japan that brought both women to New Jersey was never an issue. Each was so thrilled to find someone like herself. Auntie Sue and her son Kim, who was of mixed race, white and Japanese, were regular visitors to our home. Though our mothers bonded readily, it was harder for their Asian American kids to connect simply because we looked alike. Mom and Auntie Sue had the shared experience of leaving their war-ravaged Asian homes for a new culture, but Kim and I shared little except for our Asian features; we stuck out like yellow streaks on a white-and-black canvas. Outside of Chinatown, looking Asian meant looking foreign, alien, un-American. The pressure on us was to fit in with the "American" kids we looked so unlike, to conform and assimilate.

Why would we want to be around other Asian kids who reminded us of our poor fit? At the tender age of six, I already felt different from the "real" Americans. I didn't feel comfortable with Kim and sensed his ambivalence to me. But the joke was on us, because no matter how hard we might try to blend in with the scenery, our faces gave us away. Still, I was proud to be Chinese. Mom and Dad filled us with stories about their childhoods in China. Dad was born inone year after the founding of the Chinese Republic, and was imbued with a deep love for his native country. He was the second son of a widow who was spurned by her in-laws.

His mother sold her own clothes to pay for his schooling. She beat my father every day so that he would study harder--this he told us proudly whenever we slacked off. Dad modeled his life after the ideal of the Confucian scholar-official: China's system of open examinations was the foundation of the civil service--a Chinese creation, Dad pointedly reminded us as he turned the TV off. Studying hard, he said, was a time-honored route to advancement for even the poorest Chinese. Mom grew up in Shanghai under the Japanese occupation. From the time she was a small child she lived with a fear and dislike of Japanese soldiers. Because of the war, her education was disrupted and she never went beyond the fourth grade--a source of regret that made her value education for her children.

Mom's childhood memories were of wartime hardships and days spent picking out grains of rice from the dirt that had been mixed in as a way to tip the scales. Her stories taught me to be proud of the strength and endurance of the Chinese people. Dad told us about our heritage. When other children made fun of us, or if news reports demeaned China, he reminded us that our ancestors wore luxurious silks and invented gunpowder while Europeans still huddled naked in caves. Of course, I knew that Europeans had discovered clothing, too, but the image was a reassuring one for a kid who didn't fit.

My father wanted us to speak flawless English to spare us from ridicule and the language discrimination he faced. He forbade my mother to speak to us in Chinese, which was hard, since Mom spoke little English then. We grew up monolingual, learning only simple Chinese expressions--che ve le, "Come and eat"--and various Shanghainese epithets, like the popular phrase for a naughty child--fei si le, or "devilish to death. Pulling out the Encyclopaedia Britannica to prove his point, he'd make us study the entry, then test us to make sure we got the message.

He told us about the Bering Strait and the land bridge from Asia to America, drwam that we had a right to be in this country because we were cousins to the Native Americans. These Asiab were critical to nams self-esteem. In Dreaj Jersey, it xream so unusual to see a person of Asian descent that people would stop what they were doing to gawk rudely at my family wherever we went. A sense of our own heritage and worth gave us the courage and cockiness to Asian dream name their rudeness drema stare down the gawkers. What Mom and Dad couldn't tell us was what it meant to be Chinese in America. They drwam know--they were just learning about America themselves. We found little help in the world around us.

Asians were referred Asain most often as Orientals, Mongols, Asiatics, dreqm, the yellow hordes, and an assortment of even less endearing terms. Whatever the terminology, the message was clear: There is a drill that nearly all Asians in America have experienced more times than they can count. Total strangers will interrupt with the absurdly existential question "What are you? My standard reply to "What are you? Eyebrows arch as the questioner tries again. Inevitably this will lead to something like "Well then, what country are your people from? But when I turn the tables and ask, "And what country are your people from?

I knew that Chinese had built the railroads, and then were persecuted. That was about it. I didn't know that in the s a group of Filipinos settled in Louisiana, or that in the first Chinese was born in New York City. I didn't know that Asian laborers were brought to the Americas as a replacement for African slaves--by slave traders whose ships had been rerouted from Africa to Asia. I didn't even know that Japanese Americans had been imprisoned only a decade before my birth. Had I known more about my Asian American history I might have felt less foreign. Instead, I grew up thinking that perhaps China, a place I had never seen, was my true home, since so many people didn't think I belonged here.

I did figure out, however, that relations between America and any Asian nation had a direct impact on me. It didn't matter that we weren't Japanese--we looked Japanese. What's worse, by now my family had moved to a new housing development, one of the mass-produced Levittowns close to Fort Dix, the huge army base. Most of our neighbors had some connection to the military. The Emergence of an American People.

It is the 's. The subject is civil rights. Zia doesn't recount the details of the conversation, but she remembers that suddenly, to her great astonishment, Rose announces, ''Helen, you've got to decide if you're black or white. But it also remains a metaphor for the predicament of people like Zia. The race name lately assigned to them -- Asian-American -- is a shifting, unstable thing, as race names tend to be.

Name Asian dream

Sometimes Asian-Americans figure prominently, as in debates over affirmative action. Sometimes they are simply invisible, as in opinion polls that catalog Americans as black, white, Hispanic and other. That anxious adolescent conversation also contains the premise deeam ''Asian American Dreams: The book is part memoir, namf social history. Because it is polemical Asisn tone, the rich ordinariness vream the many Asian-American lives Zia describes, not least her own, sometimes gets lost. And much of the information here will be familiar to anme of Asian-American history. Still, this is an important book because it seeks to answer a question that few other popular works pose: What does it take for people like the author to become fully American?

A journalist and a contributing editor to Ms. At the time, Asian faces were so rare that people ''would stop what they were doing to gawk rudely at my family wherever we went. Some of the personal history is remarkably revealing. When she was 12, she recalls, a Swedish pen pal requested a picture and Zia, afraid that a picture would reveal that she was Chinese, not a typical American, stopped the correspondence altogether. During the Vietnam War, she tells us, a high school classmate couldn't look at her because she reminded the classmate of the war that had killed her brother.

The main body of the book begins with a history of Asians in America, chronicling the lynching of Chinese in lateth-century California and the restriction of immigration by the Chinese Exclusion Act of


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