Weekly Reads: American Born Chinese

Photo Credit: Sam Evergreen

When Jin Wang moves to a new neighborhood, he discovers he is the only Chinese-American at his school and has to put up with relentless bullying and teasing. To make matters worse, he now has a crush on a fully American girl.

The Monkey King is a master of kung fu and is immensely powerful, but he isn’t happy with his life as a monkey. He wants to become a god.

When Danny’s cousin Chin-Kee moves in to visit, Danny is sure his life is over. Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype and all Danny wants to do is avoid him and not to be seen by his peers as anything like him.

These three powerful stories, seemingly unrelated, all wrap up into one beautiful but short graphic novel about the Chinese-American experience and how to be proud of one’s identity despite adversity.

I first read this book for a book club in high school, and though I was apprehensive — I had never read a graphic novel before — I loved it. In light of the hate and violence dedicated toward Asian-Americans currently, I feel that this is a quintessential anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate story (or stories). Not only does it clarify to allies what Asian-Americans may be going through as they try to fit in as marginalized people, but it may provide some comfort to the Asian-Americans, such as myself, who read it.

I am not Chinese-American, but I am (half) Japanese-American, and though I did not grow up in a traditional household, I could still relate to Jin’s struggle in school and being different from our peers. The second story about the Monkey King is possibly one of the most famous Chinese folktales, and as a fan of folklore and mythology, I was very excited to see how it would be integrated in a modern, contemporary story. Though Chin-Kee is supposed to be a negative presence as he is, quite literally, an amalgamation of all Chinese stereotypes, I was surprised to see that his existence in the story is potentially the most powerful of all.

Because the three stories didn’t necessarily make sense as a consecutive plot until the very end, I found myself very intrigued to discover the author’s intentions. I did not find myself disappointed — especially with the Monkey King’s involvement. After reading, I ended up looking back at the other stories, noticing small bits of symbolism and implications of the future and wondering how I had missed it before. The puzzle-like structure of the story makes it not only a good read, but an excellent re-read as well.

If you are looking for a short but charming anti-AAPI-hate book to add to your list, this is definitely a wonderful choice.