An American Born Chinese Cultural Studies Essay

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According to Chun, who has studied the typical Asian American stereotypes and the myth of their success, Asian American descendants have been pressured into assimilating within an inflexible mold of Americanization to avoid the anti-Oriental stereotypes and prejudices of American society (The Myth). Chun's observation indicates that minority youth in the United States are constantly hard pressed by the biased and unequal educational system that is majorly dominated by those who enjoy white privileges. Shim argues in his article, which introduces the history of yellow stereotypes in America since 1800s, that the entertainment industry plays a critical role to enforce and expand racist practices through the false presentation of Asian stereotypes (From Yellow). Based on the strong influence of the media to young generations, stereotypes are extensively imitated and exercised at schools. In American Born Chinese, a graphic novel written by an Asian American immigrant Gene Luen Yang, the author successfully communicates to the audience of unjustified stereotypes faced by Asian American youth that equally share his cultural background at schools (American).


Yang's primary message of the novel is to persuade students to overcome racial adversities and accept their true identities. He effectively utilizes pathos in the scenes where everyone dislikes Chin-Kee's "abnormal" behavior and where Jin constantly has to fight against Asian stereotypes to highlight the hardships of acculturation of young generation in America. On the other hand, the implicit message of the novel is to allow educators to notice and seek for solutions on racial discrimination against non-white groups students that discourage their academic motivation and cultural preservation. In light of Yang's primary and secondary messages, the audience can learn that culture is not static or inherent for anyone. Instead, it is reproduced and learned by young generation as an account of evolving and complex progress through educational experience. Yang appeals to the greatest level of audience with three different genres and demonstrate to them the idea that minority youth culture is shaped and distorted in academic environment through the use of stereotyped behaviors, provocative language and ironic caricatures of Chin-Kee in the novel.

Yang adopts three genres to targets audience from the general category of those who endeavor to identify their cultural heritage to the non-white minority groups in the American society. He expresses in an interview that, "My Chinese heritage informs the way that I am an American" (Youtube). These words indicate that Yang wants to draw the attention of Asian American immigrant specifically through the novel because of his academic experience. Nonetheless, the book's increasing popularity successfully brought the attention of educators and critics of American power structures. He is able to reach different levels of audience for the reason that multi-culture education reflects the interaction of each individual pupil with the institutional system as well as the more complex economic-political society. Furthermore, Yang uses the comic book as the main genre, for that he regards comics as an "individualistic pursuit" that is "intimate" and reflective (Youtube). He also adopts sub-genres of superhero fiction and coming-of-age story in the novel to incorporate two different styles of stories that interrelate to each other. Three characters are portrayed by Yang in each story. All of them similarly feel the


urge to become "Americanized" with the expense of their original identity. The central characters include the Monkey King, who represents a superhero from the famous Chinese tale and Jin, who transforms himself into a typical white guy Danny to assimilate into American society. Yang's technique to adapt the old tale of Monkey King with some Catholic Elements proves that he successfully attracts not only Chinese American immigrants but also the audience from the dominant white culture. In addition, his own experience is reflected through the coming-of-age story, which persuades the wide range of audience of the novel's credibility under the backdrop. In light of these methods, he inspires audience from various minority groups to discover and respect their cultural heritage.

Stereotyped behaviors of Chin-Kee and Jin are depicted in the novel to present the distorted minority youth culture. Such students constantly face the hardships to accommodate and acculturate into American society. In anthropological terms, incommensurability refers to the fact that there are certain aspects of one culture that are hard for people from another culture to comprehend. According to American Born Chinese, Yang exaggerates scenes where Chin-Kee and Jin are constantly teased or excluded for the stereotyped behaviors by their white counterparts at school in order to reflect the "incommensurable groups from the dominant culture". For instance, all the white students around Chin-Kee widely discuss about the fact that he eats "crispy fried cat gizzards with noodle". Furthermore, the little white boy looks down upon Jin, who is introduced by the teacher on the first day of class. His expression very serious and disdainful, the boy insists that, "My momma says Chinese people eat dogs." Yang goes on further to make the teacher respond that she thinks Jin's family "probably" abandoned their old habit because they are eager to become like "Americans" (American Born Chinese).This two


scenes indicates that the white students are unconsciously distinguishing between what "we eat" and what "he eats". They fail to understand that this type of food, which they critically comment on, should not contribute to the reason why they regard their culture as more superior. As I have observed, Germans are frenzied about "roasted pork feet". Also, Americans eat spam, a type of canned pork regularly. However, people from Islamic culture developed their eating habits that regard pork as dirty and inedible. Thus, the selection of food by people from different cultural backgrounds is idiosyncratic, and it should not be disrespected by anyone, for that otherwise the person automatically denies a part of his or her own culture. In the second scene, Yang intends to emphasize that educators should circumvent inequality and stereotypes while using their cultural power to teach students knowledge and the political structure. He arouses the audiences' sympathy by presenting the critical stereotypes that the little boy Jin, who barely started his first day at an elementary school, has to experience. Jin not only encountered biased opinions from the teacher, but also the fellow classmates who spread rumors about his unusual relationship with a Japanese girl, Suzy Nakamura. At this point, the fact that white students concluded that Jin would marry Suzy once again implicates the students' inability to notice that there are remarkable distinction between Chinese and Japanese culture although they both share the same Asian root. To a larger extent, the dominant groups falsely regard themselves as the mainstream culture and marked off a line between "white society" and "the rest of others". This belief results in a subtraction process of minority youth culture that causes them to question the value of their original culture.

Yang depicts the stereotyped opinions of Jin's teachers and classmates to infer how academic environment influences Asian American immigrants like Jin to build their cultural identity. They


need to constantly struggle between their original Asian blood and new Asian American citizenship. Also, through creating stereotypes from different angles of students and teachers toward Jin and Chin-Kee, Yang is able to persuade the audience that culture is a process that maintains the larger stratified system in American society. For instance, Jin assumes that he is not accepted by the dominant culture because of his racial identity. As a result of the cultural tension, he goes so far in the story as to transform himself into a white guy, Danny. Ironically, he ends up at a Chinese café drinking Boba tea with Wei-Chen, the monkey, in a similar vein, who symbolically transforms into a human being. Jin abandons the American identity that he dreamed about. In this circumstance, the academic environment forced Jin to fight against his Chinese background to assimilate into the American society where white people rule the dominant culture. Yang deliberately set up the ending in which Jin ultimately recognizes that he should learn to appreciate his part of Chinese origin. This allows the minority immigrants under the similar context to understand that each culture encompasses unique practices and knowledge. The incommensurability is the product of student's engagement in school activates. As a result, Yang shows how interactions among individuals empower the meaning of culture. He intends to emphasize that educators are responsible to inform the significance of culture and clarify the power structures beyond academic competence.

Yang enhances the effect of Asian American stereotypes by applying rhetorical skills such as provocative language and ironic caricatures. Readers and Yang himself consider the language in American Born Chinese as unnecessarily "crass" (Yang, Kartika Review). Yang utilizes this style of language to transfer the idea that biased interrelationship of different cultures is unhealthy and uncivilized in a similar token. Furthermore, the categorized power structure influences younger


generation to shape their notions toward a diversity of experience at school. For instance, Timmy, the white boy from Jin's elementary school refers to Jin as "bucktooth" without any hesitation. He does not care what harm he causes Jin. On the other hand, Timmy changes his tone when he calls the other white friend "Pansy Boy" to a whisper due to his serious demand. Yang's use of transitional language here reflects Timmy's perception of his position in the society. He visions white culture as more powerful and privileged, so that he verbally bullying the "inferior races" and compromise with the kid from his "superior" group. Lastly, Yang draws caricatures in the novel to symbolically refer to the exaggerated stereotypes that are placed on Asian American immigrants. For instance, Chin-Kee wears outdated clothing and has a physical appearance that

looks like underdeveloped human beings. Also, Chin-Kee never changes his outfit throughout the novel and has long hair that only past ancestors do in China.

Thus, through combining the Asian American stereotypes throughout the book with rhetorical devices such as language and caricatures, Yang successfully delivers the message that culture is not inherited but instead a process that is learned and shaped by power structures in the society through educational means. It is also described in the article "Culture as Disability", written by McDermott and Varenne, that culture "reveals not broken person but identifications neatly tuned to the workings of institutions serving political and economic ends". Yang intends to persuade educators that they should start to notice that it is their responsibility to respect each cultural practice and value. Although racial discrimination is hard to extinguish in the society, it is possible to educate young generation to appreciate their cultural heritage while assimilating into the American society. Most importantly, instructors should clarify the opportunity structure under the socio-economic context and neatly tuned to explain the process of cultural construction.


In this fashion, young generation may obtain different perspectives from "It is because we are minority groups" to "We can make a difference because we are no different than people from the dominant culture".