Keeping my nose to the grindstone

I’m excited but sad also to be starting my final semester at Kean. Last September, I was so overwhelmed by the research process. I didn’t know where to begin, and for weeks I kept changing my mind about what I wanted to concentrate on and what my line of inquiry would be. But I did decide to delve into the Chinese immigrant experience and how Chinese men came to dominant the hand laundry business in America. It was all very interesting and gave me much insight into the dynamics in my own family. I know I will continue to do more research as needed and refine my lit review in the coming months, as it is a living document, but I would like to consider it basically done for now so I can devote all my energy on writing more memoirs. As I have mentioned previously, my aging brain is no longer good at multi-tasking, so I really do need to move away from the research and take a deep dive into my stories or I will never get done. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t do as much writing as I had hoped to during the break. Two of my children had covid and I spent a lot of time disinfecting, cooking, cleaning, and just trying to avoid getting sick. My mind was elsewhere, and when I was certain that we were covid free, I decided we needed to get out of the house for a few days. We ended up going to DC for 5 days. I especially wanted to visit the American history museum to see Julia Child’s kitchen and the Chinese immigrant exhibit. They did a very thorough job of recreating Julia’s kitchen. The amount of space devoted to the history of American food was quite impressive. After seeing this, I thought for sure the Chinese exhibit would be equally extensive. I purposely waited until the very end to see it figuring I’d save the best for last. Boy, was I disappointed! There were only a few newspaper articles documenting the Chinese immigrant experience. I literally stood in one place to see the entire exhibit. I couldn’t believe how little information there was considering how much I uncovered in my own research. 

The Smithsonian does not consider the experiences and the contributions of the Chinese to be part of American history. This really saddens me, but I’m not surprised. How many of you ever learned about the Chinese in America in your history or social studies classes? I never did. But future generations will read plenty about them because of the pandemic. They will read about the origins of the Corona virus and the ensuing violence against Asians.  But this information is not representative of a rich and interesting culture dating back to the 1840s when the first Chinese arrived in California. They will not read about the thousands of Chinese men who built the railroads and how poorly they were treated or about the racist immigration laws that prevented the Chinese from entering this country for over 50 years.

This predicament makes my stories even more meaningful to me. I have thought a great deal about my father and grandfather over the past few months, much more so than I have in the last 20 years. I’m so glad they are not here to relive the racism and violence against the Chinese. My stories will highlight their strength of character and hopefully transport readers back to a gentler time in America.