American Born Chinese

The graphic novel American Born Chinese contains three stories of self-hate, moving towards self-discovery that begin separately, and eventually meet at the end, combining all the stories together into one resolution. To be more specific, the Monkey King, Jin Wang and Danny handle their identity crisis and find their own way to recognize themselves in the end. Cheryl Gomes and James Bucky Carter think that this book helps students explore concepts of symbolism, theme, challenges, and conflicts inherent in adolescence and cultural stereotypes who struggle daily to navigate social environs and negotiate their identities (69).

The term stereotype is defined as “...a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people” (Cardwell, #). According to McLeod Saul, stereotypes can create ignorance by generalizing individuals of a group to be all the same (#). Stereotypes make a barrier that leads to prejudice. Making one assume they know a person just based on stereotype.

It is clear that according to the definition of stereotype, we can find that all the characters represent different kinds and levels of stereotypes. I will describe how Gene Luen Yang depicted stereotypes in the American Born Chinese.

Theme of Stereotypes: Broken English

Broken English refers to a poorly spoken or ill-written version of the English language. In literature, broken English is often used to depict the foreignness of a character, or that character's lack of intelligence or education (France 34). In American Born Chinese, Yang described Chinese characters as broken English speakers. Wei-Chen represents the full-on “F.O.B.” Asian, new to America with his “Robot Happy” t-shirt, glasses, and heavily accented broken English. Chin-Kee speaks in extremely broken English, mistaking with the L/R switch like “Everyone Ruvs Chin-Kee”, “Harro Amellica!” And when Danny bring Chin-Kee to school with him, he is clearly embarrassed and tells him to stay quiet. Instead Chin-Kee went through all of Danny’s classes answering the teachers’ questions in his broken English. Chinese or Chinese American often regarded as a poor English speaker with bad pronunciation and flawed grammar. Yang intentionally described broken English to his Chinese characters to show American perception of Chinese English learners in his book in the United States.

Theme of Stereotypes: Yellow Peril

The term Yello Peril is a racist color-metaphor which the East Asian people are a danger to the western world. In an effort to show and tell the effects of racial stereotyping and assimilation, Yang presents one egregious Chinese character, Chin-Kee, who has just arrived from China to visit his cousin Danny. Chin-Kee is the very embodiment of every stereotype, and super embarrassing. He represents all the negative Chinese stereotypes into one outrageous exaggerated whole such as a round yellow face with two buck teeth, slanted eyes, and long queue. Also, he makes lewd comments to Melanie like “such pretty American girl wife bountiful American bosom! Must bind feet and bear Chin-Kee’s children!” Chin-Kee dances on library tables and sings out loud. Danny is embarrassed by the way Chin-Kee dresses, talks, eats, and acts. Arguably, Danny’s defensiveness and animosity against Chin-Kee is clear. For one reason might be their odd genetic bond. Chin-Kee is assuredly Chinese while Danny is white American. Knowing that Danny is actually Jin makes it clearer why Danny hates him so much. Since Jin is insecure about his Chinese appearance so much so that he tries to change his hair into the style of blond, curly-haired Greg (5.14-5.24), This sets off an extreme need for Jin to want to distance himself from his Chinese friends, his culture, and identity. The novel also explores interracial relationships, both platonic and romantic. Jin crushes on a white American girl named Amelia, and to get attention from her, he changes his hair to curly hair, to match the hairstyle of the other boys in their class. There’s another scene when Jin and his friends are having a good time, when the two of Jin’s class bullies come along using racial epithets. Instead of getting angry, they turn red with embarrassment and sit in silence. Their good time has been ruined, and they have been made crushingly aware of their social status. At times I was sickened by the extreme negative racial stereotypes portrayed by Asian American characters which, I know, was the point.

Theme of Stereotypes: Model Minority

In the United States, the term model minority was coined in The New York Times magazine by sociologist William Petersen to describe Asian Americans as ethnic minorities who, despite marginalization, have achieved success in the United States (Li & Wang, 21).

In American Born Chinese, Chin-Kee exemplifies how Asians personify myth of the model minority.He raises his hand to answer all the questions during class. By doing that, he seemed as a high performer while he was perceived as threatening. Students’ displeased facial expression in the backdrop of the classrooms repeat this idea that he is unwelcomed. Gene Yang used one of the Chinese general model minority myth of high average test scores and marks in Chin-Kee’s behavior in school (Wu, #).

Cultural differences can be one of the possible causes of model minority. Cultural factors are thought to be part of the reason why Asian Americans are successful in the United States. East Asian societies often place more resources and emphasis on education (Li, Andrew & Yeung, 921–929). For example, Confucian tenets and Chinese culture places great value on work ethic and the pursuit of knowledge. In traditional Chinese social stratification, not businessmen and landowners were ranked at the top but scholars were. This is evident in the modern lifestyle of many Asian American families, where the whole family puts emphasis on education and parents will make it their priority to push their children to study and achieve high marks