. Athena's Books: Totally YA Tuesday...American Born Chinese...Finds His Place
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Totally YA Tuesday...American Born Chinese...Finds His Place

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
From the author:

I started American Born Chinese about five years into my comics career. (Though at the time, it was really more of a vocation since I wasn't making any money at it.) Up 'til then, I'd done a couple of stories with Asian-American protagonists, but I never dealt with the Asian-American experience head-on. Since my own ethnic heritage is such an important part of how I understand myself, I knew I wanted to. I came up with three ideas and couldn't decide which one was the best. American Born Chinese is me doing all three at once.

What are these 3 stories? The first is about how Jin, an ABC (American-born Chinese), faces bullying and ridicule when he moves to a mostly white, suburban elementary school. The only friend he has is another kid from Taiwan who is fresh-off-the-boat and confirms what Jin believes other people think about anybody like him and his friend. Jin even admits there was something about his friend Wei-Chen that made him want to beat him up. What finally binds them together is their mutual affection for Transformers. As a teenagar, Jin faces identity issues and tries to be more like a white kid in order to win the heart of Amelia, a blond girl he seriously likes.

The second story is the myth of the Monkey King who is ridculed at a heavenly dinner for a lack of shoes, but really he is not accepted among the other gods since he is merely a monkey. He then makes it his goal to be rid of his monkey smell and identity.

The third story is about a popular kid named Dannt who looks white but who has some Chinese ethnicity. This truth comes out when his cousin, Chin Kee, visits. Chin Kee is a complete stereotype of everything Chinese bringing complete embarrassment to Danny. Interstingly, Danny represents a part of Jin while Chin Kee is a manifestation of the Monkey King. Even Wei-Chen has ties to the Monkey King.

What I love the most about American Born Chinese is how the author, Gene Luen Yang combines all these characters and stories to create one graphic novel. Everything blends together to create a story of self-acceptance.

Look, I've been there...the whole low self-esteem and peer ridicule thing, and I can say I was like Jin in that I just shyed away from people and tried to keep a low profile. I didn't fight back. I know other kids who did the opposite and used aggression just like the Monkey King who slaughtered everybody at the dinner party. Still others dealt with it by overcompensating or masking their insecurities and others tried to fit in with their outer appearance. I don't know that any of them work to make you feel better because I did some form of all those options at some point in my life (well, except the fighting). But what does work? Self-acceptance. And that's a long, hard road. But as this graphic novel shows, we are prisoners to our own perception of our selves. There this theory in Sociology called the-looking-glass-self. Basically, it states we create a perception of ourselves based on the perception we believe other people have about us...ok...read this statement again and process.

Get it? The way people react to us, the words they say--they all leave an imprint on us, and if what we see and hear from others is negative, then we start seeing and hearing negativity from everybody even when they aren't dishing it out. We see ourselves as we think others see us. We're talking deep stuff here and it's the kind of stuff kids and teens deal with on a daily basis.

Ok enough with the sociological anaylsis...

Self-acceptance is the key. Jin learns this, Danny learns this, and the Monkey King learns this.

And the novel is hilarious! For instance, remember Wei-Chen? Jin's nerdy Taiwanese friend? He transforms into an ultra-cool gangster type, the kind you see on that movie--Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.

And the last picture of the entire graphic novel? Both friends wearing Yao Ming basketball jersies. Awesome!