Origins of American Born Chinese – part 2
The second storyline in American Born Chinese follows the trials and tribulations of Jin Wang, a Chinese-American boy growing up in a white suburb:
Jin’s story is based on my own, but there are significant differences. First, I didn’t really look like him when I was a kid. I looked much more like one of his friends from the Chinatown apartment building:
Second, unlike Jin, I had white friends in elementary school. My best friend in third and fourth grade was white (and nothing like Jin’s “friend” Peter Garbinsky).
Finally, the true face of racism, especially in as diverse a community as the San Francisco Bay Area, is much more complex than what is portrayed in the story. For instance, my most consistent childhood tormentor was an East Indian classmate. We hurled racist insults at one another with a determined ferociousness, usually in front of a white audience.
There is one race-related grade school memory that burns with particular intensity. A Chinese immigrant boy a year younger than I began attending my school, and the teachers on yard duty kept pestering me to befriend him. “You speak the same language,” they told me. “You can really help him out.”
I didn’t want to be friends with him. I didn’t want to from the deepest parts of me, for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. He followed me around the playground for several days, and only stopped when my best friend and I threw tanbark at him.