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Looking for Asian America

Looking for Asian America: An Ethnocentric Tour by Wing Young Huie

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 136
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  • Book Info
    Looking for Asian America
    Book Description:

    Celebrated photographer Wing Young Huie traveled with his wife, Tara, through the U.S. to explore and document the funny, touching, and sometimes strange intersection of Asian American and American cultures. Accompanied by personal reflections, the spectacular photographs tell a story that both mirrors and contradicts stereotypes of Asian Americans, ultimately questioning what it means to be ethnic and American in the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5400-0
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    Charlie Chan remains alive and well … but he has company now.

    The pages here show real people engaged in the full range of human activity. This is no small accomplishment for the photographer or his subjects. For Asian Americans, both the newcomers and the native born, it is extraordinary to be merely ordinary. To others even if not themselves, Asian Americans appear to be contradictions of identity—a Chinese Yankee is a knockoff.

    Neither Asian Asians (the cousins overseas) nor “real” Americans (the neighbors next door) seem ready to accept the authenticity of Asian American lives. They are prepared...

    (pp. xv-xx)
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)

      (pp. 6-11)

      My mother never learned to speak English. For almost half a century she lived in a small brick house in Duluth and seldom ventured past the back porch that over-looked Lake Superior. I don’t believe she was agoraphobic and, as far as I could tell, she was very content. She had no desire to return to China although she wrote constantly to relatives there. I don’t know why Mom didn’t learn English. It never occurred to me to ask. I guess normalizing your family’s behavior, no matter how out of the norm it seems, is, well, normal.

      One of the...

    • LOCKE
      (pp. 12-17)

      “Welcome to Locke” said the sign in English and Chinese. We were in the Sacramento Delta, excited to see the “only town in the United States built by Chinese for the Chinese,” according to its web site. It was founded in 1915 when a group of Chinese immigrant farmworkers approached landowner George Locke to lease part of his orchard to build homes. At that time state law forbade immigrant Chinese to own land.

      By the 1930s Locke fl ourished to a population of six hundred Chinese, with a half-dozen markets, a dry goods store, five whorehouses (all staffed by white...

      (pp. 18-23)

      We were at the Livingston Depot Center, a museum about the Northern Pacific Railroad, looking for information on Chinese railroad workers. There wasn’t much, just one photograph. The person in charge suggested that we talk to Elmer and Larkin, a local married couple, if we wanted to know about the Chinese in the area. We called them and they said they’d meet us at the café next to the museum.

      Elmer, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, moved to Montana more than twenty years ago to work for the railroad because he wanted to “honor the Chinese who...

      (pp. 24-31)

      We were in a Starbucks next to the Great Mall in Silicon Valley. Sitting at the next table was a young Asian couple, flirting and teasing each other like newlyweds. I debated a while about whether to approach them or enjoy the rest of my coffee. Then they left. I ran out the door and spent the next two hours and the following day photographing them. A month later we met them in San Francisco for dinner.

      Chihiro is Japanese, born in New York City but raised in Japan. Stephen, her Chinese boyfriend, is a native Californian. He grew up...

      (pp. 32-35)

      According to the 2000 U.S. census, the least diverse area in the United States was Slope County, North Dakota. TheNew York Timesstated that of its 754 residents only three were nonwhite. With that article in my pocket, we drove toward Slope in search of those three people. We stopped in one of its two towns, tiny Amidon, which was a collection of several buildings. The only place open was an antique shop, which we entered.

      I was unsure how to broach the subject with the owner, a middle-aged man, when Tara noticed an old mah-jongg set amid the...

      (pp. 36-39)

      It was a truck-stop motel with dated furniture and an odd smell, like old fried fish. I asked the woman who checked us in how it was going. “Not so good. How would you feel if your son weighed five hundred pounds?” she said, then launched into a story about bringing her son to the hospital earlier that day. When we asked for a receipt she scribbled it on the back of a torn napkin.

      The next morning we watched a black-and-white movie starring young Gregory Peck as a missionary in China. Hundreds of Chinese were in the movie, but...

      (pp. 40-43)

      I remember when I first heard the news. It shocked me more than any other celebrity death—even more than Lennon’s, because Bruce’s mortality was intertwined with my own. Nobody else in the cultural landscape so embodied my postpuberty fantasy of myself.

      During the first summer after graduating from high school I was making good money cooking at the Chinese Lantern and everything seemed possible. A girl I was interested in told me suggestively that Bruce Lee was her favorite movie star. It was the most seductive thing she could have said to me. Years later I was playing pickup...

    • PING
      (pp. 44-49)

      More than half of my first twenty-two years were spent in Chinese American restaurants, all owned by my family. I started keeping the books for my father at Joe Huie’s Café when I was twelve. Later I cashiered, washed dishes, waited on tables, bused, and cooked. Working at my dad’s, then my brother’s, restaurant, the Chinese Lantern, was a major factor in making me who I am.

      When I finally graduated from the University of Minnesota, armed with a journalism degree and photography skills, I spent another eight years tending bar in a Japanese place. At one point my mother...

      (pp. 50-55)

      We arrived in New Orleans, the site of several mega-events. The Super Bowl had been played a week earlier in the Louisiana Superdome and Fat Tuesday was just around the corner. And in Marrero, just twenty minutes southwest of the Big Easy, they were celebrating the Year of the Horse. The St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh Church had built an outdoor stage in its large plaza and brought in music groups from California. Attendance was in the thousands and almost everybody was Vietnamese.

      This was a carnival feast with games, elaborate pageantry, and solemn ceremony, punctuated by the longest and...

      (pp. 56-61)

      It’s not often you get to see a famous Asian guy in person. They’re like white elephants, their value dubious or revered depending on the audience. This particular group of spectators at a brand-new Wal-Mart in Houston was enthralled: Martin Yan had come to town.

      The charismatic star of the public television showYan Can Cookand author of twenty-eight books cracked jokes like a burlesque stand-up and even did a Julia Child impersonation, all the while demonstrating the intricacies of making Seafood Trio in Kung Pao Sauce. At one point he gestured to the front-row Chinese ladies and declared,...

      (pp. 62-65)

      We were at an antique store in Hilo when someone suggested we talk to Steamy Chow, a retired police officer and a living legend. We immediately called from a phone booth just outside. His wife, Lilly, answered and graciously invited us to their home for breakfast the following morning. Amazing. We had just pulled in, total strangers, and now we’re having breakfast with a living legend named Steamy.

      Steamy and Lilly, both retired, have spent their entire lives on the island of Hawaii. Lilly gave us a tour of their house, which was spilling over with four Christmas trees and...

    • ELVIS
      (pp. 66-69)

      “Man Sees Image of Elvis on Tree” read the headline. The article inTexas Monthlywas only one paragraph. The man was identified as the president of the Asian Worldwide Elvis Fan Club. We looked in the Yellow Pages, made a call, and the next day found ourselves in a fantastical Elvis shrine masquerading as a modest suburban rambler.

      As we drove up, the first Elvis we saw was emblazoned on a huge Stars and Stripes in the front yard, next to a ten-foot replica of the Statue of Liberty. Henry and Tania came out to greet us in their...

      (pp. 70-73)

      On first impression, Molokai, the least-visited Hawaiian island, seemed like a big rock covered with scrub trees and red dirt. We left our car at a lookout point and went for a walk, out in the middle of nowhere, and we stumbled on an isolated enclave of houses. In front of one modest home was a tiny handwritten sign that read “pottery for sale.” Intrigued, we went closer and were startled by the bizarre sight of the garage, which was festooned with dozens of horns and antlers.

      Just then, the door opened and out came a small woman who asked...

      (pp. 74-77)

      Just down the road from Sea World and the Magic Kingdom was Splendid China Theme Park. “Our 76-acre park features the magnificent work of more than 120 artisans and craftspeople from China … recreating 60 of the wondrous sights—in full scale and miniature—of one of the world’s oldest civilizations” read the brochure. Experience China in one day was the idea, I guess. The first Splendid China, built in Shenzhen, Guangdong, was such a success that it was imported to the land of Disney.

      I ’ve never been to China, so the idea of home has always been a...

      (pp. 78-86)

      “What kind of Asian are you¿” is a game Asians often like to play in their head when they see other Asians in public. It’s a conceit that we can guess someone’s ethnicity and immigrant status by the way they look—that we can tell, for instance, if so-and-so is FOB (fresh off the boat) or ABC (American-born Chinese).

      I think I’m pretty good at it. There’s a web site that tests your ability to photographically identify the ethnicity of eighteen people of Chinese, Japanese or Korean descent ( The average score is 7, and I got 11. “You’ve got...

    (pp. 87-108)