Black Chinese: History, Hybridity, and Home

Black Chinese: History, Hybridity, and Home
(Original Title: Black Chinese: Historical Intersections, Hybridity, and the Creation of Home)

Chinese America: History and Perspectives
Chinese Historical Society of America

Wendy Thompson Taiwo, Visiting Assistant Professor of Humanities & Social Sciences
Clarkson University, Potsdam, New York

In entering into the twenty-first century, one might affirm that the face of Chinese America has changed or has it? Chineseness has been constantly conceptualized through the measure of phenotype, the quantity of blood, the preservation of language, or the possession of surname.  But what happens when African American bodies and other nonwhite cultural sites are introduced into dialogue with Chineseness and Chinese American history in order to create a different story?…

…Regarding sexual relations, with the ban on immigration and entry of Chinese women into the country, Chinese men were encouraged to seek out arrangements with local women but with a catch.  Stringent antimiscegenation laws made this endeavor a severely limited one due to restrictions that made involvement with white women illegal. And so if not with white women, Chinese men took up freely with Spanish, indigenous, and African American women. (4) In terms of relationships built around the institution of the small Chinese store, it was found common for the owner to shack up with hired African American women who assisted around the store, many of these relationships having moved organically from employer-employee to that of live-in partner.

This added benefit of having an African American woman around the store begged to legitimize the Chinese store owner’s place within a black community where he made his business. It also opened up the opportunity for the Chinese owner to start a family where immigration blockage inhibited reentry or fatherhood within a Chinese family context. For most, it was a matter of a long gap in time until they returned to China, if they returned at all. Also of benefit was the African American female partner whose marriage promised small social accommodations, such as courtesy from whites when they learned of her last name, class, status, and relation…

…This is where my own personal investment in this topic comes from as it is not likely obvious from my name or in photographs where my mother is absent; it is that I am an African American Chinese living in the center of two cultural imaginations.

My birth occurred in January 1981 to a Burmese Chinese woman and her African American husband in the California Bay Area exactly fifteen years after antimiscegenation laws meant to prevent black-white sexual relations and intermarriage in the United States were struck down by a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Loving v. the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I was born the eldest of three girls who all hold a different skin tone, phenotype, hair texture, and relationship to race and cultural identity. However, what we share is an individual relationship to Chineseness, a personal quarrel with having to prove that we owned a biracial space outside of a generalized assumption of what we were and where we should stay because of it.  Since childhood, we tended to identify culturally with our mother–who we spent most of our time with, who we felt comforted by, who we loved dearly, and who conversely saw her offspring as Chinese Americans…

Read the entire article here.

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