In researching accounts of diasporic Chinese offspring who returned to their parents’ ancestral country, author Patricia Chu learned that she was not alone in the experience of growing up in America with an abstract affinity to an ancestral homeland and community. The bittersweet emotions she had are shared in Asian American literature that depicts migration-related melancholia, contests official histories, and portrays Asian American families as flexible and transpacific.
Where I Have Never Been explores the tropes of return, tracing both literal return visits by Asian emigrants and symbolic “returns”: first visits by diasporic offspring. Chu argues that these Asian American narratives seek to remedy widely held anxieties about cultural loss and the erasure of personal and family histories from public memory. In fiction, memoirs, and personal essays, the writers of return narratives—including novelists Lisa See, May-lee Chai, Lydia Minatoya, and Ruth Ozeki, and best-selling author Denise Chong, diplomat Yung Wing, scholar Winberg Chai, essayist Josephine Khu, and many others—register and respond to personal and family losses through acts of remembrance and countermemory.