The fictional exploration of the social demotion caused by immigration is hardly new, but rarely has it been portrayed with such warmth and urgency as in Kelly Yang’s middle-grade novel Front Desk.
There’s a moment, late in Lillian Li’s debut novel, where one of the main characters shouts in frustration at her current situation and, in particular, at the owner-manager of the restaurant where she works:
Immigration reform’s prominence in global news doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon. It’s an especially heated topic in the United States when immigrants aren’t filling such sought-after professions as nuclear engineers and information technology experts. Regardless of one’s position on immigration, however, it’s surely in everyone’s best interest for all immigrants to succeed in their new homes. And one of the most effective paths to success is having a solid support system—ie, a family—in a new land. Lauren Hilgers’s recently-published book, Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown, addresses this topic and couldn’t have come out at a more pertinent time.
Two interesting phenomena intersected at the turn on the last century. Just as Indian women were becoming globally visible as winners of several international beauty pageants, the racialized body (non-white, brown, along with Arab) became visible as the Other in the aftermath of 9/11. This stark polarity marks the subject of a new book on South Asian diaspora community that studies how appearances make and unmake attitudes about beauty and what sort of people become public icons.
In one fell swoop, Charles Wang—patriarch of the Wang family, purveyor of the American immigrant dream, cosmetic visionary and turner of “shit into Shinola”—goes from king to, well, cock:
In Chinese, in any Chinese speaker’s mouth, Wang was a family name to be proud of. It meant king, with a written character that was simple and strong. And it was pronounced with a languid drawn-out diphthong of an o sound that suggested an easy life of summer palaces and fishing for sweet river shrimp off gilded barges. But one move to America and Charles Wang’s proud surname became a nasally joke of a word; one move and he went from king to cock.
Indians have contributed to Kenya’s multiracial tapestry for centuries. At Independence, Indians constituted two percent of the population and formed its petty bourgeoisie. By 1968 Kenya hosted over 170,000 Indian residents. Occupying key roles in the economy and civil service, Indians played no small part in the twentieth-century history of Kenya. Yet, as Sana Aiyar argues in Indians in Kenya: The Politics of Diaspora, an overwhelming emphasis placed on singular territoriality, coupled with the racially bounded nature of scholarship on Kenyan nationhood, has resulted in the historiographical marginalization of Indians, who are assumed to be historically insignificant.