In 2022 and 2023, the CHSSC sponsored summer college interns who have been working on our Five Chinatowns project. As part of their training, we have assigned all them to read Linking Our Lives: Chinese American Women of Los Angeles (1984). For this issue, we asked a few young scholars to write their thoughts of what the book meant to them.
Editor’s note: Hailing from Sacramento, California, Kiana Kim is a second year transfer student at Cornell University studying Industrial and Labor Relations. A second generation Korean American, she is deeply passionate about the nexus of public policy, race, poverty, and education. She is an eager scholar who seeks to pursue an interdisciplinary career in law and education policy.
Reading Linking Our Lives: Chinese American Women of Los Angeles has been both a mirror and a magnifying glass for me: a second generation Korean American and first generation college student. It reflects the experiences of my life and expands my understanding of the broader Asian American diaspora, offering solace and wisdom in its tales of women who have trod the path before me.
Growing up in a White, suburban neighborhood, I felt invisible in my own narrative, a mere brushstroke in an overwhelmingly white canvas. But hearing the stories of the Chinese American women from Los Angeles archived in this formidable gathering, makes me feel seen. They, like me, had to navigate a cultural dichotomy, managing the expectations of their heritage while attempting to fit into an American society that saw them as “other”. The themes of discrimination, stereotypes, familial expectations, and cultural adaptation echo my own struggles.
Yet, the book also puts into stark relief the distinct differences between our lives. These women’s lives were shaped in the era of exclusion acts, where even basic rights were denied based on race. My struggle, while not as blatant, is nonetheless real and rooted in the same soil of racism and xenophobia that has historically gripped this country. It’s made evident by the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a stark reminder of the fragility of acceptance.
I can’t help but draw parallels between the prejudice experienced by Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles and my own. Even after moving away to pursue my college education, the sting of “otherness”, that feeling of not quite belonging, still followed me. Yet, the stories of these women who have faced, endured, and risen above such challenges empower me to continue fighting for my identity.
Linking Our Lives serves as a powerful reminder that the American Dream can indeed be elusive, unstable even. It’s a dream that isn’t universally accessible or equally distributed. Just as it was for these women, my own American Dream has been tainted with the realities of prejudice and discrimination.
Still, in the face of it all, I find strength in their resilience, their will to persevere, and their power to define their own identities despite societal pressures. And as I reflect on their stories and mine, I am more resolute than ever to continue seeking, and defining, my own version of the American Dream.