“I Have Enough Friends”: Exclusion, Assimilation and Critical Consciousness in Yang’s American Born Chinese
"When I was in middle school, my uncle, who frequently visited from Korea, gave me a seemingly innocent birthday gift. The graphic novel had a bright yellow cover with an Asian adolescent’s face overlapping from the front to the book’s spine. The boy’s hair is cut in an old-school bowl-style and he holds a transforming toy robot as mountains rise in the background. Surveying my gift, my eyes finally came upon the title, American Born Chinese. Despite being too young to fully comprehend the work’s racial commentary, I read voraciously, finishing the whole novel in a single afternoon. Even then, I understood something of the meaning of my uncle’s gift, and how it might connect to my own identity. American Born Chinese (Gene Luen Yang, 2006) tells three seemingly unconnected stories, which converge to teach the importance of self-acceptance in the context of race and ethnicity. In the narrative that interests me most here, Jin Wang, an Asian teenager, navigates coming of age in a majority-white suburb as he struggles to fit into American culture. Despite initial reluctance, he befriends the other Asian students at his school and later has a falling out with them. In the novel’s other two narratives, an American boy named Danny and Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, undergo their own adventures. The three stories connect in the end to reveal that Jin transforms into Danny after facing persistent shame and rejection due to his race. His friend, Wei-Chen, is revealed to be the Monkey King, who functions to teach Jin the book’s key lesson: Jin (and, by extension, the reader) must embrace, not feel shamed by, his Asian identity."
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