“Their History”, “Our History”

“Their History,” “Our History”: Constructions of Chinese American History and Community Identity, 1960-2013

Adviser: Lon Kurashige

Fall 2013 history honors thesis

“Whether we are first generation or fifth generation Chinese Americans, we need to preserve our history, because without it we have no existence.” These words were written by a student in 1997 after an interview with Suellen Cheng, one of the founders and curators of the not-yet-open Museum of Chinese American History in Los Angeles (MCAH), now the Chinese American Museum (CAM). The statement’s sentiment is clear: Each individual of Chinese descent in the United States must remember Chinese American history for the sake of the Chinese American community, regardless of one’s time in the United States; without remembrance, these words caution, the community will dissolve. Yet there are a number of assumptions – or, perhaps, aspirations – embedded within. All ethnic Chinese individuals in the United States are Chinese Americans, the statement implies, whether they are freshly arrived or long established. The entire history of ethnic Chinese individuals in the United States belongs to and defines all Chinese Americans, and therefore unites them through their shared ethnicity. And finally, without possessing that history continuously, Chinese America would not exist as a distinct, cohesive community.

However, the statement’s implications are far from settled facts.

Photo source: 四川新聞網綜合

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