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Some Things I Learned From Writing Southern Fried Rice

At first, writing "Southern Fried Rice" seemed  to just be a matter of recalling facts and experiences and then describing them in some logical sequence while sprinkling a few relevant photographs in appropriate places. However, the more I wrote, the more questions arose, and I had to look for answers to fill these gaps of understanding.  I interviewed relatives, some who were unwilling to talk about the past, either from embarrassment or fear... fear of immigration problems, for example.  I respected these feelings and never pressured any reluctant sources, however much I wanted and needed their testimony. I tried to convince them of the importance of recording and preserving the history of Chinese in the South before it would be lost forever.

Many aspects of my family's experiences started to be seem in a different light from how I had seen them while growing up.  Many aspects of my own experiences also assumed new perspectives.  Putting everything together in a coherent fashion became more difficult than I thought it would be.

I also tried to learn how to document historical facts and events and incorporate them whenever possible, mainly as footnotes, so that my story would have more credibility and not seem just like a stream of personal memories and perceptions.

I discovered that the definition of being Chinese is quite complex. For me, I was Chinese in Georgia, but found that being Chinese in San Francisco, where I moved to at age 15, is quite different.  By the time I graduated college, I think I finally figured it out but then I moved to regions that had few Chinese again when I went to graduate school and when I began teaching.  So for about a decade, I had to forgot about 'being Chinese' as I had to fit into a mainly white world professionally.  I was successful in my career, and being Chinese became less central as a concern.  I lived in a white suburban area, married someone who was not Chinese (even if she thought she was sort of Chinese), so I went on with my life.

As I worked on writing Southern Fried Rice I became more "Chinese "than I ever was as I gained a fuller understanding of Chinese American history and the values, beliefs, and customs of the Guangdong Chinese immigrants who formed the intial waves of Chinese in the U. S. as well as many other countries including Canada.  Furthermore, I learned much about Chinese laundries in general that gave me a recognition of the profound role they played on the history of Chinese immigrants  from Guangdong in the U. S. and many other countries.