After a 40 year career as a Professor of Psychology, in 2002 I began to reflect on many aspects of my personal development and returned to a question that I had avoided many times, namely, how do I, as a second-generation Chinese American fit in a predominantly black and white society.
I grew up in Macon, Georgia, where I was born to Chinese immigrant parents who operated a laundry during the years before the civil rights era. Ours was the only Chinese family in town, so it was difficult for me to understand who I was, ethnically speaking. Even after we moved to San Francisco when I was an adolescent, it was still difficult for me to know what it meant to be a Chinese American because I was so different from the San Francisco Chinese who had lived so closely among other Chinese all of their lives.
My attempts to understand how my ethnic identity emerged led me to write a memoir "Southern Fried Rice: Life in A Chinese Laundry in the Deep South," in 2005. I soon realized from positive responses from readers and audiences when I gave book talks/signings all over the U. S. that this was an important story to preserve and share. Several people, for example, shared that they too grew up in cultural isolation where they were the only Chinese people in their communities and/or they also grew up helping in their parents'laundry.
I never aspired to write more than one book about Chinese Americans, but in the course of doing research to further my understanding of how and why my parents ended in Georgia, and how they were treated, I was inspired to write "Chinese Laundries: Tickets to Survival on Gold Mountain" (2007) which examined the vital role that this ethnic business had for Chinese immigrants for over a century all over the U. S. and Canada.
A third book in 2008, "Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton: Lives of Mississippi Delta Chinese Grocers" described the history of Chinese grocery store owners in small communities during the era when Jim Crow laws prevailed.
"Sweet and Sour: Life in Chinese Family Restaurants," published in 2010 is a study of another stereotypical Chinese business, the restaurant. It examined origins, operation, and impact of Chinese restaurants.
My books share the common goal of exploring how Chinese immigrants, starting from the late 1800s until beyond the middle of the past century, managed to overcome the hostile societal prejudices against Chinese and other "Orientals" to succeed in opening family businesses such as laundries, grocery stores, and restaurants that enabled their children to gain education that allowed them to move from these humble origins to careers in many fields.
A fifth book, A Chinese American Odyssey, is a writer's journal that describes the many unusual and unplanned encounters I had in the course of writing and speaking about these books for a decade that were invaluable in shaping the content and direction of my writing.