Themes and Meanings
Many works in modern Asian American literature, especially those that become commercially successful, describe middle-and upper-middle-class Asian American experiences. Only a few touch on the lives of Asian Americans who struggle at the bottom of the social totem pole. Similar to Louis Chu’s Eat a Bowl of Tea (1986), Chinese American writer Monfoon Leong’s “New Year for Fong Wing” portrays a first-generation Chinese immigrant’s struggle in the United States.
Fong Wing has been working hard all of his life to support his family, but he feels that his life is empty. In appearance, many of his problems, such as money and his relationship with his wife, are caused by his gambling habit. As the story develops, however, the reader learns that Fong Wing has lost three sons to two wars. After his third son is killed in World War II, he becomes despondent. When Lee Mun reminds him that his third son “returned from War on Fourth of July heroes’ ship and received hero’s burial,” Fong Wing laments that there will be no sons, no grandson to “tell of his heroism,” and there is no future for an “old man without sons” (traditional Chinese custom, similar to that in the United States, dictates that children adopt their fathers’ surnames).
It appears that the only way Fong Wing knows how to handle his emotional problems is by gambling. It helps fill his spiritual void and numb his feelings of ennui and emptiness. Every time he goes to the gambling house, he hopes that winning money may “ease the emptiness, the barrenness of his existence.” However, each time, he loses more money, as well as his respect for life and hope for the future.
Fong Wing’s meeting with the young dealer at the fan tan table almost succeeds in rekindling hope in his heart. The young man lost both of his legs during the war and reminds Fong Wing of his third son. Fong Wing’s implied offer to make the dealer his son is kindly rejected, throwing him back into an emotional abyss as dark and cold as the streets in the early morning of the New Year’s Day.