Trying to Find Chinatown

by David Henry Hwang

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Benjamin says that he is looking for "No. 13 Doyers street" in Trying to Find Chinatown, but he is looking for something much deeper and more complex. What is that?

In Trying to Find Chinatown, Benjamin says that he is looking for 13 Doyers Street. He seeks not only this location but also something deeper and more complex, which the birthplace of his father. As a white child adopted by Chinese-American parents, Benjamin grew up in Kansas with seemingly little exposure to Chinese-American people. His search for 13 Doyers Street reveals his desire to learn about his father’s origins and his true identity.

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In the play Trying to Find Chinatown, Benjamin journeys from Kansas to New York City in search of Chinatown. While asking Chinese-American Ronnie for directions, Benjamin reveals he seeks a specific address: 13 Doyers Street. He is looking, however, for something much deeper and more complex than simply a location.

Benjamin explains to Ronnie, “Brother, I’m just trying to find what you’ve already got … a home. With your people.” As the adopted white son of Chinese-American parents (the Wongs), he seems to want to see and experience Chinatown in order to learn about and connect with his parents’ culture. After all, he was raised in a primarily white Midwestern community. He only learned about Chinese-Americans peoples’ experiences within a white patriarchal society in an Asian-American studies class at the University of Wisconsin.

Ronnie, on the other hand, believes that Benjamin is searching for merely superficial and stereotypical tokens of Chinese culture:

I mean, if you wanna call Chinatown your community, OK, knock yourself out, learn to use chopsticks. Go ahead, try and find your roots in some dim sum parlor with headless ducks hanging in the window.

When Benjamin finally arrives at Doyers Street in Chinatown, he feels like he is entering “a world where all things were finally familiar.” In the play’s closing monologue, he reveals that 13 Doyers Street is an old tenement that to him is “a temple—the house where my father was born.” Benjamin’s pilgrimage to 13 Doyers Street is his and his father’s return to home, an impoverished place to which his father

swore he would never return. But he had, this day, in the thoughts and memories of his son, just six months after his death.

To Benjamin, finding his father’s birthplace provides a connection to his ancestors and his father's past as well as a feeling of identity; he sits on the tenement’s stoop and feels “an ache in his heart for all those lost souls, denied this most important of revelations: to know who they truly are.”

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