American Born Chinese

by Gene Luen Yang
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How is Jin "othered" or made to feel different, foreign, unwelcome, and so on in American Born Chinese? Trace Jin's encounters with racial melancholia and his responses to racial melancholia. How does racial melancholia feature and persist in the graphic novel?

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These three questions are all very compelling. The issues they mention impact Jin as a character, as well as many readers who get to know Jin through the graphic novel. This response will address the first question in the series.

When the reader first meets Jin, he is a relatively...

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These three questions are all very compelling. The issues they mention impact Jin as a character, as well as many readers who get to know Jin through the graphic novel. This response will address the first question in the series.

When the reader first meets Jin, he is a relatively happy child living with his family in a familiar Chinese community. When he moves and changes schools, he finds himself a lone Chinese face amongst a classroom of Caucasian children, which automatically makes him feel different from everyone else.

In this new school environment, Jin's teacher inadvertently makes the situation worse, drawing unwanted attention to Jin by carelessly calling him the wrong name: Jin Jang. The alliteration of the J sound draws attention to the foreign sound of Jin's name, and in a moment, the teacher has accidentally modeled for other students an easy way to mock Jin and make him feel like an "other."

Later, Timmy makes stereotypical comments about the Chinese diet, shocking the others with his implied assumption that Jin eats dogs. The teacher misses an opportunity to educate Timmy and the others about respectful discussion of cultures that are different to one's own, and instead, she makes the situation even more uncomfortable for Jin by making her own assumptions about what he and his family eat.

In these early moments, Jin is quickly made to feel different, and ironically, the effect of these experiences is counterintuitive; rather than heightening a need to distance himself from the hostility of the majority culture, Jin feels an intensifying desire to assimilate into this white culture. Jin's need to deny and avoid his own heritage is the clearest evidence of all that he has been made to feel different and foreign.

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