Trying to Find Chinatown

by David Henry Hwang

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In Trying to Find Chinatown, Benjamin suggests an understanding of Ronnie's hostility. To what does Benjamin attribute Ronnie's anger, and what does he base this on?

In “Trying to Find Chinatown,” Benjamin surprises Ronnie by exhibiting an empathetic view of Asian-Americans. In response to Ronnie’s hostility, Benjamin does not become angry himself; instead, he tells Ronnie that he understands the reasons behind Ronnie’s anger. Benjamin learned this knowledge in an Asian-American studies class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Benjamin’s knowledge can be seen as either overly PC or refreshingly open-minded.

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In David Henry Hwang’s Trying to Find Chinatown, Benjamin reacts to Ronnie's hostility with an educated understanding of minorities’ marginalization within their dominantly white patriarchal society. He attributes Ronnie’s “righteous anger” to the demeaning of Chinese-Americans by a “white racist patriarchy” that “obliterates” the accomplishments and achievements of Asians. Benjamin believes that Ronnie’s resentment stems from the historical and continuing “cultural genocide” or oppression of Asians by Euro-American people. He knows that Ronnie feels like a victim who constantly combats

emasculating and brutal stereotypes of Asian—the opium den, the sexual objectification of the Asian female, the exoticized image of a tourist’s Chinatown which ignores the exploitation of workers, the failure to unionize, the high rate of mental illness and tuberculosis.

Benjamin learned these ideas in an Asian-American studies class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. While some people may view this type of knowledge—and his spouting of it—as overly PC, as if he were a woke white social justice warrior—Benjamin is refreshingly open-minded. He is able to view history outside of a Euro-American-centric point of view. More importantly, he takes the class instruction to heart and delivers the above monologue not just as lip service. Benjamin does not merely talk the talk but truly walks the walk to seek and observe residents in New York's Chinatown. As the adopted white child of Chinese-American parents (the Wongs), he journeys there to try to understand what being Asian feels like. The knowledge Benjamin acquires in college inspires his attempt to empathize with Ronnie and the people of Chinatown.

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