Homebase Critical Context
by Shawn Hsu Wong

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Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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Homebase, written at the end of the 1970’s, is an important statement about the role of Asian Americans in the United States at the time. The author explains minority “mainstreaming” for such Chinese immigrants, but his message applies just as meaningfully to immigrants of other races and nationalities. Such minority fiction was coming into vogue for the first time during this period, following some rather huge publication successes of the 1960’s in which books by minority authors became truly important for the first time. Wong writes of a time when newly arrived immigrants could not survive in America without first giving up their history, heritage, and past. He emphasizes this most centrally in the novel by distinguishing between “Chinese” and “Chinaman.” Rainsford Chan is by birth “Chinese”—he becomes a “Chinaman” (and therefore an object of discrimination and prejudice) only when he goes to Chinatown. As ethnic fiction, Homebase makes its statement clearly through its title: America, not China, is Rainsford Chan’s home base. China can never be more to him than other homelands can be to other Americans, virtually all of whom are descended from immigrants.