Origins: American Pop Culture

“To those of you who are offended by every third chapter of American Born Chinese, I say this: Thank you. You’re supposed to be offended. That was the desired response. You see, Cousin Chin-Kee is no more my creation than the Monkey King. I yanked him, every last detail about him, straight out of American pop culture.

One of his most over-the-top lines is a word-for-word quotation from a political cartoon by an award-winning, nationally-syndicated cartoonist. In a lunchroom scene in the sixth chapter of American Born Chinese, Cousin Chin-Kee offers Danny a bite of his “crispy fried cat gizzards with noodles.” 

On April 9, 2001, in response to the Chinese spy plane crisis, American political cartoonist Pat Oliphant drew a six panel strip depicting Uncle Sam’s visit to a Chinese restaurant, where he is served “crispy fried cat gizzards with noodles” by a slant-eyed, bucktoothed waiter.The blatantly stereotyped political cartoon was not criticized by American Media and News outlets.

The second allusion in the text is to William Hung, the Asian-American American Idol contestant who was turned into an instantly-recognized butt of many jokes.

The ‘funny’ jokes are also part of a history of institutional racism that has taken place in the United States:

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 
Japanese-American Internment Camps

Yang asks an important question…

“Does acknowledging a stereotype perpetuate it? There certainly is that danger. But there’s also the danger of brushing off stereotypes with a polite grin and downward glance. And given Asian America’s historical lack of political participation, which is the greater danger? After all, if I hadn’t invited Cousin Chin-Kee – this grotesque creation of Sax Rohmer and John Hughes, of Pat Oliphant and my second grade classmates – into the pages of my comic book, if I hadn’t pointed him out and called him by name, I would never have been able to behead him.” ~Gene Yang


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