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This delightful book was born when Tsui moved from New York's Chinatown to San Francisco's. She asked herself, What is a Chinatown? On this quest she visited five different Chinatowns, including those in Los Angeles, Honolulu, and Las Vegas. Her warm descriptions are accompanied by her own photographs and hand-drawn maps. She writes of her grandparents' arrival in New York from Hong Kong: they considered hard work as a freedom to earn. She notes that San Francisco's Chinatown began in 1906 when a Chinese businessman erected an "oriental" archway, while Los Angeles's "Chinatownland" was the answer to Hollywood's ongoing need for an exotic backdrop. Honolulu's is considered a crossroads with its array of Asian residents and a distinct Hawaiian flavor. Las Vegas boasts the newest Chinatown, a mall invented in the 1990s. Why do America's Chinatowns continue? Tsui says they stay even when they could move on because Chinatown is the heartland for Asian America, historical touchstones for the elderly, and a physical home for new immigrants, even as they realize that America is bigger than its Chinatowns. Their continued existence indicates that these communities have succeeded. Verdict All readers interested in Chinese American subjects must consider this title.-Susan G. Baird, Chicago (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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Tsui (She Went to the Field) offers a meandering "personal geography" of the Chinatowns in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Honolulu and Las Vegas. Straining to be a travelogue, sociological snapshot and history of Tsui's own family's immigrant experience, the account is repetitious and perfunctory. The author doesn't spend sufficient time on her subjects-including an Asian studies professor born in San Francisco's Chinatown, or the ethnic Chinese artist originally from Vietnam who made his way to Honolulu's Chinatown via Indonesia-to clinch the reader's interest or to compose a compelling narrative of the neighborhoods. She maintains that she never feels more at home than when visiting an American Chinatown, but her limited insights may lead readers to feel like the tourists she disparages, the ones who visit Chinatown for an afternoon but fail to look beyond its faded facades and kitschy gift shops. Her treatment strikes its most superficial chord when she reaches the banal conclusion that American Chinatowns represent "heartland Asian America." (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
This personable travelogue through modern Chinese enclaves in five US cities--San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Honolulu, and Las Vegas--lays an engaging foundation for comparative discussion of Chinese spaces and experiences. Generally, the author anchors her stories well in vivid tales of people whose lives and words illustrate diverse generations, histories, and niches within these worlds, from long-established entrepreneurial families to recent immigrants. She also frames this as a personal narrative of experience and discovery. Students and scholars, however, will note that this anecdotal presentation scarcely engages the extensive scholarship on the Chinese and Chinatowns that has enriched the understanding of these spaces as sites of Chinese, American, and Chinese-American processes. Freelance writer Tsui also often seems to posit absolute categories of Chinese identity and space despite the more nuanced skepticism evident even in the lives and words of those chronicled. Although this book is a great starting point for the comparative study of such marked places of changing American identities, one wishes nonetheless that such a popular text might guide readers better toward the vibrant scholarship that continues to grow from and with Chinatowns and their multiple publics. Summing Up: Recommended. General and undergraduate libraries. G. W. McDonogh Bryn Mawr College