American Born Chinese is a graphic novel written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang. This beautiful book ties together three seemingly disparate storylines into one: from an egoistic Monkey King; to a young boy, Jin, struggling with internalized self-hatred; to two seeming high school rivals, Danny and his cousin Chin-Kee.
From the beginning of this novel, I was entranced by the mystical introduction of the Monkey King; though he reigns over a plentiful land of adoring fellow primates, he battles with a stunted desire to be accepted by a realm of “higher” other gods.
The story then transitions to a completely different time and place – where “all-American” bond-haired, blue-eyed Danny attempts to sail on these laurels throughout high school. I was horrified when his cousin spontaneously enters the picture, as he is a blatant caricature of anti-Asian sentiment. This depiction reminded me of so many other deplorable examples of yellow-face seen throughout popular media: from Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan; to Scarlett “Ignorant-Ass” Johansson and Emma “WASPy-As-Hell” Stone stealing roles from Asian and Asian-American characters in their films, Ghost in the Shell and Aloha, respectively.
Finally, there is young Jin himself, a Chinese-American boy just trying to fit in at school. It broke my heart when Wei-Chen tries to befriend Jin, and the latter is as rude to him as other bullies have been to Jin himself. To me, this one scene demonstrates the pressures that come with cross-cultural assimilation, and how sometimes it can lead to the rejection and betrayal of members of our own community.
Author Luen Yang weaves these three storylines together in such a seamless and captivating way. And *spoiler alert* I didn’t even realize they were all connected until the very end, when Chin-Kee reveals himself to be the Monkey King sending a message to Danny, who is in fact, Jin all grown up. In a way, this cyclical ending reflects the real moral of the story: how hatred haunts us all, and is sometimes buried so deep, we don’t event realize we harbor it ourselves.