Diaspora and Class Consciousness
Chinese Immigrant Workers in Multiracial Chicago
By Shanshan Lan
Routledge – 2012 – 198 pages
Series: Studies in Asian Americans
This book is an ethnographic study of the multi-linear process of racial knowledge formation among a relatively invisible population in the Chinese American community in Chicago, namely the working class. Shanshan Lan defines "Chinese immigrant workers" as Chinese immigrants with limited English language skills who work primarily at low-skill, blue-collar service jobs at the extreme margins of U.S. economy. The book moves away from the enclave paradigm by situating the Chinese immigrant experience within the larger context of transnational labor migration and the multiracial transformation of urban U.S. landscape. Through thick ethnographic descriptions, Lan explores Chinese immigrant workers’ daily struggles to cope with the disjuncture between race as an American ideological construct and race as a lived experience. The book argues that Chinese immigrant workers’ racial learning is not always a matter of personal choice, but is conditioned by structural factors such as the limitation of the Black and white racial binary, the transnational circulation of U.S. racial ideology, the negative influence of prevalent U.S. rhetoric such as multiculturalism and colorblindness, and class differentiations within the Chinese American community.
"Shanshan Lan's Diaspora and Class Consciousness is a vivid portrait of Chinese American Chicagoland. She is clever not to remain within the confines of the Chinese American community, telling the story of its emergence and consolidation. What she does instead is tell the story of how Chinese immigrant workers rub shoulders with African Americans, Latinos, Whites and others — forging their own sense of self in these ethnic conversations, building up their own sense of class consciousness and dignity in the interstices of their complex lives."
-Vijay Prashad, author of Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity and Uncle Swami: Being South Asian in America.
Introduction: Is This What You Call Racial Discrimination? 1. Imagining Chicago’s "Chinatown Community": The Making and Unmaking of Interracial Boundaries 2. Racial Learning Between China and the United States: A Transnational Perspective 3. Bridgeport: The Politics and Poetics of Space 4. The Ethnic Crucible of Learning to Labor 5. Chinese Immigrants Navigating Mexican Chicago 6. Citizenship, Class and Coalition Building 7. "I Feel Somewhat American.": Race and Class Consciousness among Chinese American Youth. Conclusion: In Search of Dignity and Respect
Shanshan Lan is a research assistant professor in the David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University.