The Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month draws to a close today. I thought it might be interesting to discuss how my Geomancer’s Apprentice books reflect the experience of Chinese immigrants in the United States.
First off, it’s important to note that the Chinese diaspora encompasses millions of disparate experiences based on the time period in which it took place, as well as family and individual circumstances. I wanted my characters to reflect this diversity.
To recap, my protagonists are Junie Soong and Joe Tham, a pair of feng shui consultants from Chinatown, Washington, D.C. The books—especially The Forgotten Guardian, the second book in the series—focus mainly on how Joe’s family came to America.
Joe’s grandfather Tham Tiar Lung (placing the family name first, as is the custom for ethnic Chinese people) came to the U.S. in the early 1930s. Like many others before and after him, he used his connections to find a way around the Chinese Exclusion Act. The legislation—from the time it became effective in 1882 all the way to its repeal in 1943—barred the immigration of Chinese laborers to the U.S. for 10 years. However, merchants, students, travelers, teachers and diplomats were excluded from the law’s restrictions.
Tiar Lung set up his feng shui business in Chinatown, which was a magnet for Chinese immigrants at the time. Joe’s father, Tham Jing Lung, had taken over the business by 1968, when Chinatown was hit hard by the D.C. race riots sparked by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Joe’s mother came to the U.S. via a totally different route. Elsie Tham was the daughter of a wealthy Malaysian tin merchant. She was educated in British boarding schools. Elsie was studying law at Oxford University when she visited the U.S. on holiday and met Joe’s father in Chinatown.
Like many descendants of immigrants, Joe and Junie aren’t all that familiar with their mother tongue and culture. On the other hand, they are wholly American. Their stories, if real, would fit easily in the patchwork quilt that makes up the United States.