Celebrated Author Discusses Contributions of Asian Americans to Popular Culture

“Asians have changed our culture so all Americans have become somewhat Asian,” said Maxine Hong Kingston, award-winning author of Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Noting the modern influence of zen, meditation, and that most of the contents of the Munce Conference Room were made in China, she declared: “From the material level to the big level, we are all Asian.”

On March 31, Hong Kingston was welcomed back to campus for a second year as a speaker for the College’s Distinguished Visiting Scholars series. Professor Ronald Suleski of Suffolk’s Rosenberg Institute for East Asian Studies, who co-sponsored her lecture, titled “Asians in America,” introduced Hong Kingston as “insightful, well-written and full of good stories.”

Hong Kingston, with her small stature and quietly animated voice, quickly transfixed the standing-room-only crowd of students and faculty. Launching into her anecdotes, readings, and stories, she transported the audience from the Suffolk campus in Boston to today’s Chinese New Year celebrations in California and to San Francisco Bay in the 1930s. Her talk was multicultural and multidisciplinary, ranging from citations from writers like Andrew Lam and Richard Rodriguez to recounting her own parents’ journey to America, showing the modern contributions of Asian immigrants to American culture.

She read from her fictionalized account of her familial history, China Men, and recalled her own visit to the immigration station on San Francisco’s Angel Island, imagining her mother’s experience of the same Bay crossing “seeing the North American continent coming from the East”. Hong Kingston held up photos of her family, personally illustrating the East-meets-West melting pot of modern America.

With a laugh, Hong Kingston related a conversation she had over her first “mani-pedi” with the salon-owner, a Vietnamese immigrant whose daughter was born with a birth defect. The woman claimed her daughter had been dealt a bad fate and would remain unlucky, but Hong Kingston replied, “Only Asians believe in fate and luck. We don’t have fate in America. In America, we can change everything – we can make our own lives.”