Monday, March 17, 2008

Chinese Restaurants are everywhere

I think this documentary does a fantastic job of providing a unique perspective of the Chinese diaspora. Being raised in the US and totally immersed in American popular culture, it is really easy for me to forget that there are Chinese immigrants across the globe. By showing a glimpse of these people's stories, how they came from China and the impact they've made in their new homes, the film really addresses what it means to be Chinese in the context of the entire world. Looking at how these people struggled to assimilate into their new countries also made me think about assimilation in the US in a new light.

As many posts have mentioned, I did notice some common threads in each of the stories. All the restaurant owners were settling in their respective countries as a means of escape, and many of them view their business as inescapable. I mean, aside from the fact that it's their job, many of them talk about how they had no choice and how they wish the next generation to embrace a greater opportunity. What I also found really interesting was the impact of the size of some of the countries. In smaller countries such as Madagascar, Cuba, and Trinidad and Tobego, the presence of Chinese has a really visible impact. I was really surprised to see the diversity of children that attended the Chinese school in Madagascar.

The film raises some interesting questions about the notion of assimilation. A lot of people here have described the assimilation as a tragedy, but I have mixed feelings. If we define assimilation as a total loss of ancestral culture (e.g. language, tastes, knowledge), then I can see how assimilation can be a tragedy. And I think it certainly is deeply saddening that many of the restaurant owners featured in the film do not have the means to return to China. But I can think a more positive take on the notion of assimilation is to view it as the ability to claim belonging to both; to post flags in both nations, if you will. Maybe they lose physical or lingual touch with their home countries, but there are ways to honor both countries and I think the film shows that the Chinese restaurant is a fantastic method of doing exactly that.

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