American Born Chinese is one of the few graphic novels I have encountered in my adult academic career. While the pages are mostly taken up with colorfully sketched depictions rather than with script, it manages to bring forth an astounding story with a profound message. Gene Luen Yang was inspired by childhood folktales about the Monkey King and thought to use it as a lens to reflect upon his own life as an American born Chinese. Nonetheless the fusion of the two stories would not come without significant modifications as the author chose to replace the Buddhist mythology of the Monkey King story, with Christian beliefs on which his faith is based on.* With this potentially controversial fuse of myth and reality, ancient and contemporary, western culture and south-eastern culture, beliefs and faith, and morals and stereotypes, Yang manages to forge an incredible tale that I believe most first generation Americans can relate to and appreciate.
Of the deep messages that Yang presents in this story, the one that I find most significant is the plight that an American-born adolescent experiences while much of his identity is premised on his appearance. Although America has been the melting pot of many cultures for a long while, there is still an undeniable existence of discrimination and ignorance that persists. Through the character of Jin Wang, we see how he portrays himself with a stigma of not being “American enough,” and therefore, not good enough for the companionship and relationships he desires. Furthermore, we also see a great level of ignorance that is displayed when the teacher terribly mispronounces Wei Chen’s name and gives the wrong place of origin. This scene showed how little some Americans may care or even bother to educate themselves on members of the society who are of different origins.
Yang’s American Born Chinese would definitely be embraced by young adult readers because the text is full of vibrant and well detailed illustrations, is full of humor, and has enough heartfelt moments that would leave any reader learning a few valuable lessons.
* Yang, G. (2006, August 8). Origins of American Born Chinese – part . Retrieved from http://firstsecondbooks.typepad.com/mainblog/2006/08/gene_yang_origi.html