In Frank Chin's book Donald Duk, Chin informs the readers of the conflict of identity and racism faced by the Chinese-Americans in America after the immigration and settlement of Chinese in America during the 1860s Union Pacific Railroad construction that left most of the immigrants settling in America. Through the eleven-year-old boy going to twelve, Donald Duk, Chin makes his readers understand the isolation and loss of identity for the immigrants in America. Chin does this by using the young boys story and experience in his encounter with other ethnic groups. Through the boys experience, the reader can get the clear picture of Chinese immigrants experience with the other cultural groups. Chins novel, through Donalds story, gives the immigrants sense of identity and resolves the internal conflict of identity that most victims of the 1860s immigration and settlement in Chinatown have been suffering from since. Donald Duk does not understand himself; he hates his culture at the beginning of the novel and later accepts it. This paper will examine how Donald Duk views his Chinese heritage both before and after his surrealist dreams.
Donald Duk is in conflict with himself; he is confused with the situation he finds himself. He is a Chinese-American, who was born in America. His experience and encounter with the other socio-cultural groups such as the Americans make him develop a hateful attitude towards his culture. He does not want to relate with the Chinese. Additionally, he feels embarrassed with his name and that of his family; he does not wish to be identified with the Kings family anymore. He feels that Chinese culture is old and should be dropped and adopt the American culture that he claims to be new and fashioned. In his statement to his father that everybodys got to give up the old and become American (Chin, 42), shows that Donald does not like his culture. Chin depicts the way immigrants in America like to identify themselves with the Americans and despise their culture.
Chin shows the influence of the environment and the people around it on Chinese immigrants through Donalds experience in school. In school, Donald Duk develops a hateful attitude towards Chinese because of the experience he encounters and the people he comes across. His fellow students at school laugh and make fun of his name saying that he was named after the Disney cartoon character. Furthermore, Donalds joins the other students in laughing at his name. Through Donalds story, Chin has managed to depict the assimilation of the Chinese Americans into the American culture. Additionally, Donald likes to emulate the American way of life, and he rejects his own; he wishes to be like the top dancer, Fred Astaire whom he considers his hero. Chin informs the readers about the young boy comparing himself with the top dancer, Fred Astaire; Donald believed that he dances like Fred Astaire, and he considers himself the Chinese Fred Astaire (Chin, 91). Donald is annoyed with his family rejection of American culture; this is depicted when the family is watching TV and Donald explains his parents perception on Chinese and Americans, they make everybody on the TV look Chinese (Chin, 91).
Donald Duk completely disagrees with his family, and he cannot understand their interest and love for Chinese culture. At the beginning of the novel, Chin presents us with the family preparing to celebrate the Chinese New Year cultural celebration together with Donalds birthday. However, Donald does not look interested in the occasion, everything he believes in is against the Chinese culture, and he tries by every mean to be fully American and denies anything to do with the Chinese tradition. Donald likes to identify with the Americans; his best friend from school, Arnold Azalea is American fully, and Donald wants to be like him. Chin presents the readers with the denial of ones cultural heritage and how it is significant in self-identity. Donald rejects to participate in the traditional ritual, Bai sun that to Chinese shows respect. Chin depicts this rejection to participate in the ritual as the rejection of ones culture. Donald claims that he wants to be a hundred percent American, and therefore, he would not participate in such rituals. Chin further shows the hateful attitude towards his culture when he destroys the models of airplanes that his father made to be used in celebration of the New Year. Donald believes that he is an American because he was born in America and not in China; therefore, his identity is within America. The conflict of racial identity about Donald makes his father; King Duk worried; the way he behaves is not like the Chinese. Donald is addicted to the white and black movies where he admires most of the white and black characters such as; Fred Astaire, who is loved by most audiences. He also likes the Ginger Rogers movies, and he looks at himself as one of the Americans that has no relation to the Chinese. He starts to develop characters like the Americans; for example, his father says that he steals from him (King Duk) and treats Chinese like dirt, he thinks that he might have accidentally taken American home thinking that he is his son (Chin, 88).
Donald Duk develops a different perception of his culture after his surrealist's dream. Chin explains the significance of appreciating ones culture. Most of the people around Donald appreciate their culture. The family likes to identify with the Chinese and also appreciate other cultures; for example, his father, King Duk is a Chinese but he does not criticize any culture. He is multiculturalism; he is a chef in his restaurant, and he combines different foods from various cultures without giving attention to one particular cultural food. He wishes the same for his son who is lost in the fantasy of becoming an American 100%; he tells his son to be tough and not to show fear. He tells his son that you look like you want everyone to beat you up (Chin, 71). King Duk tells his son to be tough so that the gang kids could not bully him again; he tells him you walk with your back straight.Dont hutch your shoulders (Chin, 71). Although, this advice is misunderstood by Donald; he thinks that his father meant that he should be tough and start acting like criminals from the Chinese gang story. He ends up being arrested after they hit the police car with his friend with firecrackers, Arnold Azalea. Chin presents the readers with the acceptance and appreciation of ones culture and that of others through Donalds experience and the people he associates with. Chin gives the traits of good Americans who does not advocate for racism like Arnold Azalea. Donalds best friend, Arnold is American but does not show the same hatred for Chinese like other Americans. Arnold embraces the Chinese culture; he spends the night that the Duks family planned a celebration to welcome the New Year.
Chin presents the multiculturalism of America through characters like Arnold Azalea, who develops interest and appreciation in other cultures. The dream changes Donalds perception of his culture; when he hears his family talking about the historical story about the Chinese immigrants who came to America during the construction of the Union Pacific railroad, he tries to identify with the victims during that time. He begins to dream that he was part of the immigrant group who built the Central Pacific Railroad. The dream becomes frequent, and Donald gets the inspiration of researching on the Chinese immigrants where he learns about the oppression and racial discrimination that the immigrants went through. Donald learns about the harsh treatment of the Chinese immigrants who came to America; how they were subjected to oppression and racially segregated by the Americans whom he thought were not racist before his surrealist dream. Before the dream, Chin presents the readers with good views on American culture and how Donald emulates the American stereotypes like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Chin presents the story about the Chinese immigrants to America to depict the change of attitude that Donald developed after he was told the story about his ancestors experience in the hands of the whites he so badly wanted to emulate. His uncle tells him the story of where they came from, your great-great-grandfather was the first of our Lees t come from China. He worked on the central Pacific (Chin, 23). Donald becomes so inspired to find out more about his background, and he begins the research on the historical background of the Chinese immigrants who came to America. Chin presents the change of attitude and appreciation of ones culture as a sense of identity through Donalds dream. In his dream, Donald identifies with the Chinese immigrants, and he sees himself working with them at the construction site. Chin uses this story of Chinese immigrants working at the railroad construction to show the appreciation of Donald that frees him from the conflict of racial identity. Donald learns to appreciate himself and his culture after the dream. Additionally, he learns to appreciate other peoples culture and ethnic groups; for example, towards the end of the novel he tells one of the children he interacts with that youre white, but youre not like these guys. I like you. I dont care what you are (Chin, 132). Chin shows that Donald has realized himself, and he has freed himself from the internal conflict of self-identity.
In summary, in his novel Donald Duk Chin has presented the racial identity conflict through the experience of an eleven-year-old boy, Donald Duk, who does not like to associate himself with the Chinese and is embarrassed with who he is. Chin presents the freedom from such conflict through Donalds realization of who he is and how great his culture is. Donald towards the end of the novel realizes that people should not be judged by their color or the ethnic group they come from but with the contribution they make to others and the society.
Chin, Frank. Donald Duk: A Novel. Coffee House Press, 1991.
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