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"I have an accent in every language I speak!": Shadow history of one Chinese family's multigenerational transnational migrations

According to scholar and Professor Wang Gungwu, there are three categories of Chinese overseas documents: formal (archive), practical (print media), and expressive (migrant writings such as poetry). This non-fiction creative essay documents what Edna Bonacich describes as an “middleman minority” family and how we have migrated to four different nation-city states in four generations. Our double minority status in one country where we were discriminated against helped us psychologically survive in another country. My family history ultimately exemplifies the unique position “middleman minority” families have in the countries they migrate to and how the resulting discrimination that often accompanies this position can work as a psychological advantage when going to a new country. We also used our cultural capital to survive in each new country. In particular, this narrative highlights the lasting psychological effects of the transnational migration on future generations. There is a wall of shame, fear, and traumas in my family’s migration story that still pervades today. My family deals with everything with silence, obfuscation, and anger. It has taken me twenty years to recollect a story so my own descendants can know where we came from. Thus, this is a shadow history that will add to the literature on Sino-Southeast Asian migration and remigration out to the United States. Specifically, my family’s migration began with my grandfather leaving Guangdong, China to Saigon, Vietnam (1935), to Hong Kong, (1969) (then a British Colony), and eventually to the United States (1975). This article explains why my family migrated multiple times across multiple generations before eventually ending up in California. Professor Wang urges librarians, archivists, and scholars to document and preserve the Chinese migrants’ expressive desires of migrant experiences and this expressive memoir piece answers that call.

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