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Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton: Lives of Mississippi Delta Chinese Grocers

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About the author:
After a 40 year career as a Professor of Psychology, I began to reflect on many aspects of my personal development and returned to a question that I had avoided many times during my life, namely, how do I, as a second-generation Chinese American fit in a predominantly black and white society.

I grew up in Macon, Georgia, where I was born to Chinese immigrant parents who operated a laundry during the years before the civil rights era. Ours was the only Chinese family in town, so it was difficult for me to understand who I was, ethnically speaking.

My attempts to understand how my ethnic identity emerged led to a memoir "Southern Fried Rice: Life in A Chinese Laundry in the Deep South," in 2005.

I never aspired to write more than one book about Chinese Americans, but in doing research to further my understanding of how and why my parents ended in Georgia, and how they were treated there, I was inspired to write 3 additional books. "Chinese Laundries: Tickets to Survival on Gold Mountain" (2007) examined the vital role that this ethnic business had for Chinese immigrants for over a century all over the U. S. and Canada. A third book in 2008, "Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton: Lives of Mississippi Delta Chinese Grocers" described the history of Chinese grocery store owners in small communities during the era when Jim Crow laws prevailed. My most recent book in 2010, "Sweet and Sour: Life in Chinese Family Restaurants," was the study of another stereotypical Chinese business, the restaurant. It examined Chinese restaurant origins, operation, and impact on society and the families that ran them. My four books have the common goal of exploring how Chinese immigrants starting from the late 1800s until beyond the middle of the past century managed to overcome societal prejudices against Chinese and other "Orientals" to succeed in opening family businesses such as laundries, grocery stores, and restaurants.

Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton: Lives of Mississippi Delta Chinese Grocers

Authored by John Jung

The story of how a few Chinese immigrants found their way to the Mississippi River Delta in the late 1870s and earned their living with small family operated grocery stores in neighborhoods where mostly black cotton plantation workers lived. What was their status in the segregated black and white world of that time and place? How did this small group preserve their culture and ethnic identity? "Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton"is a social history of the lives of these pioneering families and the unique and valuable role they played in their communities for over a century.

Excerpts from Reviews

...traces their migration history, work, families, and social lives. His work is anchored in a creative mix of oral history, community historical documents and public records, and includes a generous fill of photos. As a study of the complexities of triangular race relations in the Jim Crow South, his work rivals James Loewen's classic study, The Mississippi Chinese. Greg Robinson, By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans Harvard University Press, 2001

"Chopsticks" tells the story of yet one more example of Chinese tenacity in which John Jung traces the paths of pioneer Chinese immigrants in Mississippi as they moved from laborers to become successful grocery store merchants for decades with family members and relatives serving as the backbone. "Chopsticks" pays tribute to the resilience and "can-do" attitude of these enterprising entrepreneurs. Sylvia Sun Minnick, Sam Fow,The San Joaquin Chinese Legacy

Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton explores aspects of Chinese settlement in the Mississippi Delta that earlier writings on the subject do not address in detail. Jung analyzes why grocery stores emerged as virtually the only occupation for Chinese in that area instead of farming and hand laundries. He examines the extensive kinship networking that brought male relatives and later whole families to this unlikely region for Chinese settlement. Jung's impressive book can be enjoyed by ordinary readers for its captivating stories and by scholars for its thorough research and analysis of sources.
Daniel Bronstein, The Formation and Development of Chinese Communities in Atlanta, Augusta, And Savannah, Georgia: From Sojourners To Settlers, 1880-1965.

Reader Comments

Thanks for all your hard work and research that has gone into writing and publishing this book...I think you have a unique perspective, being Chinese and growing up in the south, but not in the MS Delta. I trust that your journey through the Delta this past Fall was beneficial in gaining insight into the place and the people of this area. Gilroy Chow

... your book presents the most definitive and accurate account of the Chinese in the Ms Delta--what it was like to be Chinese and growing up in the segregated South during that time. Peter Joe

I am a friend of most of the people you interviewed in your book. I recently finished reading your book and felt I was right among the people you interviewed. It's the best book written about the Chinese in the Mississippi Delta.

...a fascinating look at what life was like for my grandparents and mother. Indirectly, I learned a lot about my family. I felt that I knew very little about my mother's childhood, but now I have a rich context with which to insert the stories I have heard. C. Acharya my opinion, was a home run because he went to great lengths to gather so many accounts from many, many sources to present a wide spectrum of differing views about life in the Mississippi Delta. The views presented were not always the most flattering to the Delta Chinese either but he tried to be even-handed in the presentations. On balance this is the best study to-date of my community and I will be forever grateful for his wonderful work which exceeded all of my expectations. Bobby Joe Moon

Publication Date:
0615185711 / 9780615185712
Page Count:
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
6" x 9"
Black and White
Related Categories:
History / General

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