Conversation with John Jung, Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach and author of Southern Fried Rice: Life in a Chinese Laundry in the Deep South, and other books which depict the lives of Chinese American immigrants and their families.
Prof. Jung began by introducing his Scoop.it web sites.
He uses Scoop.it as a way of curating and sharing his collection of online resources on contemporary and historical issues of Chinese Americans. He comments and provides descriptions of each source. Each source is tagged with search terms and can be filtered and searched by them. He has “scooped” some major sources of genealogy such as FamilySearch.com, Ancestry.com, HeritageQuest.com, which proved helpful in his search for information about his relatives.
One recommended resource, Newspapers.com, contains digitized U.S. newspapers (of small towns as well as large cities) from the 1700s - 2000s. This database was especially helpful in his research of Chinese in Macon, GA. When he and his family lived there they were the only Chinese in the city. Through newspaper articles he found that 20-25 Chinese had lived in Macon many years before his family moved there. [Newspapers.com is available by subscription, but offers a 7 day free trial.]
When asked what motivated him to write Southern Fried Rice, the story of his family’s life in Macon and their eventual move to San Francisco, Prof. Jung responded that the idea to write the book was born on a 2004 trip back to Macon. He went to the site of his family’s laundry (the building was built in 1885) and found it gone; a parking lot was in its place. That was the moment when he realized that if he wrote the story of his family and their laundry, it would at least be “on the record.” He didn’t think that his parents, if they were alive, would approve of his book, but he felt vindicated because many people have found his story interesting and it has inspired others to write their own stories.
He wrote the memoir mostly from memory. His sister had already compiled the family’s genealogy. In addition, he did research at the National Archives in San Bruno, California. When interviewing some family members, he encountered a fair amount of resistance, perhaps because there was worry about possible deportation or uncovering family secrets.
In response to a question about how he decided to provide historical context within the text, such as information about Chinese laundries, discrimination, segregation in the South, etc., Prof. Jung said that doing so came rather naturally. While writing his memoir, he became curious about the history of Chinese Americans, specifically how so many Chinese became laundrymen when none of them worked in laundries before they came to the U.S. Subsequently, his second book was about the history of Chinese laundries in the U.S. and Canada. It also helped to have someone else read and edit his text that would have a fresher, more objective eye. Judy Yung, a noted historian of Chinese women in America, read his draft and gave suggestions for revision.
When asked what advice he had for someone who has done a lot research but has a bad case of writer’s block and cannot seem to get started with writing the family history, he replied, “Just start, don’t keep delaying!” Have a small goal of one page at a time. If you don’t write that first page, you’ll never get anywhere. Find what method helps motivate you to begin. It could be first dictating into a recorder, then transcribing. Get feedback from others; getting encouragement from other people can inspire.
Prof. Jung’s forthcoming book, A Chinese American Odyssey, will be published in December. http://shoutout.wix.com/lp/4efe8564-8014-4b48-98d4-e531a6bbc421#/main