By Lisa Antonucci, Xochitl Ayon, Justin Beck, Cassandra Ulrich, Yahaira Vega, and Alnas Zia
Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese, was born August 9, 1973 in Alameda, California. Alice Chen from the San Francisco Gate writes that his father, an electrical engineer from Taiwan, and his mother, a programmer from Hong Kong, taught him the importance of developing a strong work ethic and the value of education. He grew up in San Jose and Saratoga, and was one of only a few Asian Americans that attended his elementary school. He was teased and ridiculed, and since then, has been uncomfortable being Asian in the United States. His parents tried to reinforce their Asian culture by reading Taiwanese books to him and making up fictional stories about a Taiwanese village boy. Although his parents consistently sought to strengthen his cultural identity, he still struggles with it. These feelings are the backbone of his book, American Born Chinese. He wanted to write about what it means to be Asian American and to explore his feelings about his cultural identity (Chen).
Yang’s dream was to major in art and become a Disney animator, but his dad wanted him to “do something practical,” so he majored in computer science with a minor in creative writing. Just before going to college, Yang began to question philosophical ideals and finally accepted God his freshman year at a retreat. He said it was then that “he decided to make Jesus the center of his life” (Chen). In an interview by Jake Jesson, with the Examiner, Yang said, “The two big pieces of my identity are my ethnicity and my religion.”
After college, he worked as an engineer for two years, and then sought spiritual direction from God for his future. After attending a silent retreat for nearly a week, he quit his engineering job and looked for one that he found personally fulfilling. His dad sent him newspaper clippings that contained information about engineering salaries hoping he would continue in that field. Yang ignored his dad and pursued a career in education. He is not only an accomplished writer, but he is also a full-time computer science teacher at a Catholic school near his home (Chen).
Gene and his wife Teresa have been married for twelve years and have an eight-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter. He successfully blends family and work time by writing for hours after the children have gone to bed. He travels all over the world and speaks at comic book conventions and teen book clubs (Chen). He said one of the perks of having a successful book is that he can “work on comics now and not feel guilty about it” (Jesson).
When asked by the Kartika Review who his initial intended audience for American Born Chinese was, Yang explained the condition of the comic book industry before answering the question. He said during the time he was writing the book, the industry was falling apart. He initially placed American Born Chinese on the web and in mini-comics. He described mini-comics as hand-printed comics that were photocopied and given to friends or sold at comic book shows. So, initially, he created it for his mom, brother, and a few friends. He decided to publish American Born Chinese because he thinks it serves as a “bridge” in the comic industry between comics for young adults and adults in their 30’s and 40’s. He considers it a “sophisticated” comic especially written and designed for junior high age and above (Jesson).
American Born Chinese is not without controversy. Gene admitted that the two most controversial parts of the book are the character, Chin-kee, and the Christian element. He integrated his Christian values with the traditional Asian story of the Monkey King. He wanted to capture why he felt that so many Asian-Americans are Christian. He explained, “As Asian Americans, we don’t feel like we belong in the culture we find ourselves in, or our parents’ culture.” He continues, “To know God intended you, that’s powerful.” He uses Chin-Kee to reflect how some perceive Asian Americans. The character is described as a “FOB” or “fresh off the boat,” speaks with a distinct accent and is fraught with exaggerated Asian stereotypes (Kartika).Gene Yang’s work has won many esteemed awards. Among them are the coveted Michael L. Prinz Award, the Amazon.com Best Graphic Novel – Comic of the Year, and Best Book Award, Eisner Awards 2007. The book was also a National Book Award Finalist. Other works by Gene Yang include: Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks, The Eternal Smile, Prime Baby, Level Up, Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order, The Rosary Comic Book, and The Motherless One.
Chen, Alice. “The Humble Comic: Gene Yang’s Christian Take on Being American-born Chinese Fuels His Emerging Comics Career.” Interview by Alice C. Chen. SFGate.com. San Francisco Chronicle, 11 May 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2012. <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/05/09/CM5P10823R.DTL&ao=all>.
“Interview with Gene Yang American Born Chinese.” Kartika Review. 7 Nov. 2006. Web. 20 Feb. 2012. <http://kartikareview.com/?portfolio=issue-01-winter-2007>.
Jesson, Jake. “A Comic Book Author Gets ‘Cred’ From the Literary World.” 20th Century Drama. ProQuest, 19 Dec. 2007. Web. 20 Feb. 2012..
Yang, Gene. “Gene’s Blog.” Gene Luen Yang. Web. 20 Feb. 2012. <http://geneyang.com/genes-blog>.