Sara's Reviews > The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America

The Lucky Ones by Mae M. Ngai
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Sep 07, 2010

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bookshelves: giveaways, history, united-states, family-history, own
Read from August 31 to September 07, 2010

ARC received from the Goodreads First Reads program.

The story of the Tape family is not one to read if you're looking to learn more about the experience of the typical Chinese immigrant or Chinese-American family during the exclusion era. Unless you're looking for a family that proves to be the exception to the rule.

This history of Joseph Tape and his family spans about 100 years, from the 1860s to the 1960s. Tape and his family carved out a name and role for themselves as culture brokers--the link between recently-arrived Chinese immigrants and mainstream (aka white) American culture. The Tapes lived a fairly typical middle-class life, unlike most Chinese-Americans of the late 1800s. They owned a house outside of San Francisco's Chinatown (very unusual), and engaged in typical Euro-American recreational pursuits like hunting (Joseph) and painting (his wife Mary). The Tapes also fought the California school system trying to enroll their eldest daughter Mamie in school.

Personally, I found this an interesting book because it's NOT about the typical poor immigrant experience. This is new territory--Chinese-Americans during the late 19th century and early 20th century as part of the middle class. It's interesting to read about the way the Tapes assimilated, but still retained aspects of their ancestral culture.

I'd recommend this book to those who are already pretty familiar with Californian history, especially as it relates to Chinese immigration. This book serves to illustrate an example of a family of "lucky ones" who leveraged their position to obtain money, power, and about as much acceptance as one could get where racist policies were law.

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