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March 3, 2003

American studies professor to present slide/talk on Chinese American women’s history

By Scott Rappaport

American studies professor Judy Yung will present a slide/talk featuring the personal stories of women in Chinese American history on Tuesday, March 25, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Bay Tree Building, Conference Room D.

Judy Yung will speak on March 25 as part of a new Diversity Lecture Series.

The event is part of a new Diversity Lecture Series sponsored by the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action. All UCSC faculty and staff are invited to attend.

The presentation is based on extensive research Yung conducted for her latest book, Unbound Voices: A Documentary History of Chinese Women in San Francisco. Drawing upon an intimate collection of letters, poems, autobiographies, newspaper clippings, and oral histories, the book portrays the lives of 40 Chinese American women from the late 1800s through World War II, creating a picture of their ability to make a home for themselves in America, despite severe racial, economic, and cultural constraints.

"I’ve taken this slide presentation around the country," Yung noted. "Through the slides and women's stories, I hope to illustrate how these women took an active role in creating their own history, refuting the prevailing stereotype of the ‘passive’ Chinese American woman."

She gave the example of Flora Belle Jan, a second-generation Chinese woman born in the United States, who was a flapper, poet, and writer in the 1920s. Yung came upon Jan in an oral history collection at Stanford University. She tracked down and interviewed Jan’s two daughters who had kept all of her letters and short stories, as well as articles and columns that were published in San Francisco newspapers and student publications. Using all these pieces of information, Yung was able to reconstruct the puzzle of Jan’s personal history.

Yung said this particular story reveals the identity dilemmas that Chinese American women faced as they simultaneously encountered rejection by mainstream America, and their own difficulty in accepting the traditional gender roles of Chinese culture.

"She was able to carve out a new, bicultural identity," Yung noted. "And she was able to do it without rejecting her traditional Chinese heritage, in which she still had a sense of pride."

Unbound Voices was written as a sequel to Yung’s 1995 book, Unbound Feet, a 10-year project that earned the 1996 National Book Award in History from the Association of Asian American Studies. She is also the author of Chinese Women of America: A Pictorial History and coauthor of Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940.

Yung is currently working on a biography of Eddie Fung, the only Chinese American soldier captured by the Japanese in World War II. She has to date conducted approximately 50 hours of interviews that she will eventually turn into a publication.

Yung was introduced to Fung by a military historian while doing research for her next book, Chinese American Voices, 1852-2000. That volume, which will have a national focus, is now in the editing stage and is expected to be published in 2004.

"People contribute to diversity in different ways," Yung observed. "For me, my contribution is to do research and add the voices of Chinese American women to the tableau of history."

For more information about the UCSC Diversity Lecture Series--open to faculty and staff--call (831) 459-1590. Registration is required.

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