Mississippi Delta Chinese

Life in Chinese Grocery Stores


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Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South by Leslie Bow

Posted by John Jung on March 12, 2011 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (3)

Leslie Bow, Professor of English and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin, has published scholarly analyses of the situation that Chinese faced in the American South, being caught in the crossfire between the blacks and whites, during the days of Jim Crow.

In her recent book, Partly Colored,  Prof. Bow provides a detailed and erudite discussion of the circumstances and consequences for Asian Americans of the quintessential predicament confronting them in the American South prior to the civil rights revolution.

Arkansas, 1943. The Deep South during the heart of Jim Crow-era segregation. A Japanese-American person boards a bus, and immediately is faced with a dilemma. Not white. Not black. Where to sit?

By elucidating the experience of interstitial ethnic groups such as Mexican, Asian, and Native Americans—groups that are held to be neither black nor white—Leslie Bow explores how the color line accommodated—or refused to accommodate—“other” ethnicities within a binary racial system. Analyzing pre- and post-1954 American literature, film, autobiography, government documents, ethnography, photographs, and popular culture, Bow investigates the ways in which racially “in-between” people and communities were brought to heel within the South’s prevailing cultural logic, while locating the interstitial as a site of cultural anxiety and negotiation.

Spanning the pre- to the post- segregation eras, Partly Colored traces the compelling history of “third race” individuals in the U.S. South, and in the process forces us to contend with the multiracial panorama that constitutes American culture and history.



Growing Interest in the Delta Chinese

Posted by John Jung on March 5, 2011 at 7:36 PM Comments comments (0)

In the past several months, I have heard from 4 or 5 people with some interest or connection to the Delta Chinese who are interested in both learning more about their history or contributing more research. That is exciting news. The younger generation seems to be getting more interested in the lives of the Chinese grocers in the Delta,

My Invitation to Visit the Delta

Posted by John Jung on January 31, 2011 at 1:48 PM Comments comments (0)


In the fall of 2008, I had the pleasure of being invited to visit the Delta to meet many Chinese with grocery store backgrounds to learn more about their experiences.  I was also afforded the opportunity to give several talks, the first of which was at Delta State University in Cleveland, where I had a warm reception for a talk about my memoir, "Southern Fried Rice."  

During my stay arranged by Frieda Quon, a librarian at Delta State with a grocery store upbringing who spearheaded the efforts to bring me to the Delta, I got to speak to several classes at Delta State, Ole Miss, and Jackson State.

A highlight of the two week visit was the genuine "Southern hospitality" I received across the Delta.  Several people provided housing and meals in their homes during my travels to visit several of the few remaining Chinese grocery stores in the area.  One day, we drove around Greenville looking for the empty shells of buildings that once were thriving grocery stores.  On another day, we visited the Greenville Chinese cemetery for a ceremony to dedicate the site with a national historic site marker.

My visit ended with a dinner when I spoke at the Citizens Alliance of Chinese Americans meeting in Leland, Ms.

My conversations with Delta Chinese served to confirm impressions and conclusions about their history that I had reached from earlier research, oral histories, and phone interviews that I had incorporated in drafts of my book, "Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton: Lives of Mississippi Delta Chinese Grocers" that I published after my visit to the Delta.

Why am I interested in Delta Chinese grocery history?

Posted by John Jung on January 16, 2011 at 10:43 PM Comments comments (4)

   Until recently, I had never even been to the Delta. So, why my sudden involvement? As a Chinese who was born and raised until age 15 in Georgia, I suppose you might consider me a 'cousin' of sorts of Mississippi Chinese. However, almost every Mississippi Delta Chinese I know or have heard about from the last century comes from a grocery store family whereas I grew up in a Chinese laundry.  My hometown had only one Chinese family, namely ours, and so I had never even heard of a Chinese grocer or a Chinese restaurant!

    It was in 2005 that I decided to publish a memoir, Southern Fried Rice: Life in A Chinese Laundry in the Deep South, to preserve a history of what life was like for our family, and others like it, in places like the South where there were few Chinese. At a talk I gave about the book in 2007 at the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, one very interested audience member, Roland Chow,  who grew up in a Delta Chinese grocery, suggested that I might consider writing a history of Chinese in the Mississippi Delta.  I was rather hesitant to take on such a task since I knew nothing about grocery store life or even Delta life, but over time as I studied previous research and read oral histories, I became fascinated with the unique situation that Chinese in the Delta faced and how they managed to survive, and eventually prosper, under difficult circumstances.  In 2008, the result was the publication of Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton: Lives of Mississippi Delta Chinese Grocers, a social history of the trials and tribulations that these immigrants and their descendants overcame during the past century.

    In the course of this undertaking, I had the opportunity to meet many Delta Chinese, some living there still as well as others living elsewhere, mostly California and Texas. Currently, there is growing enthusiasm and recognition of the necessity and value of expanding these efforts to record the Delta Chinese history before it is too late.  A proposal is underway to create a cultural history museum in Cleveland, Ms.

   I created a Facebook page last year to stimulate  input from more Delta Chinese, but only a few people have participated actively. My hope in creating this website is that it may provide an alternate and more widely accessible resource for people to both learn about and share information about the Delta Chinese history.