In Search of Chinese American History
To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect. Oscar Wilde
I retired in 2007 from a career of over 40 years as an academic psychologist and, to my surprise, started an accidental new career as a public historian of Chinese American history. This journal describes some unexpected experiences, mostly positive, in researching, writing, publishing, and promoting four Yin & Yang Press books that “give voice to the voiceless” by describing perspectives of Chinese immigrants and their families about their experiences operating the laundries, restaurants, and grocery stores that they were relegated to until well into the 20th century by racial barriers to other work. This work has led to over 100 book talks across the country at history museums, community groups, libraries, universities, senior centers, and even a fifth grade class, talks that have allowed me to meet scores of fascinating people.
Writing books is hard work, but even more difficult is the promotion and distribution of one’s work. I learned through modeling, and trial and error, how to create useful websites devoted to each of my books and to employ Twitter and Facebook to generate awareness and interest. Over the course of this journey, I have been fortunate to have learned much from an ever growing network of many Chinese in the U. S. and Canada about their experiences that has enriched my understanding of what it means to be Chinese in North America. I continue to be surprised almost weekly by my discovery of new contacts and new information about the history of Chinese in America. This awareness has dramatically increased my personal identity as a Chinese American and I hope my books will have a similar impact on readers.
It is my hope that these journal entries can lead to a 5th book eventually,* one that goes beyond my existing books, to focus on the processes involved in taking a topic of personal interest and proceeding from basic research to writing, publishing, and promoting books that will make valuable contributions to readers in their understanding of how past historical events shaped the lives of Chinese in the past and still has influences on the lives of contemporary Chinese. It will not be a tutorial because I do not presume to be an expert on how to write and promote books. Think of it more as a case study of how I went about it, and learned from my successes, and mistakes.
On a personal note, I find it ironic that even though I did not have a strong Chinese identity most of my life because I was usually isolated from Chinese communities, I realize now that with each passing day in my new career I have become more and more “Chinese.”
*Since starting this website, I published that “fifth” book in 2014, A Chinese American Odyssey: How A Retired Psychologist Makes a Hit as a Historian.