When word got around that I was writing a book about the Mississippi Delta Chinese, some of the long-time residents of the Delta wondered who I was, prompting some to read my memoir, Southern Fried Rice, about my growing up in Georgia. Even though my parents operated a laundry while almost all Chinese immigrants in the Delta were in the grocery store business, they felt that my southern life experiences reflected many of their own. This feeling that made them comfortable with me, an outsider, writing about them and led them to invite me to come to the Delta in the fall of 2008 so I could have direct contact with them.
Thanks to the efforts of Frieda Quon and other members of the Mississippi chapter of the Citizens Alliance of Chinese Americans (C.A.C.A.), I was invited to give two talks about Southern Fried Rice at Delta State University in Cleveland and at a C.A.C.A. dinner in Leland. I enjoyed some old-fashioned Southern hospitality for over 2 weeks and was housed by several hosts, Audrey and C. W. Sidney, Frieda Quon, Gilroy and Sally Chow, Luck Wing, and Blanche and Bill Yee as I toured the Delta. What I learned from my interviews during this visit helped confirm and elaborate my views of the history of the Delta Chinese that were later published in Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton. During this trip, I was also able to give a presentation at Jackson State University, a historically Black institution, through a long time associate, Professor Pamela Banks, from our many years of directing mentoring programs at our respective universities funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Two years later, Frieda Quon coordinated another visit in 2011 for me to give several talks in the region. She arranged with Riki Jackson for me to speak at the Confucius Institute and to a 5th grade class at the Campus School at the University of Memphis, with Dr. Kirsten Dellinger to the Sociology Department at the University of Mississippi, and with Dr. Albert Nylander at Delta State University. Sandwiched in between was a radio interview with Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
Without the endorsement and encouragement of these network contacts in the Delta, it would not have been possible for me to receive these mutually beneficial speaking opportunities. The timing was also important as each year there are fewer of the grocery store families and their descendants living in the Delta. My talks there, and the eventual publication of Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton, helped galvanize more involvement and activity in recording and celebrating the rich history of the Mississippi Chinese, a unique Chinese community that despite being spread out across many miles in a rural area, managed to maintain a strong allegiance to Chinese traditions, culture, and values.