Book by Jean Lau Chin
Review by Kathleen Carpenter
Academic Advisor, Senior
College of Education
Northern Arizona University

Learning from my Mother’s Voice, by Jean Lau Chin, provides the reader with an insight into China, its past, present, and future.  In just 154 pages, the reader learns about Chinese immigrants who came to the United States in the 1800’s, China’s vast history as far back as 265 A.D, and Chinese culture today.  The book also allows the reader time to reflect on societal myths about Chinese culture.

There are two distinct parts to this book, which when taken together, can be used by the academic advisor to assist with understanding diversity and implications for advising Chinese students. In Part One, Lau Chin presents information about Chinese culture and myths by discussing related books, film, and poems.  The Western perspective often portrays Asian women as meek, victimized and subservient (p. 36).  However, Jean Lau Chin dispels these myths by portraying Asian women as women warriors. Lau Chin discusses Chinese American women and families, by comparing the culture with heroes found in such movies as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Joy Luck Club.  In contrast, movies such as Madame Butterfly and Miss Saigon,  “degrade Asian women as prostitutes and insult Asian men by implying that only Caucasian men are worthy objects of love” (p. 37), a myth that seems to be carried on, even today.

In Part Two, the reader is provided with a rich and authentic piece of the past that allows an in-depth look into immigrant history through an extensive oral history told by Lau Chin’s mother. The reader learns about China before and after her arrival in the United States and immigrant experiences in America as seen through her eyes.   “Papa came to New York in 1933 because he had heard that there were many Chinese there. Upon arrival, he found work in a laundry on Myrtle Ave. in Brooklyn.  This was the only kind of work available to Chinese at that time; no one else wanted the work” (p. 94).  Much of the trials and tribulations immigrants experienced in the 1800’s are very similar to those experienced by immigrants today.  That is, immigrants take the jobs no one else wants and many feel isolated and discriminated against because of their culture.  As an academic advisor, I find that the more information that I know about the history of a culture, both past and present, the better able I am to understand and assist students from cultures different from my own.  That is why I found the oral history part of this book the most interesting.

I found the reading of this book to be both timely and insightful because recently, Northern Arizona University (NAU) has established a number of partnerships with participating Chinese universities whereby Chinese students can attend NAU on a 1-2-1 degree program. As advisors, we must embrace the opportunity to learn about new cultures and help people from other cultures learn about us.  Because I read this book, I have a better understanding of the Chinese culture and I have had the opportunity to reexamine stereotypes that many Westerners have about this culture.  I highly recommend this book, especially for advisors with an interest in oral history.

Learning From My Mother’s Voice: Family Legend and the Chinese America Experience. (2005). Book by Jean Lau Chin. Review by Kathleen Carpenter. New York: Teachers College Press. 177 pp., $19.95, (paperback), ISBN # 0807745510
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