The following excerpt is taken from My Grandfather’s an Immigrant, and So is Yours”, a novel by Michael Chin (Cowboy Jamboree Press)
Take my middle school American History teacher, Mrs. Flannery. As we approached our study of internment camps during World War II, she asked if my grandfather would be willing to visit and speak to the class regarding his experience.
I explained that my grandfather hadn’t been in an internment camp.
I imagine Mrs. Flannery had worked herself up to making this ask, uncertain if it were politically correct or sensitive enough to her student. She had imagined contingency responses, and modes of encouragement, perhaps viewing this visit as a bold approach to hands-on learning, bringing history into the classroom. “That’s just as exciting, Billy. Because when it comes to history most of us are bystanders,” she said. “To know what it felt like to watch people around him gathered up like that, and on the chance that he could be next—that’s no less valuable for us to hear about.”
“My family’s Chinese, not Japanese.”
That stopped her. I was a book-smart kid, but I have no doubt that half of what happened in my youth in Shermantown went over my head. So it is, that I remain impressed with myself for sniffing out the bullshit of what came next.
“Of course.” She blushed, mind whirring, pushing prospective excuses to the tip of her tongue before she settled. “I know that. What I mean to say is that in those less sophisticated times, someone might have mistaken him for Japanese. Or if we did it to the Japanese it might have happened to Chinese immigrants next. Your grandfather was an immigrant, isn’t that right?”
I told her that was right, and bit my tongue before I could tell her that was about all she had right, and since when did the US have a World War II beef with China, and shouldn’t a history teacher of all people know that Chinese people and Japanese people were not only different, but didn’t so much get along in that era? No, I told her she was right and that I’d ask my grandfather, in part because I genuinely looked forward to his response.
Grandpa didn’t get animated about it. He was making a batch of fried rice when I told him, and he stirred things in the wok so fast by default that it was hard to tell if me might have moved a beat quicker or harder in his annoyance. He only shook his head.
Billy Chen grows up half-Chinese in a conservative small town in Upstate New York. The times are changing as relationships transform, the town’s history is uncovered, and the 2016 presidential election looms. My Grandfather’s an Immigrant and So is Yours probes the personal and the worldly, the timely and the timeless in a fragmented coming of age tale.
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Las Vegas with his wife and son. His debut novel, My Grandfather’s an Immigrant and So is Yours (Cowboy Jamboree Press) came out in 2021, and he is the author of three previous full-length short story collections. Find him online at miketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.
Release date: 14 September 2021
Buy your copy here.