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Fitting in space: Rose Hum Lee's negotiation of assimilation and citizenship in America.


In commenting on his own research in Chinese American history, Him Mark Lai, an important contributor to Asian American history said, "in spite of all the new areas that had been probed, there are still too many blank pages, and even more that are incomplete or poorly defined, that await further delineation." (1) One of these incomplete pages is the study of native-born Chinese Americans in the 1950s. Studies on Chinese Americans in the 1950s, like those of Jack Chen and Shih-Shan Henry Tsai, tend to emphasize a more general picture of Chinese American history For example, in The Chinese of America, Chen provided information on the urbanization of Chinese Americans and the problems they had with the various immigration law changes from the 1940s to the 1950s. (2) Tsai, in The Chinese Experience in America, gave information on sex ratios of the Chinese population and the expanding opportunities that were available to the Chinese after World War II. (3) However, away from these more general pictures of Chinese American history are individual lives that, when explored, can provide a key to a better understanding of the historical experience of Chinese Americans in the 1950s. The experience of Chinese Americans' individual negotiations of the meaning of citizenship and how to fit into the American nation are missing from these pages of history Careful examination of these negotiations can help fill in the gaps left empty by the more general narratives of Chinese American history

To provide another view of Chinese American history in the 1950s, this paper will perform a textual analysis of the correspondence from Rose Hum Lee to her daughter, Elaine Lee, and selected published writings by Lee. (4) This limited study of a concentrated core of Rose Hum Lee's letters is meant to provide a glimpse into the past in order to better understand one facet of the historical experience of native-born Chinese Americans in the 1950s. A study of Lee's individual negotiation of the spaces represented by Chinatown and white America will shed light on how those negotiations resulted in her subsequent attitudes toward assimilation and citizenship. Therefore, this paper will examine the way Lee negotiated the meanings of the spaces she occupied, how she comprehended who and which space was American or un-American, and how she understood assimilation and citizenship in relation to one's level of "Americanness." Finally, this examination of Lee, with the guidance of Aihwa Ong and Lisa Lowe's contention of cultural citizenship, culminates in a direct critique of Jurgen Habermas's notion of civil religion, which proposes that citizens of a nation-state like the United States would accept people as equals based solely on legal citizenship.

In his essay, "The European Nation-State: On the Past and Future of Sovereignty and Citizenship," Habermas states that the term "nation-state" connotes "a political community shaped by common descent, at the minimum by a common language, culture, and history." (5) The nation is formed by people who share these organic characteristics, but Habermas then goes on to argue that a nation-state, such as the United States, "can assume and maintain a republican form even without the support of such a culturally homogeneous population" if the legal protection of citizenship rights, functioning as a civil religion, takes the place of the organic nature of the nation. (6) In other words, an individual with legal citizenship would be accepted as a member of the nation-state because citizenship would prevail over the need for cultural homogeneity. This normative theory of the equal social integration of people into the nation-state based on legal citizenship is too simplistic. An examination into Lee's negotiation of Americanness and her subsequent preoccupation with assimilation will demonstrate that Habermas's theory of equal acceptance for all people via citizenship does not take fully into account the complications introduced by factors like culture, race, and ethnicity


Born in 1904 in Butte, Montana, Rose Hum Lee was a part of the rising population of second-generation Chinese Americans who came of age during the 1920s. (7) But being a part of this growing population did not mean Rose Hum Lee was comfortable in her community, especially since Butte was far from having a large Chinese population like that of San Francisco or New York City From some of Lee's short stories that appeared in young girls' magazines in the early 1940s, we can sense the exclusion and intense need to belong that Lee felt while growing up in a predominately white community. For example, with her story, "Dangerous Opportunity," Lee clearly delineated the symbols and practices she considered to be either Chinese or American and used the story of Mei Tom, a high school senior struggling for social acceptance, to recount her experience of growing up as a Chinese in America in an anonymous manner. (8) Although fictional, this story had numerous correlations to the family and life history Lee provided in her doctoral dissertation, and Mei Tom's experience was common among many second-generation Chinese Americans in the 1920s. Even the protagonist's name gave Lee's anonymity away because "Mei" was Lee's Chinese name and "Tom" was the Cantonese pronunciation of her maiden name "Hum." (9) Therefore, it is safe to reason that this story is a somewhat autobiographical account of Lee's experience during her younger years in Butte before she went to China in 1929.

In the story, Mei Tom lived in Chinatown Alley of Butte, and at home she spoke only Chinese to her China-born parents, ate only Chinese food with chopsticks, and, like all her siblings, she had to follow all the "centuries old custom of the Chinese." Mei was quiet and obedient while her schoolmates were "vivacious" and constantly chatting with each other in their tight-knit groups, which excluded Mei and often made her the subject of their racist ridicules. The furnishing of Mei's house was also reflective of how Lee saw the difference between being Chinese and American. Half of her house was furnished with traditional Chinese furniture like the "straight, teakwood, hand-carved chairs with high tea-poys," while the other half was furnished with "straight-backed American chairs, cushionless and unadorned." In her depiction of Mei's furniture, Lee showed that "Chineseness" had the quality of exoticism that was often associated with "Oriental" bodies and things. (10) The Chinese furniture was finely crafted and ornamented in teakwood, which, with its yellowish-brown color, gave off an aura of age and mystery. The American furniture, in contrast, was modern and simple because it was not burdened by other accessories and not associated with being exotic.

The portrayals of people, objects, and practices in this story were all collapsed into a category of either Chinese or American, and it was against this backdrop that Mei became confused about her place in America. Mei felt that she was like any of the other girls at school because she spoke perfect English, knew about American food, and wore American dress in public. Mei even spoke French so well that her only American friend, Vida, said she could not tell Mei was Chinese if she closed her eyes and listened to Mei speak French (interestingly, Rose Hum Lee also spoke French). Mei really did not perceive any differences between herself and her classmates except for certain cultural practices and her Chinese ancestry. Yet Mei was consistently left out of the other girls' activities, and this social exclusion haunted her. In fashioning Mei after herself, Lee also transformed Mei into a "marginal man" that could be a cultural interpreter. (11) "It is your ability to make them feel and know you are like them that matters," not just the fact that you are like them, said Cousin Bing to Mei. As revealed by this children's story, it is obvious Lee saw herself as the cultural ambassador of Chinese Americans to American children.

This story gives a glimpse into how Lee, in the 1940s, understood and made sense of her childhood and early adulthood in Butte. With Mei's story, Lee demonstrated the differences between being Chinese and American and showed that Mei, like herself, was an example of an assimilated Chinese American and that Mei's parents were halfway to assimilation. Mei's frustration with her social exclusion also alluded to Lee's own torturous struggle with social acceptance and confusion over her own identity as a Chinese American in a society that did not acknowledge her as an American.

The difference between the spaces defined as Chinese or American was delineated very early in Lee's life as demonstrated through Mei Tom in "Dangerous Opportunity." This difference was further examined in her doctoral thesis when Lee used her family and her mother's life history to delineate the objects and practices that she felt defined what was Chinese or American. (12) In describing her family, Lee noted that strict obedience, filial piety, wearing Chinese clothes, eating Chinese food, speaking Chinese, and having "old-world furnishings" were significations of the family's Chineseness. However, as the parents became more acculturated and the children learned more about American ways, the family also started to exhibit signs of Americanness that were visible in their ownership of "modern devices" like a radio, a piano, a refrigerator, an automobile, and upholstered furniture. The practices of the family also showed signs of acculturation because the China-born mother emphasized education and took an active part in her children's educational activities. She also allowed the children to keep the money they earned, gave them more freedom as she realized they were becoming westernized, celebrated Christmas, and often invited Americans into their home. For Lee, this was proof that her mother had made great progress toward assimilation because when her mother first arrived in Butte, she had spent most of her time in the house or hiding her face behind a silk fan when she was in public. Growing up in this environment, Lee perceived and understood the differences between being Chinese and American from a very early age. "Old-world" and "restrictive traditions" characterized Chineseness, and "modern" and "freedom from traditions" characterized Americanness, and the differentiation of the various objects and practices formed a spectrum for gauging the degree of assimilation into the American culture.

Through her short stories, her dissertation, and personal letters, Lee demonstrated how she saw and made sense of her early life. How she understood her life in the 1920s was critical to how she understood her world in the 1940s and the years to come. The 1920s was a time of great pressure on immigrants to assimilate, especially for those not considered white. Those who displayed cultural or religious practices different from the acceptable American cultural norm risked further social, economic, and political ostracism, beyond what was already caused by perceived racial difference. (13) In examining her life in the 1920s, Lee clearly delineated the differences that defined being Chinese or American and voiced the same pain of exclusion through the character of Mei Tom that many second generation Chinese Americans felt at the time. An American or an assimilated Chinese was invariably associated with being modern, free, spontaneous, lively, and independent, while an unassimilated Chinese was perceived as traditional, old fashioned, restrained, and more likely to be subjected to partaking in illegal or immoral activities. For Lee, objects and lifestyles symbolized such traits, and they offered a way to denote where a person stood within the assimilation spectrum. There were advantages to being assimilated and disadvantages to being unassimilated, and where one stood on the spectrum had an impact on those advantages and disadvantages. The advantages were obviously social acceptance in America and the opportunities that would naturally follow that acceptance, and the disadvantages were the exclusion and discrimination that those in so many Chinatown ghettos were experiencing. In understanding her early life in this context, we can see how Rose Hum Lee recognized American assimilation as both valuable and necessary, especially when she lost her legal citizenship.

After graduating from high school in 1921, Lee married Ku Young Lee, a China-born student at the University of Pennsylvania, and lost her U.S. citizenship due to the Cable Act, which stated that citizens ceased to be citizens when they married an alien who was ineligible for citizenship. (14) Lee eventually regained her citizenship in 1939 after amendments were made in 1936 to eliminate this binding of marriage to citizenship, but Lee resented this even decades later in her life. In a letter to Elaine and her friend, Henry Evans, Lee reflected that the government had "no right" to remove her "inalienable right--[her] birthright as a citizen." (15) This loss of citizenship again demonstrated to Lee that race was an undeniable factor in her life.

Lee went to China with her husband after his graduation, and they lived mainly in the Canton area of China. While in China, Lee worked in various government agencies, American corporations, and war and relief agencies. Because of her concern for war orphans, Lee became involved in Madame Chiang Kai-Shek's "warphan" project to give care to and find new homes for war orphans. However, marriage and family life in China proved to be an unpleasant experience for Lee. Her husband's family constantly criticized her for not being able to conceive a child, something that they felt was her duty as a woman. Lee adopted Elaine, but her marriage still ended in divorce and Lee returned to the United States. (16) Upon her return in 1939, Lee was determined to build her career and to raise Elaine as a single mother. She enrolled in college and got her bachelor's degree in 1942 from the Carnegie Institute of Technology. After that, she entered the University of Chicago where she got her master's degree and doctorate in sociology, and it was there that the theories of Robert E. Park greatly influenced Lee's academic work and further reinforced the significance of assimilation and Lee's understanding of her role in society

It was at the University of Chicago, the first university to commit to the science of sociology, that Lee received her intellectual training in the theories of assimilation and social interaction. Missionary and academic interest in America's "Oriental Problem" motivated the University to recruit American-born Chinese and Japanese scholars to help study this problem. (17) At Chicago, Robert E. Park led these scholars and other social scientists in the Survey of Race Relations project and concluded that physical differences did not matter but what did matter was the awareness of physical difference. Consciousness of difference in racial traits was what led to conflicts among different groups. Park deduced that such racial conflicts would disappear once "Orientals" went through the assimilation cycle; when two different groups came in contact with each other, it was inevitable that competition and conflict would arise, but increased social contact always progressed to accommodation and then finally to assimilation. Once assimilation was achieved, the "Oriental Problem" would disappear. (18)

Park also introduced the idea of the marginal man and asserted that the marginal man or woman was the result of increased contact between two different societies and their cultures and the consequent disintegration of barriers that previously separated the different societies. The marginal man or woman was neither one nor the other, but instead occupied the middle with knowledge of both worlds and cultures and had the ability to acquire a level of acceptance in whichever world he or she chose to move into. This condition entailed that the marginal man or woman would generally be in confusion about where he or she belonged or should go, but nevertheless, to Park and to many sociologists after him, the marginal man or woman was the solution to their need for cultural interpreters. The marginal man or woman belonged to neither world so had the ability to more objectively observe and understand both worlds and provide a translation for those without this special privilege. (19)

As argued by Henry Yu, the proper language for understanding and doing research on "Orientals," marginality, and assimilation was already well formulated by the 1940s at Chicago by social scientists like Park. Therefore, Chicago was a magnet for intellectuals like Lee. Sociology gave intellectuals the means and distance to understand racial discrimination and marginality in a way that was detached from negative racial thinking and allowed them to believe that, upon assimilation, a nonwhite person could be accepted by the larger society. In consideration of Lee's training, it is not surprising that she espoused the assimilationist attitude that she did in the 1940s. She believed in the theories of assimilation and its promised outcome, which was why she frequently emphasized the need for Chinese Americans to leave Chinatown, learn American ways, and let Chinatown ghettos disintegrate. Lee, of course, found great resonance in the marginal man theory. At Chicago, Lee was trained to abstract her own experience, analyze it in an objective manner, and then relate it to the world to give others an opportunity to understand the Chinese. Lee believed herself to be a marginal man and often wrote under the guise of being a distant and unbiased sociologist when analyzing her own experience for her fictional and nonfictional works, but, in reality, her writings were often reflective of her personal opinions and emotions (as demonstrated earlier in her short story "Dangerous Opportunity" and her doctoral dissertation). Park's theories and the effect they had on intellectuals across the nation shows again how Habermas's theory fails to consider the fact that race actually figures greatly in America's acceptance of people and that legal citizenship is not enough. (20) And Lee's decision to teach at Roosevelt College reflects how race figured, and would continue to figure, in Lee's personal and professional life.

Roosevelt College, a racially progressive institution, recruited Lee to join their sociology faculty, and Lee began her professorship there at the same time the college opened its doors in 1945. Roosevelt was dedicated to accepting students of all races and ethnicities, and it was at this racially liberal institution that Lee became the first woman and first Chinese American to head a department at an American university when she was promoted to the position of chairperson in the sociology department in 1956. This was an achievement rare for the majority of American women, regardless of color, and Lee remained at Roosevelt College until 1962 when she went on leave to teach at Phoenix College. A prolific sociologist and a well-respected educator and lecturer, Lee did numerous studies on the Chinese in America, as well as other studies on cities and urbanization, from the 1940s up until her death in 1964. (21)

However, life was far from calm in the later years of Rose Hum Lee's life, and it is a period that is relatively unknown to historians who write about her. (22) In 1952, Lee married Glenn Ginn, a Chinese American lawyer. In 1957, Ginn's China-born ex-wife claimed that their divorce had been fraudulent. Lee complained that, in helping the ex-wife obtain a fair settlement, Chinatown associations, especially those in Tucson, were using what she considered to be Communist pressure tactics, like monitoring her and Ginn's movements, intercepting their mail, giving them unwanted phone calls, smearing their names in the community, and threatening their lives. In all of Lee's letters from 1957 to 1964, she repeatedly and extensively wrote about her suffering under this pressure. However, it is important to note that the Communist pressure tactics that Lee claimed she was experiencing were at odds with the fact that the United States in the 1950s vehemently cracked down on Communist groups in the country. Anti-Communist paranoia led to FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) witch hunts, raids, deportations, and surveillance of the Chinese community. Chinese Americans were further terrorized and silenced with the institution of the Chinese Confession Program in 1956, which was an attempt to find illegal immigrants and test loyalties, and Kuomintang agents often had a hand in helping the U.S. government in persecuting those thought to be Communists. (23) Therefore, it is hard to imagine that the Communist activities Lee claimed were happening were even possible under those circumstances. But this is not meant to discount Lee's experience; Lee's obsession with Communism being widespread in Chinatown mirrors the paranoia of the Cold War atmosphere. (24) Pointing out the discrepancy between Lee's claims and the government's crackdown on Communism only gives more context for how Lee interpreted the world in which she was living.

From 1957 to 1964, Lee claimed that she and her husband were continuously harassed by Chinatown. According to Lee, Ginn was "warned not to leave Tucson," so for safety's sake, Ginn and Lee complied and Lee stayed in Chicago while Ginn stayed in Tucson. (25) In her personal letters and in the introduction to The Chinese in the United States of America, Lee indicated that she believed Chinatown used the divorce as an excuse to harass them for exposing details about Chinatown to outsiders like white Americans. According to Lee, the harassment was due to Ginn's unwillingness to stay quiet about Chinatown's dubious activities in Tucson and elsewhere in the United States. She also suspected that her research and writings on the Chinese made her a target for harassment because those writings could be seen as a betrayal of secrets of the Chinese. This conflict caused Lee to reach what could be considered a state of paranoia about Chinatown activities and their threat to her life and the safety of Ginn and her daughter, and she was very unhappy with Chinatown for this disruption in her life. (26) Consequently, Chinatown and the world outside of Chinatown became even more distinct spaces for Rose Hum Lee.


Two very distinct worlds existed in Rose Hum Lee's mind, two distinct spaces that she was forced to repeatedly traverse: the worlds of America and Chinatown. "Mine is the 'marginal generation' ... neither Chinese nor all American," Rose Hum Lee wrote. (27) Lee's use of the term "marginality" was in reference to the spaces and cultures represented by Chinatown and America and a sense of belonging to those spaces. She felt she did not fully belong to Chinatown, even though she was Chinese and knew the language and customs, because she did not identify with that lifestyle. Yet Lee did not feel she fully belonged to America either because even though she identified with being an American legally and culturally, her position in America was subject to change due to her ethnicity.

Her childhood and loss of citizenship demonstrated to Lee that legal citizenship did not confer belonging in the American world. And the harassment Lee experienced from the Chinese in Chinatown magnified her understanding of the differences between the spaces inside and outside of Chinatown and consequently affected her attitudes about her own and Chinese assimilation and citizenship in America. Lee's dilemma of marginality in regard to cultural and spatial belonging is a contradiction of Habermas's belief in the equal integration of people into the nation-state based on a legal citizenship.

Rose Hum Lee detested the existence of Chinatown and disliked what she perceived to be their separatist construction. In her book, The Chinese in the United States of America, Lee wrote that Chinatown was different from other communities because it "attempt[s] to maintain a set of distinctive institutions, such as Chinese churches, tongs or Merchants' Associations, stores selling curios ... shops handling the few items of Chinese merchandise ... and restaurants catering to a dwindling clientele." (28) Chinatown had their own associations, churches, businesses, and networks that required little contact with non-Chinese, and Lee detested this because she felt these were separatist actions that contributed to Chinatown's isolation and inability to assimilate into American culture. If the Chinese continued separating themselves into these spaces then their assimilation would never be possible. Thus, Lee saw Chinatown as a space for unassimilated Chinese to seclude themselves in order to perpetuate their old-fashioned traditions and to avoid assimilation.

Besides being a haven for unassimilated Chinese, Lee also often painted Chinatown as a dangerous place. In telling her daughter about Ginn being harassed by Chinatown, Lee wrote:</p> <pre> What got me worried was the dogging of his trail and that one or many of the men involved are Tong members. Pop's life would be in danger and I had visions of his being shot and his freedom restricted. It is restricted and I do not sanction the Chinese taking the law into their own hands. (29) </pre> <p>These images of tongs hunting them down and the paranoia over what the tongs might do appeared repeatedly in Lee's personal letters. To Lee, Chinatown was a lawless place separated from the rest of America, and the people within that space had no respect for the law. Moreover, its separateness from America, which hindered the assimilation of the Chinese, was the reason for the continued existence of the lawless tongs and their illegal activities.

Chinatown, to Rose Hum Lee, was a lawless, separatist, and un-American place, but ironically, Lee was forced to go back and interact with Chinatown for her research as a sociologist. Part of Lee's value as a Chinese American sociologist, within a field dominated by white male academicians and white audiences, was to be the interpreter of the Chinese for whites. For that reason, Lee had to study and interact with the Chinese in Chinatown in order to keep her value as the middleman. The majority of Lee's research was on Chinese communities in America, and she was often invited to do lectures on Chinese art and customs, the Kuomintang, and, of course, the Chinese in America. Lee enjoyed her lectures on Chinese art and customs and made a lucrative career from these lectures and from selling assorted Chinese curios after her lectures. (30) What she disliked, though, was the Chinese in Chinatown who, in her opinion, were not making a good-faith effort toward assimilating into American society. She saw Chinatown as a space that was infested by "village women, recent arrivals from China who use tears--suicide threat tactics to get what they want, etc." and tongs that did "their worst [through] ... pressures, threats, extortion of money, and support of parasites." (31) Instead of assimilating and reforming their immoral ways, the Chinatown Chinese were holding onto their old ways and not changing their involvement in illegal activities like gambling, smuggling, and illegal immigration, and Lee felt the arrival of new Chinese from China was compounding the problem. With these new immigrants, Lee felt that "another generation has to go by before the children of these newly arrived families will be weaned away from Chinatown life." (32) Chinatown was the unprogressive ghetto that was reluctant to give up its traditions or its immoral activities, and its salvation would only come through the American-born generation.

As much as Lee disliked association with Chinatown, though, she was also motivated to do her research on the Chinese to show America the difference between the Chinese that were inside and those outside Chinatown. In describing the ignorance of Americans, Lee wrote this:</p> <pre>

What makes it hard for Americans to believe is that the suave Chinese who stage operatic performances and spend such large sums on this can be gamblers or tong people ... The Americans would think of what the Chinese cling to as exotic and quaint and they don't look behind what is presented for them to see. A pity! (33) </pre> <p>Again, Lee saw Chinatown as a place filled with conniving and scheming Chinese, but she also saw them as putting up pretenses to hide their vices from ignorant Americans. As a result, Lee saw her research as revealing "a side which the larger society does not see and the frustrated persons do not want the [Americans] to know." (34) It was Lee's mission to reveal to America that Chinatown was not just a harmless exotic tourist attraction but a place of many vices that were hidden from the average unsuspecting observer. "While a person who speaks the truth is unpopular and subjected to pressures, in the long run the others have to learn it's better to come out with hidden practices," Lee wrote. (35) According to Lee, few Americans were suspicious of the reality of the illegal dealings of the Chinese in Chinatown, and as the middleman, Lee was obliged to reveal the truth to her audience. There was a sense of being on a noble mission about Lee's research because she felt that she had to take the lead to educate white America on who the Chinatown Chinese really were and to make clear that there was a difference between the assimilated Chinese of America and the unassimilated Chinese of Chinatown. Clarification of this difference was Lee's way of marking the boundaries between Chinatown and a white America to which she felt she belonged. Chinatown was where the unassimilated Chinese dwelled, but the assimilated Chinese were in America because, like white Americans, they belonged to America, not to Chinatown. Thus, while Lee desperately wanted the Chinese to assimilate, and while she kept her distance from recalcitrant Chinese, she was also compelled to traverse the borders of Chinatown because her work to reveal Chinatown's vices and to mark the difference between assimilated and unassimilated Chinese required her to do so.


Rose Hum Lee's comments about the Chinese of Tucson, Arizona's Chinatown encapsulated the way she saw Chinatown as un-American. Lee's stepson, Gerald, was born and raised in China. In Lee's view, Gerald was "behind" in assimilation and would have "many more problems to overcome" than those who were born in America. To show her stepson, Gerald, "a whole new way of life--far removed from the narrow-thinking, tradition-bound Chinese he saw in Tucson," Lee invited him to stay with her in Chicago. Lee saw herself as "more advanced" and therefore better able to teach Gerald how to become a part of American culture than the unprogressive Chinese in Tucson's Chinatown. (36) Lee saw the Chinese of Chinatown as narrow-minded because she felt Chinatown was a separatist space that fostered the continued reverence of the Chinese for oppressive traditions like patriarchy and that shielded the illegal activities of some Chinese from America. Abhorring Chinese involvement in illegal activities like extortion, gambling, and human and narcotics smuggling, Lee believed that "there will be a generation, at least, before the ideas of honestly earned money can permeate the [Chinese] here." (37) In her opinion, it was "awful to be around a community that's cursed like this one is." (38) Rose Hum Lee's view of Chinatowns in general as being backward and detestable stemmed from her belief that the activities of the Chinatown Chinese were un-American and that they were extremely resistant to and unwilling to make an effort toward assimilation. Lee detested the associations in Chinatown and the intrusive and restrictive traditions they operated by, but she held hope for native-born Chinese Americans to change Chinatown because they would be less influenced by Chinese tradition. Moreover, her hope that a native American-born generation would induce change in Chinatown demonstrates that Lee perceived the Chinese in Chinatown as foreign. Their foreignness was an explanation for their inclination to hang onto tradition and dubious activities and also an obstacle to their will and ability to assimilate.

Rose Hum Lee's criticism of Ginn's ex-wife, Yee Shee Ginn, revealed how Lee saw Yee as symbolizing the negative aspects of Chinese tradition and the foreign and unassimilated traits of Chinatown. In response to Gerald's sense of responsibility and duty to Yee, Lee wrote:</p>

<pre> I tried to explain to him then that these were not normal (ours here, anyhow) ways of repayment to parents. Neither should

parents dangle and press their demands by mouthing these phrases; to do so gives evidence of basic insecurity: I am certain he never thought of the difference between giving of one's energy, heart, and thought willingly without thought of repayment as contrasted to the kind he's been accustomed to. [Ginn] is totally different, in that he expects none, but it took [Gerald's] contact here with me to drive the difference home. (39) </pre> <p>Lee perceived Yee's desire for her son to support her and take care of her as abnormal because it was an un-American thing to do. Yee demanded that her son support her because she, being China-born, was still attached to the restrictive traditions of China and her demand was representative of the negative traditional ways of the Chinese. Having experienced criticism for being unable to fulfill her reproductive duty as a woman in her first marriage, Lee detested demands that were enforced by tradition, something she felt the unassimilated Chinese of Chinatown were prone to doing. Lee believed that one should have the freedom to choose one's actions and not be bound to do something just because tradition dictated it. If one allowed oneself to be bound by tradition, like Yee, then it only pointed to underlying insecurities, and, since "becoming a part of the [American] culture takes time" and "the willingness to ... be insecure," those who were tradition-bound would never succeed in becoming Americans. (40) Therefore, "fee's attachment to tradition proved to Lee that Yee, like the other Chinese in Chinatown, was not an assimilated American and was not making an effort toward that goal.

Aside from characterizing the negative and restrictive traditions of Chinatown as un-American, Rose Hum Lee also felt the Communist influence in the Chinatown community was oppositional to the freedoms of American life and further proof of the community's foreign and unassimilated character. In the context of the Cold War and the intense atmosphere of anti-Communism in the United States in the 1950s, it was especially appalling to Lee to see Chinatown Chinese engage in what she felt were Communist tactics. Further, her own experience with Chinatown's harassment was, to her, proof of her conviction that Communism had permeated Chinatown. In explaining Chinatown's harassment over Yee and Ginn's divorce, Lee wrote:</p> <pre> Were this capable of being handled in the American way which I want--the matter would have been solved. But as they are using the Chinese secret societies and old-fashioned village pressure tactics, plus (I think and am convinced of) Communist tactics,

the whole situation is very complicated, mean, vicious, insidious,

tyrannical, upsetting mentally and emotionally. (41) </pre> <p>Evidently to Lee, Chinatown was un-American because they did not use the American way to settle the divorce between Ginn and Yee. She believed that the American way was superior because it would use the court of law to settle the divorce rather than some secret tong and Communist tactics. Additionally, Communism during the Cold War period was seen as a foreign menace to the United States and the free democracies of Western countries. (42) Through its engagement in Communist tactics, Chinatown became the "evil forces" that were opposed to "the ultimate goodness and justness of life." (43) Therefore, Lee's perception of Chinatown's use of un-American bodies like the tongs and engagement in Communist tactics furthered her belief that Chinatown was indeed foreign and unassimilated.

Rose Hum Lee was also highly suspicious of the Communist leanings of Yee and the immigrant women of Chinatown. Lee stated her fear of this in her letter:</p> <pre> The reason I say communist tactics are used is that [Yee], several years ago, despite [Ginn's] forbiddance, sent $3,500 to the Communist Government ... [S]he could have taken up with such party members, although she may not be herself one. Also, many of the Chinese women coming in now grew up during a period when such tactics were used and they could have learned them. (44) </pre> <p>Rose Hum Lee thought it was suspicious that Yee had sent money to Communist China, and she theorized that Yee might have had close relationships with Communists in China to risk sending remittances. Under the Trading with the Enemy Act, the U.S. government declared it illegal, in 1950, to send remittances to Communist China, Hong Kong, and other places that could transfer the money to China. (45) Yee's remittance incriminated her in Lee's mind because sending money to China was equal to trading with the enemy. Additionally, many of the Chinese women involved in harassing Lee were new immigrants and therefore were susceptible to Communist China's influence. Lee believed that Yee and these immigrant women were likely to have Communist affiliation because they were China-born and had been brought up following Chinese traditions. Before their arrival in the United States, they might have been influenced by Communism, and perhaps they had brought their Communist tactics to Chinatown to further hinder the assimilation of Chinatown Chinese. In analyzing the harassment, Lee speculated that "Tucson has a large number of them" and she was "fully convinced that [Ginn] is being subjected to pressure tactics that resemble what have occurred in China" and "forcing people to marry or stay married is a part of this line." (46) These women's backgrounds and activities concretely proved to Lee that they were not assimilated and that their China-born status was cause for their attachment to traditions, repressive tactics, and Communism. When "fee and the women in Chinatown resorted to using threats and tyrannical Communist tactics to separate Lee and Ginn, Lee believed that they were opposing the American way of settling matters, and Chinatown once again came to symbolize to her the antithesis of a modern and free America.


Cultural citizenship, as put forth by Aihwa Ong and Lisa Lowe, is used to give or deny people access to full membership into the nation-state because it is an implicit and hard-to-obtain requirement in addition to legal citizenship. Ong defines cultural citizenship as "the cultural practices and beliefs produced out of negotiating the often ambivalent and contested relations with the state and its hegemonic forms that establish the criteria of belonging within a national population and territory." (47) Cultural citizenship is not a requirement put forth in the citizenship books of a nation-state like the United States, but it is implied in society. To belong to the nation, one must manifest outwardly the signs of possessing the cultural practices and beliefs that the dominating powers of the nation-state have put forth. Lowe's theory is a complement to Ong's, acknowledging that "it is through culture that the subject becomes, acts, and speaks itself as 'American.'" (48) One may possess legal citizenship, but without the conferral of cultural citizenship, one would be seen as an outsider to the nation and would consequently be denied access to membership into the nation.

Seen in the context of Ong and Lowe's theories of cultural citizenship, Lee's preoccupation with Chinese assimilation was rooted in her consciousness of the fact that the Chinese needed to be seen as cultural citizens in order for them to belong to America. Lee's own experience with losing her citizenship and her awareness of the continuing discrimination against the Chinese in America made her conscious of the necessity for Chinatown Chinese to assimilate. The Chinese needed to erase their cultural difference in order to be accepted as Americans. That was also why Lee was so fixated on marking the boundaries between the recalcitrant Chinese and the assimilated Chinese Americans. She wanted Americans to understand that the Chinese inside and outside of Chinatown were different from one another. She herself wanted to be recognized as a legal and cultural citizen, different from the unassimilated Chinese in Chinatown.

Thus, while stressing the need for Chinatown Chinese to assimilate, Lee also pushed for the recognition of Chinese Americans who were assimilated. In an early article for Survey Graphic, Lee emphasized that World War II was a "stepping stone toward complete assimilation" for Chinese Americans, and many of them "speak no Chinese" and "they live on close terms with their American neighbors." (49) World War II was a stepping stone because it opened up opportunities for Chinese Americans to work and live outside of Chinatown, so the chance for contacts outside of Chinatown and assimilation into American life were increased. And for Lee, this was an opportune time to point out that many Chinese Americans were just like other Americans.

Lee's obsession with assimilation arose from her recognition of the need for cultural citizenship in order to obtain full membership in the American nation. If Habermas's theory was correct (that legal citizenship was enough to equally integrate people into the nation-state), then Lee would not have needed to be so obsessed with cultural assimilation. Many of the Chinatown Chinese that Lee critiqued for not assimilating were actually legal citizens. If legal citizenship was enough, then why push for cultural assimilation? From personal experience, Lee knew legal citizenship was something that could easily be taken away, and the reason it could be stripped so easily was because the Chinese were perceived as foreigners. Cultural citizenship, on the other hand, was an outward sign of belonging, and if the Chinese were perceived to be a group that belonged to the American nation, then full membership would be available. Lee's fixation on assimilation reveals that Habermas's civil religion does not take into account how perceived difference in culture (and the ethnicity to which culture is linked) can complicate the integration of people into the nation-state.


Chinatown, to Rose Hum Lee, was a space that was symbolic of the negative traditions that Lee disliked, but the space represented by white America was much more attractive because Lee associated it with freedom and modern womanhood. Like many more affluent second-generation Chinese Americans of her time, Lee did not live in Chinatown and had constructed most of her life to exist outside of Chinatown; therefore, she was able to maintain an "intellectual and emotional distance from the Oriental community that she wanted so desperately to leave behind." (50) Lee was distanced from Chinatown by her position in society and also by her ideals of assimilation. To Lee, the world outside of Chinatown was a modern world that was uninhibited by any traditional mores such as restrictive gender roles. As suggested by Henry Yu, Lee's divorce and return to the United States was symbolic of her "repudiation of what she understood as the traditional roles of Chinese womanhood but also was an idiosyncratic attempt at Americanization." (51) America was a space that represented the exact opposite of everything that Chinatown was. If Chinatown was narrow-thinking, tradition-bound, and evil, then America was just, liberal, and honest. However, Lee's achievements are oppositional to the true state of American women after World War II.

Gender ideology and assimilation ideals were powerful tools for Lee to combat and invalidate what she perceived to be the restrictive demands of Chinese womanhood. She hailed American womanhood as the ideal because it was in America that she managed to build a respected professional career while being a single mother. However, Lee's achievements were actually a rarity among American women. Many American women, regardless of race, did not experience the same ideals of freedom, independence, and career success in the postwar era. Women entered the workforce in large numbers during World War II, but after the war those numbers quickly dropped when men returned to the work force. Women's domesticity quickly became a popular theme in magazines, movies, radio programs, and books in an effort to encourage women to return to the home. Popular sentiment held that women only filled in the empty spots left by the men who left for war and since the men had returned from the war, women were expected to rededicate their energy to housekeeping and child rearing. Women who stayed in the workforce were either seen as threats to the family tradition or were viewed as unfairly taking jobs away from the more deserving men. (52) But because of her unwavering faith in the power of assimilation, Lee took her own success as evidence of her absolute repudiation of negative Chinese traits and as a triumphant achievement of modern American womanhood.

Lee's achievements and the ideals she held for modern American womanhood were in total opposition to the kind of domesticity that was popularly promoted by both American and Chinese standards of proper womanhood. Thus, it is ironic that Lee characterized Chinese womanhood as having all the undesirable traits and attributed all the attractive American ideals to modern womanhood in America when in fact, white women, as much as Chinese women, had to struggle against restrictive gender ideologies. However, there was too much at stake for Lee to challenge this ideal of American womanhood; her entire faith in assimilation and belief in the goodness of the American space depended on it. Therefore, it makes sense that Lee could not believe that one of her prime harassers was an American-born woman. "What surprises me is that this dead dodo, an American-born female, would stoop to such tactics. She knows better," Lee wrote. (53) It was astonishing to Lee that a woman, born and raised in America, could be like the unassimilated Chinese because she should have known and respected the American way of life. That woman should not have practiced the tradition and tactics that the Chinatown Chinese practiced; instead she should have respected Lee and Ginn's right to act as they pleased. Chinatown was representative of patriarchy, meddlesome associations, and dangerous tongs, but the space, represented by America, was symbolic of freedom, modernity, and unrestricted womanhood.

It should also be noted that although Lee was well versed in Chinese history and culture, she was still completely committed to the ideal of the dissolution of all Chinatowns and the complete assimilation of all Chinese Americans into American society. Apart from positive cultural practices like cooking Chinese food or learning about Chinese art, both of which Lee also practiced herself, Lee's prescription for total integration into white America required Chinese Americans to aim to be like white Americans in every way. Certain Chinese cultural practices were safe and curious spectacles for people to learn about, but what she perceived as restrictive Chinese traditional ways had to be discarded, and the Chinese needed to adopt and respect American ideals like freedom and equality in order for America to accept the Chinese. (54) Hence, it was acceptable for Lee to exhibit certain Chinese practices that she had reason to be proud of in the American context, such as her knowledge of Chinese art, but to reject those she considered to be negative Chinese practices, such as socializing with Chinatown tongs.


Rose Hum Lee distinguished herself as a successful example of assimilation and believed anyone could assimilate if they made the effort as she had done. "I learned to be different. No one is born the way one is now," Lee wrote. (55) However, Lee defined her American identity largely by her juxtaposition of Chinatown practices with American life, and she constantly negotiated the positive and negative aspects of both worlds in order to select which to highlight and which to shadow. She stressed the best of both worlds by highlighting her knowledge in positive Chinese cultural practices and by presenting herself as a modern example of American womanhood by emphasizing her achievements in America. "No doubt, too, the Chinese here are mad at Pop and me; we do not go to Chinatown. Often we are critical (quietly) of associational activities," explained Lee to her daughter. She disliked mingling with Chinatown's associations because "too many Chinese confuse public position with private gain. The idea of community service, without profit to one's self, is foreign." (56) Hence, to Lee, it was American to be independent and to perform community service without gain for the self, and she perceived community service for personal gain to be immoral and selfish, and to be something that the un-American Chinese were prone to do.

Another aspect of Lee's sense of her own modern womanhood was her professional achievement in America. In her letter to Elaine, Lee wrote:</p> <pre>

I shall never forget the faces of the women in Chinatown when they heard me say I got my PhD. The look of envy and greed came forth and instead of congratulating me for having arrived after years of struggle and sacrifice and malicious gossiping about my 'loose ways,' they smirked. I guess, too, they're mad because I don't socialize with them ... Well, I'll never do that now. (57) </pre> <p>Lee understood herself to be wholly different from the women in Chinatown because they were unassimilated, and their pettiness was proof of that. In the 1940s, it was an extraordinary feat that Lee, a Chinese American woman, managed to obtain a PhD and a position in an American university when many Chinese Americans with college degrees were working as waiters in Chinatown's restaurants. Thus, to Lee, she was her own proof of what hard work could bring. She understood herself to be an assimilated and modern woman, different from the Chinese women in Chinatown who were petty and jealous of her achievements. Lee believed that the Chinese women in Chinatown were envious and avaricious because she, as an assimilated and modern Chinese American, could do many things "the rest wish they could do, hate us for being able to, and yet refuse to admit they could if they tried." (58) Therefore, it was Chinatown's own fault that opportunities were limited to them. If the Chinese in Chinatown had made the effort, as Lee had, then they too would become assimilated in America and be able to enjoy the positive attributes of being American.

Moreover, as mentioned before, Lee felt that if Ginn and Yee's divorce and Chinatown's subsequent harassment could have been handled her way, "the American way," then everything would have been resolved quickly. Again, Lee defined herself in contrast to the Chinese, so if she believed the Chinese to be sneaky and immoral, then she, as an American, was honest and upright. Lee might have lost her legal citizenship, but her sense of cultural citizenship to the American nation was strong and continually invigorated by her constant juxtapositioning of the negative aspects of Chinatown with the positive aspects of America.

Rose Hum Lee's continual reassertion of her own American identity reveals how she saw herself as a cultural citizen of the American nation. Following Ong and Lowe's mapping of the cultural citizen, it is obvious that Lee understood she must act, behave, and speak like a white American before she could get her full membership in the American nation. That was the criterion for belonging. Without that cultural capital, Lee would have been no different from the Chinese in Chinatown. Again, Lee's understanding of this requirement complicates Habermas's normative theory of equal integration based on legal citizenship. As a state, the United States accepted legal citizenship as a legal entity, but as a nation, it also required cultural citizenship for national membership to be complete, and Lee understood that reality.


Although Rose Hum Lee argued for full assimilation into white America and was extremely proud of her own success with assimilation, she was also conscious that she could never fully attain the ideal of full membership in the American nation. One particularly glaring proof of that unattainable ideal was Lee's status as an interesting and exotic "Oriental" academic in the eyes of white academicians and white audiences. As a professor and researcher in sociology, Lee's value as a sociologist in academia should have been universal. However, Lee's professional reputation was based in part on her authoritative knowledge of the Chinese in America, and that was in turn based on her Chinese ethnicity. Her authority and knowledge were not universal because Lee was specifically valued as an insider to the Chinese community and her "insider" status was based on the perception that she had special access because she was Chinese. Furthermore, as pointed out by Henry Yu, it was always "the exotic and non-American part" that made the "Oriental" academic interesting. (59) For example, it fascinated many of Lee's audiences that this seemingly foreign and exotic person, who dressed in a cheong sam (a traditional Chinese long dress) when she gave her lectures, could speak English more perfectly than the average American.

Because of her unique ability to understand the Chinese, Lee's value as an expert was correlated to her access to white space in America. She was given more access because she had knowledge that whites valued; thus, she would be given continued access as long as she, as an Asian academic, could be the cultural interpreter of the Chinese for other Americans. Lee recognized that her ethnicity and knowledge of the Chinese and Chinese culture was an obstacle to her own full assimilation, but she saw her ideal candidate in her daughter, Elaine.

Lee prided herself in her successful assimilation, but she was also conscious of herself as belonging to the "marginal generation," aware of and caught between two ways of life. Yet Lee did not see Elaine as marginal and had great hopes for her assimilation. In regard to Elaine's assimilation, Lee wrote:</p> <pre> All the studying and going out into American life during the past twenty years was to make sure you didn't have to be 'marginal.' It has paid off and for that I am thankful. (60) </pre> <p>And in commenting on the problem of the Chinese in Chinatown, Lee wrote:</p> <pre> I'm glad I decided you should not experience it; to this end I worked to let you know the life that is untarnished by such. Get your bearings with the people and the society to which you belong. If things are easier for you, my efforts are rewarded. (61) </pre> <p>Rose Hum Lee was glad and relieved that Elaine was distanced from the Chinese and Chinatown. She saw herself and her husband as the "buffers to spare [Elaine]" from the pressures of Chinatown's oppressive traditions and meddling. By sparing Elaine from having to learn about and associate with the Chinese, Lee felt that she had saved Elaine from being marginal and had given her the opportunity to be a full American. If Elaine was saved from being marginal, she would not have to deal with the burden of knowing another way of life. Once Lee told Elaine, "You are an American now; the fact that your ancestry is Chinese is not important." (62) Elaine's ethnicity was not important because Lee felt that she had fully shielded Elaine from the negative aspects of Chinese culture and association with unassimilated Chinese. Elaine would not be forced to choose between the different ways of life and thus be haunted by the fact that she had chosen one and denied the other. The only choice that Elaine would be presented with would be the American way of life, so she would not have to make a decision. Consequently, Elaine's path to assimilation in America would be smoother than the one Lee had had to struggle through. Elaine would belong to America.

Lee's hope to save Elaine from marginality reflected Lee's own feelings of being haunted by knowledge. Lee understood that her knowledge of Chinese things and Chinese people was an obstacle to her own erasure of marginality, which was a hindrance to her assimilation. And although Lee had tried to convince Elaine that her ancestry was not important, she realized that, in America, her ethnicity was very important.

Rose Hum Lee was not naive about the reality of race and the role it played in keeping even cultural citizens from attaining complete membership in the American nation. In a later letter to Elaine, Lee wrote:</p>

<pre> The fact that you can't lose your physical identity is something

beyond my control.... We've the added unpleasantness from the [Chinese] themselves which you don't have. You can go to concerts,

live with your classmates, date a Caucasoid, etc. (63) </pre> <p>Lee pushed for assimilation and the ideal of cultural citizenship, but she was not ignorant of the fact that racism was an obstacle to full acceptance in America. Actually by 1956, Lee had already progressed from just advocating assimilation to the "eradication of all evidences (physical) of 'foreignness.'" "Ideally," Lee wrote, "the completion of the processes [of assimilation], includes the mixing of cultures and genes so that there are truly no 'dissimilar people.'" (64) Part of the reason for this assertion might have been the 1924 Immigration Act. This act resulted in almost four decades of immigration exclusion, and Lee might have thought it was possible that without further incoming foreign bodies, the population would indeed "melt" together culturally and racially. However, the more obvious reason is that Lee knew that cultural citizenship was not enough for complete membership in white America, and only racial citizenship, in addition to cultural citizenship, could truly give one unlimited access to the nation. Only the mixing of genes would produce a population of people of indeterminate racial or ethnic origins, so national membership would no longer be able to exclude people on the basis of physical appearance. Of course, both Lee and Elaine were excluded from this possibility. Nevertheless, Lee made the best of what she was given, and she encouraged Elaine, whom she felt was closer to the top on the ladder of assimilation, to do the same. Relations with Chinatown or restrictive Chinese traditions did not hinder Elaine, so Lee believed that unlike herself, Elaine had the freedom to live life unbound by gendered restrictions or the watchful eyes of Chinatown.

Again, Lee's recognition of racial citizenship as a criterion for full membership in the American nation represents a challenge to Habermas's contention of the equality that a civil religion would promote. Besides being based on legal rules and culture, the membership in a nation-state is also based on race. Therefore, even if the legal books of a nation-state profess to accept people based on legal citizenship, the reality is that the perceived difference in people's culture, ethnicity, and race still provides many ways for a nation-state to make its membership exclusive based on those perceived differences.


Habermas's suggestion that a civil religion in which legal citizenship could effectively be the integration tool of a nation-state falls apart when one considers Rose Hum Lee's experience with assimilation and her individual negotiation of white America's requirements for citizenship. Even though Lee spent a good part of her life trying to show she was an assimilated American, the subjects of culture and race dominated Lee's entire personal life and career. When Lee married Ku Young Lee, she lost her citizenship because of a racist law that was designed to prevent intermingling of the races. Lee eventually regained her citizenship, but this incident in her life is indicative of how easily legal citizenship could be stripped away and of how Habermas's civil religion oversimplified how the nation-state can use race, ethnicity, and culture as criteria for giving or denying people their membership to the nation-state.

Rose Hum Lee's subsequent and lifelong obsession with assimilation after her return to the United States was due to her attempt to attain cultural citizenship in order to solidify her claim to legal citizenship in the United States. As suggested by Ong and Lowe, the criteria for cultural citizenship are established informally by members of the nation-state, and it is through culture that one is ultimately legitimized as a real member of the nation-state. Legal citizenship could be taken away, but if Lee adopted the outward appearance of an American, then it would be beyond doubt that she was just like any white American. Therefore, Lee distanced herself from the space of Chinatown and repudiated all the aspects of Chinese culture she felt were negative and restrictive, like domestic gender traditions for women, intrusive clan associations, and scheming tongs. She was also critical of the Chinese whom she thought had dangerous Communist leanings and clung to Chinatown and its archaic traditions. To her, they were not real citizens since they were not assimilated. Instead, Lee saw them as a kind of misplaced alien who stuck out like a thorn in the side of America. Repeatedly, Lee stressed that she belonged to the American space because of her American attributes. Her achievements in American society and the progressive principles that she possessed were proofs of that Americanness. She also took the lead in encouraging other Chinese Americans to follow her example and argued that anyone could achieve assimilation if they tried hard enough. So, contrary to Habermas, Lee believed that legal citizenship was not enough for America to integrate its citizens into the nation. The American nation required individuals, like Lee, to obtain cultural citizenship before their integration into the nation could even be considered.

Lee was also conscious of the reality that she and her daughter (and the rest of the Chinese in America) would never truly get to the top of the ladder of assimilation. They lacked whiteness; racial citizenship was the ultimate key to membership in the American nation. Since not all could be white, the mixing of the races would produce a group of people of an indeterminate race, and Lee felt that if people could not be distinguished from one another by culture or race, they would truly be accepted equally in the nation. Hence, Lee's understanding of racial citizenship introduced another complication to Habermas's normative theory of equal integration.

Rose Hum Lee's individual negotiation and subsequent understanding of white America's criteria for assimilation and national membership is an interesting and valuable addition to Chinese American history in the 1950s. Her experience and the ideas she proposed in both her personal letters and her work provide fascinating views into the historical experience of Chinese Americans and show what historical wealth can be discovered in individual stories like Lee's. Through Lee, it is possible to see and better understand what it was like for a professional American-born Chinese woman to navigate the maze of how to fit into a society, the exclusivity of which was based on legal, cultural, and racial belonging. Lee's experience provides a different kind of history to the record of Chinese Americans in the 1950s, and it fills in one of the gaps left by general histories that rarely offer such a personal and close look at the unique historical experience of individuals. Ultimately, it is through these individual experiences that history can be written and rewritten with the goal of completing the blank and poorly defined pages.


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(1.) Him Mark Lai, "Musings of a Chinese American Historian," Amerasia Journal 26, no. 1 (2000): 22.

(2.) Jack Chen, The Chinese of America (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980), 196-213.

(3.) Shih-Shan Henry Tsai, The Chinese Experience in America (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1986), 147-149.

(4.) Approximately 260 letters are in the collection of Rose Hum Lee's personal papers (a collection archived at the UCLA Asian American Studies Reading Room). The bulk of the correspondence begins in 1958 and ends in 1963. With the limits of this paper in mind, only a select few that best demonstrate the core of Lee's attitudes and perspectives are used in this research. The bulk of the sample letters chosen for analysis are from 1958 because that was when Lee first expressed, most strongly, her feelings regarding the spaces represented by Chinatown and white America in her personal letters. This was also the time when her trouble with and paranoia about Chinatown harassment was starting to increase significantly so her feelings were even more magnified. Lee's published writings were chosen according to their relevance in showing Lee's attitude toward the difference between Chinatown and America and her ideas regarding assimilation and citizenship. For a more in-depth examination of Lee's life and her work, see Katharine Ng, Fear and Loathing of Chinatown: 1950s and Rose Hum Lee's Desire for Assimilation (Undergraduate senior thesis, University of California, Los Angeles, 2002), which is available at the UCLA Asian American Studies Reading Room and the UCLA History Department.

(5.) Jurgen Habermas, "The European Nation-State: On the Past and Future of Sovereignty and Citizenship." Public Culture 10 (1998): 399

(6.) Habermas, "The European Nation-State," 405.

(7.) The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 excluded all Chinese from entering the United States with the exception of Chinese officials, teachers, students, and merchants and their wives. Rose Hum Lee's father was a successful merchant, so he was able to return to China and bring his wife with him to Butte, Montana, in 1900. Because of exclusionary laws such as this one, the population of native-born Chinese Americans made up an estimated 40 percent of all Chinese in America by the 1920s.

(8.) Rose Hum Lee, "Dangerous Opportunity," Girls Today 4, no. 4 (April 22, 1945): 1-4.

(9.) "Hum" was the pronunciation from the Toishan dialect. "Mei Tom" was the Cantonese pronunciation of Rose Hum Lee's Chinese name.

(10.) Henry Yu's study on the commodification of an authentic "Oriental" identity gave me this idea. See Yu, Thinking Orientals (New York: Oxford UP, 2001), 159-160.

(11.) The marginal man theory states that increased migration and contact between two different groups will produce persons who are knowledgeable about both groups and thus could be objective observers and cultural translators. This theory is discussed later in this paper.

(12.) Rose Hum Lee, "The Growth and Decline of Chinese Communities in the Rocky Mountain Region." (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 1947), 246-247, 253-254, 352-355.

(13.) Gary Gerstle, American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 115-117.

(14.) The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act barred Chinese immigrants from attaining citizenship, and in the 1922 case of Takao v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court further upheld the 1790 Naturalization Act that barred all Asian immigrants from citizenship. Thus, a man like Ku Young Lee was not eligible for citizenship.

(15.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee and Henry Evans, 14 November 1960, Rose Hum Lee personal papers, UCLA Asian American Studies Reading Room.

(16.) From Lee's materials, it is unclear when Elaine Lee was adopted and whether she was a war orphan. However, considering Rose Hum Lee's involvement in the "warphan" project, it is quite possible that Elaine was a war orphan.

(17.) The term "Oriental" is used in this paper in the context that the word was used historically to identify exotic bodies and objects from countries like China, Japan, and Korea; thus, the word is used in this paper only when it is necessary to fit with the language that was used historically,. The term "Oriental Problem" refers to the conflicts that began when the first Chinese immigrants arrived in America and measures from violent lynchings to racist laws were used to keep these "exotic and dangerous bodies" from threatening white labor and American society.

(18.) Yu, Thinking Orientals, 38-42.

(19.) Ibid., 105-110.

(20.) For more on Robert Park, the legacy of Chicago sociology, and the influence of that legacy on Asian American intellectuals from the 1920s to the 1960s, see Yu, Thinking Orientals.

(21.) All biographical information on Rose Hum Lee was cited from biographical profiles in the materials in her collection of personal papers and from Yu, Thinking Orientals.

(22.) The only study to mention Lee's trouble with Chinatown from the 1950s to 1960s is Yu, Thinking Orientals.

(23.) For a documentary on Chinese Americans' experience during the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War, see The Chinatown Files. Dir. Amy Chen. 2001 index, html.

(24.) For example, Lee and Ginn thought their reporting of a "white slavery case" to the FBI in Chicago could have been the reason for the harassment. See Lee, letter to Roland Hill, 28 January 1959, for reference. Also, as a Chinese American lawyer, Ginn had many ties to the Chinese community in various Chinatowns, and the Chinese often consulted him on financial and legal matters. This could explain why Ginn was accused of exposing the secrets of Chinatown since he knew so much. However, this was what Lee and Ginn thought, and, even though later Lee said a government agency agreed with her that the harassment was not just over the divorce, neither Lee and Ginn nor any governmental agency ever had proof of the harassment being over anything more than the disputed divorce between Ginn and his first wife, Yee Shee Ginn.

(25.) Lee, letter to Roland Hill, 28 January 1959.

(26.) When Lee used the terms "Chinatown" and "the Chinese" in her correspondence, she did not specify the location of the Chinatown or which group of Chinese, but she generally used those terms to encompass all of the Chinatowns in the United States and the "unassimilated" Chinese. Her labels for the different organizations in Chinatown and her harassers were also very broad because she felt they were all in the same group. Therefore, she used terms such as "Chinatown associations," "tongs," "the plotters," and "the stinkers" interchangeably, but these terms all referred to all the Chinatown organizations and her harassers.

(27.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 8 November 1955.

(28.) Rose Hum Lee, The Chinese in the United States of America, 68.

(29.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 13 August 1957.

(30.) Yu, Thinking Orientals, 159.

(31.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 13 August 1957.

(32.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 23 April 1958.

(33.) Ibid.

(34.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 8 January 1958.

(35.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 22 January 1958.

(36.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 8 November 1955.

(37.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 23 April 1958.

(38.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 8 January 1958.

(39.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 8 November 1955.

(40.) Ibid.

(41.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 13 August 1957.

(42.) For a more detailed discussion on how Communism and the Cold War were perceived by people in the United States, see David Caute, The Great Fear (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978); J. Ronald Oakley, God's Country: American in the Fifties (New York: W. W. Norton, 1986).

(43.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 13 August 1957.

(44.) Ibid.

(45.) L. Ling-chi Wang, "Politics of Assimilation and Repression: History of the Chinese in the United States, 1940 to 1970," unpublished manuscript (Asian American Library University of California, Berkeley), 437.

(46.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 13 August 1957.

(47.) Aihwa Ong, "Cultural Citizenship as Subject-Making: Immigrants Negotiate Racial and Cultural Boundaries in the United States," Current Anthropology, 37 (December 1996): 738.

(48.) Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996), 3.

(49.) Rose Hum Lee, "Chinese in the United States Today," Survey Graphic 31 (October 1942): 444.

(50.) Yu, Thinking Orientals, 132.

(51.) Yu, Thinking Orientals, 130.

(52.) William Chafe, The Unfinished Journey (New York: Oxford University, 1991), 83-85. Also see Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War (New York: Basic Books, 1988) for more on the cultural propaganda that encouraged the domesticity of women after World War II.

(53.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 8 January 1958.

(54.) Yu's Thinking Orientals provides an insight into the commodification of "Oriental" identity and the fascination with exotic "Oriental" things.

(55.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 8 November 1955.

(56.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 13 August 1957.

(57.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 8 January 1958.

(58.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 22 January 1958.

(59.) Yu, Thinking Orientals, 160.

(60.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 8 November 1955.

(61.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 8 January 1958.

(62.) Lee, letter to Elaine Lee, 13 August 1957.

(63.) Lee, letter to Elaine, 22 January 1958.

(64.) Rose Hum Lee, "The Marginal Man: A Re-Evaluation and Indices of Marginality," Journal of Human Relations 4, no. 3 (Spring 1956): 28.
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Author:Ng, Katharine
Publication:Chinese America: History and Perspectives
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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