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A Theme of Identity in Trying to Find Chinatown by David H. Hwang

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The play “Trying to Find Chinatown” published in 1996 by David H. Hwang describes two strangers who happen to argue in the middle of the street in New York. Ronnie, an Asian American male who identifies himself as a musician, and Benjamin, a Caucasian who heritage Asia culture of his foster parents. The way we identify ourselves varies from the way others identify us. In the play, both Ronnie and Benjamin fail to understand how each created their own identity. Hwang is trying to bring up that identity is not a physical aspect of people or biological, it is nurture of life.

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In the play, we can see that Ronnie and Benjamin identify themselves with same technicality, but in a different way. They both created their own identity regardless of their race, but at the same time they both fail to see each other eye to eye and understand each other.

Benjamin subconsciously stereotypes Ronnie by calling him “Brother” like they are related, in some kind way. In the text, there is a passage that Benjamin says, “Brother, I can absolutely relate to your anger.” Benjamin thinks that he and Ronnie is similar. Benjamin also subconsciously stereotype Ronnie by stopping him on the street and ask where is Chinatown. It might be just a coincidence, but with all the people he chooses the one that looks like Asia and ask where he can find a Chinatown, it is a stereotype. Benjamin assumes that Ronnie would know where Chinatown is since he has an Asia aspect. Benjamin doesn’t want to be identified by his skin color or biological aspect, but he identifies Ronnie by his. Ronnie clearly got offended, Benjamin is probably not the first one person to ask him that. Ronnie is tired of being stereotyped because of his Chinese aspect that would make him deny and even hate his side of the Chinese.

Identity is created by nurturing not the nature of life. I agree with Ronnie when he says “If genes don’t determined race, what does.” I identify people from where they came from. There is nothing we can do to get rid of our genes or race. Ronnie consciously assumes Benjamin identity just by looking at his skin color. He says, “Look at your skin! You’re white.” Ronnie identifies Benjamin by his physical appearance, but he doesn’t want to be identified by the same technicality. Ronnie gets angry when Benjamin assumes his identity, but he did the same thing by assuming Benjamin identity. Ronnie is clearly embarrassed at his Chinese side of life; he makes fun and stereotype Chinese culture by making various negative points on Chinese symbol. Such as eating with chopstick, dim sum. Ronnie is not proud of his heritage, while Benjamin is fascinated about is nurture culture and want to learn more and more about it. Ronnie identifies himself a musician, which is unusual, he praises jazz and refers to slavery and how musicians set them free and healed their pain in the field. While Ronnie is trying to rid of his Chinese culture by identifying himself outer of his race, Benjamin insists in identifying himself as Asia even though he is not ethnically Chinese. If I were to take a side in this argument, I would choose Benjamin, because he has all the reason to identify himself as an Asia. People are able to identify themselves based on culture and the connection they received, and Benjamin obviously received that from adoptive parents. While Ronnie had no resourceful reason to deny his own heritage. Anyhow, they are both right, identity is the state of spirit.

At the end of play, neither of them agrees with each other, but they definitely learned from each other. It is ironic how Ronnie and Benjamin identify themselves, despite their race and biological aspect, but at the same time fails to accept each other identity despite their race.

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The writer is trying to tell us that identity is created, not born with. We all can adopt and live a life of any identity we choose. People are able to identify themselves without genetic genes or race. Identity is created based on things we loved and have a connection to, not something that we were born with. Identity is independent of race.

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A Theme Of identity In Trying To Find Chinatown By David H. Hwang. (2020, September 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from
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