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The short play “Trying to find Chinatown” is about an encounter between a Caucasian male named Benjamin that considers himself to be a Chinese-American, and an Asian male street musician, Ronnie. The play is set in the lower east side of New York. Benjamin believes he is Chinese-American because he was adopted by a Chinese family at a young age that influenced their cultural roots into him. Whereas Ronnie is Asian but knows very little about Asian cultural roots, and only considers himself to be Asian by the genetic aspect. While Benjamin is making his journey to explore his Asian roots, he asks Ronnie for directions to an address of Benjamin’s fathers’ old house in Chinatown. Ronnie is immediately offended by the fact that just because he’s Asian that he would know the directions to a place in Chinatown. To Ronnie, this is considered a racial insult. Whereas Benjamin believes Ronnie should respect and embrace the culture of his ancestors.
In David Henry Hwang’s play “Trying to find Chinatown”, Benjamin’s diction reveals a character who is strong-willed in a way in which he doesn’t allow other people’s opinions to change his mind in what he believes his cultural identity is truly about. Typically, we presume a certain individual’s race by how they appear such as skin color, hair type, eye color, etc. As Ronnie states “If genes don’t determine race, what does?”. Ronnie’s perspective on race is what genetic genes a person inherits from their parents. In Benjamin’s eyes, this is seen as the stereotypical view of race. Even though Benjamin is a white male he sees himself as being Chinese-American and believes this doesn’t come from genetics. The reader can see this when Benjamin responds to Ronnie “Well, you can’t judge my race by my genetic heritage alone.” Benjamin says this because his color of skin may be white but inside, he feels that his Asian identity has a stronger effect on the person he really is. Benjamin’s decisive reaction is satisfying for the fact of just because of how you look does not determine the way you present yourself. When Benjamin states “So what are you? “Just a human being”? That’s like saying you have no identity”.
When Benjamin makes this statement, he is implying that everyone acts in a certain way that defines one’s self. In this case, Benjamin uses his Asian traditions to form his identity that people can recognize him by, it’s what differentiates himself from just being a human. Even when Benjamin was in school, the audience can see this because even though he is Caucasian the kids referred to him as a “Gook! Chink! Slant-eyes!”. This shows how your race is interpreted by the way you act or present yourself, but not always by the genes one gets. Even in Ronnie’s situation throughout the play, he declares that his race has no importance. This may be true but after all his identity is determined through his interest in music. Referring that Benjamin’s quote in the beginning of the paragraph emphasizes that every human has a personality that forms your identity that makes you who you are. Does our ethnicity come from where we grow up, such as our community’s? Often, our community’s race reflects in which the way we define our own ethics. When Ronnie states “I dunno what community you’re talking about, but it’s sure as hell not mine”. Ronnie is expressing to Benjamin that the community is not an aspect that would shape your ethnicity. Whereas Benjamin feels greatly affected by the community, such as when he states “When I finally found Doyers street, … I felt immediately that I had entered a world where all things were finally familiar”. Benjamin feels this interconnection to a place in which he has never even been too.
Everything in China-town seems so natural to Benjamin because he shares the same beliefs and this bond that he was raised with. Benjamin’s identity was formed from his parent’s influence through their traditions, which makes him feel as if he is a part of the Chinese community as well. The reader can now understand why Benjamin considers himself to be Chinese-American by in a way of growing up in America but having Asian customs.
In “Trying to find Chinatown” Benjamin’s choice of words throughout the play express his determination to not let anyone in the way of exploring his cultural roots. As humans, there are many different ways to express our ethnicity. Benjamin’s believes that he is both Asian and American, where his American identity comes from simply the place in which he lives, and the Asian aspect comes from customs from which he was taught. With this being said both factors play a role in Benjamin’s total identity as a person. In the end, everyone has an identification, that you are recognized or preconized by in what ways you express yourself.
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