Wong, Chanina: Privilege and Burden: The Mississippi Delta Chinese
Title: Privilege and Burden: The Mississippi Delta Chinese
Name: Chanina Wong
Major: American Studies
School affiliation: Douglass Residential College, School of Arts and Sciences
Programs: Aresty – RA Program
Other contributors: Leslie Fishbein, Jefferson Decker
Abstract: After the loss of the Civil War, Chinese Americans in Mississippi arrived to settle in areas along the Delta from Memphis down to Vicksburg during Reconstruction, hired to work on the plantation fields in replacement for the recently freed enslaved African Americans. After finding little economic success working the plantations, the Chinese opened and ran grocery stores for the black Mississippi community since blacks were refused service in white-owned grocery stores. In the racial hierarchy of Mississippi, whites were superior, while blacks were at the bottom. Historically, the Mississippi Chinese were unable to fit in the binary, carrying an identity of in-betweenness that created a problem for the racial systems, like Jim Crow, that upheld white supremacy.
This research is compiled into a capstone thesis of three chapters. The first chapter describes the Mississippi Chinese in the context of the Civil Rights Movement and how they attempted to be accepted by white Mississippians in order to economically and socially mobilize in a white supremacist culture. The next two chapters focus on religion and food, respectively, to describe how the Mississippi Chinese navigated the cultural hybridity of being both Chinese and American through the processes of cultural adaption and preservation.
The purpose of this research is to contribute to the scholarship that seeks to make known the communities of people excluded from the binaries that long- governed American life. The Mississippi Chinese demonstrate that despite living in a nation of contradictions, such as preaching all men were created equal but still upheld racial segregation, those contradictions do not cancel each other out but simultaneously and powerfully coexist.