Mike Chin’s My Grandfather’s an Immigrant, and So Is Yours
Coming of Age in Mike Chin's My Grandfather’s An Immigrant, and So Is Yours: A Review by Delannna Betlej
My Grandfather Is An Immigrant, and So Is Yours by Mike Chin explores the minority experience in the United States through the lens of a poignant coming-of-age story. Chin writes persuasively of growing up half-Chinese in a small, conservative town in upstate, New York. As Billy Chen struggles to find his place in majority-white Shermantown, the reader is made witness to the formative impact of the experience of othering. The novel tracks Chen's love life, friendships, and relationships with his family members in this context.
In addition to My Grandfather Is An Immigrant, and So Is Yours, Chin is the author of three full-length books: You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue is available from Duck Lake Books (2019), Circus Folk is available from Hoot ‘n’ Waddle (2019), and The Long Way Home is available from Cowboy Jamboree Press (2020). His chapbook, Autopsy and Everything After, won The Florida Review's Jeanne Leiby Chapbook Contest (2017-2018). He has also published two other chapbooks: The Leo Burke Finish with Gimmick Press (2017) and Distance Traveled with Bent Window Books (2018). He currently serves as an Assistant Professor in Residence for the Honors College at UNLV.
I was drawn in by the way Chin connects to his audience through the point-of-view of Billy Chen. It's like you're old friends looking back on shared memories together. This kind of intimacy made the raw emotions coursing through his telling of personal stories very impactful. It was easy to understand how each personal relationship fueled Chen's growth and development. Chin's knack for convincingly accessing childhood emotions was also an access point for me as a reader; his stream-of-consciousness approach felt natural and organic to the material.
If wasn't hard enough already for Chen to find himself (his place, his identity, his friends) in school, the added complexity of his experience as a biracial youth simply compounded the difficulty. “I wanted to be white, and I defended my whiteness,” he says. I sympathized with the young Chen's predicament. He felt pressured to fit in with others and pressured by the Westernized standards of beauty he saw on television. I felt as though I were reading his diary and I had to know what happened next. Would he find his way?
For readers who have not faced these specific challenges themselves, My Grandfather Is An Immigrant, and So Is Yours serves as a useful pathway to moments of self-reflection and self-reflexivity. It's important to educate one's self about the struggles of minorities in the United States. But the book is also humorous. Chen recalls funny moments with friends and awkward phases with girls. Each connection he makes and each interaction he experiences provides readers with insight into his development as a fully-forged self.
Highlights in the story that takes Chen from elementary school to college include the pieces his mother writes for a website—some of which relate to the family itself. It's interesting to see her telling of important milestones, such as Chen's departure for college. I never questioned Chin's decision to include any detail; each served to enhance the whole.
For Chen, leaving Shermantown did not mean escaping harmful stereotypes or the uncomfortableness they introduce into relationships; he continued to be racially profiled and was damaged by the notion of the "model minority." Playing witness to these events as a reader wasn't always easy, but Chin's attention to detail and powers of observation made the journey an enjoyable and memorable one. I felt as though I were watching the film of Chen's life—the path of growth to happiness in the span of two-hundred and fifty-one pages. A little boy learns to face the world as an adult.