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The "Thrill" of Not Belonging: Sui Sin Far on Citizenship

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Abstract:

During the reign of the Exclusion Act (1882-1943) and Canadian Head Tax (1885-1923), when Chinese, regardless of country of origin, found it difficult or expensive to enter North America and were denied citizenship, Sui Sin Far published journalism and fiction sympathetically portraying the suffering caused by these policies and the anti-Asian racism underwriting them. However, Sui Sin Far’s early journalism challenges the common liberal assumption that diasporic Chinese prior to the Chinese Revolution actually desired the rights and responsibilities of North American citizenship. Although the costs of legal exclusion from citizenship should not be minimized, her “Thrilling Experience of a Band of Smugglers in the Lachine Rapids” (Montreal Daily Star, 9 July 1895) and “Chinese Defended” (Montreal Daily Star, 29 Sept. 1896) complicate the desirability of North American citizenship for diasporic Chinese. Like “Inferior Woman” and “White Woman Who Married a Chinese,” stories that challenge the hallowed status of suffrage discourse among Progressives by pointing out its class and racial exclusiveness, these pieces question the desirability of citizenship by suggesting that the mobile subject position of the non-citizen is more “thrilling” than the fixed identity position of the citizen.
My paper will focus on Sui Sin Far’s celebration of mobility in anonymous journalism I have recently located as part of a larger project to edit her significant uncollected works. “Thrilling Experience,” a piece about the near-fatal smuggling journey of fourteen Chinese men across the swiftly flowing St. Lawrence River from Canada into the U.S., neither endorses the US government’s prerogative to keep Chinese out nor celebrates their safe arrival to the American side; rather it focuses narratively on the moment at which the identities of smuggled subjects are most “up for grabs”: on neither side but rather, dramatically, “at the mouth of the Cataract.” Her delight here, as in her 1900 story “The Smuggling of Tie Co” which is based on this article, is less the achieved outcome—undetected passage into the U.S.--and more the tremendous mobility—literal and metaphorical—that smuggled Chinese have as they hide themselves in various containers--from coffins to canoes—and take on different identities (from cross-gendered to cross-racialized as the Chinese men paddle an “Indian war canoe” in the vicinity of an Iroquois reservation, one disenfranchised group masquerading as another. “Thrilling Experience,” like “Chinese Defended,” does not accept the desirability of citizenship as much as promote self-making and self-transformation.
The thrill of not belonging is one Sui Sin Far herself enjoyed: as a British-born child growing up in Canada; an Anglophone living in a predominantly Francophone city; a half-white journalist reporting on a predominantly black Jamaica or a predominantly aboriginal Lake Superior-Keewatin district; and finally a Canadian living in the U.S. Ultimately, my paper will reflect on the identificatory possibilities implicit in non-belonging which, in Sui Sin Far’s oeuvre, anticipates alternatives to national belonging.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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Chapman, Mary. "The "Thrill" of Not Belonging: Sui Sin Far on Citizenship" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Renaissance Hotel, Washington D.C., <Not Available>. 2014-11-28 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p317796_index.html>

APA Citation:

Chapman, M. "The "Thrill" of Not Belonging: Sui Sin Far on Citizenship" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Renaissance Hotel, Washington D.C. <Not Available>. 2014-11-28 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p317796_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: During the reign of the Exclusion Act (1882-1943) and Canadian Head Tax (1885-1923), when Chinese, regardless of country of origin, found it difficult or expensive to enter North America and were denied citizenship, Sui Sin Far published journalism and fiction sympathetically portraying the suffering caused by these policies and the anti-Asian racism underwriting them. However, Sui Sin Far’s early journalism challenges the common liberal assumption that diasporic Chinese prior to the Chinese Revolution actually desired the rights and responsibilities of North American citizenship. Although the costs of legal exclusion from citizenship should not be minimized, her “Thrilling Experience of a Band of Smugglers in the Lachine Rapids” (Montreal Daily Star, 9 July 1895) and “Chinese Defended” (Montreal Daily Star, 29 Sept. 1896) complicate the desirability of North American citizenship for diasporic Chinese. Like “Inferior Woman” and “White Woman Who Married a Chinese,” stories that challenge the hallowed status of suffrage discourse among Progressives by pointing out its class and racial exclusiveness, these pieces question the desirability of citizenship by suggesting that the mobile subject position of the non-citizen is more “thrilling” than the fixed identity position of the citizen.
My paper will focus on Sui Sin Far’s celebration of mobility in anonymous journalism I have recently located as part of a larger project to edit her significant uncollected works. “Thrilling Experience,” a piece about the near-fatal smuggling journey of fourteen Chinese men across the swiftly flowing St. Lawrence River from Canada into the U.S., neither endorses the US government’s prerogative to keep Chinese out nor celebrates their safe arrival to the American side; rather it focuses narratively on the moment at which the identities of smuggled subjects are most “up for grabs”: on neither side but rather, dramatically, “at the mouth of the Cataract.” Her delight here, as in her 1900 story “The Smuggling of Tie Co” which is based on this article, is less the achieved outcome—undetected passage into the U.S.--and more the tremendous mobility—literal and metaphorical—that smuggled Chinese have as they hide themselves in various containers--from coffins to canoes—and take on different identities (from cross-gendered to cross-racialized as the Chinese men paddle an “Indian war canoe” in the vicinity of an Iroquois reservation, one disenfranchised group masquerading as another. “Thrilling Experience,” like “Chinese Defended,” does not accept the desirability of citizenship as much as promote self-making and self-transformation.
The thrill of not belonging is one Sui Sin Far herself enjoyed: as a British-born child growing up in Canada; an Anglophone living in a predominantly Francophone city; a half-white journalist reporting on a predominantly black Jamaica or a predominantly aboriginal Lake Superior-Keewatin district; and finally a Canadian living in the U.S. Ultimately, my paper will reflect on the identificatory possibilities implicit in non-belonging which, in Sui Sin Far’s oeuvre, anticipates alternatives to national belonging.


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