In 2002, a Taiwanese publisher released a book of C.Y. Lee short stories about Chinese American life in the San Gabriel Valley. The book, whose title translates from the Chinese as “Manchu Gown Lady,” consists of humorous stories about a side of California immigrant life that is rarely documented in literature. C.Y. Lee is shaping the stories into an English-language edition with the name “American Dream.” Below are descriptions of three of the stories. Translation and story summaries are by Jue Wang.
“A Husband That Can’t be Changed”: Martha Fang is a third-generation Chinese American ashamed that she knows nothing about Chinese culture. After her white husband passes away, she marries Sam Chen, an American-born Chinese man, only to find out that Sam is even more westernized than she is — “a typical ‘banana’: yellow outside and white inside. He can’t even figure out whether his family name is ‘Chen’ or ‘Cheng.’” Hoping Sam will become more Chinese, Martha embarks on a “De-Americanization of My Husband” project, which unfolds in a series of hilarious failed attempts.
“Finding a New Home”: After marrying Dr. Tan, Zhang Meizhen nags her husband daily to move from Monterey Park to San Marino. “As a doctor, you need to live in San Marino to prove that you are successful,” Meizhen says. She finds a broker named Betty Li and keeps herself busy visiting potential homes. Meizhen complains about her husband’s lack of enthusiasm for the project and urges him to schedule appointments with Betty Li to visit houses. After three months, the family finally buys a house in San Marino. But Dr. Tan tells Meizhen that he wants a divorce — he’s fallen in love with the broker.