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Excavating Chinese America in the Delta: Race and the historical archaeology of the Isleton Chinese American community

  • Author(s): Fong, Kelly Nicole
  • Advisor(s): Arnold, Jeanne E
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation is a historical archaeological study of the Chinese American community in Isleton, California during the first half of the 20th century. I utilize excavated material culture from the Bing Kong Tong site, documentary research, and oral histories to investigate everyday life in this community. In my analysis, I employ an interdisciplinary perspective that draws from Asian American Studies and historical archaeology to interpret materials in light of Asian American Studies history and racial theory to achieve two goals. First, I use racial theory to argue that historical archaeological analyses of Chinese American sites that rely on assimilation-based models are problematic because of how Asian Americans have been racialized as foreigners. By relying on assimilation in interpretation, I argue that this reifies existing stereotypes and is too simplistic for understanding these communities. Second, I offer this interdisciplinary perspective as a way to move beyond assimilation-based analyses by centering race, racism, and racialization in our studies to understand everyday life under conditions of structural racism. I use this interdisciplinary approach to investigate everyday life for the Chinese American community Isleton. I contend that structural racism impacted everyday life for this community and affected the material culture people used on an everyday basis. Consequently, I argue that artifacts should be interpreted in terms of agency and decisions made under conditions of structural racism rather than assimilation. By adopting a multi-disciplinary approach, we can learn much more about the Chinese American community and an emerging Chinese American subjectivity than we could with any one perspective alone. Artifacts from archaeological field work illuminate how the Chinese American community found ways to survive, resist, and thrive during exclusion.

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