Literary Fiction

A Note from Jean Kwok on Mambo In Chinatown

Mambo in Chinatown

Despite having grown up without access to lessons, Jean Kwok discovered a great love of dancing in college. In Mambo in Chinatown, Kwok draws from her experience as a  dancer to explore identity, freedom, and passion. 

Many of the people I know from my childhood working in Chinatown didn’t go to college. They’re still there, washing dishes, sorting garments, supporting their families. I have enormous respect for them. We’re all familiar with the stereotype of the high-achieving Asian student – and indeed, my first novel was about a Chinese immigrant who is saved from the sweatshops by her success in school — but that’s not actually the reality for many. The less known Chinatown story is one in which formal education stops in adolescence, and the path out of poverty is much less available or direct. For Charlie Wong, the Chinatown noodle-shop dishwasher of my new book, academics are not where her talents lie, but her ambitions for the future are no less important for being less obvious or common. What if her passion is not math and science, but something unconventional – and untraditionally Chinese – like ballroom dance? Could her dreams of working as a dance studio receptionist expose her to a world she would not otherwise have seen?

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