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By Walter S. H. Lim (auth.)

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Beginning with the premise that the experience of the Vietnam War had equipped John Rambo, a war veteran, with fighting skills that transformed him into a consummate survival expert and human-killing machine, this character finds himself returning to various locations in the East—Vietnam, Thailand, Burma (now Myanmar), and even Afghanistan—to enact personal vengeance, right wrongs, and reassert US military supremacy. The Rambo series, framed by the testosterone-filled, muscle-bound, and larger-than-life delineations of Sylvester Stallone, accomplishes at least two things—it affirms a vision of American invincibility in all military confrontations, and it reinforces the Orientalist conception of the Asia-Pacific world as the backwaters of twentieth-century modernity.

See’s amplification of the horrors of Angel Island fills in a gap in Amy Tan’s narrative of the Chinese American diasporic experience. Because Tan’s novels do not The Sino-Japanese War and Chinese History ● 27 emphasize the experience of hardship in the process of migration, they suggest ready Chinese access to the promises of the United States. By contrast, See’s Angel Island portrays the many obstacles that exist in the way of the Chinese dream of America. Through Pearl’s and May’s sequestration on the island as their fates as would-be immigrants are being decided by immigration officials, See portrays not only American prejudice against the Chinese but also the courage and resourcefulness of two sisters, one secretly pregnant and the other pretending to be with child.

We read that women on Angel Island were extremely reluctant to go into the showers because “nearly everyone here is afraid of the ghosts of the dead, who, without proper burial rites, refuse to leave the nasty place where they died” (SG 96). 22 While Pearl’s and May’s hardships have a deeply personal dimension tied to the circumstances of family and national life in China, their sufferings also symptomatize the experience of the diasporic Chinese community in America. Hardships in China in the twentieth century’s tumult had forced many Chinese to face the uncertainties of a transpacific crossing, equipped with nothing more than a dream.

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