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Abstract

Kerry Young’s first Novel, Pao, is written in the “voice” of a Chinese Jamaican, a voice that exhibits little if no syntactical or grammatical difference from those with whom he works and lives in the underworld of Chinatown in Kingston, Jamaica. Pao, our central protagonist, arrives to Jamaica in 1938, a time of tremendous social upheaval. The novel charts Pao’s growing political consciousness through his romantic relationships with: the “improper” black prostitute and madam, Gloria Campbell, who is the site of romantic love, and the “proper” Fay Wong, daughter of a grocery store chain owner and link to respectability. This article explores, not so much Pao’s linguistic assimilation, but his acquisition of a language of critique. The novel, I argue, functions as a dialogic interaction of evolving contexts of a public discourse over the representation of independence, the efficacy of rebellion, and “nation.” The China Pao’s family leaves “had become a country that was half feudal and half colonized,” a land that Pao’s father and uncle Zhang fought to wrest from “foreign control” to make China a land that would provide the “ordinary man” with opportunity to fend for himself and have a “decent life” (49). The Jamaica that greets the family is simultaneously a land of possibility and alienation. In the course of the novel, we see Pao as a “fixer,” a protector of women, children, sexual minorities, and local Jamaican businesses. One seminal moment in the novel occurs when he and his friends come to the defense of a Black local fruit cart salesman, who has been attacked by an American, and are called a “chink” and “niggers,” respectively. With his foot literally on the neck of the American, he announces that he is not a “Chink and these boys are not Niggers. We are Jamaicans. We are brothers” (33). This paper explores that which makes the claim “We are Jamaicans. We are brothers” possible.

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