Finding Where I Belonged by Katie Zhao
There’s something magical about Chinatown: The bustling streets crowded with diverse populations, the air filled with the smells of potstickers and rice, the loud conversations held in many different Chinese dialects. As a young girl, I felt visiting Chinatown was like being transported to a pocket of home — or rather, the place that might have been home, had my parents never immigrated to the United States. The experience is no less magical as an adult, and in fact is even more magical now that I have a deeper understanding of what draws me and so many others to Chinatown.– This is the epitome of being Chinese diaspora in America, and seeking a fusion of the rich culture we hail from and the culture in which we were raised. The sense of belonging, of home.
While creating the setting for THE DRAGON WARRIOR, I knew I wanted Faryn, Alex, and the gang to go on a cool journey across the United States, a la Percy Jackson. In an earlier draft of the story, I chose to craft the journey through landmarks that American children would easily recognize, including the Smithsonian Museum and the Pentagon. And yet, something about the setting didn’t feel right to me. I sat down with the draft and thought long and hard about the heart of the story. I realized that while the characters were exploring elements of Chinese mythology and culture, the setting wasn’t reflective of that. This wasn’t the world my heart wanted to explore. It wasn’t until I watched the Pixar movie Coco in theaters that I realized what was missing from the story: a cultural celebration. That was when I had the lightbulb idea of setting THE DRAGON WARRIOR during a Lunar New Year celebration in Chinatown, set in a world where Chinese and American culture combine! Now, not only could I write about the places that meant so much to me growing up, but I also had an excuse to write about one of my favorite topics: Chinese food! The food in Chinatown is so yummy and cheap–what’s not to like about that?
THE DRAGON WARRIOR straddles the line that many Chinese Americans struggle to define, of being at once Chinese and American. Faryn’s journey through Chinatown’s mirrors an identity journey that I myself travelled, both literally and figuratively. When I think of Chinatown, I think of myself as a young girl figuring out who I was and where I belonged. I think of home as a place, as a people, and as a sense of belonging. San Francisco’s Chinatown is Faryn’s literal home, but her journey through Chinatowns is what brings her closer to finding a feeling of home. That is what I wish for readers to ultimately take away from THE DRAGON WARRIOR. I hope that, in the pages of this book, diaspora readers will find their way home.
Katie Zhao graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English and a minor in Political Science and completed her Master’s in Accounting at the same school. As a sophomore, a story she posted on the online platform Wattpad won a Watty Award and was read by nearly one million people. This is her debut novel. Visit her on Twitter at @ktzhaoauthor.