Writing in the Past

Dr. John Jung

Dr. John Jung

When John Jung, a Department of Psychology faculty emeritus, was growing up in Macon, Ga., he didn’t consider his childhood experiences all that unusual or interesting.

“My parents were Chinese immigrants, who settled in Macon in the 1920s to run a laundry during the years before the civil rights era,” Jung explained. “My siblings and I were all born there, and we were the only Chinese family in the whole town. A lot of times over the years, when I would tell people this, they would act surprised or actually be interested in learning more, but when you’re busy teaching and raising a family, you don’t have much time to dwell on the many aspects of your personal development and to realize how culturally isolated your childhood was.”

After 34 years of service, Jung retired from CSULB in 2002 but continued to teach part time through the Faculty Early Retirement Program until 2007. He has remained close to the university through contacts in the Department of Psychology and speaking engagements on campus.

Additionally, he has created several scholarships, including funding to the Communicative Disorders Department’s Speech and Hearing Clinic in honor of his late son, Tomy, who was deaf; to the Psychology Department through the Tomy Jung Memorial Scholarship for juniors and seniors who are academically “late bloomers”; and the Roads Scholar Award, which is available to one outstanding College of Liberal Arts part-time faculty member each year.

Following retirement, Jung began to reflect on his childhood growing up in Macon, so he took his wife, Phyllis, to visit his hometown.

“While I certainly didn’t expect there to be a plaque on the building where we lived and ran the only Chinese laundry in town that said, ‘John Jung lived here,’ I was dismayed to discover the building was completely gone,” Jung said. “And to add insult to injury, it had been replaced with a parking lot.”

Although Jung had written many research papers and several textbooks, including “Psychology of Alcohol and Other Drugs,” throughout his career, he had never produced anything of an autobiographical or historical nature. But, armed with memories from his life in Macon and family photographs, he began to contemplate the idea of writing about his past. The shock of seeing his childhood home razed to the ground provided the impetus that would drive him to document the history of its existence.

His efforts resulted in his first book, a memoir, “Southern Fried Rice,” published in 2005. “In writing the book, I didn’t just rely on my personal memories,” Jung said. “I would use the Internet, for example, to find out if there were other Chinese in the South. I wanted to know how they made a living and where they settled. I learned a lot about American history as it pertains to Chinese in the U.S. and Canada. There were a lot of things that were never taught in schools.

“And how these Chinese immigrants ended up in the South? Well, on the West Coast after the mid-1800s, there was growing violence toward the Chinese,” Jung continued. “So a lot of people would flee for their lives, and they’d go into Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, anywhere else where, hopefully, they would not be noticed. They’d mind their own business, keep out of trouble and hope maybe they wouldn’t be attacked.”

His research led to Jung’s second book, “Chinese Laundries” (2007).

“The idea of the second book I wrote was to talk a little bit about the history of how Chinese were discriminated against, the various laws passed against them, and how so many of them survived by running a laundry, one of the few occupations Chinese were allowed to enter,” Jung said.

As word spread about Jung’s two books, he began to receive invitations to speak at educational institutions, historical societies and Chinese-American organizations. Through conversations with audience members and contacts with Chinese immigrant communities in Mississippi’s Delta region, he completed his third book, “Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton” (2008), which details the lives of Chinese immigrant family grocery store owners. And in 2010, he published “Sweet and Sour,” a book that examines the history of Chinese family-run restaurants in the U.S. and Canada.

“So that’s the story of how my new career unfolded,” Jung said. “When I retired from teaching, I had no clue I’d be doing this. I didn’t know what I’d be doing. I didn’t think that far ahead.”

When Jung first approached established publishing companies about “Southern Fried Rice,” the reception was less than overwhelming, as the publishers felt there was not much of a market or a profit from an autobiographical tale about a second generation Chinese-American. Not easily discouraged, Jung created his own publishing company, Yin and Yang Press, using print-on-demand technology.

“Not having a big publishing company to pay for marketing and advertising, I found creative ways to find venues for me to give talks and hold book signings to promote my books all over the U. S. with very positive and encouraging reactions,” Jung said of his website http://yinandyangpress.weebly.com/. “I then determined to go it alone.

“Most of my life, I lived and worked in a ‘black and white world’ so that most of my cultural experiences were not Chinese, even though I knew how to speak some Chinese,” Jung added. “So now that I’ve been learning and writing about my heritage, I’m more aware and more involved with my Chinese ethnicity in general. And also because of my work with directing a training program for minority college students for 25 years and being a minority myself, I’m much more appreciative of the difficulties that immigrants have trying to fit in and make their way in a world where they’re not fully accepted.”