Jump to: navigation, search

Sui Sin Far’s Imagined Nation in Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian and Mrs. Spring Fragrance

by Eulalia Piñero Gil

Edith Maud Eaton (1865-1914) wrote about Chinese immigrants’ experience under the name Sui Sin Far (water fragrant lily) in Canada and the United States. Born in England, she was the oldest daughter of fourteen children of a Chinese mother and a British father. She grew up in England, Canada, Jamaica, and the United States. Her hybrid origins and her diasporic existence contributed to her lack of interest in claiming a nationality: “I have no nationality and am not anxious to claim any.” Nevertheless, this lack of interest in nationality and her pervasive feeling of alienation from both sides of her parentage did not prevent her from an ethnic awareness. She was an Eurasian woman who could pass as white but she chose to assume her Chinese inheritance and to identify as such. This ethnic identity was a personal choice that clearly showed her commitment to the Chinese community but, at the same time, the importance of diversity within both Chinese and white American communities. In her own words, “Individuality is more than nationality.” Even though she embraced her Chinese origins, she also rejected the elaborated but artificial public display of ethnicity that promoted the popular imagination. In her autobiographical Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian (1909), and in her collection of short stories Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912), Sui Sin Far seeks to challenge stereotypical images of the Chinese and she reflects on identity, nationality, individuality and assimilation.

This paper attempts to explore how Sui Sin Far’s fiction writings represent an alternative concept of nation that seeks to eradicate the prejudices of American society. In this way, her imagined nation was multicultural and tolerant of racial difference. As a writer, Sui Sin Far developed a pioneer racial consciousness and pride that were the basis of a multiethnic recognition at the turn of the century American society.

AsK, September 2012

Personal tools