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Maxine Hong Kingston

  • Women looked like great sea snails — the corded wood, babies, and laundry they carried were the whorls on their backs.

  • Hunger also changes the world — when eating can't be a habit, then neither can seeing.

  • My mother is not smiling; Chinese do not smile for photographs. Their faces command relatives in foreign lands — 'Send money' — and posterity forever — 'Put food in front of the picture.' My mother does not understand Chinese-American snapshots. 'What are you laughing at?' she asks.

  • The sweat of hard work is not to be displayed. It is much more graceful to appear favored by the gods.

  • Before we can leave our parents, they stuff our heads like the suitcases which they jam-pack with homemade underwear.

  • The difference between mad people and sane people ... is that sane people have variety when they talk-story. Mad people have only one story that they talk over and over.

  • I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.

  • Adultery is extravagance.

  • Occasionally the rumor went about that the United States immigration authorities had set up headquarters in the San Francisco or Sacramento Chinatown to urge wetbacks and stowaways, anybody here on fake papers, to come to the city and get their files straightened out. The immigrants discussed whether or not to turn themselves in. 'We might as well,' somebody would say. 'Then we'd have our citizenship for real.' 'Don't be a fool,' somebody else would say. 'It's a trap. You go in there saying you want to straighten out your papers, they'll deport you.'

  • When she was about sixty-eight years old, Brave Orchid took a day off to wait at San Francisco International Airport for the plane that was bringing her sister to the United States. She had not seen Moon Orchid for thirty years. She had begun this waiting at home, getting up a half-hour before Moon Orchid's plane took off in Hong Kong. Brave Orchid would add her will power to the forces that keep an airplane up.

  • The sisters walked back to Chinatown. ... They walked past the vegetable, fish, and meat markets — not as abundant as in Canton, the carp not as red, the turtles not as old — and entered the cigar and seed shop. Brave Orchid filled her sister's thin hands with carrot candy, melon candy, and sheets of beef jerky.

  • We lived on a special spot of the earth, Stockton, the only city on the Pacific coast with three railroads — the Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, and Western Pacific. ... Grandfather left a railroad for his message: We had to go somewhere difficult. Ride a train. Go somewhere important. In case of danger, the train was to be ready for us.

  • In 1903 my father was born in San Francisco, where my grandmother had come disguised as a man. Or, Chinese women once magical, she gave birth at a distance, she in China, my grandfather and father in San Francisco. She was good at sending. Or, the men of those days had the power to have babies. If my grandparents did no such wonders, my father nevertheless turned up in San Francisco an American citizen.

  • To me success means effectiveness in the world, that I am able to carry my ideas and values into the world — that I am able to change it in positive ways.

    • Maxine Hong Kingston
  • When alone I am not aware of my race or my sex, both in need of social contexts for definition.

    • Maxine Hong Kingston
  • In a time of destruction, create something: a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow, a moral principle; one peaceful moment.

Maxine Hong Kingston, U.S. writer, educator

(1940)