Pardee Lowe penned his autobiography, Father and Glorious Descendent, in 1943. In the book, Lowe tells his story of growing up in the home of first generation Chinese immigrants. Throughout the book he relates the trials and tribulations endured by himself and his family in California, ranging from major events like the Great San Francisco earthquake at the beginning of the century to everyday occurrences like dealing with widespread racism in the white majority. In the end, the author relates his success in attending Stanford College and later attending one of our nations most prestigious business schools. In doing so, he presents an Asian-American success story that serves as a tribute to the spirit and culture of a people. During the time when the field of Asian-American studies began to emerge, many scholars looked back upon Asian works from the past to try and build a library of books to convey the experiences of early Asian immigrants.
Father and Glorious Descendent was dismissed by many in the field as a "document of self contempt" and a "humiliating book" to the Chinese and thus it was dismissed in most academic circles. Lowe begins his book with the statement "I strongly suspect that my father's life is a fraud," but he does not mean this as a derogatory statement. Instead it is a subtle compliment to his father's ability to amalgamate into a foreign culture and become successful. This mirrors the fact that the rest of the book is a tribute to the ability of a people to adapt to a foreign land without losing themselves or their culture.
It is for this reason that I believe Father and Glorious Descendent deserves to be studied by today's scholars and students. First, Pardee Lowe's book is a compliment to the Chinese because it continually paints the first generation of immigrants in a very favorable light. This story is filled with numerous succes stories of immigrants building large businesses and becoming reasonably successful. There are families that own laundries and others, like Lowe's, that own large dry goods stores. The author never refers to these businessmen in a derogatory way and often he speaks of his childhood amazement at the wealth of some of these people.
At no point does he attribute this wealth to a shedding of traditional Chinese ways or to a complete adoption of American attitudes either. Instead he admires the way his father can move smoothly between the two cultures and adopt the best qualities of each. Lowe recalls travelling around town with his father on business trips that took him from White San Francisco to the heart of Chinatown. In conducting business with both peoples, Lowe admires the respect his father is treated with by whites during the first part of the trip and then watches in amazement as he moves smoothly to dealing with the more traditional Chinese.
In addition to respecting the first generation, he also talks of the advances made by the children of these immigrants. As Asian-Americans who had never spent any time in the "old-country" these children were more likely to reject the old culture in favor of the new American one, but this was not so. Lowe speaks of attending American schools and learning American ideals, but at the same time he speaks of how many of these ideas were tempered by more traditional Chinese principles. This is not a rejection of Chinese culture but paints a picture of the amalgamation that had to occur for these people to be productive in their new surroundings and relates a crucial aspect of the early Asian-American experience.
Next, Father and Glorious Descendent is neither a "document of self-contempt" nor an attempt to "derogate everything Chinese." At no point does Lowe ever condemn the Chinese or lament the fact that he was born into this culture. Lowe's belief is instead that many of the old ways were right to follow in the old culture, but he realizes that in a new world you must attempt to adopt the beliefs of the new culture. This is not a rejection of Chinese culture but it is the stark reality that every immigrant must face. To succeed you need to conform and this book is the story of the struggle of the Chinese to balance societal conformity with old world values. In fact, Lowe writes of how his father still looks to China before adopting certain American habits.
When automobiles began to emerge the father only gains interest when he learns that they are all the rage in the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Hong Kong. In addition, the father continually speaks of the way traditional Chinese children should act and the way traditional Chinese familial interaction should occur. In these instances, Lowe does not reject his culture but expresses the duality that occurs in all immigrant families. Lowe has also been branded an "Accommodationist" or "one who adopts the ideals or attitudes of whites." While this is partially true it is not a reason to ignore his work. At no point does Lowe ever wholly accept the white system of ideals nor does he wholly condemn his old ways. The best term to describe Lowe is a partial-accommodationist, owing to the fact that he adopts the best of both worlds.
This is vividly demonstrated in his description of attending Christian events and the teaching he receives in their schools. While he believes some of what he is taught, Lowe says all he hears in these schools is tempered by "traditional Chinese Confuscist" values. This is evidenced in the fact that he places more emphasis on the "good deeds towards you neighbor" part of the religion than most white Christians. This combining of the best of both worlds is partially accommodationist in that while he "adopts the ideals" of whites his thoughts are filtered through a traditional Chinese upbringing. This is not a reason to reject Father and Glorious Descendent because this process is one that most immigrants experience in one form or another when they arrive in a new land. Thus, Father and Glorious Descendent deserves to be studied by today's students and scholars in the Asian-American Studies field for multiple reasons.
First, the book provides insight into Chinese immigrant family that became very successful. This is important because it is a credit to the Chinese culture that its people can adapt and be successful in a hostile environment. Lowe provides us with unique insight into what an immigrant must do to make it in a new land and does so without rejecting his old culture. Secondly, the novel provides today's student with insight into a segment of Chinese immigrants who should not be ignored.
We should not focus on those who came over and stubbornly stuck to their old ways just because the prevailing sentiment is to favor them. Instead the academic community should focus on the whole of the Chinese American experience and in some ways this involves some form of accommodationist thinking. Lastly, by not studying a success story as profound as Father and Glorious Descendent, we deprive today's Asian-Americans of a unique source of inspiration. In the struggle against racism and hatred that today's minorities must face we must draw on all past demonstrations of success in the face of this monster. Pardee Lowe amply demonstrates that hard work and perseverance in the face of challenge will pay off, in addition the author was able to succeed fifty years ago in a racial climate much more hostile than today's. In conclusion, it is a travesty that Pardee Lowe's Father and Glorious Descendent has been ignored for so long by the Asian-American academic community.
At no point does the author express any "self-contempt" nor does he "derogate everything Chinese." Instead, throughout the entire novel he subtlety compliments the Chinese culture by not dropping it entirely for his new American one. It can clearly be seen now that Lowe's statement that he "strongly suspects" that his "father's life is a fraud" is not a scathing critique but subtle praise for the way he could adopt new ways on top of his traditional Chinese ones. Much like this statement deserved new consideration, Lowe's entire book deserves to be brought of the shelves and into the mainstream of the Asian-American Studies community.