Saturday, June 19, 2021

Cartoon Saturday--The Legend of Auntie Po

Khor, Shing Yin. The Legend of Auntie Po
Published June 15th 2021 by Kokila
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1885, Mei Hao lives with her father, who is a cook for a logging camp in California run by Mr. Andersen. Because Mei and her father are Chinese, there is a lot of prejudice against them, even though Mr. Andersen thinks of them as "family". Sometimes, this is true. Mei is best friends with Bee, and the two often plan their futures together. Since Mei has a crush on Bee, she has conflicted feelings when Mei talks about getting married and prefers the scenario where the two move to the city and run a pie shop together. In other ways, the differences are clear. The Chinese loggers are fed separately from the white loggers, Mei is not paid, and the treatment of Chinese workers is not equal. There are also a few black workers, who hold a place somewhere in between. Mr. Andersen hires his brother to "help" in the kitchen, which Mr. Hao doesn't particularly like, although he keeps silent, and when the people who own the camp complain, Mr. Hao and his Chinese assistant are both fired. The food is awful, and the white men in the camp eventually approach Mei to help feed them, and go to Mr. Andersen with their complaints. Mei is known for telling stories to keep the children happy, and has told many stories about Auntie Po, a Paul Bunyan-like character who also has an ox, and who takes care of the miners. As the tensions in camp worsen, Mei begins to think that she actually sees Auntie Po. This happens more often when tragedy occurs in Bee's family, and the whole logging camp struggles to deal with this event. In the aftermath, Mr. Andersen starts to realize how badly he has treated the Chinese miners, and especially the Hao's, and tries to make amends. 
Strengths: This was a great historical story with a unique spin on the Paul Bunyan tales. Reimagining them with a Chinese Auntie makes perfect sense, since folklore is always adapted to fit different cultures. The information about logging camps is well researched and informative. Mei does not have a lot of hope for her future at the beginning of the story, but it is good to see that by the end, there are other options for her. The LGBTQIA+ representation is not a large part of the story, but it's nice to see it represented in a historical context. Certainly, there were "Boston marriages" (a term in use around this time) even on the west coast! Mr. Andersen's portrayal as someone who thought he was progressive for the time but who still didn't treat his employees equally in interestingly done. The story moves along quickly.
Weaknesses: This was such an intriguing piece of history that I wished it wasn't a graphic novel, so I could have gotten more information! I also spent a lot of time trying to understand the color palette and being confused by Auntie Po's bright pink shirt. On the bright side, this kept me from being obsessed with the noses, which is usually how I interact with graphic novels, which are just not my cup of tea.
What I really think: This was a really interesting story; I just wanted more information! A great addition to a slowly growing collection of graphic novels with cultural connections. 

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