“American Born Chinese” (2006) by Gene Luen Yang is a graphic novel about a Chinese American boy who magically becomes white.
The story is told through three storylines, each with its own main character:
1. Jin Yang, the Chinese American boy in question. He is about 13 and goes to a white school. He falls in love with a white girl. He curls his hair to gain her attention. He is told by others in so many words that he is not her kind, meaning not white. But then one night he turns white….
2. The Monkey King wants to be a god and go to their parties. But no matter how many amazing powers he gains, the gods still laugh at him.
3. Cousin Chin-Kee visits his white cousin Danny in America every year, completely destroying his social life – so much so that Danny has to keep changing schools. Chin-Kee is an out-and-out Chinese stereotype, painfully so: he has two big front teeth, slit eyes, speaks in broken English with every single r and l mixed up and dresses like it’s 1899. At school he knows all the answers. He is good at martial arts. He is constantly laughed at – HAHAHAHAHAHAHA appears in most of his frames – but he is always smiling. He is meant to be an utter racist stereotype.
The three storylines become one by the end of the book.
When Jin was a little boy in Chinatown playing with his transformer, a toy robot that can turn into a truck and back again, an old woman warned him:
It’s easy to become anything you wish, so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul.
Later, when the Monkey King was attempting to become a god by beating up the other gods, Tze-Yo-Tzuh, the maker and knower of all, shows up. He tells the Monkey King that he made him a monkey because that is what he meant for him to be. When the Monkey King tells him he can be whatever he wants to be, Tze-Yo-Tzuh buries him under a huge pile of rocks.
The Monkey King remained there caught under the rocks for 500 years. He could have left any time if he had let go of his amazing powers. Something he did not understand till one day a wise monk told him:
To find your true identity within the will of Tze-Yo-Tzuh, that is the highest of all freedoms.
The Monkey King’s wanting to be a god, his fighting the will of Tze-Yo-Tzuh, was the root of all his unhappiness.
Jin’s wanting to be white, likewise, is the root of his unhappiness.
When Jin becomes white life becomes unbearable. His soul is divided into a white half that he is not ashamed of, but which makes him something of a self-centred jerk, and a Chinese half, which he is extremely ashamed of and is constantly afraid will make him an outcast if he does not hide it somehow.
He does not find peace till he finds his true identity and his soul becomes whole.