Marjorie Oxley ’18

History major examined authenticity, Chinese food, and the Cold War.

September 1, 2018

Hometown: Grass Valley, California

Thesis adviser: Prof. Lara Netting [history 2017–18]

Thesis: The Last Mandarin: Problematizing Authenticity in Chinese-American Cuisine in the 20th Century

What it’s about: My goal is to demonstrate how Chinese-Americans cultivated and sold a sense of authentic China during the Cold War. Specifically, I’m looking at the Chinese-American culinary scene in San Francisco during this time, and focusing on two Chinese-American chefs—Cecilia Chiang and Johnny Kan—and contrasting their conceptualizations of culinary authenticity.

What it’s really about: I order Chinese food to my apartment and tell myself that qualifies as thesis work.

Cool stuff: I was the training supervisor at Reed's nuclear reactor and raised 30 freshmen into competent reactor operators. I did my thesis on something I love, coached a softball team, read the longest book ever written, fell in love, learned how to code and speak my mother’s native language, and started a foodie blog with my best friend.

Influential book: The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America by Mae Ngai.

Concept that blew my mind: Science is not apolitical. Working at the reactor taught me that as a scientist and operator I am still as subjected to the biases that affect me in my work as a historian.

Favorite class: Chinese literature­—Chinese Narrative Traditions with Prof. Alexei Ditter [Chinese 2006–] was the hardest I have ever had to work at Reed for a single class, but the work made me fall in love with an amazing narrative and made me feel the most engaged I have ever felt in conference. We read the longest book in all of Chinese literature, The Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦)—2,500 pages long. Alexei was an amazing teacher and always came to class really excited to teach us. I loved how direct he always was with our small five-person class. It also reminded me how proud I am to be Chinese-American and that badass literature comes out of China, even if no one in the United States knows that.

How Reed changed me: It made me a leader and challenged me to grow into a stronger and more thoughtful person.

Awards, fellowships, grants: I received a commendation of excellence, and gave a presentation on my thesis work at the Lewis & Clark Gender Studies Symposium about how one of the female restaurant owners I looked at in my thesis dressed in a cheongsam to bring to mind a certain image of feminized China, to sell an elite exoticism in her restaurant and cuisine.

Desired superpower: Flying.

Actual superpower: Shutting down men who interrupt me.

Pet peeve: White-owned ethnic restaurants.

What’s next: Working at the Portland Chinatown Museum.