Growing up in San Francisco, Russell Jeung didn’t have much love for Oakland, his struggling neighbor across the East Bay. Yet Jeung has made his home in Oakland for more than 20 years, with much of that time spent ministering in Murder Dubs, a neighborhood riven with poverty and violence. He first moved there during a graduate school ethnography project focused on Southeast Asian gangs.
Meanwhile, as a sociologist, Jeung has devoted himself to learning about California’s Asian American population, a topic with deeply personal resonance. His great-great-grandfather arrived in the United States in the 1800s. “Since my family has been in California so long,” he says, “we sort of reflect Asian American history. All the injustices and issues that Asian Americans faced throughout their time in the US, my family has personally gone through them.”
Jeung’s family history and ministry experiences come together in his memoir, At Home in Exile: Finding Jesus among My Ancestors and Refugee Neighbors (Zondervan). CT assistant editor Morgan Lee spoke with Jeung, professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, about his life’s work.
Why did you decide to study Asian American culture?
Mainly because it’s had such an effect on my life. Even though I’m fifth-generation, even though I grew up American, with season tickets to the 49ers, I was still treated as a foreigner and stereotyped in specific ways. And then I went to a Chinese church that taught that we were all one in Christ. I wondered, Why do we need a Chinese church if in Christ we are neither Jew nor Greek?
Over time, I’ve realized how the faith I grew up with differs from more culturally white versions ...1