The Cambridge History of Asian American Literature presents a comprehensive history of the field, from its origins in the nineteenth century to the present day. It offers an unparalleled examination of all facets of Asian American writing that help readers to understand how authors have sought to make their experiences meaningful. Covering subjects from autobiography and Japanese American internment literature to contemporary drama and social protest performance, this History traces the development of a literary tradition while remaining grounded in current scholarship. It also presents new critical approaches to Asian American literature that will serve the needs of students and specialists alike. Written by leading scholars in the field, The Cambridge History of Asian American Literature will not only engage readers in contemporary debates but also serve as a definitive reference for years to come.
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Like many authors today, early writers often found that their only means of entry into mainstream discourse was through positioning themselves as cultural representatives. From there, some take the opportunity to assert themselves as artists and political agents, while also negotiating new ways of understanding China as a nation or Chinese Americans as a group. Still others capitalize on the general receptivity toward autobiography to achieve different aesthetic and ideological goals. While early Chinese American writers desired access to mainstream print culture for various reasons, and while many mainstream readers desired knowledge of China and Chinese culture through their auto ethnographic works, present-day scholars in Asian American studies sometimes turn to their life writings for documentary reasons. The origins of Chinese American autobiography reside in the idea that a Chinese American self must be constructed and new models can be forged, no matter the social and literary constraints.
This chapter explores the varied modes of orientalism that defined the prevailing theatrical depictions of Asians and Asian Americans in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Asians and Asian Americans history informs Asian American performance, both in its very early incarnations and in the post-1965 rise of contemporary Asian American theaters. The racial transformation that characterized yellowface acting was made possible by the presence of Asian objects, dress, and décor in the American home. In comic musicals, nonsensical renditions of Asian words proved a predictable source of humor. Asians were put on stage for the benefit of white spectators, and their performances were strongly framed by assumptions about their racial and cultural difference. The exhibit of actual Asian people did have the potential to disrupt orientalist fantasies. Multifaceted artistic representations of nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century Asian performers deepen one's knowledge of American theater and illuminate distinctive histories.
The critical nexus of materiality and writing affords a standpoint from which to examine the Angel Island poems: that of language politics. The Chinese written language has long been a source of fascination for Europeans, with much of that fascination deriving from what was (mis)understood as the pictorial or graphic basis of the construction of the written character. Taking up the foreign language aspect of the Angel Island poems, entails grappling with not only the semantic content of the language of the poems but also a history of Western responses to both the Chinese language and Chineseness. The Angel Island poems are currently on display at a restored Angel Island Immigration Station now designated a National Historic Landmark. Revisiting the Angel Island poems occasions questions about what the poems mean or signify and what different constituencies of readers need them to mean and signify at different historical moments.
This chapter talks about the four Eaton sisters namely Edith, Grace, Sara and Winnifred, who contest the prejudices and social injustices they saw around them, each in her own way leaving a lasting mark on the history of American letters. It pays special attention to their articulation of a distinct Eurasian voice in their texts, focusing on the works of Edith and Winnifred, who were among the earliest Eurasian writers in North America to publish on the subject of East-West interracialism. The place of the Eaton sisters in the history of North American letters, and their legacy for the struggle for equity and inclusion, are best appreciated from the multiple vantage points of Asian American studies, mixed-race studies, and women's studies. Even as the Eaton children were profoundly affected by anti-Chinese racism growing up, the early-twentieth-century rage for Orientalism provided them with a ready market for publishing.
Dhan Gopal Mukerji and Dalip Singh Saund, Indians who came to the United States in the first half of the twentieth century, write their selves through a sustained relationship to homeland and shift the central problematic of American autobiography. Caste and Outcaste and Congressman from India serve to remind that diaspora is not just a term of identity, like ethnic or immigrant, it is also a spatial term that invites speculation about different kinds of psychic and geographic territory. Mukerji relates to India through spirituality, while Saund does so through politics. Mukerji's and Saund's texts elaborate an America and an India very much in formation, and both their relatively early migration as well as their dwelling in California helps one think through the representational politics of relation, not to large ethnic communities of Indians but to a racial landscape that includes other minoritized peoples.
This chapter talks about two most prominent early Korean/American writers, Younghill Kang and Richard Eun-kook Kim. Kang made numerous attempts to become naturalized as a US citizen, including separate special bills introduced specifically on his behalf in the US House of Representative and Senate in 1939. One of the historiographic virtues of Kang's work is that both Korea and the United States, from the perspective of an exile, become heterotopic spaces, meta-sites of otherness that reveal the underlying values and desires that animate them. Fiction for both writers involved not only presenting a foreign culture to an American audience but also narrating the various complexities of intercultural exchange. For Kang and Kim, it is specifically the geopolitical changes inaugurated by emergent and resurgent American-century imperialism and hegemony in myriad forms that forge new alliances and partnerships that flower into happy marriages or falter into disconcerting proximities and competing interests.
This chapter discusses Filipina/o American literature, which speak of the vexed history of Filipino migration to the United States. The circumstances of Filipina and Filipino literary production in the early twentieth century were transpacific, influenced by the occupation of the Philippines and U.S. imperial history, and by factors that range from the social and cultural to the aesthetic and representational: public discourse surrounding Filipina/o bodies in the United States, the intersection of the Filipina feminist movement with global women's suffrage, shifting notions of gender and sexuality, and experiments in literary form. Developments in Filipina transpacific feminism are conversant with, and contribute to, literary engagements with male migrant and exilic experience. The chapter deals with the works of Felicidad Ocampo, José Garcia Villa and Carlos Blouson, and others such as Bienvenido N. Santos and Yay Panlilio who highlight the gendered and classed dimensions of forming national communities in the postwar era.
This chapter talks about three texts which establish the social and literary heterogeneity within the contested terrains of Chinatown and its literature. The two best-known Chinese American depictions of San Francisco's Chinatown from the 1950s are Jade Snow Wong's memoir Fifth Chinese Daughter and C. Y. Lee's novel The Flower Drum Song. Along with C. Y. Lee, Wong was one of a group of ethnic writers and artists whose efforts to promote America's influence abroad were valued, so long as they asserted and embodied the presence of opportunity for minorities. Lee's nuanced treatment of food, dialects, space and Chinese politics marks Chinatown and its representations as contested terrain. Hsi-Tseng Tsiang is arguably the first Chinese American novelist to publish in English. Poet, novelist, playwright, actor and activist, Tsiang combined formal experimentation and strategic appropriation from both Chinese and English literature with a lifelong commitment to left-wing activism. Tsiang's novel, And China Has Hands, indicates American capitalism and Japanese imperialism.
There is a rich history of incarceration literature produced by Niseis (second-generation, American-born), some of which appeared very shortly after the end of the war. This chapter focuses on selected representative texts written by Niseis, and published up through the 1970s. This body of work represents varied and deeply felt responses that are often coded critiques of the Japanese American incarceration. Three of the most foundational texts about the incarceration appeared within eight years of its official end: Miné Okubo's Citizen 13660, Hisaye Yamamoto's The Legend of Miss Sasagawara, and Monica Sone's Nisei Daughter. Notable in all three texts is an overt description or narrative of camp life and a covert critique of the racism and failure of an espoused U.S. democracy. As a dissenting text, John Okada's No-No Boy was direct in its depiction of the cost wrought by the war, incarceration, and reductive, racist notions of citizenship.
The period spanning the 1930s to the 1960s is pivotal to Asian American literary history in that it witnessed both the early development of the Asian American novel and a phenomenal growth of Asian American short fiction. This chapter describes the work of Asian American writers, Toshio Mori, Hisaye Yamamoto, Bienvenido N. Santos and Carlos Bulosan. Mori and Yamamoto participated in ethnic cultural codification through portrayals of Japanese immigrant life from Nisei perspectives. The Chauvinist is perhaps the most speculative of Mori's stories about prewar Japanese immigrant life. Yamamoto's Yoneko's Earthquake is a work widely celebrated for its multiple layers of meaning and rich symbolism. Scent of Apples is paradigmatic of Santos's fictional construction of the predicament facing Filipino immigrants. Short fiction legitimizes small-scale disruption of the patterns of continuity closely associated with the novel form, by engaging with major positions about the latter's realist premises and actual functions.
This chapter examines how conceptions of Asian American were formulated in the early twentieth century through the categorization of Asians as Orientals and their construction as a racial problem and a racial solution within mainstream American culture. The Chicago School of Sociology was instrumental in shifting the focus from biological notions of race, grounded in physicality and exemplified by eugenic theories, to culture-based concepts that included developmental theories of consciousness. The Survey of Race Relations on the Pacific Coast was the most extensive sociological study of the Oriental Problem in the twentieth century. The drive to assert the significance of race over cultural notions of ethnicity has animated Asian American activism, writing, and scholarship for almost half a century. The Chicago School of Sociology has had a formative impact on Asian American literature over the course of the twentieth century. Asian American activists of the 1960s and 1970s valued early sociological accounts for their 'authentic voices'.