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Asian American Literature.

Early Asian immigrants arrived in the U.S. in successive waves: Chinese (1850-1882), Japanese (1885-1924), Korean (1903-1905), South Asians (1904-1924), Filipino (1907-1930). Generally each wave began as a response to labor shortage and ended in legislative exclusion. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned the further immigration of Chinese laborers' those who stayed could not send for their wives in China. The Gentleman's Agreement in 1907 likewise curtailed Japanese and Korean laborers, but immigrants could arrange to have their wives or "picture brides" come to the U.S. Other laws included the 1917 Immigration Act, which prohibited Asian Indian immigration; the 1924 Immigration Quota Act, which halted all immigration from mainland Asia; and the 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act which restricted Filipino immigration. Immediate concern with survival and the problem of language barriers confined writings by most early Chinese and Japanese immigrants to native languages and literary forms. (Exotics such as Yone Noguchi, Shiesei Tsuneishi, and Sadakichi Hartmann were exceptions.) Much of this literature has been collected only recently in anthologies such as Wooden-Fish Books: Critical Essays & an Annotated Catalog Based on the Collections in the University of Hong Kong, ed. Leung Pui-Chee (1978); Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940, ed. Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung (1980); Ayumi: A Japanese American Anthology, ed. Janice Mirikitani et al. (1980); Songs of Gold Mountain: Cantonese Rhymes from San Francisco Chinatown, ed. and tr. by Marlon Hom (1987).

Early writings in English consisted mostly of autobiography and autobiographical novels, such as Lee Yan Phou's When I Was a Boy in China (1887), Yung Wing's My Life in China and America (1909), Etsu Sugimoto's Daughter of the Samurai (1925), New Il-Han's When I Was a Boy in Korea (1928), and <IR> YOUNGHILL KANG </IR> 's Grass Roof (1931) and East Goes West (1937). Most of these books focus on the author's ancestral lands, a trend that seemed to reflect the taste of the American public. The publications of nisei such as Taro Katayama, Iwao Kawakami, and Toyo Suyemoto, were mostly restricted to the English sections of bilingual newspapers and literary magazines. Two writers devoted to portraying Chinese and Japanese Americans, however, were read outside of their ethnic communities.

Sui Sin Far, pseudonym of Edith Eaton, an Eurasian whose tales are collected in Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912), sketches characters that populated the Chinatowns of San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles. <IR> TOSHIO MORI </IR> excels in capturing Japanese American life in Seattle; his collection of short stories, Yokohama, California, was slated for publication in 1942, but because of the war did not appear until 1949.

World War II had a mixed impact on Asian American literature. Because China and the Philippines were American allies in the Pacific, Americans of Chinese and Filipino descent were suddenly looked upon favorably. Publishers responded to the changes in public attitudes, and works by two American-born Chinese and two Filipino immigrants appeared during or shortly after the war. Pardee Lowe's Father and Glorious Descendant (1943) and <IR> JADE SNOW WONG'S </IR> Fifth Chinese Daughter (1945), both autobiographies, center on the interaction and conflicts between immigrant parents and American-born children. Carlos Bulosan's America Is in the Heart (1943), an autobiographical novel, describes the harsh working conditions for Filipino farm laborers and the racial prejudices they encountered; poet Jose Garcia Villa, whose work reflects metaphysical rather than ethnic concerns, received international acclaim for Have Come, Am Here (1942). These books depicting life in the U.S. were followed by Lin Yutang's A Chinatown Family (1948), C.Y. Lee's Flower Drum Song (1957), Louis Chu's Eat a Bowl of Tea (1961), Virginia Lee's The House that Tai Ming Built (1963), and Chuang Hua's Crossings (1968). Diana Chang's Frontiers of Love (1956), though set in Shanghai, is presented from the perspective of a Eurasian born and raised in the U.S.

By contrast, anti-Japanese sentiment prevented most Japanese American writers from gaining national recognition till almost a decade after the end of the war. An exception was Hisaye Yamamoto, who published five stories in national journals between 1949 and 1952. Recently collected in Seventeen Syllables (1988), her fiction frequently explores the relationship between issei and nisei. Also devoted to this theme are Monica Sone's Nisei Daughter (1953) and Milton Murayama's All I Asking for Is My Body (1959). The bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent internment of people of Japanese ancestry left indelible marks on their creative work and continue to be reprised in literature to this day. The bombing is recalled in Lucky Come Hawaii (1965) by Jon Shirota and in Journey to Washington (1967) by Daniel Inouye with Lawrence Elliot. Works that evoke life in camps include Joy Kogawa's Obasan (Japanese-Canadian novel, 1981); Edward Miyakawa's Tule Lake (1979); Mine Okubo's Citizen 13660 (1946); and Daisuke Kitagawa's Issei and Nisei (1967), <IR> JEANNE HOUSTON </IR> and James Houston's Farewell to Manzanar (1973), Yoshiko Uchida's Desert Exile (1982), and Mitsuye Yamada's Desert Run (1988). <IR> JOHN OKADA </IR> 's No-No Boy (1957) delineates the trauma of a nisei who refuses the draft.

The civil rights movement of the 1960s, when the term "Asian American" gained currency, fostered a collective identity among Americans of Asian descent and encouraged them to define themselves against externally imposed stereotypes. Furthermore, it led to the development of ethnic studies programs throughout the nation, thereby providing forums for discussing works written by and about Asian Americans. The resulting bloom in creativity has been accompanied by growing political consciousness. Writers who emerged after the movement are concerned not only with exposing racial and sexual inequities but also with affirming Asian American heritage. These concerns are evident in fiction such as Jeffery Paul Chan's "Jackrabbit" (1974), Frank Chin's The Chinaman Pacific and Frisco R. R. Co. (1988), Ruthanne Lum McCunn's Thousand Pieces of Gold (1981), David Masumoto's Silent Strength (1984), Shawn Wong's Homebase (1979), and Lawrence Yep's Dragonwings (1975); in plays such as R. A. Shiomi's Yellow Fever (1982), Philip Gotanda's Fish Head Soup (1986), <IR> DAVID HWANG's FOB </IR> (1979), and Wakako Yamauchi's And the Soul Shall Dance (1982). Interaction between generations remains a popular subject among Asian-American writers, as evident in drama such as Frank Chin's Year of the Dragon (1981), Momoko Iko's The Gold Watch (1974), Paul Stephen Lim's Mother Tongue [n.d.], Darrell Lum's Oranges Are Lucky (1978); in prose works such as Cynthia Kadohata's The Floating World (1989), Ronyoung Kim's Clay Walls (1986), <IR> MAXINE HONG KINGSTON </IR> 's The Woman Warrior (1976) and China Men (1980), Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club (1989), and Yoshiko Uchida's Picture Bride (1987). Increasingly, writers have also begun to explore interethnic and interracial themes in fiction such as Cecilia Brainard's Woman with Horns (1988), Jeffery Chan's "The Chinese in Haifa" (1974), Paulino Lim's Passion Summer (1988), Maxine Hong Kingston's Tripmaster Monkey (1989), Susan Nunes's A Small Obligation, and in David Hwang's play M Butterfly (1989).

Asian American literature since the late 1960s has been equally rich in poetry, where eastern and western allusions, Asian expressions, and Americanisms often merge. Images of Asia inform Marilyn Chin's Dwarf Bamboo (1987), Alex Kuo's Changing the River (1986), Stephen Liu's Dream Journeys to China (1982), Al Robles's Kayaomunggi Vision of a Wandering Carabao (1983), and Arthur Sze's Two Ravens. Vernacular idiom or local color is registered in Fay Chiang's In the City of Contradictions (1979), Eric Chock's Ten Thousand Wishes (1978) and Last Days Here (1990), Sesshu Foster's Angry Days (1987), Juliet Kono's Hilo Rains (1988), Alan Lau's Songs for Jardina (1980), Genny Lim's Winter Place (1988), James Mitsui's After the Long Train (1985), Jeff Tagami's October Light (1987), and Ronald Tanaka's Shino Suite (1981). Familial and communal portraits abound in Garret Hongo's Yellow Light (1982) and The River of Heaven (1988), Kimiko Hahn's Air Pocket (1989), Chungmi Kim's Selected Poems (1982), Li-Young Lee's Rose (1986), Amy Ling's Chinamerica Reflections (1984), and Wing Tek Lum's Expounding the Doubtful Points (1987). Cadences and images from music and visual arts animate Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge's Heat Bird (1983), Diana Chang's What Matisse Is After (1984), Jessica Hagedorn's Dangerous Music (1975), Lawson Inada's Before the War (1971), David Mura's After We Lost Our Way (1989), <IR> CATHY SONG </IR> 's Picture Bride (1983) and Frameless Windows, Squares of Light, and John Yau's Corpse and Mirror (1983). Third world and feminist concerns converge in Theresa Cha's Dictee (prose poem, 1982), Geraldine Kudaka's Numerous Avalanches at the Point of Intersection (1978), Janice Mirikitani's Awake in the River (1978) and Shedding Silence (1987), Kitty Tsui's The Words of a Woman Who Breathes Fire (1983), and Nellie Wong's The Death of a Long Steam Lady (1986).

With the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which abolished the quota system of selecting immigrants by race or national origin, and with the end of the Vietnam War, came a huge number of new Asian immigrants and Southeast Asian refugees. Unlike the early immigrants, who were mostly laborers and farmers, many of the newcorners are professionals and intellectuals from urban areas. Writers such as Meena Alexander, G. S. Sharat Chandra, Zulfikar Ghose, N.V.M. Gonzalez, Kim Yong Ik, Ko Won, Shirley Lim, Nguyen Mong Giac, Raja Rao, Ninotchka Rosca, Thich Nhat-Hanh, Tran Van Dinh, and Linda Ty-Casper had already achieved literary fame in their native countries. Among the works set in Asia the most widely read is probably <IR> RICHARD KIM </IR> 's The Martyred (1964), an award-winning novel of the Korean War. Works depicting recent immigrant experiences include Wendy Law-Yone's The Coffin Tree (1983), <IR> VED MEHTA </IR> 'S Sound-Shadows of the New World (1985), <IR> BHARATI MUKHERJEE </IR> 's Darkness (1985) and The Middleman (1988), Hualing Nieh's Mulberry and Peach (1981), Bienvenido N. Santos's The Scent of Apples (1979), and Ty Pak's Guilt Payment (1983). The themes of exile, loneliness, alienation, and cultural conflict run through many of these works; lighter notes are struck recently in Steven Lo's The Incorporation of Eric Chung (1989).

Anthologies of Asian American writing include Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers (1974) and The Big Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers (1990), ed. Frank Chin et al.; Asian-American Authors, ed. Kai-yu Hsu and Helen Palubinskas (1976); Breaking Silence: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Poets, ed. Joseph Bruchac (1983); The Forbidden Stitch: An Asian American Women's Anthology, ed. Shirley Geok-lin Lim and Mayumi Tsutakawa; Home to Stay: Asian American Women's Fiction, ed. Sylvia Watanabe and Carol Bruchac (1990); Making Waves: An Anthology of Writings By and About Asian American Women, ed. Asian Women United of California (1989). <IR> See also King-Kok Cheung </IR> and <IR> Stan Yogi </IR> , comp., Asian American Literature: An Annotated Bibliography (1988); <IR> Elaine Kim </IR> , Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context (1982); <IR> Gail Nomura </IR> , et al., eds. Frontiers of Asian American Studies: Writing, Research, and Commentary (1989).
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Author:Cheung, King-Kok
Publication:Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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