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Transpacific Subjectivities: "Chinese"--Latin American Literature after Empire.


The following essay is based on a presentation of the same title given on October 6, 2017, during the international conference "This Land Is Our Land": Chinese Pluralities through the Americas, organized by the Chinese Historical Society of America.

In the analysis presented below, I juxtapose excerpts from two authors who have familial ties to both Asia and Latin America. This analysis is part of a dissertation project that follows the TransArea Studies research agenda initiated by scholars affiliated with the Universitat Potsdam, Germany. My approach follows three of its core objectives:

1. to frame cultural production in the historical continuity of the four phases of globalization, the first beginning with European colonial expansion and the fourth continuing in our current time;

2. to challenge the notions of national canons and world literature; and

3. to pay special attention to literature and knowledge in the movement of people between multiple areas and regions of the world. (1)

An approach based on these three research directives allows for a reading practice not founded on national borders or essentialist ethnic representation, but one that highlights the complexity of the "Chinese'--Latin American experience. In particular, this essay focuses on two narratives that problematize the adjective Chinese authored by members of the postmigration generation, both of whom were born in the mid-twentieth century. These publications show two different cases of narrative voices that identify a parent who migrated from Asia to Latin America during the global political shifts in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. Both of these voices are defined by the consequences of transpacific movement after Empire. Using literary devices, they create narratives that destabilize national delimitations without having to assume the role of cultural translator. If anything, they disprove the assumption of universal translatability, of a world where all languages and cultures can connect as perfect equivalents. In other words, they do not seek to build interregional cultural bridges between Latin Amer ica and Asia. To the contrary, these are narratives that delve into the very particularities of the "Chinese"--Latin American voice--contradictions, conflicts, and disparities included.

The first publication is Mudas las garzas (2) by Selfa Chew, published in Castilian Spanish by independent Mexican publishing house Ediciones Eon in 2007 as part of their Testimonio series. Selfa Chew is the pen name of Selfa Alejandra Chew-Melendez, a Mexican writer and professor at the University of El Paso, Texas. She is a descendant of Cantonese immigrants on her father's side and is of Mixteca lineage on her mother's. Chew was raised by a Japanese family in Ciudad Juarez (3) and wrote her doctoral dissertation on the deportation and internment of Japanese/Mexican (4) persons during World War II. (5)

In terms of sheer volume, the majority of Chew's Mudas las garzas is dedicated to the stories of Japanese/Mexican individuals and families, focusing on persecution, imprisonment, and mass deportations. The only exception to Chew's focus is a short text that spans pages 40 and 41. Here we find a first-person narrator who refers to a photograph of a Dr. Fujimoto and invokes the memories of the narrators Cantonese-speaking father. Within these two pages, the speaking voice establishes the emotional driving force behind telling this history. This essay analyzes this brief but pivotal break in the narrative mode to show how the descendant of a "Chinese" migrant chooses to reject her inheritance when faced with intergenerational passing down of collective trauma.

The second publication is Louie Kin-sheun's [phrase omitted], which has been translated as "So Far Away in Cuba" in the online press. (6) As of the date of this essay, Louie's book has been published only in traditional script Mandarin by Oxford University Press China in 2015 and in simplified script by the CITIC Publishing Group Beijing in 2016. Louie is a Hong Kong-based nonfiction author and scholar who was born in [phrase omitted]. (7)

During his early childhood in the 1950s, Louie's grandfather and father migrated to Cuba. They settled in La Habana, periodically sending their earnings across the ocean. Louie, still a child, moved with his mother, siblings, and paternal grandmother to Hong Kong, then occupied by the United Kingdom. Louie imparts this information in the initial chapters of [phrase omitted] in a frank autobiographical tone, a style of narration that pervades his anecdotes, impressions, informal summaries of historical research, and even transcripts of oral interviews. Early in the book, we learn that Louie's motivation in traveling to Cuba was to reconstruct the unknown life story of his largely absentee father. Once in Cuba, he begins to collect information that allows him to paint a picture of everyday life in the barrio chino, (8) the Cuban term used for the "Chinese" neighborhood in La Habana.

One particular common experience in Louies book stands out. Going home, or even characterizing where home was, became an arduous task for people who, like his father, transited the Pacific several times in the decades following the Ching dynasty. Of the many relevant subjects discussed in his book, this essay focuses on the role of language in the author's construction of a "Chinese"-Latin American sense of selfhood, both for his father and for himself. As 1 show later on, translation is imperative to this process of subject construction and, specifically, the construction of a "Chinese"-Latin American voice.

The central argument of this essay is that reading Chinese-Latin American authors through the lens of translatability as a complex problem enables the reader to understand the unique voice of the postmigration generation. As a result, the analytical reader is able to derive a kind of knowledge distinctly absent from sociological, statistical, economic, or even anthropological studies. Often these fields of scholarship are limited by national borders and rely on sweeping generalizations for the sake of representation. In contrast, the knowledge derived from the work of "Chinese"-Latin American authors stems from the particular voice of the postmigration generation after the decline of global empires. Furthermore, in both Chew and Louie we find voices that express their emotional motivations in translating "Chineseness" into the Latin American context.


Chew's literary piece resists categorization. The book contains both independent and related strands of narratives, poetry, transcripts of oral testimony, photographs, and other material woven together and differentiated by strategic spacing and stylistic printing choices. The title of Chew's book refers to a stanza in Yamasaki Sokan's Japanese-language haikai. Castilian Spanish translations of the stanzas appear interspersed throughout the book in italics and a slightly larger font size. Chapter and subchapter markings are noticeably absent. On one page the reader might find a haiku, on the next a photograph, and on the next a fragment of an unrelated storyline that does not continue until a few pages later. From the very beginning, the reader is tasked with piecing together several narrative puzzles.

Furthermore, Chew's intricately crafted piece freely transits between fact-based historiography and literary fiction. The author explains the objectives of the book in a preface titled "Advertencia"--"warning" or "disclaimer," in English. In this preface, an unidentified authorial voice briefly names the historical circumstances in question, and explains that the following text is an attempt to tell the story of Japanese/ Mexican families during this time, a task so complex that, according to the text, "it is necessary to integrate interviews, legal documents, police reports, memories, poems, and stories without specifying genre, the degree of veracity, or the exact source of the texts." (9) Hence, the voice explicitly states, the book does not seek to be a source of precise information. Rather, real names have been changed, some oral stories have been fictionalized, and some other stories are transcripts of real testimonies. This lack of differentiation between factual and fictional serves to "provide the reader with the opportunity to measure for themselves the magnitude of the human heart." (10) In other words, the authorial voice is instructing the reader to mirror the task of a historiographer--to piece together a complex history using a range of materials--in order to arrive at a conclusion about human empathy and emotion. The common factor in all these narratives, documents, poems, and photographs is the affliction of suffering upon innocent people and the inhumane reality of racial persecution. Yet we as readers are also able to piece together the unconditional kindness of friends, neighbors, and even prison guards.

As mentioned earlier, pages 40 and 41 present a break from the reader's historiographical task. The text does not explicitly state whether it is Chew or a fictional authorial voice speaking, which is in keeping with the intentional ambiguity between fact and fiction introduced in the preface. The voice rhetorically addresses a Dr. Fujimoto, a figure who is not mentioned anywhere else in the book. The voice asks itself in the first sentence why it has delivered "a myth instead of remaking history using hard facts that tell my truth." (11) The voice takes stock of its historiographical project and collection of oral and written testimonies as well as official documents "smelling of anger and prejudice," concluding that none of these can definitively tell the real story of Dr. Fujimoto. All the voice has are the stories of a kind and humble doctor, artist, and miner, who selflessly helped countless people. The legend of Dr. Fujimoto, the reader learns, is the originating myth, the reason the voice began reconstructing the history of Japanese/Mexicans during World War II.

The most poignant aspect of this two-page excursus is the voice's deeply personal motivation in deciphering the myth of Dr. Fujimoto. The voice strongly identifies with the doctor: "Finally I understand that I am you and you are all of us who try to walk without stepping on others, to eat without taking away bread from anyone else's mouth." The voice sees its story not just as representative of Japanese/Mexican victims of persecution but as a universal story of empathy and kindness that the voice relates to its own experience. "See, 63 years ago 1 hadn't been born yet, but my destiny was already there with you." In speaking of a common fate, the voice establishes a bond based on empathy and solidarity that transcends time. In the following passage, the voice expresses a connection to the victims of anger and prejudice, of those struggling to tell their stories: "I was already telling my life story of exile in Japanese and simple Spanish." Hence the voice repeats the phrase Pan y tierra y agua throughout the passage: "bread and earth and water," the most elemental of human needs. Despite their differing ages and languages, the voice identifies with the story of Dr. Fujimoto's legendary kindness.

Later in the text, the voice mentions a father, who "never spoke ill of you or of anyone, not in Cantonese nor in Spanish." This particular language combination is the first indication of a possible conflict in the voice's desire to see a universal story in the myth of Dr. Fujimoto, and introduces a possible obstacle in its desire to construct a universal story about the spirit of solidarity. The fact that the memory of the voice's father is the source of this possible conflict is significant. Even considering the father's lack of antagonism, the voice still inherits the trauma of war--including the demonization of the Japanese--from the preceding immigrant generation. The voice recounts finding books in the father's collection "full of stories of blood and fire, of depictions of yellow devils sinking their teeth in the necks of Chinese girls." The voice then references "those massacres in China" (presumably the Nanking Massacre), commenting that the voice's family might find it terrifying that they are trying to decipher a "different horrible story," that they are seeking to "heal the wounds of the Mexican-Japanese." Evidently the voice has considered the family's position in the postmigration intergenerational transfer of collective memories. The previous generation transplants Asian interregional conflicts into the postmigration generation in Latin America. In square opposition to the universal solidarity and kindness the voice sees in Dr. Fujimoto, it is now confronted with the Sino-Japanese antagonism as an inherited trauma that the voice, as a member of the younger generation, is expected to retain and replicate. The voice's memories and feelings toward its father and family cannot be disassociated from the collective memory of Sino-Japanese war atrocities. This collective trauma, carried across the Pacific by migrants like its father, is a problematic inheritance, one that would have the voice choose sides.

Hence the voice characterizes its desire to "heal the wounds of the Mexican-Japanese" as the willfulness of "an adolescent who disobeys their parents." The voice considers the choice of solidarity over the inheritance of trauma to be the defiant gesture of a child against its parents. Furthennore, the voice sees itself as a rebellious teenager who feels sad for Dr. Fujimoto and for their ancestors, a sadness that makes the voice see the similarities and differences between his story and nuestra historia, which in English can mean both "our story" or "our history." For the voice, the Japanese in China are "flour of a different (his) story, and the Japanese in Mexico belong to this sack of Hour." In marking a difference between the history in Asia and the history in Latin America, the voice is effectively taking a stand against the racializing antagonism toward Japanese persons from either side of the Pacific Ocean. By the same token, the voice is rejecting its inheritance in refusing to maintain the anti-Japanese sentiment transplanted by its parents' generation.

Evidently researching the Japanese/Mexican story has led the voice to a feeling of solidarity strong enough to enable it to cast aside national lines and political conflicts. The voice seeks to overcome the anger and prejudice that the second generation inherits, and instead to identify with a narrative of universal human experience: Pan y tierra y agua. Universal solidarity is only possible if the second generation, far away from the original site of conflict, chooses empathy over inheritance. This becomes clear in the final few sentences, where the voice ponders the reasons behind its desire to identify with the doctor's story.
   Perhaps because your wife also knew what it was to be half and
   half, and when I see her photograph I remember my sister and her
   soft, light skin. The eyes of an oriental woman but also the tall,
   curvy, and strong body of my Mixteca mother.

Like the voice's own family, Dr. Fujimoto and his wife represent a break from the transplanted trauma. Whereas the paternal inheritances mentioned here (i.e., Japanese and Cantonese) would nationally and linguistically conflict in Asia, in Mexico the voice is in a position to equate their experiences as children of "half and half" parentage and therefore choose mutual understanding--his wife knew what it was like. The voice ends the chapter by toasting Dr. Fujimoto, the voice's "Chinese family," and the voice's sister, who is "half and half and completely beautiful." With this toast the voice celebrates their common ground and the choice of solidarity. The postmigration generation is uniquely poised to understand the tragedies of war, the anger and prejudice, both past and present, in Asia and also in Latin America, and yet to create something new and "completely beautiful." Ultimately this is the story of universal solidarity that, as described in "Advertencia," enables the reader to acknowledge the magnitude of the human hean.

If we contextualize this narrative interruption with the instructions that the authorial voice provides in the preface, we must conclude that the authorial voice is motivated by emotional reasons to carry out this project. Therefore, the authorial voice strategically and openly strives to instill an affective experience in the reader. Using the stories, poems, documents, and photographs scattered throughout the book, we as readers piece together the strands to create one coherent story. We also see the real and the fictional realms of the book merge, since the text does not explicitly state that the voice is a fictional literary persona created by Chew. Connecting pages 40 and 41 to the warning in the preface leads us to conclude that the speaking subject of these two pages, the voice, is one and the same as Chew, the real-life author. Chew's real father speaks Cantonese, her mother is Mixteca, and she was raised by a Japanese family. Simply put, the pieces fit together too well to ignore the connections. The reader is thus led to the conclusion that both speaking subjects match in their intent and are therefore one and the same voice. The real and the fictional world cannot be clearly separated from each other. Rather they work together as a historiographical device, thus emphasizing the operative role of the imagination, of the literal and fictional, in the process of creating historical coherence from the documentation of events and memories, both collective and individual.

Pages 40 and 41 demonstrate the deliberate inclusion of the historiographer's and (by extension) the reader's subjective experience in the process of reconstructing Japanese/ Mexican history. In these two pages, the authorial voice sees its position as post-migration "Chinese"-Mixteca as an opportunity to choose solidarity over the reproduction of trauma-based antagonism. The voice deconstructs and rejects part of its inherited "Chineseness" in order to create a different voice--or a different "sack of flour"--capable of embracing stories in Cantonese, Japanese, and Spanish under one narrative. This ability to choose is specific to her generation's transpacific experience: that is, to the circumstances after Empire west of the Pacific. East of that ocean, the post-migration generation faced a different set of choices.

[phrase omitted]--LOUIE KIN-SHEUN /[phrase omitted]

In 2012 Louie received funding from the Lee Hysan Foundation to carry out a research project titled "Documenting the Oral History of Overseas Chinese in Cuba" (in Mandarin, [phrase omitted] (12) He was then a researcher at the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Hong Kong. After twenty months of research, in both Cuba and Hong Kong, he produced a 150-page report, followed by a series of articles, essays, and monographs. The first of the long-format publications is 2015's [phrase omitted], an intimate account of his personal motivation in carrying out the research project, and the results thereof.

The research report and the book are drastically different publications. Whereas the report's preface does briefly mention Louie's father and grandfather in the formal third person and includes the same factual findings and transcriptions of interviews, in [phrase omitted], Louie goes into much greater detail about his family history and his emotional response to the information he uncovers in Cuba. He dedicates a fastidiously detailed chapter on the correspondence from his father to his mother during the late 1950s, which includes photographs of handwritten letters and several transcriptions. In the initial chapters of the book, Louie explains that, upon his mother's death in 2004, he found the letters while sorting out his mother's estate. Reading the letters eventually led to his desire to know more about his father's life in Cuba. From the very beginning of [phrase omitted], the author states that intergenerational relationships and emotion were the main motivating factors driving him to write this book. Although highly informative, in the research project report we do not see this side of Louie's experience at all. In [phrase omitted], Louie imparts not statistical, representative knowledge, but knowledge that is founded upon emotion, which, although stemming from the same experience that produced the report, is pertinent and valuable in its own right.

As mentioned in the introduction, returning home and the location of home became difficult issues for transpacific migrants after the Ching dynasty. Louie's reconstruction of his grandfather and father's migration history exemplifies these difficulties. According to the letters, they traveled from [phrase omitted] to Cuba to find work in 1954. Natives of [phrase omitted], both had papers issued by the Republic of China, the province's government at the time. At this time Louie and the rest of his family moved to Hong Kong, then under British rule. A few years later, the family reunited in Hong Kong. For the next journey Louie's father flew alone to Cuba, just before the revolution that put Fidel Castro into power in 1959. Unfortunately this and other global political shifts rendered his father's papers issued by the Republic of China considerably problematic when attempting to reunite with the family. Additionally he was unable to send his earnings to Hong Kong. Indeed, he was able to leave Cuba only by use of costly middlemen and less-than-legal routes. Once in Hong Kong he found it difficult to adjust, having little knowledge of Cantonese and English. The chapter describing these circumstances is aptly titled "[phrase omitted]"' (13)--"returning home feels so terrible." Despite (or perhaps because of) these difficulties in his new home, Louie's father insisted on returning to Cuba in a final attempt to improve the family's dire financial situation. The last journey home proved even more difficult and costly than the previous one; his father had to fly through North America and Europe to return to Hong Kong from postrevolution Cuba.

Even after successfully arriving on the continent, Louie's father was forced to enter Hong Kong illegally from Macau, which was under Portuguese control at the time. Due to the prevailing political climate in Portugal, the embassy of the Republic of China (by now settled in Taiwan) was shut down at the time of his arrival. Hence Louie's father was unable to legally request passage. Following two years of severe illness, Louie's father passed away. In his book the author states that the image of his estranged father and his weeping mother by his deathbed never left his memory.

The author's reconstruction of his father's journeys illustrates the severe consequences of the global political shifts that occurred within his lifetime. Louie's father left [phrase omitted] as a citizen of the Republic of China. While he was in Cuba, his home had become pare of the People's Republic of China. His new home in Hong Kong was governed by the United Kingdom. His nationality could not guarantee passage to either home. Was Louie's father still "Chinese" at this time? Where was "China" then? And how do we, as contemporary readers, reconcile past and present understandings of "China" and "Chinese" as we read [phrase omitted]?

Louie's writing on the subject of language provides a starting point for possible answers. During Louie's first journey to Cuba, the author visited his father's only known address in La Habana. He was not only interested in reconstructing his father's time in Cuba; he also set out to document and preserve the history of his father and grandfather's peers. (14) This portrait of Cuba both past and present includes the particular language that his father and those around him used. The two columns below list selected examples that Louie mentions in various parts of the book.
Contemporary Standard   Local Cuban

1 [phrase omitted]      [phrase omitted]
2 [phrase omitted]      [phrase omitted]
3 [phrase omitted]      [phrase omitted]
4 [phrase omitted]      [phrase omitted]
5 [phrase omitted]      [phrase omitted]

The right column lists some of the terms used by members of the migrant community in Cuba that Louie retrieved from written and oral sources. The left column contains contemporary standard Mandarin terms that Louie uses to explain the terms used in Cuba and when speaking about his own identity. All of these are used as varying identifiers of what in Castilian Spanish can be, and often is, subsumed under the word chino/china (masculine/feminine), which corresponds to the English "Chinese."

The first term on the list indicates a part of town where a concentration of the community is located, something equivalent to "Chinatown." The term's principal identifier is the word [phrase omitted], a reference to the Tang dynasty, in English. The next three items all indicate what in English would be "China," "Chinese people," and "Chinese language," but they stem from completely different identifiers: [phrase omitted]. Whereas in both English and Spanish, there is only one word to indicate "Chinese people," in contemporary standard written Mandarin alone we find three vastly different terms: [phrase omitted], and [phrase omitted]. (15) The third term, [phrase omitted], specifically refers to descendants of migrants who were born not in their parents' place of origin but on new soil. Louie also uses the fifth item in this column, [phrase omitted], an old name for four neighboring regions in the Canton province that is still used today. Not only are there several standardized terms for the entirety of the former empire, there are also multiple regional identifiers from different historical periods that are still in use. Such regional groupings are noticeably absent from contemporary Spanish and English vocabularies. Overall the stark contrast in quantity of words demonstrates the severe limitations of the Spanish and English languages when it comes to speaking about the transpacific experience.

The lack of nuanced differentiation in these European languages points to an urgent need to develop the necessary lexical tools for the creation of a transpacific voice, especially when it comes to the descendants of migrants in Latin America. A greater range of differentiated terms for the umbrella term chino/china is the basis for a transpacific narrative, for a voice that is able to tell transpacific stories. Nobody could be more invested in such a project than descendants of transpacific migrants--and Louie is no exception.

He recounts various occasions on which he was surprised by the differences in language use across the ocean. Some of the cases he discusses are listed in the right column. (16) The first term is again the equivalent of "Chinatown" in English, stemming from [phrase omitted]. Although

[phrase omitted] is also used in other contemporary standard Mandarin terms, according to Louie, the Cuban diaspora is one of the very few communities that uses [phrase omitted]. The next three terms indicate a male/female community member, their male/female children born in Cuba, and finally their language and place of origin. We see here that all these words stem from the character [phrase omitted]. This usage is a particularity of [phrase omitted], another name for the Canton region, meaning the terms are foreign to standard Mandarin. In fact, according to Louie, the primarily Cantonese-speaking diaspora in Cuba uses the term [phrase omitted] or "Han language" (as in the former Han dynasty, in English) to refer to standard Mandarin. Notice that this differentiates standard Mandarin from standard Cantonese, which in the migrant community is written [phrase omitted]. These terms are historically and regionally specific to transpacific linguistic practices, which, again, cannot be indicated in either Spanish or English due to a lack of differentiating terms. The right column shows that there are a variety of terms that indicate not only a specific object but also a specific speaking subject from a specific time and place. To put it in other words, if Louie ever decided to have this book published in either language, translating this aspect would require a colossal amount of creativity, or the extensive use of explanatory footnotes.

Furthermore, these are terms that are either historically or locally specific, terms that may have had a common source with the contemporary standard at some point in history but evolved independently. In this sense Louie is actively translating the particularities of the Cuban community (right column) into a global standard (left column). Not only that, every time Louie explains a Cuban term, he clearly states his preference for the Cuban over the global standard. He uses the Cuban terms to establish his rightful place in the lineage of transpacific migrants, despite never having lived in Cuba. In the chapter titled "[phrase omitted]?" ("Why not say [phrase omitted]) he explains his preference for the translation [phrase omitted] (La Habana) as used in Cuba over the Hong Kong standard [phrase omitted]. (17) Louie states that the use of [phrase omitted] has been in his family for three generations, that is, including himself. In an anecdote in the same chapter, he tells the reader he felt very happy when he happened to see "[phrase omitted]" instead of "[phrase omitted]" in the translation of a Cuban film title. (18) Clearly this is a conscious choice of language motivated by emotion: his choice of translation stems from a desire to establish an intergenerational bond with the father and the community he never really knew.

Louie's emotional motivations are clearly laid out in his self-positioning within the transpacific narrative. He refers to himself as one of "[phrase omitted]" (19) ("we [phrase omitted] people") when speaking about transpacific migration history. He is thus effectively positioning himself as part of the transpacific history of [phrase omitted] migrants. He also uses the standard honorific for one's elders, " [phrase omitted]," (20) when referring to his father's peers who remained in Cuba. This is another strategic linguistic choice to establish his position in the community's history. He chooses to position himself as intimately, generationally, and emotionally connected to this group of people and their history, despite never having crossed the ocean to live in Cuba with his father. He chooses to speak as if he had.

In fact, in the chapter "[phrase omitted](21) ("old photographs") dedicated to Ms. Lee, a second-generation interviewee of Louie's age, the author explains that she had attended the so-called Colegio Chino Catolico, a catholic school where second-generation children could learn to read and write "Chinese." (22) Toward the end of the chapter, Louie states that he felt particularly touched by these pictures, and compares Ms. Lee's situation to his own life. If things had been different, he might have found his own figure in Ms. Lee's old photographs, he muses. Ms. Lee's father was luckier than Louies, the author says--he was able to bring his wife to Cuba. Ms. Lee was consequently born in Cuba soon after the fall of the Ching dynasty and before political circumstances made transpacific transit difficult. This imagining of a life, of a self that never came to be, of thinking and speaking as if, pervades the book. The strong presence of the imaginary, of the as if as a driving force for the narrative, is a literary element comparable to Chew's strategic blurring between factual testimony and fictionalized history. As in Chew's case, the motivation behind Louie's project is also an emotional one. Part of his narrative imagines the life in Cuba that he could have had. And although [phrase omitted] does not entirely fit into any literary genre, it is not a compendium of hard facts either. The literary imagination in Louie's book enables him to deliver a narrative that can aptly voice the particularities of the transpacific experience in Latin America.


Mudas las garzas and [phrase omitted] have three fundamental things in common. First, their authors are descendants of migrants who lived through the drastic political shifts within Asia at the beginning of the twentieth century. They crossed the Pacific and spent a considerable portion of their lives in former colonies of the Spanish empire. Second, both of these books have an authorial voice whose emotional motivation in creating their respective narratives is intimately connected to the intergenerational relationship to their fathers. And third, neither of these authors explicitly states ethnic representation as the purpose of their writing. If anything, they both problematize the very notion of a "Chinese" collective representation and identity. In Mudas las garzas and [phrase omitted], we find models of speaking about familial ties and community that compete with objective macrorepresentation. Their subjective emotions drive their search for knowledge. Furthermore, both authors use literary elements in their writing to create a sense of who they are by identifying with a larger community. Yet they are able to do so without diminishing the particularity and complexity of their own transpacific experiences. Chew and Louie clearly differ in their response to a problematic inheritance: while Chew rejects the inheritance of anti-Japanese sentiment without rejecting her "Chineseness" completely, Louie reconstructs his predecessors' story to lay claim to his inherited place in the Cuban transpacific migration history. Overall Louie's and Chew's writing offers the reader a way of thinking of and speaking about Latin American "Chineseness" through solidarity, emotion, and imagination.

Finally the language of this essay also bears mentioning: English. In using English to mediate between texts in two other languages, I aimed to draw a parallel between the labor of translation and the work of writing transpacific subjectivity as shown in Chew's and Louie's books. I consciously chose to insert some excerpts and terms in their original written language, to translate some others and identify translations using varying punctuation, and to paraphrase some other passages in English without translations. Whereas standard translation practices aim to create the illusion of uniformity and equivalence, mixing these translation strategies is an interpretation method that allows the interpreter to communicate the particularities of transpacific narratives. Along with the work the readers of this essay must invest on their part, the resulting mixture of marked and unmarked translations, of standardized and regional languages, and of changing script-types demonstrates the labor involved in constituting a "Chinese"-Latin American voice. Its complexity is thus brought to the forefront by making visible the labor and the tensions of translation, on the part of both the speaker and the reader.

As we have seen, the problematization of being "Chinese"-Latin American in Chew and Louie shows that transpacific narratives after Empire are highly complex in terms of intergenerational relationships, language varieties, emotional and linguistic methods of identification, and both global and regional historical contexts. Writing transpacific literature therefore requires the intensive labor of visible translation; the notion of untraceable, universal translatability has no place here. For descendants of East Asian migrants such as Chew and Louie, their labor is driven by emotion. Their works show that transiting from language to language, from continent to continent, is a practice they know intimately, a practice that is indeed a part of their sense of selfhood, of their construction of a transpacific subjectivity after Empire. In Chew and Louie we see emotional drives putting the literary imagination to work, to instill solidarity and inclusion, to create new voices able to speak from both sides of the Pacific.


(1.) See, for example, Ottmar Ette, "Windrose der Begriffe: Globalisierungen, Vektorisierungen, Literaturen der Welt: Transareale Studien," in TransArea: Eine literarische Globalisierungsgeschichte (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012), 1-53.

(2.) An English translation by Toshiya Kamei titled Silent Herons was published in 2012 by Floricanto Press and Berkeley Press. Since my analysis is based on the original Castilian Spanish-language publication, I provide my own translations.

(3.) All biographical information on Selfa Chew retrieved from the audio recording of the presentation she held for Encuentro de Escritoras Fronterizas in 2012, http: //lacalleesdequienlacamina. (last accessed February 19, 2018)

(4.) Chew uses the slash in "Advertencia" to indicate Japanese and Japanese-Mexican persons as one group.

(5.) Selfa Chew, "Re-imagining Collectivities: The Mexican Japanese during World War 11," National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Annual Conference, paper 6 (April 1, 2008), http://scholarworks.sjsu.edU/naccs/2008/Proceedings/6.

(6.) Source of Louie's romanized name and translation of the title of his book: Elaine Yau, "Before It's Too Late: Hong Kong Author Documents Chinese in Cuba," SouLh China Morning Post, October 4, 2015, its-too-late-hong-kong-author-documents-chinese-cuba.

(7.) "Taishan," according to the South China Morning Post romanization in the article cited in note 6. This translation is based on the standard Mandarin pronunciation, not on the language spoken in the region. All biographical information on Louie found in [phrase omitted]

(8.) [phrase omitted] (Hong Kong: [phrase omitted]. 2015), 42.

(9.) All translations of the original Spanish are mine and indicated by quotation marks. Selfa Chew, Mudas las garzas (Mexico: Ediciones Eon, 2007), 7.

(10.) Chew, Mudas las garzas, 8.

(11.) The text from pages 40 and 41 in the original Spanish is available online: encuentro-de-escritoras-fronterizas. html.

(12.) _report.pdf.

(13.) [phrase omitted], (Hong Kong: [phrase omitted] 2015), 24-40.

(14.) [phrase omitted], xiv.

(15.) Since Louie does not go into detail about these three terms, this essay does not discuss the differences.

(16.) All of the following terms are explained in [phrase omitted], 42.

(17.) [phrase omitted], 48-49.

(18.) [phrase omitted], 49.

(19.) [phrase omitted], 29.

(20.) [phrase omitted], xiv.

(21.) [phrase omitted], 52-56.

(22.) Louie does not explain if the children learned Mandarin, a different regional language, or multiple languages. This is another example of the severe limitations of the translation chino/china.

[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article.]
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Author:Fu, Puo-An Wu
Publication:Chinese America: History and Perspectives
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jan 1, 2018
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Next Article:Chinese Exclusion, the First Bureau of Immigration, and the 1905 Special Chinese Census: Registered, Counted, Arrested, Deported--1892-1906.

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