The Asian American Canon Breakers
January 18, 2020 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Wow, wow, wow. I started reading the article thinking "Ahh, I know this story but cool to see it on Metafilter" but this actually fills in SO MUCH context inside the broad outlines I already knew. The story of how the Aiiieeeee! writers rediscovered No-No Boy is legendary in the Asian American lit world, but I love the detail this article goes into about the intra-community conflicts, the different visions of what an Asian American literature should be and aspire to, the different ways mainstream American culture interacted with and received these different literary efforts and how that contributed to rifts in the community, and how it's all relevant to the literary landscape of today.

It also explains a lot about why my Chinese American Lit professor (at San Francisco State, so he almost certainly worked with Chan, and I'm sure he knew all four of these guys) loathed Maxine Hong Kingston so much, although I still think it's a bit unseemly to let your personal connections and artistic biases have so much influence over how you teach a survey class, even aside from the misogyny.

Previously: I'm pretty sure Al Robles hung out with these guys, and Gidra also seems of a piece with what they envisioned as the role of Asian American lit. I also included a link about Aiiieeeee! in my Japanese American culture megapost.

Psst toastyk - are you aware of #poctakeover? I was so surprised when I realized this post didn't already have the tag - it's right in line with the idea! :)
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:03 AM on January 18, 2020

I think it's really interesting that this dispute happened at a time when the critical mass in the Asian-American population was shifting from people whose families had been in the US for a long time to recent immigrants and their children. Because of anti-Asian immigration policies, it was really hard for most people from Asia to immigrate to the US in the early and mid-20th century, and then there were a whole lot of Asian immigrants after 1965. So in the '70s, there were 5th generation Chinese and Japanese-Americans who found assimilation narratives totally galling because they were palatable to white people and reinforced the idea that Asian-Americans were perpetual foreigners, but those narratives were going to speak to the lived experience of many members of the generation of Asian-Americans who were going to come of age in the next couple of decades.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:51 PM on January 18, 2020

It was about the marketplace—its power to anoint, its capacity to ossify the ephemeral thing that your literature is trying to articulate in the first place.

Oh, this so much. There are so many different AsAm stories, but when they're all overwhelmingly of a certain type... I don't want to criticize them because they're genuine, but it's frustrating to see the same story over and over again.

One experience that gets overlooked is that of Asians who have been in the US for generations, as mentioned in the article. Another IMO is that of the people who go back and forth, for whom the US isn't necessarily central, somewhere between an expat and an immigrant (it's a simplification to say AsAms and Asians in Asia are completely different categories - as with many things, it's not a binary, it's not even a spectrum, it's a galaxy.)
posted by airmail at 4:03 PM on January 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

airmail, exactly! As a Japanese American with deep roots in the US as well as somewhat more recent ties to Japan, I've personally found Ruth Ozeki's work to be a wonderful breath of fresh air. But even today, in 2020, with the internet and everything, it's so easy to feel that scarcity, that there are a limited number of spots available for Asian American stories and that stories that cater to the white gaze are taking up that space and crowding out other voices. I can only imagine how much more intense that feeling was for these guys in the 70s.
posted by sunset in snow country at 4:38 PM on January 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

sunset in snow country, thanks for letting me know about that tag! I'm fairly new to posting to MetaFilter, so I wasn't aware.

I have such mixed feelings about Frank Chin, and honestly, I kind of resent him for letting the one-sided feud with Kingston take up so much space that he never seemed to have moved on from it. Like, we can never seem to talk about him or Kingston without bringing the other up, and it doesn't seem fair to what either of them are trying to do in their writing.

I also agree with airmail that it gets frustrating to see the same kinds of stories being told over and over again. In college I made a snarky list of what you need to have a successful Asian American novel (#1 have only white friends #2 pine to be white, etc) because I was so burnt out on what was available at the time.

We have more options now (Jia Tolentino, Ted Chiang, etc) and I'm really glad about that.
posted by toastyk at 5:31 PM on January 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

The story goes that Frank Chin detested David Henry Hwang so much so that when he was invited to read at the theater named after Hwang, he chose to do so only from outside the perimeter, never once stepping foot inside the space.
posted by cazoo at 9:27 AM on January 19, 2020

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