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July 23, 2006

An Asian American and Multiracial Reading List

I didn't get my understanding of the world and my knowledge of the racial/ethnic landscape of the US entirely by osmosis, but it often feels that way. I chose to enter into and live in activist poc spaces, and from this vantage point, it's sometimes hard to remember how I learned what I learned.

Most of it I got from being there in those spaces: having those discussions (ad nauseum) either in person or online, or seeing the discussion played out in writing (essays, stories, poems), art, performance, film. A lot of it I got just from watching dynamics and interpreting them from my vantage point.

Also, creating a voice for yourself necessitates having something to say. Writing articles for my friends' zines, creating online fora for discussion (which I've done many times), creating in-person fora for discussion (which I've also done a great deal of), and especially, starting a magazine, all meant that I had to go scrambling for content. That also forces you to open up your eyes, ears, and mind, and see what's going on. It forces you to go digging, to do research.

All of these are sources of my knowledge and understanding, sources of my vocabulary. But, of course, I've done some study and reading as well, and I should be able to share some print sources with you. And because it's amazing how difficult it is for a google search to occur to the ignorant (I'm complaining about myself as well; I'll go halfway around the world to ask a friend a question before I'll sit down and do a google search about something I'm ignorant of) here's a non-threatening reading list of things that might help you share the current common understandings that shape the activist Asian American and Hapa spaces in the US today. Basically, I'm providing this (as my last post for IBAR) so as to give no one who reads this an excuse for not knowing. These are my reading recommendations. You can start here and let the reading itself guide you on.

This is not any sort of definitive reading list. It's not even the list of books you should read for the best information. It is, instead, the books I've read that have helped me shape ideas. I've deliberately chosen things that are narrative and interesting to people who read novels and stories, and not heavy on the theory and dry academic language. So, of course, most of this is fiction or memoir. Some of this stuff is "radical" though, and holds its fists high, so you'll need to swallow your pride and sense of personal injury before partaking.

ASIAN AMERICAN

Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian American Writers
by Frank Chin, Jeffrey Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, Shawn Wong
This was the first Asian American literature anthology, published in 1974, and phenomenally important to the development of Asian American identity and thinking. The introductory essays will ground you quickly and brutally in the politics of the 60's and 70's Asian American Movement better than pretty much anything else can. The excerpts included in the anthology will give you an impression of how new the current monolithic As Am lit establishment really is. A warning: the editors' stance is pretty macho, and their attitude toward some of the influences that have shaped subsequent As Am lit (including Maxine Hong Kingston, David Henry Hwang, and Amy Tan) are at times positively sexist. Keep in mind while you read this that they're drawing their understanding of As Am history from the "bachelor" society that prevailed in American Asian enclaves since the gold rush, and that were intensified after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented men from bringing their wives and families over. These guys are the children of people who came over in that atmosphere; subsequent generations of writers are the children of post-Exclusion Act immigrants.

Bulletproof Buddhists
by Frank Chin
Chin is one of the "Aiiieeeee! boys" and most definitely the most controversial. He has no problem attacking people in print (his public feud with Maxine Hong Kingston is legendary; she wrote Tripmaster Monkey about him) and burns bridges right and left. His critque of Kingston and other As Am writers of her generation is unjust and blind at best. On the other hand, he's one damned smart cookie, and the essay "Pidgin Contest on the I-5" is the best defense of politically correct speech I've ever read ... and also an interesting take on the Rodney King riots.

No-no Boy
John Okada
One of the novels excerpted in Aiiieeeee!, this tells the story of a "no-no boy" (Japanese American man who answered "no" to the two most important questions in a loyalty questionnaire administered to JAs in the internment camps--which meant he refused to be drafted) and his rejection by his JA community after returning home from prison (for refusing the draft) after the war.

Eat a Bowl of Tea
Louis Chu
Another novel excerpted in Aiiieeeee!. A funny and weird portrait of 50's New York City Chinatown tells the story of a young Chinese immigrant who begins to have problems with impotence when his father arranges a marriage for him and all of bachelor Chinatown begins watching his wife for signs of pregnancy.

America is in the Heart: A Personal History
Carlos Bulosan
Yet another novel excerpted in Aiiieeeee!. This one is more of a memoir of a Filipino American migrant laborer. Also a portrait of a life we only know a little bit of through Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, part of an oeuvre that whitewashed California labor dynamics.

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts
Maxine Hong Kingston
Read what Frank Chin fulminates about. This book is groundbreaking in a number of ways: Kingston introduces and simultaneously remakes Chinese legend in a fantasy sequence that expands the meaning of memoir. She also created the context and set the scene for the Asian American lit genre popularized by Amy Tan in The Joy Luck Club.

Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment
by Jeanne Houston, James D. Houston
A memoir. The title pretty much says it all, but this is the classic memoir of internment.

Darkness
Bharati Mukherjee
A collection of stories that opened my eyes to some of the dynamics happening right under my nose in middle-class immigrant communities, both in Canada and the US. Just plain good writing.

The City in Which I Love You
Li-Young Lee
Poetry, but reads something like a narrative. An excellent introduction to the issues and experiences of the "one point five" or the "1.5" generation immigrant, who was born abroad but raised partly in the United States, a very common demographic in postwar Asian American immigrants. Also, Lee's family is just interesting in itself and he spends his first two books obsessing on it.

Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction
ed. Jessica Hagedorn
The first such fiction anthology, came at just the right time to collect exemplars from writers of both the pre-Aiiieeeee!, the Aiiieeeee!, and the Amy Tan generation as well as those shut out of the mainstream acceptance offered to the Amy Tan generation (like R. Zamora Linmark.)

Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home in the World
ed. Jessica Hagedorn
The sequel, published a decade later, that demonstrates loudly and viscerally how much As Am lit, and the As Am self-conception, has changed.

Dust and Conscience
Truong Tran
Also poetry, this is an idiosyncratic, as well as archetypal take on the experiences of a Vietnamese American who fled as a refugee at the end of the war and returned to his "home country" as an adult. This was inspired by an actual trip Tran took. Don't expect your common identity/finding yourself narrative here. Among other things, the narrator falls in love with his traveling companion (another Vietnamese American man), and embodies his ideas in the shape of the creatures of fable, which then verbally entice and abuse him.

Hyphen magazine
The only current national Asian American news and culture magazine. This one is expressly progressive and represents the prevailing progressive pan-Asian American viewpoint. Yes, I co-founded it. That doesn't mean what I said about it is incorrect.

HAPA

The Multiracial Experience: Racial Borders As the New Frontier
edited by Maria P. P. Root
Root is the preeminent scholar of multiraciality. Yeah, it's academic stuff, but her introductory essay, including the Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People, rocked my world when I first read it.

My Year of Meats
Ruth Ozeki
First of all, a terrific novel about a Japanese/American hapa tv producer traveling the United States producing a show to promote beef consumption in Japan. Secondly, this book tackles so many turn-of-the-millenium demographic issues, I can't even list them all: 1.5, multiraciality, internationalism, transracial adoption, queer adoption, bilingual/bicultural, third culture kids, etc. etc.

Mavin Magazine
The multiracial magazine, based out of Seattle. Publishes irregularly and is of uneven quality, but is completely earnest, heartfelt, and open to a variety of understandings of race (as a multiracial magazine should be.) (By the way, whatever you read, do not take "Interracial Voice" seriously.)

That's all for now. I might update as things occur to me.

***
update for the hapa list:

Paper Bullets
Kip Fulbeck
I was wracking my brain trying to come up with hapa narratives that are representative, or that offer ideas and "philosophies" ... but I guess that's part of the point of hapa narratives is that they are all necessarily idiosyncratic, since The Mix is always particular, if not peculiar. Kip Fulbeck's book is probably the closest I can come to "representative", and that because Fulbeck's entire oeuvre (of videos, artwork, performance, etc.) is geared toward examining the East Asian/white hapa male experience. It's a "fictional autobiography" that uses Fulbeck's life experiences as object lessons in understanding the intersection of racial and gender issues. It's deliberately, slyly, (and probably also less than deliberately) self-indulgent, as well as underhand macho (acknowledging feminism as a way of making yourself seem more of a man.) An eye-opening read.

The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee: Observations on Not Fitting In
Paisley Rekdal
A collection of personal essays that will give you an excellent view of the contortions hapas of my generation went through to find an identity that would stick internally and make sense externally. And yes, her mother really does meet Bruce Lee.

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Comments

thanks for this great list--i've read a lot of the asian american list but none of the hapa list--time to get moving huh? :-)

have you read rolling the r's or sista tongue? both Very Good Books...

"rolling the r's" yes, "sista tongue" no (will have to get on that!)

i heartily recommend "rolling", but felt it was better left off this list to begin with because it's not what i would call a "beginner text", i.e. i think it requires some previous study to get the reader into an understanding of the world the book was written in.

i mean, it's queer, hybrid hawai'i in dialect and in fragments from shifting points of view. funny as hell, too. the list above is to get people grounded, before pulling the ground out from under them, ya know?

yeah, i hear ya about the grounding!!!

sista tongue is a lot of shifting ground too--a lot more academic-y than other creative writing--but i think she was using the book as a way to make a multi-genre sort of statement about different ways language is used more than a way to tell a story...

Personally, I like Middle Kingdom by Adrienne Su. It has some great pieces in it.

I'll say that you should check out the film What's Wrong With Frank Chin? It provides an interesting perspective on things.

I'll throw in Ed Bok Lee's Real Karaoke People and Bao Phi's Refugeography or Surviving the Translation.

Juliana Pegues' Immigrant Dictionary is a good addition as well.

Most of the best stuff is the underground stuff, though. I'll argue there are a lot of real and very interesting movements going on that mainstream academia and the MFA culture is completely ignoring.

But that's another discussion, I suppose.

Bamboo Among the Oaks should be included because while it's rough in places, (sometimes very rough), as the first anthology of Hmong writers by Hmong writers themselves, I think it's really something interesting. I'm biased, but I enjoy it more than Tilting the Continent.

I'm surprised Victoria Chang's controversial Asian American Poetry anthology hasn't been brought up either for or against inclusion.

Shawn Wong's Homebase and American Knees hasn't been brought up? Tsk Tsk. Those are classics too.

I'd throw in Ed Lin's Waylaid as a good, fun read as well. I don't know why people have to think Asian American literature is all this morbid, dreary stuff...

Garret Hongo's Yellow Light should definitely be in this list.

What about David Mura's Turning Japanese?

But I could go on forever. :)

bryan, thanks for the recommends! there are definitely some here that i still need to read. but the list i compiled, as i said above, was not intended to be definitive or even representative. it's intended as an introduction---not to as am lit, but to as am issues through lit.

which skews the list very much. frex, between "american knees" and "paper bullets" i'd recommend "american knees" for a literature class, but "paper bullets" for someone who just wanted a clear answer about what it is as am men keep complaining about. you know? i would say that sandra tsing loh is a much more fun and interesting essayist, but paisley rekdal addresses, and illustrates, the issues much more clearly and succinctly. (and is a wonderful poet, to boot.)

Thanks for the recommend us the Asian American and Multiracial Reading List. I will read them one by one. But I also want to recommend a wonderful place for those friends who are interested in Interracial culture.URL OF STUPID INTERRACIAL DATING SITE REDACTED FOR POOR GRAMMAR AND SHEER BAD TASTE. PLUS, WHAT THE FUCK IS "INTERRACIAL CULTURE" YOU DUMB FUCK? is a good place for interracial people to have fun together. You can have a look when you are free.

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