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The Politics of the Visible in Asian North American Narratives

The Politics of the Visible in Asian North American Narratives

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 240
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    The Politics of the Visible in Asian North American Narratives
    Book Description:

    Examining nine Asian Canadian and Asian American narratives, Eleanor Ty explores how authors empower themselves, represent differences, and re-script their identities as 'visible minorities' within the ideological, imaginative, and discursive space given to them by dominant culture. In various ways, Asian North Americans negotiate daily with 'birthmarks,' their shared physical features marking them legally, socially, and culturally as visible outsiders, and paradoxically, as invisible to mainstream history and culture.

    Ty argues that writers such as Denise Chong, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, and Wayson Choy recast the marks of their bodies and challenge common perceptions of difference based on the sights, smells, dress, and other characteristics of their hyphenated lives. Others, like filmmaker Mina Shum and writers Bienvenido Santos and Hiromi Goto, challenge the means by which Asian North American subjects are represented and constructed in the media and in everyday language. Through close readings grounded in the socio-historical context of each work, Ty studies the techniques of various authors and filmmakers in their meeting of the gaze of dominant culture and their response to the assumptions and meanings commonly associated with Orientalized, visible bodies.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8212-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-30)

    In one way or another, Asian North Americans deal daily with what Shirley Geok-lin Lim calls ʹbirthmarksʹ There are visible hieroglyphs imprinted on our eyes, our black hair, our noses, our faces, and our bodies, the resonance of another tongue, the haunting taste of another culture, as well as the perception, real or imagined, of being from another place. As Asian Americans and Asian Canadians, these hieroglyphs, along with our yellow or brown colour, mark us indelibly as other, as Oriental, as exotic, subservient, mysterious, deviant, or threatening.¹ It is not simply skin, as Bhabha has noted in the case...


    • 1 Writing Historiographic Autoethnography: Denise Chongʹs The Concubineʹs Children
      (pp. 33-53)

      In attempting to set down the story of her family – her motherʹs tales and memories, her grandmotherʹs colourful life – Denise Chong has had to contend with a number of difficulties relating to issues of gender and ethnic visibility. Firstly, as Sidonie Smith has noted of autobiographies, normative definitions of the genre of life writing lie in the relationship of the subject ʹto the arena of public life and discourse. Yet patriarchal notions of womanʹs inherent nature and consequent social role have denied or severely proscribed her access to the public spaceʹ (7). Few women have achieved the status...

    • 2 A Filipino Prufrock in an Alien Land: Bienvenido Santosʹs The Man Who (Thought He) Looked Like Robert Taylor
      (pp. 54-68)

      In Bienvenido SantosʹsThe Man Who (Thought He) Looked Like Robert Taylor, Solomon King decides impulsively to retire from his job as a butcher and go ʹdiscover Americaʹ (13) when he hears of the death of the Hollywood actor Robert Taylor. All his life, he has believed that he and Robert Taylor shared a mystical connection because of a series of coincidences and because he thinks he resembles the star. Though Solomon makes plans for travelling and fills his basement apartment with travel brochures, he remains, for most of the novel, in Chicago. In the past, he has told his...

    • 3 Rescripting Hollywood: Performativity and Ethnic Identity in Mina Shumʹs Double Happiness
      (pp. 69-82)

      Mina Shumʹs debut feature,Double Happiness(1994), is a film that challenges the scopic drive of mainstream Hollywood films by intervening in what Ann Kaplan calls ʹdominant looking relationsʹ (7). The film, the first feature produced by a Chinese Canadian woman, selfconsciously plays with its North American audienceʹs expectations of cinematic gaze, narrative voice, subjectivity, and racial stereotypes. In the opening scene, the central character, Jade Li, talks directly to the camera, comparing her ʹVery Chineseʹ family with that of the TV sitcomThe Brady Bunch. But, she notes with irony, ʹThe Brady Bunchnever needed subtitles.ʹ

      Subtitles and the...


    • 4 To Make Sense of Differences: Communities, Texts, and Bodies in Shirley Geok-lin Limʹs Among the White Moon Faces
      (pp. 85-100)

      Like the other works we have seen thus far, Shirley Geok-lin Limʹs autobiographicalAmong the White Moon Facesreveals the complexities and politics of diasporic Asian identity. Limʹs diverse ethnic and cultural background exemplifies what Lisa Lowe has termed ʹheterogeneity, hybridity, and multiplicityʹ (ʹHeterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicityʹ 24). Loweʹs article points out that Asian American culture as a whole is heterogeneous rather than homogeneously ʹminorʹ against a dominant hegemony, but I borrow her terms to describe the multifaceted conjunctions of cultures that mark the subjectivity of Lim. Of all the authors I study in this book, Lim is the one who...

    • 5 ʹSome Memories Live Only on Your Tongueʹ: Recalling Tastes, Reclaiming Desire in Amy Tanʹs The Kitchen Godʹs Wife
      (pp. 101-115)

      Like her first novel,The Joy Luck Club(1989), Amy Tanʹs second novel,The Kitchen Godʹs Wife(1991), depicts the lives of older and younger generations of Chinese and Chinese American women. These two novels juxtapose present-day American culture with the folkloric, mythic way of life in China before the 1950s.¹ In both novels, the stories are told by a set or sets of mothers and daughters, with the mother representing the Old World and its traditions, and the daughter associated with the New World and its values. In both cases, the most compelling narratives are presented by the mother...

    • 6 ʹEach Story Brief and Sad and Marvellousʹ: Multiple Voices in Wayson Choyʹs The Jade Peony
      (pp. 116-134)

      Wayson ChoyʹsThe Jade Peony, winner of a Trillium Book Award, is set in Vancouverʹs Chinatown in the late 1930s and 1940s. Like Chong, Shum, Goto, and others in this study, Choy grapples with issues of ethnic identity in North American society, and the ways in which collective memory, history, and storytelling interact, and sometimes clash, with the gaze and expectations of the dominant culture in the construction of this identity. Structurally similar to a number of Asian American and Asian Canadian works published before it, such as Amy TanʹsThe Joy Luck Club(1989) and Sky LeeʹsDisappearing Moon...


    • 7 ʹNever Again Be the Yvonne of Yesterdayʹ: Personal and Collective Loss in Cecilia Brainardʹs When the Rainbow Goddess Wept
      (pp. 137-151)

      Filipino American author Cecilia Manguerra Brainard notes that her novelWhen the Rainbow Goddess Wept(1994) is about the ʹcollective wounding that Filipinos experiencedʹ in the Second World War.¹ This wounding is one that has remained relatively obscure. She writes in the preface to the Philippine edition of the novel: ʹSometimes I think people have forgotten that War. Except the Japanese. They still talk about Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Unlike Filipinos, the Japanese are very good at immortalizing injustices done to themʹ (Song3). Unlike my earlier chapters, which situate the politics of the visible on ethnic minorities or visible subjects...

    • 8 ʹThrumming Songs of Ecstasyʹ: Female Voices in Hiromi Gotoʹs Chorus of Mushrooms
      (pp. 152-168)

      Hiromi GotoʹsChorus of Mushroomsis a novel that celebrates womenʹs voices, storytelling, and female creativity. Like a number of the works in this study, it is a postmodern novel, a metafictive work that exhibits an awareness of the text as a narrative.¹ At once a ʹJapanese folk legend,ʹ a ʹlove storyʹ (back cover), a ʹpersonal mythʹ (acknowledgments) and a ʹtrue storyʹ (1),Chorus of Mushroomssings of the power of female imagination, strength, force, and desire through a number female voices and perspectives. It attempts to rewrite what Hélène Cixous calls the ʹonce upon a timeʹ story, to subvert...

    • 9 ʹOn the Fence That Was Never Finishedʹ: Borderline Filipino Existence in Bino Realuyoʹs The Umbrella Country
      (pp. 169-184)

      In an essay entitled ʹʺA Better Tomorrowʺ? The Struggle for Global Visibilityʹ Aihwa Ong writes: ʹNo longer confined to the borderzones of managed cultural encounters, powerful Asian subjects now circulate in the stratosphere of Western society ... By moving ʺout of place,ʺ affluent Asian newcomers upset the ethno-racial hierarchy that has disciplined Asian Americans as a docile minorityʹ (179). Ongʹs essay, largely focusing on overseas Chinese, especially Chinese investors and professionals, is optimistic, forward looking, and energetic. When we apply her statements to Filipinos, however, these generalizations about the economic achievements of Asian Americans sound rather hollow and become somewhat...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 185-188)

    Asian American and Asian Canadian authors deal with the psychic, social, and historical damage of being named and categorized as a racial other and as a marked subject through a series of negotiations, accommodations, and acts of resistance. Many of the authors examined in this study aim to get beyond the screen of the visible in order to locate and reconstitute a self and/or a community that has been displaced or rendered invisible. They perform the important task of witnessing, which, as Kelly Oliver notes, ʹworks to ameliorate the trauma particular to othered subjectivityʹ (7). In her bookWitnessing: Beyond...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 189-202)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 203-218)
  12. Index
    (pp. 219-227)