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Writing the Ghetto

Writing the Ghetto: Class, Authorship, and the Asian American Ethnic Enclave

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Writing the Ghetto
    Book Description:

    In the United States, perhaps no minority group is considered as "model" or successful as the Asian American community. Rather than living in ominous "ghettoes," Asian Americans are described as residing in positive-sounding "ethnic enclaves."Writing the Ghettohelps clarify the hidden or unspoken class inequalities faced by Asian Americans, while insightfully analyzing the effect such notions have had on their literary voices.Yoonmee Chang examines the class structure of Chinatowns, Koreatowns, Little Tokyos, and Little Indias, arguing that ghettoization in these spaces is disguised. She maintains that Asian American literature both contributes to and challenges this masking through its marginalization by what she calls the "ethnographic imperative." Chang discusses texts from the late nineteenth century to the present, including those of Sui Sin Far, Winnifred Eaton, Monica Sone, Fae Myenne Ng, Chang-rae Lee, S. Mitra Kalita, and Nam Le. These texts are situated in the contexts of the Chinese Exclusion Era, Japanese American internment during World War II, the globalization of Chinatown in the late twentieth century, the Vietnam War, the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and the contemporary emergence of the "ethnoburb."

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4984-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction: The Asian American Ghetto
    (pp. 1-24)

    What images are evoked by the phrase “Asian American ghetto”? Is this phrase an oxymoron in that Asian Americans, long considered a model minority, would hardly be thought to live and work in ghettos? Yet the Asian diaspora has seen the creation of spatially defined, racially demarcated clusters of Asian American residence and work in the United States. The urban spaces are familiar to us through names like Chinatown, Koreatown, and Little Tokyo, and their gritty conditions can be described through the vocabulary of “ghetto.” But are these spaces ghettos? Aren’t they more like cultural communities? Aren’t they spaces of...

  5. 2 “Like a Slum”: Ghettos and Ethnic Enclaves, Ghetto and Genre
    (pp. 25-69)

    In a sociologist’s survey of the quality of life in San Francisco’s late twentieth-century Chinatown, residents and workers remark upon the difficult conditions of their lives, of the crowded, dilapidated housing conditions; the demanding but poorly paying, dead-end jobs; the inability to find better work and housing elsewhere because of racial discrimination; and the damage that these material conditions impose on their psyches. This portrait tells us that Chinatown is a ghetto, a racially segregated space that is formed by and developed under social and economic structures that create a spatially contained Asian American underclass. One survey response gives pause....

  6. 3 The Japanese American Internment: Master Narratives and Class Critique
    (pp. 70-110)

    If Monica Sone’sNisei Daughteris an internment critique, it is a curious one. In the preface to the 1979 edition, Sone states that her autobiography means to “attend to unfinished business with the [U.S.] government” regarding the [World War II] internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans, half of whom were American citizens. Her autobiography is to tell of her personal experience of internment so that the internment “story will not be forgotten and lost to future generations,” the story of how Japanese Americans “became prisoners of their own government, without charges, without trials” because of their race (xvi). Yet for...

  7. 4 Chinese Suicide: Political Desire and Queer Exogamy
    (pp. 111-134)

    Last summer, as I was having dinner in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown, two tourists hesitantly stepped into the restaurant. A waiter summoned them to a table, but they were disoriented and cautious, mumbling briefly together before asking: “Is this Chinatown?” I laughed—not because they were standing in the shadow of a sixty-foot gate, all gilt and dragons and pagodalike peaks, the unmistakable sign that they were smack in the middle of Chinatown. Rather, I laughed because the tourists’ skepticism bespoke an observant irony—not much about this Chinatown is very Chinese. Beyond the gate, one block north and barely two...

  8. 5 Ethnic Entrepreneurs: Korean American Spies, Shopkeepers, and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots
    (pp. 135-175)

    In 2005, two entrepreneurial behemoths, Google and Microsoft, were entangled in a battle over intellectual property. At issue was Google’s hiring away of a Microsoft executive, Kai-Fu Lee, to head Google’s rapidly expanding China operations. The intellectual property in question was Lee’s technological and business expertise, which, having been developed as an employee of Microsoft, was claimed by Microsoft as company property. As claims to Lee’s expertise were fought over, other possessions of his emerged as central to the dispute. Also at stake was Lee’s racial body, his value as an authentic Chinese subject who inhabits and commands the racial,...

  9. 6 Indian Edison: The Ethnoburbian Paradox and Corrective Ethnography
    (pp. 176-200)

    In the title story of Jhumpa Lahiri’sUnaccustomed Earth, Ruma, a second-generation South Asian American woman, lives in upper-middle-class suburban comfort. For her, “frugality [is] foreign” (3-4). This is a striking statement in that it reverses a common wisdom—foreignness usually makes frugality familiar. The immigrant, the foreigner, is an icon of saving, having alighted upon a new land with few financial resources, yet with the fierce resourcefulness of hard work and thrift that vindicates the American Dream mythology and makes Asian Americans its object lesson. In Lahiri’s story, and in contrast to the narratives of Asian American ghettoization in...

  10. Conclusion: The Postracial Aesthetic and Class Visibility
    (pp. 201-212)

    At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Nam, the narrator of Nam Le’s short story, “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” is surrounded by white classmates who resent ethnic literature. To them, ethnic literature is a sell-out genre. One student remarks: “Faulkner, you know . . . said we should write about the old verities. Love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. . . . [T]hat’s why I don’t mind your work, Nam. Because you could just write about Vietnamese boat people all the time. . . . You couldtotallyexploit the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 213-220)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 221-230)
  13. Index
    (pp. 231-238)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-239)