IN the United States, the old belief in assimilation - the
so-called "melting pot has fallen into disfavor. Members of minority
groups have taken a long, hard look at their parents' or
grandparents' eagerness to shed a distinctive heritage in the rush
to become "Americanized." But what happens when the drive toward
ethnic identification - toward the proliferation of special interest
groups, each demanding its share of a shrinking pie - is not being
counterbalanced by a correspondingly strong drive toward unity,
cohesion, and cooperation?
Such were the thoughts that went through my mind as I read Frank
Chin's long, rambling, rather strident essay, "Come All Ye Asian
American Writers of the Real and the Fake," which opens the new
collection of Chinese-American and Japanese-American literature that
he has edited, along with Jeffery Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and
Shawn Wong. "The Big AIIIEEEEE!" is a sequel to their earlier
(1974) collection of Asian-American writers entitled simply
"AIIIEEEEE!" Both titles refer to the crude caricature of the
screaming yellow man that was a staple of white popular culture in
the United States.
The purpose of an anthology like this is to allow us to hear
Asian-Americans speaking for themselves, in their own voices. One of
the most interesting features of this particular anthology is the
wide range of materials it draws upon.
There are poems, short stories, excerpts from novels like Joy
Kogawa's "Obasan" and Louis Chu's "Eat a Bowl of Tea," an excerpt
from a play: Wakako Yamauchi's "And the Soul Shall Dance," and
captioned drawings from Taro Yashima's autobiographical picture
book, "Horizon Is Calling." There's even an entire one-act play,
"Laughter and False Teeth," about life in one of the concentration
camps where Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II.
Broadening the term "literature" to include almost any variety of
written or printed material, the editors offer us "An
English-Chinese Phrase Book" compiled in 1875 by Wong Sam and
assistants, which was widely used by Chinese immigrants trying to
make their way in the alien world of the American West. There is
also an excerpt from Michi Weglyn's pioneering study, "Years of
Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps."
The common denominator of these wide-ranging selections is the
way in which they challenge stereotyped perceptions about
Asian-Americans, whether it be the stereotype of the crafty heathen
Chinese promulgated by white racists in the 19th century or of the
reformed, Christianized, eager-to-be-Americanized Oriental so dear
to the hearts of Western missionaries then and now.
The Asian-American that Chin and his associates present in place
of this passive little brother to the white man is the proud product
of a vital and venerable civilization: a self-reliant "soldier"
modeling his or her actions on the heroic Confucian tradition. …