Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context

By Elaine H. Kim | Go to book overview

3
Sacrifice for Success Second-Generation Self-Portrait

No matter how excluded from American society the first-generation Asian immigrants felt, they knew that they should not have to reject their racial identity in order to be acceptable in America. Such a rejection would have been tantamount to self-negation. Cultural ambassador writers like Park and Sugimoto maintained their intellectual bases in Asia, to which they ultimately returned as cultural "go-betweens," Younghill Kang continually searched for a thread that would connect his Korean ancestry to the America he was aspiring after, and Carlos Bulosan's desire for fulfillment of the "America of the heart" was fired by cherished memories of his life in the Philippines. But second-generation writers, when confronted with racial barriers, could not so easily identify with Asia, since they had been born, raised, and educated in the United States. Their autobiographical writings therefore reflect the conflicts caused in their personal lives by race discrimination and popular misconceptions about the relationships between race and culture.

For the American-born Asian, the "choice" between Asia and America was false because it was in reality a choice between yellow and white. When "Asia" was chosen, it was because "American," or white, doors seemed closed. Even the superficially practical solution to this externally imposed cultural conflict, suggested frequently by social psychologists -- the "happy marriage of East and West" within the individual Asian American psyche -- was a false one because it assumes permanent and immutable inferiority to whites on the basis of race. Since an American-born Asian's racial characteristics could not be sloughed off, as Vita Sommers puts it, 1there could never be a complete solution to the "identity dilemma" of the Chinese or Japanese American. Therefore, the

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