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

By Elaine H. Kim | Go to book overview

6
Chinatown Cowboys and Warrior Women Searching for a New Self-Image

For many Asian Americans, the era of the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement in the United States was an era of increased awareness of racial and cultural identity built on their need to clarify and establish their uniquely American identity. The new awareness that it was possible and desirable to be both American and nonwhite resulted in Asian American literary efforts to assert an ethnic American identity and to challenge old myths and stereotypes. Young writers attempted to "claim America," for Asian Americans by demonstrating Asian roots in American society and culture. In some cases, this meant rejecting the ethnic community as subject matter, since some writers felt that it limited them and only perpetuated the relegation of Asian Americans to marginal status. They turned their interest away from community portraiture and towards questions of individual Asian American identity within the context of the larger society.

In the early 1970s, four young Californians who had been writers and college literature teachers presented a manifesto for a new direction in Asian American culture. Taking as a symbol of their effort Kwan Kung, Chinese god of art and war, Frank Chin, Jeffery Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Hsu Wong edited an anthology of Asian American literature that, they asserted, expressed the genuine spirit of Asian American history and culture and not the old stereotypes that had held sway for so long. The anthology features selections from the works of Louis Chu, John Okada, Carlos Bulosan, Hisaye Yamamoto, and others and newer works by the editors and other younger writers. The editors argued that the volume of published Asian American writing had been small not because of lack of Asian American creativity, productivity, and

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