Asian Canadian Literary Studies is a relatively new field of study which began in the mid to late 1990s. Even though literature written by Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian Canadians had been published in literary magazines and anthologies since the 1970s, the identification of a distinct body of works called “Asian Canadian literature,” as Donald Goellnicht has noted (in “A Long Labour”), began only when there was a sociopolitical movement focused on identity politics. The literature includes early experiences of Chinese in Gum San or “gold mountain”; Japanese Canadian internment during the Second World War; South Asian Canadians diasporic writing from former British colonies like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Trinidad, Guyana, Tanzania, and Kenya; feminist experimental and genre writing; and writing from the post-1975 wave of first- and 1.5-generation immigrants and refugees. Early 21st-century works have moved from mainly autoethnographic stories to those that include larger sociocultural concerns, such as poverty, domestic violence, the environment, lesbian, queer, and transgender issues, and other intersectional systems of oppression that face Asian Canadians and other marginalized groups. Genres include memoirs, films, short stories, autobiographies, realist novels, science fiction, graphic novels, poetry, plays, and historical novels. In the past, without naming the field “Asian Canadians,” many critics have engaged with Asian Canadian literary texts. For example, articles and chapters about Joy Kogawa’s Obasan can be found in journals and books on Canadian, postcolonial, ethnic, and Asian American literature. South Asian Canadian literature also has strong links with postcolonial studies and institutions, such as the book publisher TSAR Publications, which began as the literary journal, The Toronto South Asian Review. In Canadian English usage, Asian usually refers to people from East and Southeast Asian while the term South Asian Canadian is a subgroup of Asian Canadian, according to Statistics Canada. In literary studies, it has only been in the past ten or fifteen years that the term “Asian Canadian” is used as a pan-ethnic term for all peoples who are originally from or have roots in Asia.
(East and Southeast) Asian Canadian literature has consistently been preoccupied with the transpacific: from its lived spaces, its imagined ones, and its hybrid literary constructions. This body of literature includes narratives of arrival, autobiographical texts, historiographic novels, magical realist fiction, and experimental poetry. While these texts have usually been read through historical frameworks, thinking through them spatially enables us to understand and trace the alternate geographies of mobility, belonging, and cultural change beyond the project of the Canadian nation. These texts are predicated on transnational spaces of commerce and labor, trauma and resistance, refuge and liminality, and mobility and materiality. They reflect and produce the complex and overlapping trajectories of communities and individuals from East and Southeast Asia. From fictions of Chinatown to testimonies of racist dispersal and exclusion, refugee narratives to speculative decolonial futures, Asian Canadian literature has shaped both rural and urban Canadian spaces and their transnational and local textures. Thinking through the transpacific spaces in the literature points to the ways in which racist and exclusionary policies have shaped the landscapes and social spaces of the nation whether through immigration laws or forcible dispossession and internment. Yet, it also gives rise to the possibilities of new collectivities and communities within and beyond the nation-state. In the face of unequal globalization and movements of labor and capital, this mode of analysis points to possible indigenous and diasporic solidarities and place-making. Contemporary texts from Asian Canadian writers also evince a consciousness of Canadian bioregions and the confrontation of extraction economics that allows for a discussion of intersectionality in the context of environmental humanities and ecocriticism.