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Asian-Latin American Literature  

Ignacio López-Calvo

Asian-Latin American literature is a heterogeneous body of writing by Latin American authors of Asian ancestry who identify themselves as Asian immigrants or as descendants of Asian immigrants. There are no formal differences between Asian-Latin American literature and other literature from Latin America. The main differences reside instead in content, such as the representation of Asianness, as Asian-Latin American authors tend to avoid or challenge Orientalist or other stereotypes, offering instead more authentic renderings of the Asian-Latin American experience. A second characteristic is their tendency to express filial piety in their writings more recurrently than other authors. Third, Asian-Latin American literature often leans toward autoethnography, offering cultural translations for readers who are unfamiliar with Asian or Asian-Latin American cultures. Fourth, while some authors of no Asian descent also denounce the abuses committed against Asian communities in the past, such denunciations s areeven more common among Asian-Latin American authors. But what is truly unique to Asian-Latin American literature in this regard is the fact that at times it also denounces the racism of Asian immigrants against the local population, which at times is considered inferior, as well as intra-ethnic discrimination, such as that of Naichijin (mainland Japanese) against Okinawans or that of Asian immigrants against the descendants of Asian immigrants, particularly if they are of mixed race or unfamiliar with the customs and language of their ancestral land. The fifth commonality is the seemingly contradictory propensity to celebrate cultural differences while concomitantly claiming their belonging to the Latin American nation that hosted them or their ancestors. Sixth, (semi-)autobiographical writing abounds. Seventh, Asian-Latin American often reflects the uninterrupted contact with the sending communities in Asia, via mail, remittances or voyages back to the birthplace to visit relatives or find a wife. And one last idiosyncrasy is that it is, for the most part, relatively recent. Whereas Asian-Latin American literature cannot be considered “exile literature,” part of it is genuine “migration literature,” since several authors are immigrants who write about their immigration experiences. Sometimes, part of the narrative is set in the host Latin American country, while other times, they are set in the native Asian country. Both lyrical and narrative texts tend to chronicle or evoke the migration process itself. Because it is, for the most part, written by descendants of Asian immigrants, diasporic narratives are even more common than migration literature. Diasporic narratives are typically set in the Latin American country, and family sagas are common. Unlike characters in migration narratives, the ones in diasporic narratives typically do not long for a return to the fatherland. And while some migration literature is written in Asian languages, diasporic cultural production is written mostly in Spanish or Portuguese, even if it often incorporates words from Asian languages, mainly to give an impression of cultural authenticity or to underscore pride in cultural difference. While not necessarily absent, the sense of alienation is less pervasive in diasporic narratives than in migration literature since characters tend to be more culturally integrated into mainstream society.