Asian American literary studies, and multi-ethnic literatures more broadly, have maintained a constant faith in the power of literature as a potential tool of anti-racist education. This faith in literature’s potential is not naïve, since it also recognizes how even the most diverse and ideal literary education can be co-opted by the workings of capitalism and neoliberalism. These fields are founded in an enduring and powerful belief that literature affects the social, cultural, and political esteem of a minority group in the United States. Within the field of Asian American studies, academics, activists, and cultural critics have sought to harness the power of various forms of cultural discourse and literature by mediating the stories told about (and at times by) Asian Americans. As Asian American literature has grown in popularity, there has been increasing attention to questions of who is represented within Asian American literature and who is deemed worthy to produce these representations. Such concerns have over time produced an abiding if somewhat tacit interest in questions of literary reception in the field. In fact, although many of the major literary controversies in Asian American studies have circulated around questions of representation and reception and ushered in paradigm shifts in how the field has conceptualized itself, it is an area that remains understudied. Asian American literary reception study and studies of readership are still emerging and crucial areas of analysis that could pose and posit answers to questions of literature’s possibilities and limitations as a tool of anti-racism in 21st-century America.
Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan
Twenty-first-century Asian American literature is a developing archive of literary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and multimodal cultural texts. As a field, it is marked by its simultaneous investments in exploring the United States’ imperial geopolitical relations and the concurrent rise of Asia. Global India, a shorthand for the nation’s ascendance onto the world stage after the liberalizing market reforms of the early 1990s, is discernible in Asian American—and particularly South Asian American—depictions of a range of figures including call center agents, entrepreneurial farmers, art gallery owners, and globe-trotting filmmakers. It is an India to which many writers imagine returning, given its heightened standing in the world economy and the prospect of American decline. This change marks a shift in the literature from the Americas being the primary locus of attachment to Asia as a site of possible reinvestment, both psychic and material. Asian American writers frequently focus on parallels between the experience of international migration and that of in-country migration to India’s major cities. They also tacitly register the rise of India in narratives about the abortive promises of the American dream. In comparison to Asian American literatures of the 20th century, which were primarily read as part of the multiethnic canon of American literature, Asian American literatures written under the sign of Global India are equally legible as part of diasporic, postcolonial, world, and global Anglophone literary formations. Many writers considered postcolonial in the 20th century may be profitably read in the 21st century as Asian American as well, whether because of a move to the United States or a professed affiliation. This expansion of the field is a consequence of the evolving diasporic and global imaginaries of Asian American writers and scholars.
Norma E. Cantú
During the first decade of the 21st century, a political movement based in Arizona sought, through legislation, to ban the use of certain books and the teaching of certain authors and concepts in high school classrooms in the Tucson Unified School District. HB 2281 was signed into law in May 2010 on the heels of one of the strictest anti-immigrant legislative acts, SB 1070. These two bills would become intertwined in the imagination of the country and would elicit protests and generate actions by activists, writers, and teachers as they wound through the legal battles that ensued. This article explores the consequences of the law and the impact both locally and nationally of such actions by focusing on two key events: The Poets Against SB 1070 and the Librotraficante project led by Houston activist Tony Díaz. Moreover, it contextualizes such a historic event within the larger history of educational disenfranchisement of Latinx in the United States.
Timothy K. August
The study of food in Asian American literary and cultural studies is particularly concerned with the political significance of rhetorically linking of identity and cuisine. Addressing the ways eating, cooking, and preparing food is represented in a number of literary works and cultural texts, these academic studies investigate how culinary and literary tastes serve as boundaries that define and manage racial expression. Indeed, Asian American studies scholars approach food by taking culinary taste, ethnicity, and racialized labor as co-constitutive, rather than given. For the ways Asian American chefs, cooks, eaters, and food workers engage food, in part, defines their cultural position, both internally and to the US population at large. The performative force of these acts is transformed by writers and artists into personal and sensual histories, that for various gendered, linguistic, and economic reasons would otherwise be silenced. Further, Asian American authors and artists can strategically use an interest in food and cuisine to convey the complexity, multiplicity, and history of Asian American identities and politics. Recently the study of food has been transformed into a critical practice used to combat the challenges Asian Americans endure surrounding the question of authenticity. Stories of culinary ethnic affiliation are marketable, and Frank Chin’s calls of “food pornography” loom whenever a predominately white audience wolfs down overly saccharine stories of Asian American culinary solidarity. But in the same breath the genre is also commercially viable because of its unique ability to communicate culturally specific stories in ways that are appealing to younger generations unfamiliar with, or who want to learn more about, customs, traditions, and historical events. Indeed, these stories are unique insofar as they can provide material histories that explain how socioeconomic institutions reproduce racial inequity; yet remain palatable for those outside the ethnic group, even if these readers are those whose subject position comes under review. This article will serve as a reminder, then, that culinary writing remains a robust literary form that makes use of its market appeal to write about Asian America in a manner that is at once personal, material, and historically potent, while the study of this work recognizes that the rhetoric that becomes attached to culinary acts is a unique, active, and, at times, combative, discursive space. The study of food in Asian American studies has been invested in demonstrating how the rhetorical linking of identity and cuisine is a politically significant act. As the “event of eating” is impossible to describe without using expressive language that catalogues communal values, the ways cultural producers write about cuisine is a unit of analysis that can be compared across national traditions, genres, and media. By historically situating how eating, cooking, and preparing food is represented in a number of literary works, academic studies of Asian Americans, food, and literary culture show how culinary and literary tastes serve as boundaries that define and manage racial expression. The ways Asian American chefs, cooks, eaters, and food workers engage food, in part, defines their cultural position, both internally and to the US population at large. The material force of these performative acts has been refashioned, aesthetically, by writers and artists to counter the persistence of the perpetual foreigner stereotype, as Asian American authors and artists leverage a general interest in their food and cuisine to convey the complexity, multiplicity, and history of Asian American identities and politics. Asian American studies scholars approach food by taking culinary taste, ethnicity, and racialized labor as co-constitutive, rather than given. This approach recognizes a unique and active Asian American culinary space, while opposing pernicious stereotypes that seek to limit the power of alimentary images and Asian American ways of life. In this light, the study of food has been transformed into a critical practice used to combat the challenges Asian Americans endure surrounding the question of authenticity. Faced with articulating the parameters of their community, often without the benefit of institutional power, Asian Americans have turned to food to tell not only “who they are” but to communicate sensual and complex histories that for various gendered, linguistic, and economic reasons would otherwise be silenced.