Aiiieeeee! Constructing an Asian American Cultural Politics
Some of the early critical voices who attempted to define a new Asian American aesthetic were Frank Chin, Jeffrey Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong. They assembled one of the first literary anthologies featuring the work of Asian American writers, Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers (1974, 1991). In this trailblazing anthology, the editors outlined in an introductory manifesto the long history of racism against Asians in the United States and discuss the erasure of “real,” “more authentic” forms of Asian American history, literature, and culture by the publishing industry, by the Hollywood film industry, and by the educational and capitalist economic system in the United States.
The editors discuss how difficult it was to convince the white, male-dominated publishing industry to consider seriously the literature of Asian American writers. Their literary anthology was most likely perceived as too aggressively hostile, alien, and marginal to the interests of an American reading public. That is, it did not present the “Oriental” in ways that were accessible, familiar, and comfortable for mainstream white readers. In the volatile period of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Aiiieeeee! did not represent “similarity” and “difference” in “acceptable” or “tolerable” forms of cultural-political visibility and identity for subordinated racial-ethnic groups or general reading audiences. In their manifesto, the Aiiieeeee! editors remind writers and readers of the serious political implications and dilemmas in making choices about the style, language, and content by which one constructs and articulates alternative or oppositional forms of subjectivity against privileged cultural discourses and practices. They stress the need to interrogate and challenge how and why publishing institutions, cultural products, consumers, and critics might choose one text over another, one writer over another—sometimes for very racist and sexist reasons. The Aiiieeeee! anthology was repeatedly turned down by mainstream presses in the early 1970’s, until it was finally published in 1974 by Howard University Press, an African American university press.
The editors urged writers to recover and articulate authenticating cultural identities, histories, and cultures that reflected voices and experiences not bounded by “white racist love.” Such “love,” they claimed, left Asian Americans not only marginalized and invisible within mainstream American culture but also in a “state of contempt, self- rejection, and disintegration.” The Aiiieeeee! editors revealed how Asian Americans have been made invisible in society—how their history and voices are not represented in dominant discourses in society or, if represented, are often stereotypical, racist,...
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