Asian American Literature Analysis

At Issue

(Representations of Race in American Literature)

The first published Asian American writers were two sisters, Sui Sin Far (Edith Maud Eaton) and Onoto Watanna (Winifred Eaton), the daughters of British planter Edward Eaton and his Chinese wife, Lotus Blossom. Critics have accused Sui Sin Far of presenting stereotypical descriptions of the Chinese and of Chinatown, but in fact, through her collection of short stories Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912), she portrayed the discrimination and psychic pain that Chinese immigrants endured. In novels such as Heart of Hyacinth (1904), Onoto Watanna wrote of love affairs between Asian women and white men in which the Asian woman always accepted the superiority of a Western lover. She chose a Japanese-sounding name for her pen name because at the time, although the American public discriminated against the Japanese, they viewed them more favorably than the Chinese, stereotyping them as harder working and more intelligent.

Before World War II, several Asian American writers described their experiences growing up in the United States. One book, Younghill Kang’s East Goes West (1937), offers a humorous look at the life of a young Korean American and pokes fun at white people’s prejudices.

After World War II, several Japanese Americans published books about the internment camps and other wartime experiences. In The Two Worlds of Jim Yoshida (1972), Nisei (second-generation Japanese American) Jim Yoshida, who was in Japan when World War II broke out, relates how he was forced to serve in the Imperial Army and had to sue to regain U.S. citizenship after the war. In No- No Boy (1957), John Okada, another Nisei, wrote about the hysteria that he experienced in wartime America, and in the award-winning book Obasan (1981), Joy Kogawa described her life in a Canadian World War II internment camp.