Growing Up Asian American Summary

Growing Up Asian American

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

GROWING UP ASIAN AMERICAN is one of four “coming of age in America” anthologies in a new series published by William Morrow. (The other volumes in the series feature African American, Chicano, and Native American writers.) Editor Maria Hong, a second-generation Korean American, has chosen works that represent both the historical sweep of the Asian American experience (the earliest selection was published in 1912, the most recent in the 1990’s) and its ethnic and cultural diversity: Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese, and Korean. (In her introduction, Hong observes that “Immigrant groups must often be in America for at least two generations before producing and publishing literature about growing up here. The Southeast Asian American literatures are in their early stages and very little has been written relating to childhood.” It’s doubtful, however, that the two-generation rule applies today, and as Hong herself suggests, an updated and expanded edition of this anthology may well include work by Vietnamese Americans and others of Southeast Asian ancestry.)

In all, thirty-two writers are represented here, from pioneers such as Sui Sin Far and Toshio Mori to current best-sellers such as Amy Tan, Gish Jen, and Gus Lee. Since the 1960’s, Asian American literature has exploded, as the work of Frank Chin, Garrett Hongo, Cynthia Kadohata, Maxine Hong Kingston, and David Mura attests. In addition to these and other already well established figures, the anthology includes relatively little-known or up-and-coming writers. While some of the selections are complete works—essays or short stories—the bulk of the collection consists of excerpts from longer works: autobiographies or novels. All of the selections have been previously published.

Diverse as the writers gathered here are, some recurring themes run through the volume. Some of these—not simply the reality of racism, but the particular forms taken by racism and prejudice against Asian Americans—are distinctive to the Asian American experience. At the same time, however, as Hong’s section-headings imply, there is much that is universal in the struggles and joys of these writers: “First Memories,” “The Beginnings of Identity,” “Growing Up.” The volume concludes with an afterword by Stephen Sumida, a scholar of Asian American literature, and a list of suggested readings.