South Asian American Identity in Literature Summary


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

American writers of Asian Indian origin bring a distinct style and subject matter to the literature of the Americas. Issues emerging in their writings include the struggle to break free of imperialism, cultural assimilation, expatriation, and racial prejudice. In the literature of Asian Indians living in North America, two distinct styles have evolved. One concerns itself with the need to integrate into mainstream American culture; this literature is declarative in tone and has as its locale the broad landscapes of America. Literature of this first type often presents situations that give rise to violent cultural collisions. The second type has as its focus the necessity of maintaining the customs and communities of origin. This literature questions the pull to assimilation, giving rise to an interrogative quality. The two orientations mingle with each other. Asian Indian literature gives voice to the interweave of a life of an Asian in America by often combining the literary canons of the West and East. The Greek poet Homer, the English poet John Milton, and the American poet Walt Whitman are evoked as comfortably as the ancient Sanskrit poems of Klidsa.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Immigration from India to North America began in numbers in the 1880’s. In 1923, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Indians could not become American citizens because they are not Caucasian. In 1924, the Immigration Act was passed, denying entry into the United States to those who were ineligible for citizenship. It was not until 1965, when immigration laws changed, that another wave of immigration occurred. Immigration reform removed the European bias in immigration laws.

South Asians emigrated to North America with hopes of a better life. Lacking strong ties with traditional America, they found themselves being treated as outsiders. Their dark skin made them suspect. Their history was previously marked by the oppressive British colonizers. South Asians in America looked for ways to escape this imperialist history by becoming accepted and appreciated for their differences in the free world. South Asian Americans found themselves the victims of racism in a predominantly white society. To give voice to their fears and anxieties, South Asian American writers have become active participants in writing their own stories, creating different ways of looking at the world in a literature that is rich and complex.