- Haunted Homelands: Negotiating Locality in Father of the Four Passages
Lois-Ann Yamanaka is one of the most celebrated and controversial authors to emerge from contemporary Hawai’i. Loosely affiliated with Bamboo Ridge Press, a publishing collective founded in 1978 by Eric Chock and Darryl Lum that sought to encourage and promote writings by local authors, she emerged as a unique voice in her own right when Bamboo Ridge published her first collection of poems, Saturday Night at the Pahala Theater (1993). While Yamanaka garnered praise for her innovative use and mastery of the local Pidgin dialect—particularly the way that she used the language to lyrically and humorously evoke the experiences of growing up as a lower-middle-class Asian woman in Hawai’i—she drew criticism for both her depiction of Filipino men as sexual predators and her elision of the Hawaiian culture, which is repressed in the poems only to return or erupt as an “uncanny” or haunting presence.1
These critiques of Yamanaka’s work came to a head in 1998, when the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) first awarded, then rescinded, its annual fiction award to Yamanaka’s second novel, Blu’s Hanging (1997). Many members of AAAS were upset over what they saw as the award committee’s tacit acceptance of the novel’s negative representation of the Filipino community—specifically in its portrayal of the book’s villain, Uncle Paulo, who molests his adolescent nieces and rapes the novel’s eponymous character, Blu [End Page 160] Ogata. Critics argued that Yamanaka was complicit in the dissemination of racist representations that naturalized an ethnic hierarchy of local politics that primarily worked to benefit Japanese and Chinese American communities.2 Candace Fujikane notes that the book is, “ultimately, a narrative of local Japanese upward mobility,” and she critiques Yamanaka’s “use of a sexually violent Filipino character,” since the incident that provides the impetus for the main character’s departure from her dysfunctional community—her brother’s rape at Uncle Paolo’s hands—works to illustrate “the novel’s dependence upon the continued subordination of some ethnic groups” by directly aligning Uncle Paolo (and, by extension, the body of Filipino stereotypes he represents) with the poverty and misery of the community that the Japanese American protagonist seeks to transcend (“Sweeping” 177).
Fujikane also points out a secondary level of subordination: the almost complete absence of a Native Hawaiian presence from the text, an elision that “enacts a depopulation that renders Hawai’i an ‘emptied’ space open to settler claims of ‘belonging’” (164). This particular argument places Fujikane’s reading of Yamanaka’s novel within the context of recent critical projects that seek to deconstruct a Local Asian American identity so to identify the tacit complicity of Hawai’i born Asian Americans in the project of American colonialism. Such critiques seek to reframe the questions of Asian American claims to local belonging as a matter of “Asian settler colonialism.”3 Dean Saranillio notes that the term “Asian settler” (as opposed to Local Asian or Asian American) in a Hawai’i context is particularly useful because it “shatters US paradigms by forcing non-Natives to question our participation in sustaining US colonialism while making important political distinctions between Natives and non-Natives” (258). In other words, the Asian settler dynamic seeks to explore the way that an internally vexed, pan-ethnic Local Asian identity articulates itself within, rather than against, a colonialist framework.
While the “Asian settler” paradigm itself tends toward a binary perspective that has by no means gone unchallenged,4 it has nevertheless proved to be a provocative new tool for interrogating Asian American literary texts that assume or foreground an oppositional or critical stance toward the American nation, demanding a more nuanced explication of the relationship between Asian American and indigenous texts. Such a framework may help to chart, as Marie Lo notes in an essay on the intersections of indigenous and Asian Canadian writing, not only the traditional dynamics of assimilation and resistance within the nation but also the “complex relations between migration, settlement, and indigenous sovereignty” applicable to a variety of Asian immigrant experiences across national boundaries—not...