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Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences Lisa Lowe University of California, San Diego In a recent poem by Janice Mirikitani, a Japanese-American nisei woman describes her sansei daughter's rebellion.1 The daughter's denial of Japanese -American culture and its particular notions of femininity reminds the nisei speaker that she, too, has denied her antecedents, rebelling against her own more traditional issei mother: I want to break tradition—unlock this room where women dress in the dark. Discover the lies my mother told me. The lies that we are small and powerless that our possibilities must be compressed to the size of pearls, displayed only as passive chokers, charms around our neck. Break Tradition. I want to tell my daughter of this room of myself filled with tears of shakuhatchi, poems about madness, sounds shaken from barbed wire and goodbyes and miracles of survival. This room of open window where daring ones escape. My daughter denies she is like me . . . her pouting ruby lips, her skirts swaying to salsa, teena marie and the stones, her thighs displayed in carnivals of color. I do not know the contents of her room. She mirrors my aging. She is breaking tradition. (9) The nisei speaker repudiates the repressive confinements of her issei mother : the disciplining of the female body, the tedious practice of diminution, the silences of obedience. In turn, the crises that have shaped the nisei speaker—internment camps, sounds of threatening madness—are unknown to, and unheard by, her sansei teenage daughter. The three generations of Japanese immigrant women in this poem are separated by their different histories and by different conceptions ofwhat it means to be female 24 Marking Asian American Differences and Japanese. The poet who writes "I do not know the contents ofher room" registers these separations as "breaking tradition." In another poem, by Lydia Lowe, Chinese women workers are divided also by generation, but even more powerfully by class and language. The speaker is a young Chinese-American who supervises an older Chinese woman in a textile factory. The long bell blared, and then the lo-ban made me search all your bags before you could leave. Inside he sighed about slow work, fast hands, missing spools of thread— and I said nothing. I remember that day you came in to show me I added your tickets six zippers short. It was just a mistake. You squinted down at the check in your hands like an old village woman peers at some magician's trick. That afternoon when you thrust me your bags I couldn't look or raise my face. Doi m-jyu. Eyes on the ground, I could only see one shoe kicking against the other. (29) This poem, too, invokes the breaking of tradition, although it thematizes another sort of stratification among Asian women: the structure of the factory places the English-speaking younger woman above the Cantonesespeaking older one. Economic relations in capitalist society force the young supervisor to discipline her elders, and she is acutely ashamed that her required behavior does not demonstrate the respect traditionally owed to parents and elders. Thus, both poems foreground commonly thematized topoi of diasporan cultures: the disruption and distortion oftraditional cultural practices—like the practice ofparental sacrifice and filial duty, or the practice of respecting hierarchies of age—not only as a consequence of immigration to the United States, but as a part of entering a society with different class stratifications and different constructions of gender roles. Some Asian American discussions cast the disruption of tradition as loss and represent the loss in terms of regret and shame, as in the latter poem. Diaspora Spring 1991 Alternatively, the traditional practices of family continuity and hierarchy may be figured as oppressively confining, as in Mirikitani's poem, in which the two generations of daughters contest the more restrictive female roles of the former generations. In either case, many Asian American discussions portray immigration and relocation to the United States in terms ofa loss of the "original" culture in exchange for the new "American" culture. In many Asian American novels, the question of the loss or transmission of the "original" culture is frequently represented in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 24-44
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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