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Writing the Ghetto

Class, Authorship, and the Asian American Ethnic Enclave

Yoonmee Chang

Publication Year: 2010

In the United States, perhaps no minority group is considered as "model" or successful as the Asian American community. Rather than living in ominous "ghettoes," Asian Americans are described as residing in positive-sounding "ethnic enclaves." Writing the Ghetto helps clarify the hidden or unspoken class inequalities faced by Asian Americans, while insightfully analyzing the effect such notions have had on their literary voices.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: The American Literatures Initiative


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

Writing a book is a blessing. It is the good fortune of being able to spend your time indulging your ideas. Writing is another kind of blessing; the ability to give shape to blank pages is, for me, a humbling gift from the divine. More tangible graces shepherded me along the way. They are the people without whom I would have more dearly suffered self-doubt ...

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1. Introduction: The Asian American Ghetto

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pp. 1-24

What images are evoked by the phrase “Asian American ghetto”? Is this phrase an oxymoron in that Asian Americans, long considered a model minority, would hardly be thought to live and work in ghettos? Yet the Asian diaspora has seen the creation of spatially defined...

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2. “Like a Slum”: Ghettos and Ethnic Enclaves, Ghetto and Genre

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pp. 25-69

In a sociologist’s survey of the quality of life in San Francisco’s late twentieth-century Chinatown, residents and workers remark upon the difficult conditions of their lives, of the crowded, dilapidated housing conditions; the demanding but poorly paying, dead-end jobs...

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3. The Japanese American Internment: Master Narratives and Class Critique

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pp. 70-110

If Monica Sone’s Nisei Daughter is an internment critique, it is a curious one. In the preface to the 1979 edition, Sone states that her autobiography means to “attend to unfinished business with the [U.S.] government” regarding the [World War II] internment...

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4. Chinese Suicide: Political Desire and Queer Exogamy

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pp. 111-134

Last summer, as I was having dinner in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown, two tourists hesitantly stepped into the restaurant. A waiter summoned them to a table, but they were disoriented and cautious, mumbling briefly together before asking: “Is this Chinatown?” I laughed...

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5. Ethnic Entrepreneurs: Korean American Spies, Shopkeepers, and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots

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pp. 135-175

In 2005, two entrepreneurial behemoths, Google and Microsoft, were entangled in a battle over intellectual property. At issue was Google’s hiring away of a Microsoft executive, Kai-Fu Lee, to head Google’s rapidly expanding China operations. The intellectual property in question...

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6. Indian Edison: The Ethnoburbian Paradox and Corrective Ethnography

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pp. 176-200

In the title story of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, Ruma, a second-generation South Asian American woman, lives in upper-middle-class suburban comfort. For her, “frugality [is] foreign” (3-4). This is a striking statement in that it reverses a common wisdom—foreignness usually...

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Conclusion: The Postracial Aesthetic and Class Visibility

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pp. 201-212

At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Nam, the narrator of Nam Le’s short story, “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” is surrounded by white classmates who resent ethnic literature. To them, ethnic literature is a sell-out genre. One student remarks: “Faulkner, you know . . . said we should write about the old verities. Love and honor and...


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pp. 213-220

Works Cited

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pp. 221-229


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pp. 231-238

About the Author

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p. 239

E-ISBN-13: 9780813549842
E-ISBN-10: 0813549841
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813548012
Print-ISBN-10: 0813548012

Page Count: 252
Illustrations: 2 photographs
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: The American Literatures Initiative
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OCLC Number: 768082834
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Writing the Ghetto

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- Asian American authors -- History and criticism.
  • Asian Americans in literature.
  • Asian Americans -- Intellectual life.
  • Poverty in literature.
  • Ethnic groups in literature.
  • Social classes in literature.
  • Model minority stereotype.
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