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Begin Here

Rocío G. Davis

Publication Year: 2007

An analytically innovative work, Begin Here widens the current critical focus of Asian North American literary studies by proposing an integrated thematic and narratological approach to the practice of autobiography. It demonstrates how Asian North American memoirs of childhood challenge the construction and performative potential of national experiences. This understanding influences theoretical approaches to ethnic life writing, expanding the boundaries of traditional autobiography by negotiating narrative techniques and genre and raising complex questions about self-representation and the construction of cultural memory. By examining the artistic project of some fifty Asian North American writers who deploy their childhood narratives in the representation of the individual processes of self-identification and negotiation of cultural and national affiliation, this work provides a comprehensive overview of Asian North American autobiographies of childhood published over the last century. Importantly, it also attends to new ways of writing autobiographies, employing comics, blending verse, prose, diaries, and life writing for children, and using relational approaches to self-identification, among others.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

... in the first place, to the persons in the Modern Languages Department of the University of Navarra for their daily doses of companionship, encouragement, and laughter: Rosalia Baena, Andrew Breeze, Ana Delgado, Carmen Poher, and Pilar Saiz. I would also like to thank the College of Arts and Letters for their continued support over the years. In particular, I thank the Comisi

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Introduction: Revisiting the Childhood

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pp. 1-6

In the final chapter of Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston travels back to the internment camp she had lived in as a child, this time with her husband and three children, in an act of reconciliation and recovery. Manzanar, which in the summer of 1942 was “the biggest city between Reno and Los Angeles” (135), is now deserted. As she looks around at the ruin that had ...

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Chapter 1. To Begin Here

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pp. 7-32

In his germinal text, When the Grass Was Taller: Autobiography and the Experience of Childhood, as in subsequent articles that elaborate on specific issues, Richard N. Coe presents a review of more than six hundred accounts of childhood written in six major European languages over the last 150 years.1 The existence of a multiplicity of texts justifies Coe’s classification of this type of ...

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Chapter 2. The Asian Childhood: Writing Beginnings

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pp. 32-65

A significant number of Childhoods written by Asian North American writers focus primarily on experiences in Asia, with accounts of a pre-American life as the central experience of the text. For writers who identify explicitly as Asian American or Asian Canadian, the foregrounding of the non–North American experience provides a valuable perspective from which to read autobiographies ...

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Chapter 3. Cultural Revolutions and Takeovers: War as Structure

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pp. 66-81

Specific events in Asian history of the twentieth century have acquired important visibility in the American collective consciousness, such as the Cultural Revolution in China, the Vietnam War, and the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia. Understandably, the number of biographical, autobiographical, and fictional texts and movies on these events has heightened their prominence ...

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Chapter 4. The Liminal Childhood: Biraciality as Narrative Position

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pp. 82-109

While Childhoods by Asian subjects set primarily outside North America offer multilayered perspectives on issues of racial and cultural negotiations, texts narrated by biracial children complicate our views on the inscription of Asian experiences in both Asia and North America. The specific concern of this chapter, biracial autobiographies of childhood, evidence particular ...

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Chapter 5. Citizens or Denizens: Inscribing the Tropes of Asian North Americanization

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pp. 110-135

This study posits that autobiographies of childhood should be read as an imaginative restructuring of personal history that allows adult writers to explore past selves in the context of larger social, cultural, ethnic, and historical configurations. As described earlier, Childhoods explain the present time through a narrativization of the prisms of knowledge that the self-as-child did ...

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Chapter 6. In North America: Formulating Experience

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pp. 136-155

In this chapter, I read Childhoods that actively renegotiate the forms of traditional autobiography to show how these writers’ cultural work extends beyond mere ethnographic interventions to reconfigure the form of life writing itself. Aimee Liu’s Solitaire, Evelyn Lau’s Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons, and Loung Ung’s Lucky Child experiment with ...

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Chapter 7. The Childhood for Children: The Cultural Experience of the Early Reader

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pp. 156-182

This study, which reads autobiography as a writerly project that creates a reader and enhances cultural memory, needs to consider the important role played by children’s literature. As a cultural product, autobiographical writing for children is an independent but interdependent literary artifact that can promote renewed perspectives on history and society.1 Moreover, I argue that an ...

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Conclusion: Rewriting the Childhood

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pp. 183-186

Asian North American autobiographers who engage their childhood experiences influence the development of the forms life writing takes and the culture that receives these texts. This multilayered process functions in the contexts of literary practice and cultural mobilization, connecting with Lisa Lowe’s assertion that “the making of Asian American culture includes practices that ...


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pp. 187-206

Works Cited

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pp. 207-222


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pp. 223-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861599
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824830922

Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 256467130
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Begin Here

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Asian American children -- Biography -- History and criticism.
  • Asian Americans -- Biography -- History and criticism.
  • Asians -- Canada -- Biography -- History and criticism.
  • Children in literature.
  • Asian Americans -- Social conditions.
  • Asians -- Canada -- Social conditions.
  • Asian Americans in literature.
  • Autobiography -- Asian American authors.
  • Children -- United States -- Biography -- History and criticism.
  • Children -- Canada -- Biography -- History and criticism.
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