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1 Introduction Asian American and Latina/o Voices Writing History, Remapping Nation It must be odd to be a minority he was saying. I looked around and didn’t see any. So I said Yeah it must be. —Mitsuye Yamada, “Looking Out,” Camp Notes and Other Writings In the confusion, Pedro ran, terrified of being caught. He couldn’t speak English, couldn’t tell them he was fifth generation American. Sin papeles—­ he did not carry his birth certificate to work in the fields. La migra took him away while we watched. —Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza Mitsuye Yamada’s poem “Looking Out” invites us to think critically about the idea of a racial “minority” as an unnamed speaker remarks, “It must be odd / to be a minority,” and the narrator agrees, not considering herself a minority within her own community.1 “Looking Out” is part of an autobiographical collection of poetry about Yamada’s experiences as a Japanese American during World War II. Along with her family and approximately 120,000 other Japanese Americans, Yamada was incarcerated as an enemy alien during the war; when she was still a teenager, her family was sent to the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho, far from their California home. Read in this context, the title of the poem invokes the image of a young girl gazing outwards from a position of captivity, perhaps 2 LatinAsian Cartographies from behind a barbed-­wire perimeter fence like those used in many of the western camps that housed Japanese Americans during the war. The girl does not identify with the label “minority,” since inside the camp she is in the majority, nor does she consider her identity as a Japanese American “odd.” Displacing the oddity of minority status onto a hypothetical other, she concurs with the male figure in the poem: “Yeah / it must be.” In another situation, this deferral might indicate a simple difference in perspective, an ironic nod to the slippage of language and meaning created by different points of view. Within the context of the incarceration camps, however, the fact that the girl is “looking out” means that she is being observed from a position of power. The “he” in the poem has the freedom of movement conferred by his status as a white male looking in, and the category of “minority” is one in which the narrator is imprisoned. The fact that she is not technically in the minority in her immediate environment proves that the term is less about numbers and more about power: who has the power to fix the captive other with his gaze. And the use of the word “odd” confirms this power, for the white male names the Japanese American girl “odd” in a way that places her outside the racial (and gendered) norm. The poem’s perspective shift challenges this norm, even as it draws attention to the real, barbed-­wire consequences of the power of the majority/minority construction, a construction that defines who is an American by default, and who must be subject to definition by others. Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa also disrupts dominant assumptions of who is American as she tells the story of Pedro, a fifth generation U.S. citizen who is caught “sin papeles”—without papers—in the fields where he works as a laborer. If Yamada’s poem must be read within the context of her experiences during World War II, this passage from Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera recalls Anzaldúa’s own childhood along the United States-­ Mexico border, a place that she has famously referred to as an open wound, “una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds.”2 Within this border space, citizens like Pedro are “terrified of being caught” and run from la migra—the immigration officials—despite their status as native-­ born U.S. citizens.3 The passage relies on the reader’s knowledge of Pedro’s constitutional rights: the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unwarranted search and seizure. Unless driving a car or travelling by air (both considered voluntary activities), United States citizens are not required to carry identification with them. Pedro does not “carry his birth certificate to work in the fields,” but no American is required to carry a birth certificate to go to work; the statement both explains his arrest and highlights the injustice of such a requirement. Likewise, Anzaldúa leaves the phrases “sin...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813589886
Related ISBN
9780813589855
MARC Record
OCLC
993033138
Pages
216
Launched on MUSE
2018-03-06
Language
English
Open Access
No
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