- Writing with an Accent: Contemporary Italian American Women Authors, and: Learning from Experience: Minority Identities, Multicultural Struggles, and: Transpacific Displacement: Ethnography, Translation, and Intertextual Travel in Twentieth-Century American Literature (review)
- American Literature
- Duke University Press
- Volume 75, Number 4, December 2003
- pp. 892-895
- View Citation
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American Literature 75.4 (2003) 892-895
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The terrain of American ethnic studies has expanded dramatically in recent years, especially with more sustained attention to and scrutiny of canonicity, representational politics, and transnationalism. Further contributing to the field are Edvige Giunta's Writing with an Accent, Paula Moya's Learning from Experience, and Yunte Huang's Transpacific Displacement. These three projects are vastly different in orientation and design, but all share an interest in exploring the epistemic significance of cultural and linguistic practices, as well as an even more fundamental goal. By drawing attention to a neglected group of writers (Giunta), by arguing for alternative theoretical approaches to ethnic writing (Moya), and by tracing transnational exchanges between Asian [End Page 892] and American texts (Huang), each author intends to advance new epistemologies that can enrich analyses not only of minority discourses but of American literature as a whole.
The title of Giunta's book indicates its author's belief in the centrality of language to Italian American identity. "Writing with an accent," Giunta claims, signals geographical and class origins and, more important, the experience of speaking simultaneously from two or more cultural positions. While this experience can be liberatory, it has also been prohibitive, resulting in a history of silencing. With that history as a starting point, Giunta uses her book to reintroduce Italian American women writers who, in the past few decades, have been overlooked or forgotten. She provides, for example, extended readings of Helen Barolini's Umbertina and Tina De Rosa's Paper Fish, "ur-texts" that portray an Italian American womanhood more ambivalent, complicated, and political than often recognized. Subsequent topics, including material culture (especially food and religion) and Italian American women as public intellectuals, expand this portrait of womanhood but also bring to the forefront one of Giunta's most compelling points: the vexing nature of ethnic identity. According to Giunta, Italian American women writers have understood ethnicity "neither as an accident of birth nor a source of patriotic pride, but rather, as a complicated site for the articulation of a politicized and progressive Italian American positionality" (8), a site inflected by the need to forge a class position out of migration, relocation, and an undelivered promise of a better life. This definition clarifies what ultimately lies behind Giunta's efforts: the desire to establish these women writers and herself (as an Italian American critic) as cultural workers, their acts of writing as moments of defiance, and the texts they produce as advocating change. Writing with an accent is always a political act.
Such writing must be political, Giunta claims, because so often Italian American women underscore the impact of social categories on their self-identification. Moya makes a similar assertion in Learning from Experience when she argues for the epistemic significance of Chicana [End Page 893] identity against prevailing theoretical and ideological perspectives that dismiss such critical stances as essentialist or naive. She begins with a critique of postmodernist theory and explains that it presents a problem for U.S. literary and cultural studies because its approach to cultural difference erases the distinctiveness of difference itself. Such is the case, Moya suggests, for feminists Judith Butler and Donna Haraway, who misappropriate Chicana feminism in order to read identity simply as a discursive illusion. It is also the case, she argues, for Chicana feminists Norma Alarcón and Chela Sandoval, who have adopted postmodernist theory only to...