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Critical Negotiations

New Perspectives on Asian American Women’s Fiction

by Weiwei Shen (Author)
Thesis 214 Pages

Summary

In a global context where the speed and volume of migration have continuously increased, communicative failure shows up in cultural conflicts as thematized in Asian American women’s literature. When the text surface suggests that migrant identity is flexibly hybrid, are there deeper textual layers? This book probes the limitations not only of the usual methods of literary study, but of Western constructions of the experience of loss and deprivation. Can literary interpretation gain from adapting new conceptualizations developed in the science-oriented field of intercultural communication studies? A critical negotiation concept opens unexpected analytical potential with far-reaching implications.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication Page
  • Preface
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • 1 Migration and Asian Diaspora in the Age of Globalization
  • 2 Asian American Diaspora Literature as a Literary Genre
  • 3 Hybridity: From Celebration to Problematization
  • 4 “Negotiation” as Theoretical Underpinning
  • 5 Choice of Literary Works
  • 1 A Critical Theorization of Identity Negotiation
  • 1.1 Intercultural Concepts of Identity22
  • 1.1.1 Themes of “Culture” in Intercultural Communication
  • 1.1.2 Theorizing Cultural Identity in Intercultural Communication
  • I. Identity Management Theory
  • II. Critical and Interpretive Cultural Identity Negotiation Theory
  • III. Integrative Identity Negotiation Theory (IINT)
  • IV. Intercultural Personhood
  • V. Intercultural Communicative Competence
  • 1.1.3 Finding a Construct
  • 1.2 Identity Negotiation as a Philosophical Symbol
  • 1.2.1 Postmodernist Communication as “Rubbing off”
  • 1.2.2 A “General Politics” of Truth
  • 1.2.3 Gain, Loss, Exchange
  • 1.2.4 Mindfulness and Asiacentric Identification
  • 1.3 Excursus: A Conceptual Dilemma?24
  • 2 Negotiating in Exile
  • 2.1 Introduction
  • 2.1.1 Bharati Mukherjee as a Famous American Writer
  • 2.1.2 Jasmine as a Battlefield
  • 2.2 Mindful Identity Negotiation
  • 2.2.1 Jasmine’s Mindfulness in Communication
  • 2.2.2 Embracing Difference
  • 2.2.3 Jasmine’s Rebellion: Being Many Selves
  • 2.3 Nonlinear Time
  • 3 Negotiating a Home in the Floating World32
  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.1.1 Internment and In-Between Spaces
  • 3.1.2 Ukiyo: An Unstable World for a Stable Family
  • 3.2 Seeking a Home
  • 3.2.1 Traumatic Silence
  • 3.2.2 Olivia’s Bildungsroman: Breaking Silence
  • 3.2.3 Growing Up Japanese: Conflicts and Transcendence
  • 3.3 Olivia’s Mindfulness in Growth
  • 4 Negotiating the Typical American35
  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.1.1 Postmodernist Reading?
  • 4.1.2 Mindful Dialogic “Rubbing Off”
  • 4.1.3 Jen’s Defense against “Typicalness”
  • 4.2 Negotiating the “Typical” American Dream
  • 4.2.1 Typical American? Typical Chinese Immigrant?
  • 4.2.2 The Failure of an American Dream
  • 4.2.3 Helen’s Vulnerable Identity
  • 4.3 Renegotiating with the Social Reality
  • 4.3.1 Escaping From the Fort
  • 4.3.2 Making One’s Own Choices?
  • 4.3.3 Playing the WASP Game
  • 4.3.4 No Walls between the Rooms?
  • Conclusion
  • Comparison and Contrast
  • A Negotiation of Power
  • Reflection
  • “Life-centered” Analysis
  • Mutual Adaptation
  • Bibliography

Introduction

1 Migration and Asian Diaspora in the Age of Globalization

For the last half century or so in this age of globalization, Salman Rushdie notes that “the distinguishing feature” has been the emergence of a “permeable post-frontier” in connection with “mass migration, mass displacement, globalized finances and industries” (Step 425). Migration and mobility are the hallmarks of our age. The speed and volume of migration have continuously increased in the new context of accelerated globalization as well as technological advances.1 With the resulting legal migrations and illegal border-crossings fostered by the globalization of economies of scale, the cultural conflicts and identity crisis in the United States, a world superpower seeking to redefine itself under these new realities, have continued to become diversified, complex, and disturbing in a manner not seen before.2

The acceleration of migration and mobility has many reasons. Precipitated by the globalization of economies and driven by the lingering American dream, numerous Asian migrants from less developed regions rush into North America, legally or illegally, willingly or by coercion, bringing an important influx into the historical “melting pot” of America. As early as in the mid-1800s, many Chinese went to seek their fortune in the United States when gold was discovered in California. Furthermore, Asian migrant workers were forced to do the labor and agricultural work, which became vital to the development of the American West. Chinese workers took part in the building of the transcontinental railroad since the 1860s. “Without them [i.e., Chinese workers] it would be impossible to complete the western portion of this great national enterprise, within the time ←21 | 22→required by the Acts of Congress,” Leland Stanford reported to Congress in 1865 (see Stanford).3

Since the 19th century, illegal border-crossings and legal migrations facilitated by globalization have made what once seemed to be culturally homogeneous spaces of North America more diversified than ever before. The acceleration of the global economy needs a large workforce with low pay; therefore, poor Asians from underdeveloped countries have become a good choice for such labor (along with poor Hispanics from beyond the southern borders of the U.S., who are not the focus of this study). The massive diaspora movements caused by the Second World War have also become a reason why their numbers have increased rapidly. However, the working conditions of these Asian diasporas were often harsh, migrants’ incomes were small and accommodation very simple, causing miserable inequalities over the ebbs and flows of U.S. history. Nowadays, the fast speed and development of modern means of communication and transportation make mobility around the globe much easier and more convenient than ever before. The wide use of social media, telephones and smart phones, the Internet, and the gradually increasing international travel tide have made the world a global village (as McLuhan termed it), and her people global citizens.4

However, the process and outcome of contact and interaction of different cultures have diversified. The increase of intercultural contacts has not always generated positive and friendly relations, whether in the case of migrant workers, immigrants, or tourists. The failure of these instances of intercultural communication may lead to undesirable results, cultural conflicts, depression, displacement, clashes, or even conditions that lead to war. Cultural representations and productions, ranging from photographs, music, visual arts to film and literature have shown many cases of such failures. Analyzing such cases adequately, ←22 | 23→as I hope to demonstrate further below, needs new approaches and efforts across disciplinary borders.

Between 1840 and 1924, thousands of Chinese, Japanese and Koreans migrated to the U.S., recruited for the labor of plantation, railroad, mining, or field work. However, the huge contributions the Asian Americans made to the socioeconomic development of the U.S. did not help their improvement in social status, while misunderstandings and preconceptions regarding the Asians in the U.S. even increased. Asian Americans have been regarded as the “yellow peril” and an unwelcome “threat and invasion” as their numbers increased (Srikanth and Song 1); hence the introduction of the notorious Chinese Exclusion immigration laws in North America since 1882. These Chinese immigrants were confronted for decades with grueling labor and racial prejudice.5 In 1910 an immigration station on Angel Island (San Francisco) was opened to accommodate aliens, chiefly Chinese and other Asians. It was not until World War II that the exclusion acts were repealed by the U.S. Congress in order to gain Chinese support against Japan on the Chinese mainland (see Island 14). Filipinos were not allowed to enter the country until 1934 (see Elaine Kim 23). McDaniel argues that the New American dilemma is that the increasing number of non-European descendants (181). He continues to explain,

The descendant of these immigrants, starting with the third generation, lose their identity as foreigners and merge in to the mainstream, native-born white population… Asians do not come to the United States as Asians; they arrive as Chinese, Japanese, and Indians. (181–82)

He explains that the American dilemma is not about racial division between white and black; but it is about the inclusion of diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural groups to the American identification. To change the hostile discursive history of stereotype and simplistic understanding of Asian Americans, writers have endeavored and are still making efforts to create manifold narrations of Asian Americans and their experience, in order to enhance mutual understanding and eliminate stereotype as well as exoticism. As Maxine Hong Kingston explains,

The mainstream culture doesn’t know the history of Chinese Americans. […] That ignorance makes a tension for me, and in the new book [China Men] I just couldn’t take it anymore. So all of a sudden, right in the middle of the stories, […] there is an ←23 | 24→eighty-page section of pure history. It starts with the Gold Rush and then goes right through the various exclusion acts, year by year. (Conversations 15)

The relationship between history, social development, and fiction is thus a close one, and because of this the analysis of fiction needs to draw on research results from the social sciences. My aim is to propose a way of doing so which has not been explored previously. Migrancy, exile, and cultural meetings have consistently been a poignant topic in literature, as the modern examples of Joseph Conrad, Henry James, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and many others show. In more recent writings, identity, diaspora, and border-crossing have been a central theme, and authors of such works include Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Toni Morrison, and Maxine Hong Kingston.

2 Asian American Diaspora Literature as a Literary Genre

Asian American diasporic literature is the literature created by Asian emigrants in the United States.6 When these write in the host culture’s language, they tend to be treated as belonging to (for instance) American or Canadian rather than Asian literature proper (see Yin 4). Since most Asian emigrants have migrated from Asia as their cultural center, and spread around the world, as their periphery, they are often called diaspora and their writings “diaspora literature.”7 I will describe this concept at greater length below. Despite the debate on the problem of belonging, diaspora literature from Asian perspectives can be understood as comprising literary works created about experiences of living outside Asia that are written in either English or their mother tongue or a further language, or works about their home country created outside that country. Today the terrain of Asian American literature is wider than just the backgrounds in China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. The boundary of what can be called Asian American nowadays has widened to include writers from other parts of Asia, such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Many internationally acknowledged South-Asian writers have emerged in the last thirty years, like Salman Rushdie, Bharati Mukherjee, Jhumpa Lahiri, and ←24 | 25→Daniyal Mueenuddin, among others. Seen from the point of view of diasporic literature, this kind of communication provides a way to articulate the unspoken, silenced history of the diaspora, especially suppressed ethnic women who are subordinated by the powers of a male-dominated American (or U.K. or another nation’s) mainstream society. Gómez-Peña proposes a brand of border art that focuses on “the need to generate a binational dialogue, the need to create cultural spaces for others”; he sheds light on the notion of intercultural dialogue when he defines it as “a two-way, ongoing communication between peoples and communities that enjoy negotiating powers” (48).

Therefore, the study of this kind of border art and literature is a significant way to unveil the history of such oppressed groups and seek to enable awareness of social justice and equity for them. At the same time, the concept of “negotiating powers” together with communication opens the possibility of an innovative approach to dialogue between nations and especially between cultural spaces (which are thus “intercultural” in nature). My aim is to pursue this possibility and hopefully identify a suitable methodology.

Biographical notes

Weiwei Shen (Author)

Weiwei Shen graduated from Hangzhou Dianzi University and received her postgraduate education at Zhejiang University. Sponsored by the Chinese Scholarship Council, she was a visiting scholar at the University of Bayreuth, gaining Co-tutelle doctoral degrees both from Bayreuth and from Shanghai International Studies University. She is currently employed as Associate Professor in the English Department of Hangzhou Medical College.

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Title: Critical Negotiations