Thursday, October 14, 2004

Eileen has company (re her books not being picked up and taught in Asian Am lit courses) in Karen Tei Yamashita, author of Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, Brazil-Maru, and Tropic of Orange. In one interview Karen mentions the same thing: Through the Arc...was picked up by the environmental movement, Brazil-Maru was thought to be about the Japanese in Brazil, and Tropic of Orange...well, it's surrealistic...thus her work is often not taught in Asian Am lit courses. As Karen suggests: Asian American Lit is changing because the maps are changing. And perhaps, as long as writers show the way in map-making, maybe the critics will eventually follow. (Thanks Jean, for the online interview with Karen!).

Well, today in my "Asians in the Americas seminar" (there's only one Asian Am student in class), students read an essay about Guillermo Gomez Pena and Karen Yamashita as performing tricksters -- "the ubiquituous shape-shifters who dwell on borders, at crossroads, and between worlds, and the oldest and newest creations." The students have never heard of this trickster definition just as they've never heard that there are Japanese in Brazil and/or the terms transracial, transnational, and transgendered -- as these are represented in Pena's performance art and Karen's work. One of Karen's characters in Tropic of Orange, in fact, was based on Guillermo Gomez Pena, and she calls this character Arcangel. Arcangel is "grotesque, freakish, yet Christ-like, accounting for 500 years of history in the Americas...he takes the poetry, and also the political conscience and history across the border."

As trickster, Yamashita transgresses all the rules and definitions about national boundaries, the cultural and national definitions of literature. As these boundaries explode, how do we talk about them? In class, it was difficult trying to convince the students to move away from the received definitions of culture, race, ethnicity, nationality but as soon as it was explained to them, one student who is Mexican American exclaimed "so I must be a trickster! this is exactly how I've felt about my identity and location but didn't have a language for it."

Then with the discussion of the perils of a United Colors of Benetton brand of multiculturalism, the students once again raised their furrowed brows while reflecting on how to discern the tame/conservative version versus the radical version of multiculturalism.

Oh the joy of teaching!...

On another note: Well, Barb, re the email that you quoted about the role of poets and writers in society, I received this from a Pinoy guy in Texas who read the same email: "If you hate America so much, why are you here?"...jeez...when I get an email like this I just feel like banging my head on the wall, you know? Out of frustration that some folks in the community just never seem to know how to ask critical questions. Some days I don't feel compassionate and generous (I'm with you, Michelle!).

Our Bino is speaking this weekend at the National Press Club and other Washington DC events promoting Fil Am literature...hope it went well, Bino. Waiting for your report.

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