Friday, April 24, 2009

Monica Sone and a question of race.

Final post and I'm all caught up! And then I swear I'll be good on maintenance (this is like cleaning... or dieting... I always promise maintenance. But entropy is such a strong force in the world!)

Monica Sone's Nisei Eyes is a biographical account of a Japanese-American girl living in Seattle during the 2nd world war. She eventually gets sent to internment camps when she's in her young adulthood, but much of the book details her experience being a first generation Japanese-American girl.

I liked this book. Mostly because I can identify, obviously, with the conflicted feelings of being both 100% Asian and 100% American, and yet at the same time feeling like you actually belong nowhere completely. Given when it was published (early 1950s), I think it's also really educational for people back then who didn't know much about Japanese culture or the Asian American experience. She does a decent job of deconstructing myths about subservient, harsh, unloving Asians and their families and highlights a lot of the dilemmas that come with being "hyphenated".

At the same time, I felt her treatment of Japanese internment was a bit too soft and fluffy towards the end and didn't necessarily punch in enough of the injustice of this incident in American history. Granted, Japanese internment wasn't like a concentration camp, but it is still appalling to think that so many Americans were forced to leave their homes and possessions and livelihoods to live in camps, and forbidden to return for so many years. The history of alienation against Asian Americans makes my blood boil...

An interesting note -

In the class in which we discussed this book, I am the only East Asian. I'm sure most of my classmates have no idea if I'm Japanese or Chinese or something else, but I find myself acutely self-aware when I raise my hand to make a comment. I think I purposely try to make my comments sound as objective and neutral as possible, because I don't want to be seen as saying something "representative" or for people to think I'm touchy. At the same time, when we do talk about certain things, I know that inside I have a very personal reaction to this concept of Asian alienation and stereotypes, and I also find myself inwardly trying to keep myself from taking anything in offense, despite my desire to want to blurt out my own knowledge. It's really interesting, because I don't think I've ever been in an academic situation discussing Asian something or other, and being the only Asian person in the room. I wonder if people are secretly taking sidelong glances at me to see my reaction, or if that's simply my own self-consciousness that doesn't exist.

The thing for me about being Asian is that most of the time I forget I am. Oh, I'm VERY Asian in a lot of the way I live my day to day life - I love karaoke, Asian food, have tons of Asian friends - but to me this is just the way I live my American life. I take it for granted that to be an American means everybody lives their life their own way. So I don't necessarily think about the Asianness of it. I think I forget I'm Asian most of the time until I'm forced to remember it. The way I forget all my friends are Asian until I invite a couple of white friends to a bday party.

We're reading a couple more Asian-American books over the next couple of weeks, and I wonder to myself if there's anyway that I can insert my experience without turning myself into somebody who becomes only represented by my Asianness.

It's the very reason I don't want to be niched as an Asian-American writer. To me, I'm just a writer. An American. Who happens to live her life in a very Asian-American way. But I honestly feel most of the time that I am just a person. And yet at the same time, I am also acutely aware of how my face might affect people in certain situations. How is that possible? To feel so raceless and yet so racial at the EXACT same time?

5 drops:

moonrat said...

re: the internment: i have yet to read a book that really hits it home. or puts it solidly in the continuum of immigration racism and land confiscation that happened on the west coast in the early 20th century. but hey.

Leigh Russell said...

Interesting how our self perception changes, isn't it? And we think we can understand other people!
As a member of the Book Book blog, you're invited to my Virtual Book Launch on my blog, if you're interested. You can find details on my blog.

sexy said...
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Ello said...

Excellent post. ANd why didn't it show up on my google reader?!!!! I'll have to resubscribe to see what's wrong!

But I have the opposite reaction in that I'm more likely to challenge people and get up in their face about issues that bother me and I don't care if it comes off as touchy cause usually they are and they are being ignorant.

angelle said...

Ello -- I usually am pretty reactive when it comes to race, but I guess bc I'm in the academic setting where I want people to value my comments about the BOOK and my interpretation of it, without thinking that it's being colored by my ethnicity, I try to be more objective. But seriously, someone say something negative/offensive, and I'm on it.

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