I started reading Takaki’s book at the recommendation of my American Literature professor. We had just finished reading poems from Angel Island. They were poems written by the early Chinese immigrants. In short, the poems were the result of a crude American attitude toward the Chinese immigrants. For as much as I dislike poetry, I took a strong interest in the Chinese poems. I eventually wrote my midterm paper on the poems, analyzing the extent to which the poems foretell and/or capture the Asian American history.
I approached my professor for advice on how to continue further readings in Asian American literature. She perked up and started listing off all these authors and books. I was surprised — mostly because I didn’t know that such a wealth of literature existed for my demographic. Of the books she suggested, Strangers from a Different Shore appealed to me the most since it was the most historical (i.e. it wasn’t a fiction).
I’m about 200 pages in, and it’s exactly what I wanted to read. It locates Asian Americans in the short history of America, providing me with the fundamentals of Asian America. So far, I’ve read about the American call for (Asian) labor and the Asian response to that call, the Chinese in 19th century America, Hawaii and its plantation laborers (eerily evocative of slavery), the Japanese settlement in America, and I am in the midst of reading about urban Chinese-America. At this point, a lot of what I’ve read isn’t all that shocking. By that, I mean that it doesn’t seem like Asian Americans experienced any unique struggles that any other immigrant population may have experienced. That, of course, is a very general statement. A lot of (wrong) things have happened to Asian Americans since their migration into America, but I guess I’m surprised because I thought those struggles would be more “special” or unique to Asian Americans. Maybe they are and I’m too simple minded.
I’ve only recently become interested in Asian American history and legacy. Reason for this is mostly in my personal attempt to recover and preserve my Laotian heritage. I was disconnected from my ethnic roots for most of my life, and I realized this year how awful that is. You can’t ignore who you are or your past because that would be disrespectful and stupid. I’m very interested in becoming a leader of sorts in the Laotian American community. I’d like to preserve our literature, language, and foods among other cultural artifacts and characteristics. My fear is that being Lao will die once the older generation of Laotian Americans pass away, since they have the historical experience; they possess the Laotian American legacy and stories. This next generation needs to receive that.
I’m really glad and proud to be Asian American. It puts me in an ambiguous role, but I have a slight inclination that Asian Americans are about to bust.
I don’t know why I wrote this.