Asian Studies Segregation Can Breed Empowerment, by Essay

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Asian Studies

Segregation can breed empowerment, by creating self-defined and self-sustaining communities. Asian communities, for example, have been able to maintain identities that are separate from the white hegemony. Terms like Asian-American music, Asian-American literature, and Asian-American humor both promote and challenge social segregation in American society.

Hawaiian band Sudden Rush uses the vehicle of music to convey a unique cultural identity, and to resist the appropriation of Hawaiian culture. For example, Sudden Rush's "EA" is a hip hop song about independence and liberation. The song draws attention to Hawaiian history, and points out the hypocrisy and greed inherent in the American takeover of the archipelago.

The art of Kango Takemura is singularly Japanese. Photographs like "His Bride" and "Setsu" offer a careful juxtaposition of classical Japanese imagery with modern Japanese women. Because of Takemura's background as a prisoner in an internment camp, the artwork takes on a whole new meaning. Integration into the dominant culture may not be feasible, or desired. Takemura's work reveals the beauty inherent in both old and new interpretations of traditional Japanese culture. The commentary on gender embedded in the Takemura photographs is more important than the fact that the artist must be classified as Asian-American, as opposed to just American. There is a distinct cultural identity being expressed in Takemura's art, just as there is a unique cultural identity expressed in Sudden Rush's song "EA."

Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese is an award-winning graphic novel that captures the modern Asian-American identity and spirit. The Monkey King character is crucial in the story because he represents the immigrant experience in the United States. Although the Monkey King is based on figures in classical Asian literature, he takes on a whole new meaning in American Born Chinese. In Gene Luen Yang's book, the Monkey King finally comes to terms with the fact that he will always be a monkey: and therefore not like the other deities.
The message is straightforward: it is neither necessary nor feasible to conform to the dominant culture. Creating a separate identity is preferable: hence, the preference for the term Asian-American over a homogenized "American."

The term "American" automatically connotes white, because the white hegemony is too pervasive. Even Native Americans are qualified as "native," and are not just "American." African-Americans have been on the continent almost as long as whites, but are also qualified as African-Americans. At the same time, is as impossible for a fifth generation Asian-American to identify more with being Asian than American, just as it would be impossible for an African-American to call himself or herself African. For this reason, it remains important to continue identifying as Asian-American. The dual identity is a part of our existence, as being a monkey is to the Monkey King.

In the poetry of the Khmer Girls in Action also shows why it is important to retain a unique hybrid identity as Asian-American. The symbol of hair as a thread tying together generations is apparent in Pok's "My Mother's Hair." In this poem, Pok describes her mother's hair not just in sentimental terms, but also in political terms. Hair represents power, beauty, and even wisdom. The imagery of hair is evocative of the ties a person has to her mother; which also signifies past generational ties to grandmother and great-grandmother. Ones hair is genetically entwined with that of the ancestors. Because the speaker in "My Mother's Hair" has been since separated from her mother, she understands the importance of genetic links. Those genetic links are the biological expression of cultural ties to the motherland.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has helped create a whole new, transformative and dynamic genre of literature that can only be classified as Asian-American. "Clothes" is a particularly poignant story because it addresses the issues faced by a woman who forged….....

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