Ethnic Identity in Asian American Fiction Authors

The Names of Novelists and Their Works

The basic idea of ​​the paper is to demonstrate ethical identity as one of the social aspects involved in Asian American literature. Due to the fact that immigrants have made a great contribution to the formation of cultural heritage, it is necessary to trace the features of visitors’ assimilation and their thoughts on their new way of life. In addition, gender, race, and other factors should be considered in order to receive a comprehensive picture. Among the authors who worked on the topic of ethnic identity are John Okada, Mei Ng, and some other outstanding representatives of the literature of the past era. The use of various images, for example, food ones, are made with the purpose of displaying ethnic identity and is the technique that is typical for that era. The formation of a national idea against the background of cultural, racial, religious, and other disagreements with the local population is most of those authors’ central thought.

The concept of ethnic identity is an essential aspect of social development. It is this term that was one of the foundations in the Asian-American literature. According to Gardaphé and Xu, the formation of ethnic identity is influenced by experiences of “food productions and services, culinary creativities, appetites, desires, hunger, and even vomit” (5). Since the process of inculcating “ethnic inferiority” frequently affects the digestive desires of ethnic people, culinary themes serve as vehicles for restoring ethnic pride and dignity (Gardaphé and Xu 6). Therefore, the topic of food is often raised in the literary works of immigrants who came to America from the East. Their national culture had a significant impact on the history of the development of their creative idea, and many traditions and customs acquired a primary meaning for many authors of the era when the social background was considered an important feature (Kim 139). The topic of food was one of the themes where it was possible to connect national ideas with the desire to preserve the culture and save ethnic identity.

Nevertheless, there were other topics that had a direct impact on the aspiration of visitors to protect their national dignity. The peculiarities of the state migration system functioned in such a way that it was impossible to develop different cultures within one country without experiencing pressure from the local population. Even despite official permission from the authorities, many controversial and tense nuances arose, which caused many disagreements and, as a consequence, reflected the experiences of visitors in literature. The topics of gender, racial, and cultural inequality became central ones in the works of Asian authors who sought to highlight their right to live and not to feel discomfort.

The modern immigration system continues fostering racism, sexism, and classism, and these phenomena degrade the lives of immigrants. “Often written about from the perspectives of race and national origin rather than from the intersection of race, gender, class, and national origin-Asian women’s lives remain at the margins of history” (Fujino 32). For example, Asian women in immigration suffer more than men do. If a Chinese woman’s husband marries an American woman, she will have no social support. The majority of Asian women work in gendered workplace contexts, and their lives are hampered by sexual exploitation. Therefore, the formation of the ethnic identity is formed under the pressure of stereotypes defining women as housecleaners and uneducated individuals.

Moreover, not only women but also men are forced to experience the consequences of prejudices. Despite the settled migration system, visitors from Eastern countries often feel themselves to be people who do not have full rights and freedoms. According to Oyserman and Sakamoto, Asian American culture belongs to the most widely represented ones in the US (435). However, despite the large percentage of immigrants, society is still not ready to accept visitors and treat them as citizens. It shows that even today, gender, religious, cultural, and other stereotypes have a great influence on the formation of social opinion and negatively affect the process of newcomers’ assimilation.

The story of the relationship between a mother and children in unusual living conditions is described in Tan’s novel “The Bonesetter’s Daughter.” This work is the collective image of the family where a woman brings up foster children and, at the same time, tries to be their beloved mother. As Walsh remarks, the difficulty lies in the fact that maintaining a favorable emotional background is complicated in the conditions of social challenges in which the characters of the story live (606). According to Yüksel, Eastern origin leaves an imprint on the nature of the relationship among some family members, and conflicts between parents and children are inevitable (68). In this case, not only domestic but also other difficulties arise, which are of a deeper nature.

Attempts to convey the identity of women through their character and relationships with loved ones is the typical feature of Tan’s works (He 306). The image of strong heroines, which is associated with difficulties and the constant search for a better life, underscores those challenges that visitors face. Despite equal rights, immigrants, including women, were forced to experience moral pressure and worries because of regular inconveniences caused by their status as settlers. The main heroine of Tan’s novel “The Bonesetter’s Daughter” felt even worse since she was forced to establish a family life while coping with all the attendant circumstances. According to Deeb and Deeb, cultural superstitions are the feature of Tan’s works, and a prejudiced attitude toward Chinese culture is often traced in her novels (76). Therefore, the novel under consideration is suitable for the topic of ethnical identity and may be regarded as the means to demonstrate the complexities that migrant women have to face.

The concept of food closely relates to the concept of family culture and traditions. This aspect integrates various interpretations and meanings. Food’s “juices are dripping” into so many life spheres that it is practically impossible not to notice it (Whitt 2). Product representations in different forms of art and culture or various contexts show a wide range of cultural life dimensions (Whitt 2). Therefore, many immigrants resorted to the display of food and cooking as a way of preserving national identity and protecting the interests of their native culture.

The Chu family’s Sunday lunch is one of the vivid scenes of the film “Eat Drink Man Woman” (Eat Drink Man Woman). In the center of the plot, there is the Chinese Chu and his family who are the typical representative of their culture but differ from the majority by their desire for self-development. The head of the family seeks to convey his feelings to his children but does not always succeed and tries to feed them deliciously. As can be seen from the plot, eating is one of the primary cohesive factors that unite the family members. Any manifestations of emotions, including love for one another, disappointment, and other feelings, are reflected in the criticism of products.

The concept of food interprets challenges of parent-child relationships, for instance, in Ng’s “Eating Chinese Food Naked” and Okada’s “No-No Boy.” Foodways are leading threads, which explain to the readers the essence of the characters. According to Ng, the desire to support national cuisine is one of the ways not to forget the ideas of ancestors and to maintain cultural trends (Eating Chinese Food Naked). Okada emphasizes the fact that the tradition of cooking cannot be lost if people regularly resort to national recipes and are ready to tell other people about specific cooking secrets (No-No Boy). Therefore, the examples found in literature help to prove the importance of food culture in Asian American literature.

Works Cited

Deeb, Gehan M. Anwar, and Gehan M. Anwar Esmaiel Deeb. “Between Two Cultures – Finding Meaning in Amy Tan’s Use of Superstitions.” European Journal of English Language and Literature Studies, vol. 3, no. 3, 2015, pp. 76-108.

Fujino, Diane Carol. Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama (Critical American Studies). Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Gardaphé, Fred, and Wenying Xu. “Introduction: Food in Multi-Ethnic Literatures.” MELUS, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 5-10.

He, Jing. “Through the Looking Glass: Female Identity Rediscovery in Chen Ran’s and Amy Tan’s Fictions.” Intercultural Communication Studies, vol. 25, no. 3, 2016, pp. 306-319.

Kim, Jean. “Asian American Racial Identity Development Theory.” New Perspectives on Racial Identity Development: Integrating Emerging Frameworks, edited by Charmaine L. Wijeyesinghe and Bailey W. Jackson III, 2nd ed., New York University Press, 2012, pp. 138-160.

Lee, Ang, director. Eat Drink Man Woman. The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1994.

Ng, Mei. Eating Chinese Food Naked. Scribner, 1998.

Okada, John. No-No Boy. University of Washington Press, 1976.

Oyserman, Daphna, and Izumi Sakamoto. “Being Asian American: Identity, Cultural Constructs, and Stereotype Perception.” The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, vol. 33, no. 4, 1997, pp. 435-453.

Tan, Amy. The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Random House, 2001.

Walsh, Katie. “Storytelling in Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter: Belonging and the Transnationality of Home in Older Age.” Identities, vol. 24, no. 5, 2017, pp. 606-624.

Whitt, Jennifer Burcham. An Appetite for Metaphor: Food Imagery and Cultural Identity in Indian Fiction. MA thesis, East Carolina University, 2011.

Yüksel, Gülden. “Ethnic Anxiety and Identity in Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter.” Idil Sanat ve Dil Dergisi, vol. 6, no. 28, 2016, pp. 65-73.