Asia, the world’s largest continent, expands from the area formerly known as the U.S.S.R. to the Bering Strait and as far south as the Indian Ocean. Scholars limit the areas of Asia to focus predominantly on the Eastern Asian area in regard to Asian American literary guidelines. Asian American literature allows a further exploration of the past and traditional Asian philosophies like Confucianism and Buddhism. Asian American literature also provides a voice to a culture generally ignored allowing Asian American authors to dispel stereotypes and explain cultural traditions. Asian American literature contains numerous originating nationalities, religions, languages, and philosophies for a monolithic philosophical definition.
Asian Philosophy The basis of Eastern Asian philosophy finds roots in the principle of awareness of the relationship between all things and events. This principle explains the idea of the concept of the unification of an individual with the universe or a sense of oneness. Eastern philosophy encompasses the principles of Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, and Taoism. Buddhists believe in the principle of the Middle Way or to seek moderation and avoid self-indulgence or extravagance (Ling, n.d.). Buddhists accept the impermanence of nature and an interconnection of all things. Confucianism encompasses the principles of personal and governmental morality, appropriateness of social relationships, sincerity, and justice (Ling, n.d.).
Hinduism in India and Taoism in China are two other philosophies reigning from Eastern Asia. Hinduism expresses a belief in the idea of the Absolute. This principle explains the accepted human reality as an illusion because the spirit lives infinitely. Hinduism preaches the idea of meditation to connect with the environment and reach self-realization. Taoism expresses the principle of Nature. Taoists believe the principle of Nature flows throughout life and connects all things (Ling, n.d.). Taoists seek to find harmony with Nature to find a happy and virtuous life.
Limited exposure to Asian philosophy in America through literature cause a stereotypical and limited opinion of Asian American culture and philosophy. Typically Americans find exposure to Asian and Asian American culture and philosophy through movies and television shows creating specific stereotypes of Asian culture. The inadequate availability of Asian and Asian American literature in the United States to explain the principles of the Asian philosophies Asian Americans believe does not provide a strong voice in the Asian American community for change. The literature available explains the experience of Asian Americans in the United States.
Asian Literature The experiences of Asian immigrants and Asian Americans in modern society typify Asian American literature. Scholars generally recognized Asian American literature written beginning in the 1970s as part of the Asian American canon. Asian American literature depicts the immigrant experience in America and in later generation assimilation. Asian American literature illustrates how language created stereotypes difficult to overcome. Asian American literature also explores the feelings of Asian Americans living in internment camps during WWII and how Asian Americans incorporate Asian culture with American culture to fit into the American cultural scheme.
In the essay “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan explains how all people speak in different languages and the subsequent categorization based on speech. Tan explains the different types of English she uses to write and the kind of English she uses when she speak with her mother. When Tan speaks to her mother she speaks broken English so that her mother understands rather than grammatically correct English. “I heard myself saying this: not waste money that way,” (Wong, 1996, p. 40). Tan explains she uses this type of English when speaking with her family even though her mother understands more English than speaking in a broken up pattern denotes. Tan later says, “When I was growing up, my mother’s “limited” English limited my perception of her,” (Wong, 1996, p. 43). Tan explains how in generally American’s view Asians who speak with fractured English as limited in knowledge or intelligence and how she herself was a victim of viewing her own mother through this stereotype. Tan uses the experience of her Asian mother to explain cultural racism in America and how English as her second language speakers makes daily communications difficult.
In “No Name Woman” by Maxine Hong Kingston explains how a Chinese mother explained life lessons and warnings to her children through the same stories she grew up being told. The mother in the story tells a bloody tale of a woman who disgraced herself by becoming pregnant and how the villagers destroyed the woman’s belongings and the family’s home as well as killing animals and taking items to bless themselves after cleansing the house. The story ends with the pregnant woman killing herself and her baby and is never mentioned by the family again as if she never existed. “Don’t let your father know I that I told you. He denies her. Now that you have started to menstruate, what happened to her could happen to you. Don’t humiliate us,” (Maxine Hong Kingston, n.d., para. 9). Kingston’s mother embraces traditional storytelling from over the top examples to discourage behavior in the younger generations.
Garrett Hongo’s “Kubota” tells the story of Hongo’s grandfather and how after the attacks on Pearl Harbor by Japan he and his family feared for their lives. Hongo’s grandfather, a Japanese American citizen, gathered for questioning by the FBI because of being part Japanese. It did not matter that he was born an American citizen as were the other Japanese Americans gathered it only mattered that he was Asian. “Many of these men–it was exclusively the Japanese American men suspected of ties to Japan who were initially rounded up–did not see their families again for over four years,” (Hongo, 1995, para. 7). Hongo explores the political prejudices endured by Japanese American’s during the war and how this treatment changed people. Hongo explained, “I am Kubota’s eldest grandchild, and I remember him as a lonely, habitually silent old man who lived with us in our home near Los Angeles for most of my childhood and adolescence,” (Hongo, 1995, para. 8).
Conclusion Asian American literature encompasses the philosophical and cultural traditions of the area in Asia known as Eastern Asia. The generally accepted principle throughout different Asian philosophies is self-actualization and oneness with the nature. In the United States Asian immigrants struggled to find work and cultural identity while assimilating to American culture. Often Americans stereotype older Asian Americans as not intelligent because of a fractured way of speaking English rather than speaking with proper grammar. Asians in America faced political racism during the war Asian Americans loyalty came into question because of the physical appearance of Asian descent. Asian American literature includes the colorful and dramatic storytelling style of Asian culture when explaining the importance of accepting and continuing traditional Asian values to younger Asian American generations.
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