Saturday, January 25, 2020
Happy lunar new year! In recognition of this significant holiday, here are two stories about Asian and Asian American culture - one celebratory and one mournful.
The Asian-American Canon Breakers (Exclude Me In in the print edition of the New Yorker) profiles writer-activists who forged a cultural identity through their writings. Four writers known as the "four horsemen" -- Frank Chin, Jeffery Paul Chan, Shawn Wong, Lawson Fusao Inada -- founded the Combined Asian American Resources Project in order to mark a literary movement that distinguished between Chinese Americans who had lived in Chinatowns for multiple generations and recent immigrants to the Chinatowns who tended to be the focus of outsider writing. As Chin wrote, "“If the purpose of BRIDGE [a Chinatown magazine] is to bind me to the immigrants,” Chin wrote, “I’m not interested in being bound.”
Their writing style was colorful and irreverant. Some examples appear in the anthologies Yardbird and Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers. Some of the authors had appeared in anthologies before “Aiiieeeee!,” such as Kai-yu Hsu and Helen Palubinskas’s “Asian-American Authors” (1972) and David Hsin-fu Wand’s “Asian-American Heritage” (1974), but the style and political tone of the new movement is distinct. The New Yorker article by Hua Hsu contains detailed analysis of the specific essays within the anthologies and mentions further examples from more modern times. Definitely worth a read.
The mournful story is about a fire that likely extinguished nearly every artifact in the collection of the New York City Chinatown's Museum of Chinese in America. The 85,000 objects were kept in storage within a building at 70 Mulberry Street that serves as a cultural hub and houses a senior center, the Chen Dance Center and a number of community groups. A GoFundMe campaign has been started to facilitate recovery.