Most of the anthology comprises personal stories/testimonies. Some are tales of protest, others share confidential experiences, some are perhaps intended to help others identify with themselves and those in minority positions, one or two are inspirational stories, and all deal with the issues of growing up as an Asian girl in the USA. Most of the stories centre on the themes of being different, of being on the periphery of mainstream society, of not fitting in and not quite belonging, and above all, of not being understood. In all these stories, there is a strong insistence of the right to belong, the right to be there. There is also an insistence on being American.
There were many tales written with anger, tales that discussed the distressing experience of being taunted and jeered at by peers for being ethnically different (read not-white), and this difference has portrayed as being a problem and even a torture to some. Many testified to not being heard, misunderstood, stereotyped, and each writer indicated her personal struggle to overcome these social ostracisations while maintaining their ethnic identities, and reconciling it to their national identities.
The anthology is divided into several sections discussing personal identities, personal appearances, love, origins, sexuality, etc. My favourite section is that on family, which is aptly titled "Circles". There is real tenderness in some of the depictions although the familial relationships described were often difficult ones (especially in the cases which involved the generation gap). I was particularly drawn by one short story by a Korean author who described her outsider status amongst Koreans living in USA because she does not speak Korean, highlighting the reverse cultural alienation:
"i don't speak korean." the old man's expression transformed. it changed from a look of familiarity to that of a man who viewed me as an american foreigner, a stranger. i turned from an insider to an outsider in that one moment.This collection of stories has a clear target audience; the foreword is "To Asian Girls". It would perhaps be a more valuable collection if there was an introduction which explained how these stories were chosen, what they were representative of, if there was some attempt to contextualise the material. As it stands, there is no explanation or justification whatsoever of how this anthology was put together, selected, researched and balanced. Most of the pieces are too short to be searching, and most only succeeded in making the point that as Asian girls growing up in USA, they faced their own set of problems. This point is neither original nor made in any original manner. The stories are not without interest, but few if any were of high literary merit. There is a slight irony that although many of the stories testified to being misunderstood, the anthology targets an audience of Asian girls - would it not be perhaps more useful to write for a more encompassing audience if wider understanding is so desired?
i wanted to explain. i wanted to say that even though he and i couldn't speak the same language, we were still connected by our roots. he was a distant cousin of mine. i wanted him to know that language wasn't the only source of communication. i remember wanting so badly for him to understand.
something died inside of me that day
he wasn't listening. it didn't matter."
Most the poems in the collection were passable, especially those which did not attempt to do too much. One or two of the shorter ones are fairly good, but there is clearly little mastery of free verse, and although the experimentations with form should be encouraged, a little discipline could improve the end results considerably.
One serious criticism I must make is the unfortunate demonising of "white"people; the racism expressed in this anthology is fairly blatant. The "us versus them" mentality is uppermost and I am personally sorry to observe much too often an undiscerning and blanket portrayal which generalised "white people" as insensitive, rude, and xenophobic. It is clear that many of the writers are women who would eagerly empathise with literature such as Morrison's The Bluest Eye, and several did in fact depict the longing to have Caucasian features in order to regard themselves as beautiful and expressed also the longing to be deemed beautiful by the wider society, but the reverse racism expressed in many of the contributions in this anthology does little to recommend it.
In summary, the anthology is somewhat disappointing. With the exception of a small number of contributions, most were run-of-the-mill and lacking in freshness. I do not doubt the sincerity of the authors and the authenticity of feelings invested, but for most part, it did not succeed in drawing the reader's sympathies to any significant extent. One possible reason for this, apart from the lack of originality, is that the language lacked strength and power. There mere insertion of foreign words into the English language is not enough if the language is to be used to express a different mindset, a different world, a different reality. There was an inclination to try for poignancy, but these attempts were mostly heavy-handed and lacked that light, precise, and exquisite touch required for the reverberations of true poignancy. Nevertheless, having said all that, it was not at all an unpleasant read, and the voices of those who deem themselves as occupants of the margins of society should be encouraged.
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