The rise of the Asian American novel

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Asian American literature falls outside the conventional criteria used to organize a literature, such as nationality, shared history, common culture, or racial identity. The term itself, Asian American, was an invention of the pan-Asian movement of the 1970s, and is used retroactively to organize and interpret a body of writing first produced when that category did not exist as a political or cultural identity. The works of the pre-1970s era were largely identified by the national origins of their writers or their subject matter as Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, or Filipino American. The problem of referentiality also extends to contemporary or post-1970s literature by authors of Asian origin, fiction coeval with the category or produced in its aftermath. The civil rights struggles that birthed the term Asian American also led to the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act that profoundly changed the term's meanings. The 1965 Immigration Act reopened large-scale immigration from Asia after a hiatus of over forty years, and the influx of new immigrant and refugee populations transformed Asian Americans from a native-born to a largely foreign-born population and introduced new classes, religions, and nationalities-including Vietnamese, Hmong, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, and Thais-to the constituency. Nevertheless, while the communities, identities, subjectivities, and affiliations the term encompasses have continuously morphed, its efficacy as a rubric is based on its analytic rather than merely descriptive force. When the Asian American movement in the 1970s birthed the political fiction of pan-ethnic identity, it reconfigured the national origin-based affiliations of Asians into an aggregate identity that emphasized a shared political history of oppression and exclusion as Asians in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of the American Novel
EditorsLeonard Cassuto
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780511782046
ISBN (Print)9780521899079
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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