Here are the required texts I put on the syllabus:
John Okada, No-No Boy (1956; not published until 1971. Get the 2014 edition.).
Gene Yang, American Born Chinese (2006. Graphic novel.)
Chang-Rae Lee, Native Speaker (1993. Still my favorite Chang-Rae Lee novel.)
Eric Liu, The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker (1998. Surprise sleeper text.)
Eddie Huang, Fresh off the Boat (2013)
Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake (2003)
Amitava Kumar, Bombay, London, New York (2003)
I should also acknowledge some significant omissions. Other Asian American Lit. syllabi I consulted as I was putting the readings together last fall typically include books like The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. Here I tend to side with Frank Chin, who leveled a pretty devastating critique of Kingston in an influential rant called "Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake." For related reasons, I nixed Amy Tan from the syllabus as well as my own personal pet peeves from the Indian American side, Bharati Mukherjee and Meena Alexander. I also opted not to try and do Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee, though it's widely popular in Asian American Lit. syllabi, mainly because I worried it might simply be too difficult and abstract for students in this intro-level course to follow.
One consequence of these decisions is that the syllabus is a bit more male-centered, at least with regards to literature, than I would have liked; I'll try and correct that skew next time I do this course. (I am a big fan of Susan Choi in particular, but none of her novels -- at least, none of the novels of hers I've read -- seemed precisely right for this particular course.)
Ronald Takaki, excerpt chapters from A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. These chapters helped provide a glimpse of the early history for Chinese and Japanese American immigrants, beginning in the 19th century and continuing through the World War II period.
Susan Koshy, “The Fiction of Asian American Literature” This essay looks closely at the ‘ethnocentrism’ of Asian American studies in its earlier phase. If the field was earlier dominated by Chinese American and Japanese American scholars, is it possible that our understanding of “Asian American” identity as it has emerged has been skewed? Are we sure that South Asian Americans and Southeast Asian Americans fit under the same umbrella as east Asians?
Robert G. Lee, from the book Orientals. We looked at a chapter on the Model Minority myth, and a close reading of the film Sayonara.
I thought by underlining the popular culture component of the class that I would draw more students and make the course more fun and lively. The first assumption turned out not to be true -- I only had five students enrolled in the course this go round -- but the second did play out as expected (the course was fun for me to teach, though we'll see in a few weeks whether my students thought so as well). Certainly the fact that this spring we saw the debut and first season of the ABC sitcom Fresh off the Boat gave our discussions of that show (in connection with Eddie Huang's memoir) a special currency. I should also add that I have been working on a book on the filmmaker Mira Nair for a long time, and our discussions of two of her films gave me an opportunity to talk about something I have thought about a lot in terms of research -- but rarely taught.
Modified Opening Day Spiel
On the opening day I presented to my students a series of general questions that I hoped the course as a whole would be able to explore. Here are those questions in brief.
1--How are Asian Americans defined vis a vis other ethnic and racial communities in the United States? What is the distinction we need to make between “race” and “ethnicity”? Is being Asian (in America) a “racial” identity? How does the concept of race work for immigrant communities (like Asians and Hispanics), in comparison to the concept of race in the African American community? Can race and ethnicity categories change (i.e., many people might casually see Asians as effectively “white” in American society)? Given the large number of cross-cultural marriages and bicultural/biracial people who have some Asian ancestry, what happens to Asian identity in the context of increasingly complex, multicultural family dynamics?