Issues Facing Asian-American Writers

  • All the world loves a good story, and story‐telling by both novelists Amy Tan and Maxine Hong appeal to readers of all ethnic backgrounds. But the breaking out of these two writers from old ways of thinking has not affected the mindset of many publishers who hold that Asian‐American writers cannot write about non‐Asian topics. The result is that some publishers continue to pigeon‐hole some Asian‐American writers with the expectation that they project exotic or old‐world attitudes and write about their heritage rather than contemporary life.
  • Other publishers do not see the commercial potential for reaching out to the vast market of Asian‐American readers. Some editors have no cultural frame of reference for books about Polynesia and Melanesia, and may consider fiction by a Samoan‐American writer, for instance, a risk. The perceived “model minority” image of Asian Americans makes it more difficult for them to be heard when they advocate for change within the publishing industry.
  • Holes in the common knowledge about U.S. history contribute to discrimination. Unlike descendants of Italian American and German Americans whose ancestral countries made up the Axis powers at war with the Allies, Japanese‐Americans were forced into internment camps during World War II and their human rights were abridged. While Filipino Americans are the second largest Asian‐American community, Filipino‐American writers continue to have a hard time breaking into the mainstream press.
  • Most U.S. citizens do not know that the U.S. purchased the 700 islands that make up the Philippines for $20 million dollars in 1898, that U.S. troops suppressed native Filipino uprisings, or that the Philippines became nominally independent of the U.S. as recently as 1946.
  • Most people know little of the targeted discrimination against Chinese‐American workers and of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which severely limited Chinese immigration, and also channeled Chinese‐American workers into low‐paying home industries, policies that Big Labor shamefully supported in the late 19th and early 20th century.