* Previous posts in this series: Kenji C. Liu
The first time I read "To 'P' or Not to 'P'? Marking the Territory Between Pacific Islander and Asian American Studies", by Vicente M. Diaz, I really had to "P." Badly.
And by "P," I mean I had to "Pacific." I had recently completed an MFA in Poetry (the other stream of "P" in my life), and I was thirsty for Pacific literature.
So I applied to a Ph.D. program in Ethnic Studies. I didn't get in. So I applied again the next year and they must have pitied me. As I walked the halls of my department, I realized there was nowhere I could "P." No Pacific faculty, no Pacific courses. I had no choice but to hold my "P" and take other courses.
One course was "Asian American Literary Theory," taught by Sau-ling Wong. The creative sophistication of the field inspired me. I wrote my final essay on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's DICTEE because I saw myself in Cha's words:
From another epic another history. From the missing narrative
From the multitude of narratives. Missing. From the chronicles.
For another telling another recitation.
Those lines became an epigraph in my first book as I hoped to weave my "from" to Cha's "from." We both speak from within the same missing narratives of Asian and American empires.
In 2004, the Journal of Asian American Studies published a special issue on Pacific Islander studies. Guest editor, Davianna McGregor, wrote in her preface, "Weaving Together Strands of Pacific Islander, Asian, and American Interactions":
"There are many strands of historic interactions between Pacific Islanders, Asians, and Americans on Pacific Islands and on the American continent that can be woven together to enrich the tapestry of Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies."
In 2008, the critical anthology Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawai'i (edited by Candace Fujikane and Jonathan Y. Okamura) untangles the strands of the sometimes violent and unequal colonial relationship between Asians and Pacific Islanders.
The Amerasia Journal, just last year, published its own special issue: "Transoceanic Flows: Pacific Islander Interventions across the American Empire," guest edited by Keith Camacho. The regular editors of Amerasia, David K. Yoo and Arnold Pan, note:
"While such terms such as 'Asian Pacific American' and 'Asian American Pacific Islander Studies' are inclusionary in their nature, they also point to the complications and complexities of creating coalitions, communities, and disciplines that bring together diverse groups of people with different and even divergent interests, experiences, and social positions."
Lastly, I turn to Paul Lyons' "Wayne Kaumualii Westlake, Richard Hamasaki, and the Afterlives of (Native/non-native) Collaboration against Empire in Hawai'i" (2010). In this essay, Lyons examines the personal and literary friendship between two of my favorite writers:
"Within such a project the friendship and dissident artistic projects of Hamasaki (who always foregrounds his own position as Japanese-American) and Westlake (who writes as an Hawaiian) figure one example of a mode and space of what might be called Native/non-native collaboration against Empire within the arts. Such collaborative friendships have a history in Hawai'i, become a usable inheritance, and have an uncanny power to continue generating effects."
To me, "collaboration against Empire within the arts" is exactly what we need to build an APIA literary coalition to confront the continuous ravages of empire that are destroying our homelands and peoples and futures.
I was going to come into this space and "P" all over it by recommending Pacific Islander writers that I think others should read. Since I do that on my Facebook (feel free to friend me), I want to instead enact a gesture of friendship to Asian American poets that have influenced me—writers that I believe could be put in productive dialogue with Pacific Islander poets who are writing from similar missing narratives. This list is a genealogy of friendship, a usable inheritance, a thank you note. For others, this could be a summer reading list.
So let's begin the shout-outs: In addition to Cha, read Korean descent writers Myung Mi Kim, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Don Mee Choi, Sun Yung Shin, Margaret Rhee, and Cathy Park Hong. Read Japanese descent writers Brandon Shimoda, Michelle Naka Pierce, Kimiko Hahn, Sawako Nakayasu. Read Taiwanese writer Shin Yu Pai. Read Chinese descent poets Ching-In Chen, Timothy Yu, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, and Kenji Liu. Read Thai descent poets Jenny Boully and Jai Arun Ravine. Read Tibetan poet Tsering Wangmo Dhompa. Read Vietnamese descent poets Truong Tran, Bao Phi, and Linh Dinh. Read Filipino descent poets Barbara Jane Reyes, R. Zamora Linmark, Bino Realuyo, Catalina Cariaga, Kristin Naca, Paolo Javier, Joseph Legaspi, Patrick Rosal, Sarah Gambito, and Sasha Pimentel Chacon.
Read How Do I Begin?: A Hmong American Literary Anthology. Read Tilting the Continent: Southeast Asian American Writing. Read Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry.
Read the Lantern Review: A Journal of Asian American Poetry, Kartika Review, and Cha: An Asian Literary Review.
For the APIA literary coalition to become a collaborative friendship against Empire, we must read across the acronym. Asian Americans must read Pacific Islander writing, and Pacific Islanders must read Asian American poetry. That is the only way we can see our similarities and differences; that is the only way we can truly see each other.
Craig Santos Perez is a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guåhan/Guam. He is the co-founder of Ala Press, co-star of the poetry album Undercurrent (Hawai’i Dub Machine, 2011), and author of two collections of poetry: from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press, 2008) and from unincorporated territory [saina] (Omnidawn Publishing, 2010), a finalist for the LA Times 2010 Book Prize for Poetry and the winner of the 2011 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Poetry. He is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, where he teaches Pacific literature and creative writing.