Forum for the LLC Asian American Literature forum’s members.
Current executive committee:
Heidi Kim, 2017-Jan. 2022
Harrod Suarez, 2018-Jan. 2023
Vinh Nguyen, 2019-Jan. 2024
Jinah Kim, 2020-Jan. 2025
Erin Suzuki, 2021-Jan. 2026
Current forum delegate: Lynn Itagaki
MLA 142: “The Multiple Racial Subjects of Japanese Immigrants: Brazil-Maru and Diversity in Japan”
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MLA 142: "The Multiple Racial Subjects of Japanese Immigrants: Brazil-Maru and Diversity in Japan"
Session 142: Boundary Conditions and Complexities in Teaching the Works of Karen Tei Yamashita Modern Language Association Convention, 2017, Philadelphia Jan. 5, 2017 5:15 pm-6:30 pm—Pennsylvania Convention Center, 110A Program arranged by LLC Asian American The Multiple Racial Subjects of Japanese Immigrants: Teaching Brazil-Maru as a Text for Diversity Training in Japan Rie Makino, Associate Professor, Nihon University, College of Commerce Introduction For students majoring in American literature in Japanese universities, questioning “being Japanese in North and South Americas” rather than generally exploring “what is America” is a good starting point to learn about American literature. In other words, studying American literature in Japan needs a practice of imagining our multiple racial and immigrant subject positions in the age of globalization. In this learning environment, Karen Tei Yamashita’s second historical novel, Brazil-Maru (1992) (look at the screen) gives us excellent input for Japanese students. While North American literature tells us the history of Japanese immigrants with an emphasis on the discourse of victimization under US politics such as the plantation labor and the internment during WWII, Brazil-Maru tells a completely different story of the Japanese in South America – expatriates rather than immigrants, compradors (colonists) rather than subalterns, and socialist Christians rather than a capitalistic model minority. This disrupts our perception of being Japanese immigrants. <Outline> By pointing out the racial dichotomy between resistant subjectivity, “the bad subject,” and the assimilated, capitalistic one, “the model minority,” a Vietnamese American writer and professor in University of Southern California, Viet Thanh Nguyen in Race and Resistance (2002) criticizes Asian American academics who choose “the bad subject” as their strategic mode to challenge the capitalistic exploitation in the U.S. yet eventually present this resistant mode as a commodity. After teaching in the United States for four years as a teaching assistant and for more than ten years later in Japan as a tenured track professor, I started to notice we cannot use either “bad subject” or “model minority” in teaching American ethnic literature in Japan. In fact, the Japanese students are even more willing to position themselves as “model minority” since they are familiar with US representation of Japan in the high economic growth from the 1970s to the 90s. Such spontaneous identification with the model minority discourse interrupts our occasion to know other aspect of Japanese immigrants in South America. This is partly because we learn American ethnic literature based on the discourse of victimization. I ask myself, “How can we as Japanese professors who can teach American literature have a critically ethnic viewpoint?” I started to notice Yamashita’s perspective of the Japanese immigrants in Brazil-Maru is a good starting point for the Japanese students who can avoid falling into Nguyen’s dichotomy.