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"Over the mountains
There are mountains"

a look at asian pacific american literature
Written by Jessica Lim


If a prestigious business man, who was trained to learn the English language during school immigrates to America and forms relations with other Americans; there is no doubt that he is respected and goes on to create fruitful relations with American people (but this is always an exception and the truth is that, as shown in Lee's novel, the majority of Asian immigrants remain invisible with very limited contact with Americans. "With echoes of Ralph Ellison, Chang rae Lee's extraordinary debut speaks for another kind of invisible man: the Asian immigrant in America…" (Vogue).

The bond that exists among Asian immigrants and Asian immigrants is based on their familiarity to their past, a common language, a common understanding of the sacrifices made to immigrate to America, and most of all the hope and anticipation they shared when they first moved to America. In Lee's novel, Henry's father, the Asian immigrant dies and his son and his wife find

    "his closet, the rack filled with the suits and shoes he would buy on his days off but never wore anywhere "faded sheets of lined notebook paper in his desk, completely written over with the American name (I had once told her) he'd given himself but never once used: George Washington Park. He was practicing the writing of his signature" (Lee 218).

Ultimately, it is the future for their Asian American children, nieces, and nephews; a brewing question of whether they will find a bond with one another and forge forward as a prospering group of Asian Americans or if they will integrate, intermarriage, and become a new kind of American with only traces of their parents past flickering through the slightly slanted eyes of their children's children.

The last layer, or relationship to examine is the Asian American with an 'American' (someone other than an Asian American or an Asian immigrant.) As discussed before, the Asian American's ability to camouflage into a mirage of 'the non-English speaking foreigner' and also his ability to interact with other Americans on an intimate level plays a large role in the makings of this sort of relationship. The Asian American realizes often times that his duality is something that he often overlooks himself. Referring back to Lee's novel, one situation in particular exemplifies this very notion. Henry, the main character falls in love with and marries an American, light haired, light skinned woman named Leila.

Their relationship is tested when they have a total clash of cultures. After Henry's mother passes away, his father, despite his retaliation, brings over from Korea an ah-juh-ma (means 'lady' or 'auntie' in Korean) to help clean, cook, and tend to house chores. Often times, these ladies do not have a solid or brag-worthy past and out of respect for her privacy and past, no one questions it, no matter how much time passes. The family she cares for gives her monetary compensation, which in turn, she sends to her family back in Korea for whatever reason(s). This may reflect on some level the notion of a faulty honor of silence. Unlike the western ways of communication, which I have touched upon briefly before, Asian cultures tend to remain quiet, hide emotions, either out of respect or shame. Asian American Writer's Workshop

In America, a nation based on the very principle of an open forum, this bottling up of emotions and this ability to mask ones emotions seems detrimental. However, it is important to understand that it is different and although it may not make sense to a Westerner, there are boundary lines, which are extremely sensitive and fragile in Asian societies. The Asian American, again, is able to adapt to both kinds of communication. A westerner and a native Asian however are unable to connect as shown by Henry's wife Leila and her wanting to create a more personal relationship with the ah-juh-ma:

    "So what's her name?" Leila asked after a moment.

    "I don't know."

    "What?"

    I told her that I didn't know. That I had never known.

    "What's that you call her, then?" she said.

    "I though that was her name. Your father calls her that, too… I can't believe this,"

    Leila cried, her long Scottish face all screwed up in the moonlight.

    "You've known her since you were a kid! She practically raised you!" …

Finally Leila decided to talk to her; I would have to interpret. We walked over to the house and found her dusting in the living room. But when the woman saw us purposefully approaching her, she quickly crept away so that we had to follow her into the dining room and then to the kitchen until she finally disappeared into her back rooms. I stopped us at the threshold. I called her in and said that my wife wanted to talk to her…Finally her voice shot back,

    "There's nothing for your American wife and me to talk about. Will you please leave the kitchen. It is very dirty and needs cleaning. " …




To continue with the article, click HERE

    Part 1: Learning the definition of being an immigrant
    Part 2: The many "layers" of being an immigrant
    Part 3: Immigrant Asian's interaction with an Asian American
    Part 4: Relationship between an Asian immigrant and another Asian immigrant
    Part 5: Relationship between an Asian American and an American
    Part 6: Info on what America is and what it can be



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