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Re-Approaching the ‘Patriarch’: The “Father” in Asian North American Literature
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2010 NeMLA Convention in Montreal, QC
Since the 1960s, Asian American Literature has received recognition from works by women writers, such as Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan. A considerable amount of Asian American novels deals primarily with the mother-daughter relationship. However, the tradition of matrilineal narrative somehow overlooks the image of the Asian father. In most of the works by women authors, the “Father” is either a ghostly presence or a symbolic absence. His silence and suffering have insufficiently explored. Given that Asian males are also racial minority, their struggle with cultural emasculation in a predominantly Anglo-based society and their melancholia and silence have been under-represented. For example, the father in Fae Myenne Ng’s Bone is a loving, kind father figure but powerless with his “paper son” status and helpless with his Americanized daughters. Chang-Rae Lee’s Native Speaker presents the Asian American male character’s ambivalent pursuit of a father figure. The father in Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s Blu’s Hanging suffers from the loss of his wife and the traumatic past as a leprosy patient. The father in Le Thi Diem Thuy’s The Gangster We Are All Looking For is a model of his child’s identification yet he represses his melancholic self in order to maintain an ideal father image in front of his daughter. How do we locate the father’s corporeal presence in Asian American/Canadian Literature? Are the male characters simply domineering patriarchal villains? Or are they equally traumatized by racialization and stereotyping, like their female counterparts? How does the “Asian father” cope with his struggle between family and society?