Introduction to the 2005 edition theme, The Year of the APA Woman of Letters

By Stewart David Ikeda, Editor


March 1, 2005 – Each March, AAV’s editors sift through a year’s worth of our notebooks, news headlines, reader letters, and Google/IMDB/Amazon and other resources to select readings and a broad theme for the annual update to our Women’s History Month special archive.  For some past editions, we might have chosen to focus on topics we were currently researching, such as “Raising Our Daughters” or “APA Feminism”.  In some years, however, the themes select and assert themselves.  For example, rounding up the events and aftermath of the 2002 Midterm Elections, our 2002-2003 edition announced itself indisputably to be “The Year of the APA Woman in Politics”.  A year of numerous “firsts” in political and judicial appointments, as well as high-profile campaign drama in the state and national stages, it placed APA women at the center of momentous events across the country.  Not the least of these was the tragic loss of — and then the posthumous Midterm victory by — cherished Hawai’i Congressmember Patsy Mink, but there were many others.

With such a hard act to follow, 2004-2005 cannot be considered to have been a banner year for APA women politicians.  This is hardly to say, however, that APA women did not leave an indelible mark on the national elections.  Indeed, APA women activists asserted unprecedented levels of political influence behind-the-scenes.  Women volunteers and leaders organized brilliantly for both major parties and, to an even greater extent, in non-partisan voter education, registration and mobilization efforts nationwide.  The results in our communities were measurable and pronounced: For the first time in decades and against the national trend for other race groups, overall APA voting shifted drastically to the left.  More significantly, overall turnout for APA voters, youth voters and women voters rose to new heights.

As important as this groundswell of political participation was, however, the editors’ yearly review focused on APA women’s contributions in a very different sector of American life: our cultural imagination.

Maxine Hong Kingston, Bharati Mukherjee, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Mitsuye Yamada, Jessica Hagedorn, Elaine Kim…

Keepers of our stories, our hearts’ expressions, our imaginings — these women have for some time now been regarded among the revered mothers (and — my friends, forgive me — in some cases the grandmothers) of our communities.  For those of us lucky enough to have benefited from the blossoming of ethnic studies and Asian American Studies in the 70s, 80s and early 90s, the past year in publishing has brought new releases from a wondrous array of pioneer authors we first encountered on our Asian American Lit 101 syllabus.  It has been incredibly exciting to see so much new work from these “canonical” figures — all updated, at the peak of their creative powers, tackling new angles.

Explore these and Other Titles

Featured Books by Asian American Women Authors

Three Asian American Writers Speak Out on Feminism

Charlie Chan Is Dead 2 : At Home in the World (An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction--Revised and Updated)

The year also brought a bumper crop of new titles by more recently established but no less accomplished writers such Jhumpa Lahiri, Gish Jen, Ruth Ozeki and Chitra Divakaruni.  Each of these authors have, in their way, benefited from early paths taken by the previous list.   Shedding some of the pressures of community representation while nonetheless peopling the world with memorable characters who are nonetheless Asian American, each has been very much a part of mainstream contemporary American literature.

Notable for its diversity, too, the year has also seen a blossoming of both established and first-time South and Southeast Asian American authors, who continued to expand the ethnic and generational boundaries apparent in traditional Asian American and ethnic-specific literature.  Offerings by Kavita Daswani, Bharti Kirchner and Sonia Singh all look to capture a young desi experience of transnational connections, often using a blend of fairy tale, myth and global pop culture.  Similarly, books by Barbara Tran, Le Thi Diem Thuy and Loung Ung use the perspectives of young, contemporary 1.5-ers to traverse the distances — either imaginatively or actually — between America and Southeast Asia, today’s problems and the past’s.

Of interest in the teen/young adult category is An Na’s gritty, A Step from Heaven.  About a 1.5 Korean American girl’s experiences of her family’s difficult times as immigrants and conflict with her embittered father’s abusiveness, the book earned an American Library Association’s Printz Award for teen fiction.

This edition features some interviews with or pieces by some of these authors, as well as links for your own exploration of their new works.  We will continue to update the page throughout the month, and will refresh and prominently post the newest Villager-nominated additions to our feature, The APA Women’s Wall of Fame — an Asian American Village tradition-in-progress since 1998.

Finally, of course, the year has brought its losses.  Perhaps most significant of these, for its sheer tragic waste, was the death of Iris Chang, only 36, apparently at her own hands.  Over a relatively short career, Chang’s work has had a very large international impact that certainly remains after her.  In particular, The Rape of Nanking has contributed hugely to motivating an international movement to pressure Japan to come to grips with war crimes in its past.  Even as I write this, organizers from across the globe are organizing what promises to be a historic effort called the “Global V-Day Campaign for Justice for ‘Comfort Women’: Survivors of Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery”. There is no doubt that Chang’s spirit will manifest prominently in this campaign to win redress for women in South Korea, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Netherlands.

And although we don’t usually “do dedications” on the features at AAV, we’re changing things around a bit for Women’s History Month 2005…

This one is for Iris.

— Stewart David Ikeda