Essay about Asian American Identity

1643 Words 7 Pages
Silence as Beauty, Silence as Self: The Asian American Identity

The label “American” encompasses many different cultures and races. However,
American society is often guilty of assuming there is only one true, certainly white, “American” face, voice, and behavior. Associate Professor of Sociology, Minako Maykovich, states that “the criteria for physical characteristics are generally determined by the dominant group in society,” thus “racial difference is the greatest obstacle to the process of assimilation” (68). In Traise
Yamamoto’s nonfiction narrative, “Different Silences,” and Janice Mirikitani’s poem, “Breaking
Silence,” the authors explore their Asian American identities as defined by American culture.
The quest to
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Mirikitani and Yamamoto address how the Asian American community kept their silence during this difficult and degrading time. Yamamoto uses the same excuse as her interned Japanese ancestors to explain the embedded Asian disposition: “One doesn’t speak because there is no use in it, shikata qa [sic] nai, no use to calling so much attention to oneself, to one’s family; no use to shame others, both inside and outside” (47). The
Japanese phrase shikataganai, translated as “it cannot be helped,” refers to the Asian Americans who tried to justify their forced internment at camps across the United. States during World War
II (Leitner-Rudolph 7). Yamamoto does not necessarily support this behavior but comments on it because of its psychological impact on present generations of Japanese Americans. The shikataganai mentality has “contributed to the stereotype of the passive, obedient, non-troublemaking
Asian as seen through Western eyes” (Leitner-Rudolph 7). In the same manner,
Mirikitani encompasses all Asian Americans who shamelessly obeyed U. S. orders when she says that “we were told / that silence was better” and “don’t make waves” (lines 8-9, 14).
Yamamoto and Mirikitani stress the damaging effects of silence that still linger within the Asian
American community.
These authors also observe that there is the disappointment in “speaking” that causes
Asian Americans to use silence as a safety net. In “Breaking Silence,” Mirikitani creates the image of
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