Obasan Essay

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Not much has changed since 1899 when Onoto Watanna and Sui Sin Far—the Eaton Sisters—confronted the dreaded binary that seems perpetually to define Asian Americans as either "model minorities" or "bad subjects," as those who either collaborate with or resist corrupt American racial practices. A century later, the "mainstream Asian American intellectual class," inclusive of "academics, artists, activists, and nonacademic critics," still struggles with this rhetorical burden, at times incapable of collapsing this problematic binary, other times intentionally reaffirming it for personal gain, so argues Viet Thanh Nguyen in Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. Moreover, according to Nguyen, Asian American creative writers exhibit a far greater range of fluidity and ambivalence in their writings when it comes to engaging this binary than Asian American literary critics, who, since 1968 (the birth of the idea of "Asian America"), have been trapped in an academic version of Groundhog's Day—day after day, year after year, repeating the "ideologically simple" task of searching for signs of "resistance and accommodation" in Asian American literary production (ho-hum), where works viewed as resistant to U.S. hegemony have been positively evaluated and "prioritized" while works judged to be accommodationist negatively evaluated and "condemned." Nguyen all but accuses the vast majority of Asian American literary critics, past and present, of hypocrisy: While profiting from radical politics by posturing themselves "at the forefront of political consciousness in Asian American studies," they manage conveniently to remain "invested in the visibility and value of Asian American literature as the proof of their own professional usefulness to the academy and the English department." Nguyen reads this behavior as a "contradiction between the radical

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