chapter  1
17 Pages

Environmental Narratives of American Identity: Landscape and Belonging in Maxine Hong Kingston’s China Men and Milton Murayama’s All I Asking for Is My Body


Historically, the American landscape has been closely tied to American identity: the freedom to own land, work the land, and explore the land represent the rights of a free American. In particular, the landscape of the American West often plays a defi ning role in American mythology as a place of rugged individuality and opportunity; it embodies the spirit of adventure and conquest. Historian Donald Worster argues that different groups of people around the globe associate the American West with cowboys, horses, gunfi ghts, and wide open spaces. As a result, “the West has come to symbolize the whole national identity of the United States.” 1 However, the role of Asian immigrants in the history of the American West has been downplayed, even ignored at times. The mythology does not imagine them as a part of the American identity that is embedded in the very land itself. Indeed, Hsuan Hsu points out that “[w]hether or not they contain any truth with regard to other groups, frontier stereotypes such as freedom of movement, voluntary self-reinvention, individualism, and westwardness have seldom applied to Asian immigrants and their descendants.” 2 The same landscape that promised individual freedom has been used by dominant political and economic powers to prevent Asian immigrants from claiming American identity and citizenship.