10 Pages

Introduction: Ecocriticism and Asian American Literature


The question we have to ask ourselves in considering a book of ecocritical essays about Asian American literature is not “why now?” but rather, “what took so long?” Asian American literature is replete with narratives that focus on ecological connections. From early texts set amidst agricultural labor (Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart might be the most obvious example) to recent texts with environmentalist threads running throughout them (such as Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats and Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rain Forest ), the canon of Asian American Literature brims with narratives containing clearly identifi able ecological foci. Of course, there is nothing surprising about these correlations. As readers of this collection are no doubt well aware, early Asian immigration to the United States was to a large extent related to agricultural as well as manual labor. Literature growing out of populations engaged in such labor practices inevitably includes representation of the other-than-human. But more than that, immigrant and transnational narratives (indeed, immigrant and transnational subjectivities) understandably abound with concerns of space and place. Moreover, the literature produced by the succeeding generations of Asian Americans continues these trends. When we relocate we notice differences in our new physical environments. Sometimes these representations of spatial difference manifest in descriptions of trees and plants and in birds and other animals. Sometimes they do so by detailing the ways we engage with urban landscapes, different styles of buildings, different sights, sounds, and smells at street level. 1 Any and all of these representations should be seen to fall under the umbrella of ecocriticism.