Articulating Identities: Rhetorical Readings of Asian American Literacy Narratives

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This dissertation examines how Asian American writers, through what I call critical acts of literacy, discursively (re)construct the self and make claims for alternative spaces in which to articulate their identities as legitimate national subjects. I argue that using literacy as an analytic for studying certain Asian American texts directs attention to the rhetorical features of those texts thereby illuminating how authors challenge hegemonic ideologies about literacy and national identity. Analyzing the audiences and situations of these texts enriches our understanding of Asian American identity formation and the social, cultural, and political functions that these literacy narratives serve for both the authors and readers of the texts.

The introduction lays the groundwork for my dissertation's arguments and method of analysis through a reading of Theresa Cha's Dictée. By situating readers in such a way that they are compelled to consider their own engagements with literacy and how discourses of literacy and citizenship function to reproduce dominant ideologies, Dictée advances a theoretical model for reading literacy narratives. In subsequent chapters I show how this methodology encourages a kind of reading practice that may serve to transform readers' ideologies. Part I argues that reading the fictional autobiographies of Younghill Kang and Carlos Bulosan as literacy narratives illuminates the ways in which they simultaneously critique the contradiction between the myth of American democratic inclusion and the reality of exclusion while claiming Americanness through a demonstration of their own and their fictional alter egos' literacies. Part II argues for the hyperliteracy of Frank Chin's The Chickencoop Chinaman and Chang-rae Lee's Native Speaker. I posit that the narrator-protagonists' acts of hyperliteracy are performances of identity that mark and contest their indeterminacy as minority subjects. Finally, the conclusion investigates the debates surrounding Hawai`i author Lois-Ann Yamanaka's Blu's Hanging and the use of Pidgin as a resistant discourse in the text. I argue that examining literacy in the context of U.S. imperialism points to both the increasing need for and difficulty of using literacy as a theorizing framework for the study of Asian American literatures.