Mitsuye Yamada: A Focused View of Asian-American Second Wave Poetry

This exhibit explores the intersection of Asian-American identity politics and second-wave feminism, with particular focus on how the works of Japanese-American writer Mitsuye Yamada deconstructed the racist attitudes toward and stereotypical perceptions of Asian-Americans. Yamada is a centerpiece of this exhibit for her persistence and efficacy in combating the societal apathy towards Asian-American adversity. Yamada’s featured poems (along with her essay “Invisibility Is an Unnatural Disaster: Reflections of an Asian American Woman,” which she contributed to This Bridge Called My Back: Radical Writings from Women of Color in 1981), not only highlight the horrendous hardships endured by Japanese Americans during the 1940s, but also demonstrate the culture erasure in the following decades.

This exhibit also includes “When I Was Growing Up,” a poem by feminist writer Nellie Wong, in which Wong describes the desperation she had felt during adolescence to assimilate into white girlhood. Wong’s poem is a powerful demonstration of the dual pressures of being a woman of color in patriarchal, white America. Then, to fully contextualize Asian-American-centric feminism during the second wave, this exhibit further includes Shirley Lim’s essay “Reconstructing Asian-American Poetry: A Case For Ethnopoetics,” published in a 1987 issue of Oxford University Press’s Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States. Lim dissects the literary elements of Asian-American poetry, and, more importantly, describes the literary genre’s crucial role in correcting the racial ignorance of the Anglo-American mainstream.

– Alex Han