Unacquiring Negrophobia:
Younghill Kang and the Cosmopolitan Resistance to the
Black and White Logic of Naturalization


Stephen Knadler

Spelman College, Atlanta GA

Copyright © 2000 by Stephen Knadler, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

  1. Amidst his picaresque wanderings across 1920s America, the Korean immigrant narrator of Younghill Kang's novel East Goes West (1937) encounters in Boston a Negro student Wagstaff who works as a "yes-suh" elevator man while putting himself through college. This black Falstaffian wag counsels the exiled Shakespearean scholar Chungpa Han to "learn the language of gyp, learn to gyp to. Confess honestly that right is not might, but might is right, always since the world began. That's the perspective that only a Negro gets" (274). Throughout his recollections of life as a Korean resident alien in America cut off from his homeland, Kang inserts the "perspective of the Negro" and implies a common colonial oppression and displacement experienced by African and Korean Americans. Resorting to a dream vision at the novel's close to voice the protest hidden behind barriers of polite respect, Chungpa once again imagines that he is trapped in a "dark and cryptlike cellar" in the company of some "frightened-looking Negroes" as a "red-faced" lynch mob storms their prison/fortress intend on burning them all to death (369). But even as Kang organizes memory in his fictional autobiography in such as way as to open up political ties of affiliation among historically discriminated groups -- and to disrupt, as I want to argue, the fashioning of a unified Korean American autobiography -- he discovers a difference within their reality as racial subjects in America. As Wagstaff amidst his ironic cynicism informs Chungpa, "I [Chungpa] was outside the two sharp worlds of color in the American environment. It was in a way true. Through Wagstaff I was having my first introduction to a crystallized caste system, comparable only to India, here in the greatest democratic country in the world" (273).

  2. The study of Korean-, and more generally Asian-, American literature has tended to investigate how various "minority" writers have articulated an alternative identity and cultural practice to the hegemonic white European or colonial cultural formations. The difficulty, as Lisa Lowe argues in Immigrant Acts, has been in defining a "new type of subjectivity that does not just replicate the racialized and nationalized narratives that ground US citizenship" (70). Particularly during the period after the Japanese invasion of Korea, first-generation Korean Americans turned to political organizations such as the Korean Nationalist Association (1909) and its support for the independence struggle at home as a source of ethnic identity and community. Suffering acutely as a people without a "home" to return to, brutally separated from wives and families, the numerous chong gak (bachelors) in America developed a strong sense of ethnic nationalism (Takaki 277). In restoring the Negro question within the personal history of the Korean American, however, Younghill Kang refuses to lock himself into the overdetermined binary logic of this Korean American nationalism that would repress the multiple axes along which identities in the U.S. are (and might be) formed and along which, as well, coalitions might be built with other minority groups. Against the strategy within early Korean American literature to define resistance in oppositional terms to Japanese or Western imperial culture, Kang calls attention to how such a tactic repeats in an alarmingly analogous way the subsuming or erasing of African-Americans in the dominant fiction of a reputedly "white" American culture. In what follows, I want to show how Kang anticipates and obviates the familiar paradigm of contemporary literary criticism which focuses on the conflict between white and nonwhite, Western and Non-Western, native and colonizer, Asian and American in such a way that other non-dominant groups are rendered invisible. By 1937 when he published East Goes West, Kang had turned his attention away from the anti-Japanese nationalism of many of his contemporaries, attempting instead to talk back to and challenge the imagining of a pure, monolithic (and naturalized) white hegemonic U.S.culture. In his fictional autobiography, Kang avoids assimilating the racialized logic of both colonial and anti-colonial groups by calling into question national narratives that would leave the "Negro" and other people of color as outside the heterogeneous American scene in which the Korean might find a "home."

  3. Drawing upon post-colonial and critical race theory, recent "Asian American" studies has undergone a paradigm shift, moving away from a concern for an appropriate Asian-American race-based identity and toward the forming of a "diasporic sensibility." Yet, I want to raise the question whether this diasporic model doesn't still dependent on a buried or reified foundation of race. Despite the desire to transcend national boundaries as part of a larger cultural movement toward post-Americanist narratives in a world of transnational organizations and global capitalism, the leading question in these "postmodern re-imaginings" is still the formation of an "Asian" subjectivity (now in quotation marks) -- a term which by its very framing, excludes, or renders secondary the individual's connection to other minority groups. When speaking of a "diasporic" Asian sensibility, for example, David Leiwei Li still raises the question how "Asians" represent themselves as a people with a "unique experience" and how do they claim a non-Western cultural specificity? (17) This interrogative mode demands that one not ask how one might form an identity in relations of affiliation and reciprocity with other groups, and thus I would argue re-inscribes, as I will try to show in what follows, the "negro-phobic" structure of 20th-century US whiteness's biracial consciousness. Fearful of the threat of "derealization," and of political disempowerment, we critics of ethnicity cannot imagine a politics not mobilized around "identities" -- even as we "de-essentialize" and "diasporize" them. One still wants to think in terms of transterritorialized communities in which the common link is the "racial body" rather than a coalitional or cosmopolitan consciousness inspired by a desire for justice. In the absence of "nation" people find their ethnic identity even more clearly in "race" -- now abstracted as "Asian" (in quotes) -- and thus capitulate to a reinscribed essentialist logic. [1]

  4. In her introduction to the collection of essays, Displacing Whiteness, Ruth Frankenberg has argued that whiteness must be understood as an historically contingent positionality that has shifted over time and varied according to gender, region, class, and nationality (20). Between WW I and WW II, as Matthew Frye Jacobson has noted, there occurred a significant reconceptualization of "whiteness" as a system of meaning deployed to determine inclusion in the imagined "American" national community. While a number of social scientists began to question the naturalness of racial distinctions, especially as applied to ethnic groups, the nation's understanding of race was re-figured along black and white lines. In the new dominant category of the Caucasian, Jewish and Eastern European immigrants and their children (Jacobson argues) found themselves part of a normative "American whiteness," but this inclusiveness depended upon the solidifying of racial conflict as a "Negro problem" (103-10). Now certainly, Asian immigrants did not number among those assumed within the emergent category of the Caucasian, but, upon arriving in the US, Asian immigrants often acquired the concomitant "negrophobia" which acted as a strategic anxiety functioning to acculturate the Asian immigrant into "Caucasian" mainstream society (Hellwig 103). In learning to set themselves apart from African Americans lest they share their marginalized status, Asian-Americans were participating in the unfolding of a larger epistemic transformation in the discourse of whiteness. As Wagstaff apprizes Chungpa (despite the invidious prejudices against Asians) 19th-century America's complicated and variegated ethnic/racial hierarchies (that often differentiated whiteness according to class, nation and region) were being "crystallized" into a black and white caste system. This binary understanding of race relations, however -- which much of ethnic US literary and cultural studies takes as its universal foundation -- has itself a history and one that has often been ignored as an important historical context for understanding the political "agency" of first-generation Korean-Am Younghill Kang.

  5. In his critique of current postcolonial and cultural studies approaches to pre-1980s Asian American literature, Jinqui Ling argues that critics tend to de-contextualize agency, promoting various counterhegemonic strategies apart from the specific forms of social power and oppression that the authors faced within their location. Yet as corrective as Ling's comments are to oversimplified models of oppositional identity politics that ignore the complex renegotiations that make a text neither simply radical or conservative (18), he still, I would argue, starts from a standpoint that valorizes the subversive at the expense of what I want to call reparative and affiliative interventions (and thus assumes I might add a Westernized orientation). Younghill Kang's East Goes West has been so little appreciated because it fails to perform the "kind" of resistance structuring ethnic studies, and a kind of resistance that Kang implies is coterminous with the twentieth-century politics of whiteness. Since his arrival in New York at the age of eighteen, Younghill Kang felt, like most Koreans of his time period, an exile without a country. At the end of The Grass Roof, we should remember, Kang described Japan's brutal colonial conquest of Korea which left him as a young man without a place in the world. Even in his Guggenheim application in 1931, Kang still felt like the sojourner and exile, barred on one hand by US naturalization policy from being more than a permanent alien in "America," yet "not a citizen elsewhere" since the Japanese dissolved the Korean government (qtd in Sunyoung 376). Rather than look back as did many of his similarly displaced fellow Koreans, however, Kang transvalues in East Goes West his "citizen-less" state into the opportunity for a new transnational and transracial consciousness that would exceed traditional borders and would tie "Negroes" and "Oriental Yankees" together in a cosmopolitan affiliation. In his investigations into "discrepant cosmopolitanisms," Pheng Cheah has argued that contemporary post-colonial criticism needs to re-imagine the "cosmopolitan" stance as more than a detached bourgeois aestheticism promoting a global humanity that erases local differences and particularities. What is needed instead is a revitalized cosmopolitanism, one that reaches toward "complex, non-territorial, post-national forms of allegiance" that cross traditional racial or national borders of identity and that captures the collective strivings and interests of groups from many different locations (32). Rather than an "abstract emptiness of nonallegiance," Kang's "cosmopolitanism" in East Goes West, I would argue, points us toward just such a density of overlapping relationships within a plurality of cultures.

  6. Throughout East Goes West, Kang offers us a story of consciousness raising that is not the growth and expression of individualized anger, but of affiliation. Kang is not undergoing as does Frank Chin's Tam what Susan Gubar has called a "racechange" -- one in which he crosses racial boundaries to imitate or impersonate African Americans. Indeed, carefully avoiding such mimicry and racial masquerade even as he learns the perspective "that only a Negro gets" (5), Kang attempts to replace the language of "race" and "race consciousness" with a different kind of cosmopolitanism Starting from an alternative set of assumptions, one that seeks to repair multiracial civility, Kang works to challenge the relational assumptions behind an emerging "white" or "Caucasian" bi-racial America. To understand Kang's intervention into the "crystallization" of a twentieth-century narrative of whiteness and to the "negrophobia" such a logic invoked in Asian immigrants, I want in what follows to set his fictional autobiography, East Goes West against the logic of naturalization evident in prerequisite cases such as Ozawa (1922). In these so-called prerequisite cases, as recently studied by F. Henri Ian Lopez, claimants turned to the courts to be declared "white" so as to be allowed to naturalize or to avoid extradition. Between 1878 and 1952, the US Supreme Court heard 52 prerequisite cases, and within the deliberation on these trials, the courts helped to redefine "whiteness" as less a matter of biology or culture than of "common sense" -- or to state it another way, of simply not being "colored" or "black" (80-86; Jacobson 236). In prerequisite cases such as that involving the Japanese born Takao Ozawa who sued to be classified as white so as to obtain full citizenship, the courts codified two interjoined racial assumptions: first the twentieth-century notion of a transparent and self-evident whiteness (Flagg 36) and second the separateness of "black" culture and experience from an "American" identity. While these cases demonstrate the function of whiteness as an ideological tool in the assimilation of immigrants, Kang's East Goes West is a satire whose intent is to devalue whiteness as a pure property that must be protected. To enact such an intervention into the everyday tactic of whiteness and negrophobia, Kang authors less an alternative identity (even a hybrid one) than works to create an affiliative cosmopolitan consciousness that is "post-ethnic."

  7. In 1939, Illinois congressman Kent E. Keller introduced a bill to the US House of Representatives (HR. 7127) to have New York University professor Younghill Kang naturalized as a US citizen. Included within the bill was a collection of statements on Younghill Kang's behalf compiled by the Committee on Citizenship for Younghill Kang that involved such notable literary and civic leaders as Malcolm Cowley, Pearl S. Buck, Lewis Mumford, Maxwell Perkins, and Charles Scribner among others. The same year a second bill was put forth by Senator Matthew M. Neely of West Virginia before the Senate to declare Kang an "American." Neither bill passed, and the congressional record shows that both bills went forward without debate before they were rejected. The failure of Younghill Kang's legislative bid for citizenship might just be one more historical consequence of the 1924 Immigration Exclusion Law that extended restrictions to Koreans and Japanese were it not for its particular evidence of the legal fiction of "race." In his essay for Common Ground Magazine in 1941, Kang retorted that he knew "I am an American in all but the citizenship papers denied me by the present interpretation of the law of 1870 under which a Korean is not racially eligible for citizenship" (qtd in Sunyoung Lee 389). While such a restrained comment suggests that he understood that it was "racism" which prohibited his naturalization, it also indicates that Kang knew one's race was a matter of "present interpretation." Who was or was not declared a "free white citizen" or "American" because of "race" or "nationality" had altered over time, and constituted no stable entity. In preserving the link between American citizenship and whiteness, Congress it might be argued were protecting and re-embodying their "acquired inheritance" in this racial marker (even as they extended it to previously excluded ethnic groups). As Cheryl Harris has noted in her groundbreaking article for the Harvard Law Review (1993), whiteness as an aspect of identity had been translated within the legal system into an external object of property and a sign of status (104), and the naturalization cases were arguments over the meaning and rights to this "white" property. To identify or be named "white" was to share in a "possessive investment" in the privileges of opportunity, accumulation and upward mobility (Lipsitz 8).

  8. In East Goes West, Kang frames the story of his first years as an exile without a country with brief, but telling references to the immigration exclusion act and legal bids for naturalization. In 1924 the United States extended its immigration exclusions laws to include Korean and Japanese as well as Chinese (1882) and Asian Indians (1917), and not until the McCarran Walter Act of 1952 and the Immigration and Nationality Act did the US government lift some interdictions against Asian-origin groups, although still regulating entrance according to the strategically based quotas of the cold war era (Chan 140-42). At the beginning of the fictional autobiography, thus, Kang has Chungpa remark that, when he arrived at age eighteen in America, he "got in just in time before the law against Oriental immigration was passed" (5). More significantly, near the end of his recorded travels, while hitchhiking around New England, Chungpa relates his on-the-road encounter with the "eminent former Wisconsin Senator" Kirby. After Chungpa quips in response to the Senator's nativist boosterism, that "legally I am denied," the unperturbed Senator trivializes this objection by assuring Han that "there are still ways and means of proving exceptions . . . next time I hold government office . . . write me and I will help you" (383). In Chungpa's usual satiric understatement in this scene, a form of what Homi Bhabha has called "sly civility," Kang anticipates his own futile struggle with proving himself an "exception" to US race logic (Bhabha 83). But while Kang's self-irony in this scene divulges his own cynical hope about overcoming discrimination, his fictional autobiography calls into question the legal property of whiteness.

  9. Although Kang uses Senator Kirby's short-sighted patriotism as a vehicle for satire, the Senator's remarks link the novel as well to specific discourse within naturalization cases such as Kang's before the US House of Representatives and Senate. Senator Kirby exhorts Chungpa to "believe in America with all your heart," to think of himself as "one of us" because he has the same spirit of "ambitious enterprise" (352). Now the Senator's insistence that "America" is in the heart may seem, at first glance, well-intended, but clichéd and innocuous. But he nonetheless taps into the counterargument often made in the naturalization and prerequisite cases that national identity is what I want to call a "transpositional affective state" rather than a physical, or common sense "racial" sign. Such a rhetoric of dissent to national narratives of whiteness may at first seem transformative, but in the end, I want to argue it reinscribes and perpetuates the "negrophobia" that whiteness inculcates in immigrants rather than really challenging the investment in whiteness. Although Carlos Bulosan nearly a decade later would entitle his postwar autobiography America Is in the Heart, and credit Kang as his authorial role model, Kang undercuts this refiguring of national identity as a way to preserve the normative value of whiteness.

  10. Two years prior to the 1924 ban on Korean/Japanese immigration, the Supreme Court had paved the way for this exclusionary legislative action by ruling against the Japanese-born sixteen-year American army veteran, Takao Ozawa, who had sued to be granted US citizenship. I want to look at both Ozawa's defense in this case and the Supreme Court's ruling because combined they map out both the dominant and resistant discourse of naturalization that Kang would perceive as upholding the logic of "whiteness." By contrast, Kang's East Goes West attempts an "affiliative intervention," that transcends the race consciousness of both positions. As part of his eight-year battle for US citizenship, Ozawa composed a legal brief setting forth his argument for his "American-ness." During his trail, as Ian Henri Lopez summarizes, Ozawa had pointed to the skin on his cheek to indicate the whiteness of his body and had brought in ethnological research to argue that the Japanese were often lighter skinned than many of the swarthier European groups accepted into American society (Lopez; see also Ichioka 406-414). Through his ethnological reports and his own ocular proof, Ozawa indicated what was becoming disturbingly clear to American society by the 1920s: that racial differences based on morphological traits were highly unstable and often based more on historical prejudices than direct evidence. But while Ozawa by basing his court case on the indeterminancy of physiology and ethnography was helping to "dis-embody" race (like the naive Senator Kirby), he also re-articulated national identity as a "transpositional affective state." Such a transcoding is evident in the first part of Ozawa's brief:
    In name, General Benedict Arnold was an American, but at heart he was a traitor. In name, I am an American, but at heart I am a true American. I set forth the following facts which will sufficiently prove this. (1) I did not report my name, my marriage, of the names of my children to the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu. . . . (qtd in Ichioka 407)
    In setting up an opposition between name and heart, between surface sign and affective loyalties, Ozawa attempts to separate national identity from the question of "race." The final proof of national identity should be "trans-corporeal" -- more a matter of the heart and soul than of an often ambiguous racial body or heritage. The narratological complement to Ozawa's earlier dramatic argument for the slippery nature of morphological or race-based boundaries for national inclusion (from skin to ethnic genealogy) is the reconstruction of citizenship around the "heart." In calling Ozawa's defense "transpositional," [2] I mean to suggest that he denies any essentialist or race-based definition of nationality. Instead to be an "American" is to occupy an historically specific "position" or subjectivity not limited by the potential citizen's ethnic background but instead experienced as a set of emotional relations toward cultural objects and practices -- from language, education, to institutional loyalties.

  11. Despite challenging US immigration laws, Ozawa mobilized a defense that finally underwrote the logic of naturalization. To claim that America is in the heart meant that one's right to citizenship in effect arose from the shared cultural values with white middle-class Western Europeans. Even though nationality was no longer racial, citizenship still depended upon being "near-er" white. But such a defense by outcome, and in the Ozawa case by intent, renders the African American invisible. I want to turn now to the brief presented by George Wickersham who argued Ozawa's case before the Supreme Court during the October term 1922. While Wickersham marshaled ethnographic evidence to prove the "indeterminancy" of whiteness and he challenged the meaning of the "uniform rule of naturalization" in the Act of 1906, he spent the majority of his brief trying to persuade the Court of a specific meaning of whiteness. As Wickersham states very directly at one point in his defense: "white person, as construed by the Court and by the state courts, means a person without Negro blood" (182). Insisting that when the first Congress passed the Naturalization Act of March 26, 1790, they intended only to exclude "Negroes," and not to ban the Japanese, Wickersham repeatedly asseverates that whiteness meant not black, and therefore, the Japanese, like the other Southern and Eastern European groups being assimilated as "Caucasian," ought to be deemed white. Wickersham concludes by saying, "The only safe rule to adopt is to take the term [free white citizen] as it undoubtedly was used when the naturalization law was first adopted, and construe it as embracing all persons not black" (185). As a consequence, the "Japanese [] is "white" in color and is of the Caucasian type and race" (184).

  12. The racial logic of early 20th-century America, as Gary Okihiro has studied, involved the strategic positioning of Asian Americans in an ambiguous racial position between white and black (Okihiro 53). If the question of becoming a US citizenship involves both acquiring civic and political rights (the right of individual liberty, freedom of speech, association, government influence) and a cultural identity which confers upon the individual a sense of belonging to a social community, Asian Americans were often politically black and (if acceptable) culturally white. Thus, Asian Americans could be both praised as exemplifying the middle-class white values of self-help, hard-work, and resourcefulness, while at the same time, being relegated to the same marginal economic caste as African Americans. In his statements on behalf of Ozawa's right to naturalize, Wickersham attempts to ensure not just the classification of the Japanese-born Ozawa as a Caucasian; he works to ensure us of his white "soul" since, as he notes, "race," -- and the white race -- designates "qualities of personalities" (184). Yet by evoking the negrophobic logic of naturalization, Wickersham keeps in place the defining fiction of a new "white" or "Caucasian" American nationalism: to be "white" is to be not black. The inner body of the Asian American, even more so than the external one, thus essentially shares a sameness with the "American" -- a sameness that one proves by dissociation from blacks and other marginalized peoples of color. To make a case for one's inclusion in America means proving that one possessed the "spirit of the race" -- the defining property of whiteness.[3]

  13. By focusing on the "fidelity" of the "heart" as Ozawa does, moreover, renders assent/dissent a private and personal act, and participates in the dominant privatization of social problems that precludes any collective racial or interracial resistance. The individual body becomes the source and the scene of oppression and allegiance, and to seek to become an "American citizen" is to re-naturalize one's individual body as "white." It is just this a priori precluding of any kind of coalitional or collective action that Kang's novel wants to critique by avoiding simply a story of Chungpa's singular growth and development or self-made success. Throughout East Goes West, Kang refuses to narrate his soul as "white, and he refuses to show the proper heart-felt affection that would demonstrate that he shared the ideological spirit and consciousness of a "whiteness" uncontaminated by deviant affinities with the Negro. Although Ozawa had wanted to create a rhetoric that would allow for a trans-racial nationalism, it is clear from his elaboration that he imagined a solidarity that would emerge between "Asians" and "whites." In contrast, Kang attempts to create a "cosmopolitan" consciousness that exceeds the demands for a voluntaristic assent (or dissent) from one's individual race loyalties. Since "American" culture is sedimented with the histories and cultures of Africa, and African-Americans (as well as Asians, Hispanics, etc), Ozawa's defense leaves unchallenged the enabling fiction that the US stands unmarked by the influence of black Americans and people of color in its midst. In his autobiography, however, Kang invokes the panic European Americans feel about their own racial fabrication to pen a counterhistory to the US's amnesiac national memory. The very omnipresence of jazz, for example, Kang writes, reveals the dividedness and instability within white "American" self-definitions: "it [jazz] had caught up the rhythm of America -- this Negro jazz -- it had taken possession of the Western planet, working upon all hitherto known cultures and civilizations" (18). By inverting the "normal" direction of colonization, Kang calls attention to the unnaturalness of what Justice Sutherland called the "popular acceptance" of whiteness which buries into the unconscious collective life its own hybrid formation.

  14. In the reviews of Kang's East Goes West, we can see likewise that what was at stake was less the artistic merit of the fictional autobiography than the "whiteness" of his "naturalized" consciousness. In their evaluations, reviewers tended to favor Chungpa's American adventures according to the degree with which they confirmed the mythologized story of the immigrant self-made man, and they flattened his polyvocal discourse into either (good) assimilationist consent or (bad) separatist anger. Thus, in her favorable review for the New York Times, Katherine Woods (October 17, 1937) identified Kang's novel as a "white" autobiography in the tradition of the nation's mythic heroes -- Benjamin Franklin and Horatio Alger. Woods applauds Kang for being a "poor boy who made good" and as a model minority who decided to put "his roots" into America and "to make it his home" (11). Although Woods commends East Goes West as keenly individualized, she praises only what is precisely overly familiar and flattering to nationalist narratives of the "true" American experience. In contrast, Maxwell Geismar of The Nation complained that Kang had written a bitter (black) novel of protest. Choosing to focus on Kang's disillusionment in the novel about racial discrimination and mechanized dehumanization in a society run on "efficiency," Geismar muses that Kang has lost his lyric voice within the novel's satire. "Because of this (Kang's expatriation) his work has gained in ironic power, in intellectual preoccupation, in a sense of farce. But these may be used to cover frustration. And Younghill Kang has lost, for the moment at least, the distinguishing trait of the earlier period, a friendship at once discerning and indulgent for the land and the life around him" (482). Behind Geismar's depreciation lies the same logic of the Ozawa case -- the need for the "naturalizing" America to have in his heart a white "soul" "indulgent" of the country's problems, and as importantly its discriminations. There is certainly nothing particularly new about Geismar's damning of the author of color for his "anger": as long as Kang struggled to be "near-er" white, his work was lauded, but as he assumed a tone that was at once ironic, incensed, rebellious even, he was viewed as an insufficient Asian with an insufficient white "heart" -- no longer stoical, affably self-effacing, dispassionate -- and too much "black." Hence, both of these reviews, as antithetical as they may first appear, express the SAME foundational logic and both contain the true dissidence in Kang's fictional autobiography which arises from his push toward a more cosmopolitan cultural merger of African American and Asian and European voices. [4]

  15. As a number of Asian American critics have commented, there is no native Eastern autobiographic tradition, and the assumptions that ground this genre -- individualism over communitarianism, idealism over materialism, personalism over the authority of the past -- are incommensurate with the immigrant Asian author's social education and rhetorical training (Shen 488). Early Asian authors such as the Korean-born Il-han New (When I Was a Boy in Korea, 1926), however, adopted the autobiographical form in answer to the forces of the marketplace. In New's case, the publishing house, D. Lothrop, had been printing an autobiographical series of books all recounting an author's boyhood in a foreign land (When I Was a Boy in . . .) (Kim 25). To satisfy the expectations of his readership, Kang would have needed to emulate the autobiographical voice of the master's language, but in both his story of his childhood in Korea (The Grass Roof) and his Americanization (East Goes West), Kang obscures any expected individualism behind indirection and impersonality. As Homi Bhaba has theorized about agency and the postcolonial subject, the native's resistance to the dominant language of colonialism often arises in the temporal disjunctions of "mimickry," or the native's reiteration of the hegemonic codes of the "white" man with a difference (245). Although Kang seems to copy the lyric subjectivism of late romantic modernists such as Thomas Wolfe (his colleague at New York University) or F.S. Fitzgerald (Strange 37), he invokes and repeats this Western "I" only to transform and renegotiate it. Specifically he unsettles this unified romantic self by mobilizing a polyglot or multicultural "American" location. By mimicking both the language of Wolfe and the language of gyp (the Negro), Kang exposes the alien within the supposed "pure" white racial subjectivity and releases the prohibited anger of all oppressed peoples against the dominant bi-racial language of naturalization that makes the Negro separate.

  16. Like his fictional alter ego, Chungpa Han, Younghill Kang immigrated to the United States in 1921 as one of the small number of privileged "refugee students" issued passports by the Japanese government of occupied Korea (Lee 64). Although Kang along with other refugee students came from the yangban or aristocrat class in Korea which alone had the privilege of education, he like his fellow expatriates found himself once in America forced into manual labor despite his/their extensive study. Working as farm hands, houseboys, cooks, waiters, railroad porters and miners, these students may not have been representative of the typical Korean American immigrant laborer brought together in the work teams or sip-changs, as Elaine Kim argues (34), but they would have found themselves, I would contend, better able to identify with the situation of the "Negro in America." This underemployment enables Chungpa, as he implies on several occasions, to empathize with the various black men he meets during his travels who tell him, as the Schmitts' cook Larenzo bemoaned: "Here I am chockfull of education. Still a niggerman" (262). Like Laurenzo, Alfred, Wagstaff and the other educated black men whose stories interrupt his narrative, Kang knew what it was like to find his talents unrewarded with opportunity and dismissed as inferior by Euro-Americans. In his autobiography, by noting the shared subjugation of Asians and Africans, Kang seems to suggest a coalitional habit of thinking through which blacks and Koreans might fight against white power. Rather than insisting on his status as a political exile who would work solely to redeem his country (Takaki 282), Kang sought instead to become a "new cosmopolitan citizen" -- one who would have as his special mission the resistance to all fixed nationalisms -- American, Japanese, or Korean. Indeed, in his own revisionist history of civilization, Chungpa's mentor Kim tells a fable about the survival of "African cats" and "Asian rats" in Europe and America, and although the cat and the rat might be considered natural enemies, in Kim's tale they cohabit peacefully in the slums of America, surviving together against the forces that would seek to kill them (256).

  17. One way to approach this question of a "de-naturalized" post-colonial Korean American positionality in East Goes West is through the trope of space which has become so prominent within "ethnic" studies. Central to the fiction of the first part of the 20th century is the description of an autonomous world indifferent to the middle-class mainstream white American society -- whether of Harlem or Chinatown or the Lower East Side -- and representative of an oppositional site of cultural reproduction. The formation of an alternative self-authorizing culture was often depicted metonymically as an actual and separate social space -- the ethnic or racial "neighborhood" -- that made resistance visible as topography. That is not to say that many writers did not find this "ghetto" claustrophobic or tyrannical, but its presence still figured as a location from which even those who wanted to be emancipated from it could deny the totalizing history and vision of a white, Protestant, middle-class, heterosexual America. I start with this observation because I think it leads us to a salient feature of what is missing in Younghill Kang's East Goes West, and significantly so. In place of a "tale of the ghetto" Kang's fictional autobiography gives us a tale of exile and wandering. Now, on one hand, it might be argued that Younghill Kang's peripatetic narrative form might be explained away on the level of genre (he is writing a comic picaresque adventure, a travelogue) or of biography (he is just recounting his own homelessness), but I think that neither explanation identifies Kang's artistic aim. It is after all a bit myopic to see Kang as beholden to the literal facts of his own experience or even to sociological analysis.

  18. One place that emerges in the novel as a mythologized space is Harlem, which as much as Chinatown or the Village stands in as a "city of refuge" for Chungpa. While a number of critics have looked at the relation between topography and memory in Asian American criticism, they have tended to identify these recollected spots of time with an alternative "racialized" ethnic identity. Memories of Chinatown recur as that experience or that part of the self that cannot be absorbed into a standardized and commodified American identity. But while Chungpa tends to satirize the Korean nationalists, he often discloses a sympathetic identification with the people of Harlem and in the black community. When he first arrives, for example, Chungpa underscores his close identification with the African American. Trying to get his first job in the YMCA in Harlem, Chungpa is informed that he does not qualify since the position must not "be given to a Negro and Oriental" (19). This equivalence between the Negro and the Asian is underscored when Chungpa attains his next job as a domestic (with the aid of Pak), and his employer insists that she hired them to replace her former Negro help. Similarly when Chungpa and the other Asian students try to sell Hsun's tea, they find that the only place that they receive a civil welcome is in Harlem: "They peddled it from house to house. Harlem was a favorite selling ground. They did not get kicked out there" (64).

  19. Throughout the episodic structure of East Goes West, there is a discursive link between space and race, but ironically it is the black community that becomes (as we see above) an important site of altruism and justice. But Chungpa Han, I would argue, does not just see "blackness" as a political or economic position of exclusion and discrimination that he as a Korean American shares: he accepts blackness as a "race" and cultural consciousness that he and most modern so-called "white" Americans share. While Chungpa finds greater humanity in Harlem, he describes as well Harlem as a metonym for all of "modern" American culture, or at least New York culture which (in contrast to Boston's or Baltimore's) embodies the spirit of the age. Seeing his first cabaret show when George takes him to Harlem, Chungpa remarks that "in fact the jolly rich, highly emotional atmosphere seemed to caricature New York, as George, Hsun, and I knew it . . . frank love, loose laughter, a lack of discipline . . . vulgarity, good humor . . . sheepishness, plenty of smartness, too, and pavement cunning . . . everywhere a nonchalant grotesqueness ( to us at least who remembered the formal traditional of Asia)" (75). At first glance this passage may seem to repeat the rhetoric of primitivism so familiar among modernist artist from Sherwood Anderson, Eugene O'Neill, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Yet Chungpa's equation of modern America with Harlem actually reverses the differential logic on which primitivism depends. If African Americans often stood as the displaced symbols of what the "efficient" industrial modern society had given up -- a sexuality, an emotionalism, spontaneity, excess -- for Chungpa and his friends this is "America." He collapses the assurance of separation that the "slummer" felt in knowing he was different from the "other."

  20. In order not to repeat the primitivist caricatures of Harlemites, Kang "blackens" the culture of America by exposing the repression of heterogeneity within white American nationality. In learning the language of gyp, in taking on the black perspective, Kang does not perform a racial mimicry similar to Al Jolson's black face. In his descriptions of life in Greenwich Village, for example, Kang satirizes the stereotyping of African Americans as "exotic" others. At his first speakeasy party, Chungpa reports that he witnessed a brief exchange between an inebriated flapper Sally and a "serious-looking young Negro." When the black man Alfred offends the revelers with his sobriety, Sally enjoins him to act more like a "Negro": "Throw away all in-in-in-hibitions. D-dance and sing -- and be-be a Negro" (163). In his ironic reflection on Sally's romantic racism (Frederickson 109), Kang indicates that his identification with the African American will not duplicate the Anglo-Europeans' exoticizing fantasies. Although for the villagers the "inside" glimpse at the New Negro is one that is invidiously dictated by their own desire to escape sexual and social conventions by projecting onto African Americans, Kang strives to break the primacy of the Anglo-American perspective without simply repeating its colonial ideas of primitivism.

  21. Indeed, in East Goes West, Kang explores the myriad scenes of 1920s America, but what he continually finds among the avant garde is a fervent wish to be "black" (to undergo a race change) and yet to hide the heritage of Africa in their understanding of "Americanness." In celebrating jazz as the crooning spirit of modernism, especially, Kang was picking up the ideas of New Negro writers such as J.A. Rogers who in "Jazz at Home," printed in Locke's Survey Graphic anthology, celebrated jazz as a vehicle for democraticization and racial amalgamation (220). While Langston Hughes saw jazz as the "eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul," Kang uses it as a motif for the Negro soul behind the racial masquerade of whiteness -- a whiteness that would conceal the color that would destabilize its own identitarian formations. When Chungpa first accompanies Kim to Greenwich Village, for example, he remarks that "it might have been some kind of temple in which to worship African jazz" (161). Observing the cult of primitivism everywhere fetishized in the Village, moreover, he notes in the same vein that all the "distorted drawings" on the wall try to imitate a "pair of African idols" (161).

  22. Kang's reformulation of the usual link between topography and the memory of an "authentic" Asian identity is even clearer in his telling of the story of George Jum, the "Americanized Pagan" who "had left all Asian culture behind as a thing of nought" (31). While George Jum like (as we will see in a moment) Kim acts as a foil character standing in for parts of Chungpa, it is significant that this representative of the Americanized Korean is in love with Harlem (or more specifically the Harlem cabaret dancer, June) (73). That June is not really "colored" but a white woman who wears dark make-up to appear in the chorus line only underscores Kang's point about the "race" of "American" culture. By linking George's "Americanization" to his love for the Harlem dancer, Kang challenges the "white" face of America's self-understandings. To say that Kang attempts to criticize the process of "Americanization" in his novel East Goes West thus misses the broader scope of his challenge. He calls into question not just the need to "imitate" the "American," but the "common sense" racial constitution of a so-called unified "white" American culture that we saw in Ozawa's naturalization case.

  23. To expose this repression of the difference already at whiteness' core, Kang dramatizes the disingenuous Chungpa's response to the racial masquerades and minstrelsy of Cotton-Club Harlem. While recent critical race "traitors" such as Neal Ignatiev, George Lipsitz, and David Roediger have examined "white racial identities" as constructs or ideological positions that arise within specific historical contexts because of their political, economic, or psychological usefulness, whiteness, as the Ozawa and Lum cases pointed out, has not only been unmarked or accepted as natural, but has been reified as singular and homogeneous against a heterogeneity of colored others (Chambers 145). To see race as defined in oppositional terms permits precisely the obfuscation of complex racial transactions and interdependences which whiteness needs to maintain its centrality and purity. Upon first being introduced to June in a nightclub, Chungpa remarks, "Soon he [George] returned with June, who to our surprise was not black but white, white as chalk. So she must be a white girl unless behind that white mask lived a Negro soul. She still looked to us a strange thing and all the more for her simple dress" (76). In this comic scene Chungpa discovers that the "black" cabaret dancer is really white, and not just white, but exaggeratedly pale -- "chalk white." But in his musing that maybe she isn't really white, despite appearances, for she might have a "black soul," Kang interrupts the white Negroes' ontological security in the "inalienable right" to his racial property. While the minstrel performer and the Harlem slummer assure themselves that the performance can end whenever they needed or wanted to reclaim their "natural" identities, Kang suggests that the performance is never over, and possibly the foundational mimicry offstage may be of the black soul insisting on its pure white face. Like the Asian American, the white American too has an ambivalent racial identity, being at times -- when it is to his advantage or pleasure -- politically white, but culturally "colored." In his ironic description of his first encounter with June, Kang brings together the ideas of identity and masquerade, intimating that gender and race identities are often performances learned under the regulatory pressure of society, and, as a consequence, there is no natural and unchanging essence behind one's "ethnic" constitution (Butler 9-13).

  24. In altering the story of "Americanization" so that Chungpa must be acclimated to an American society that is "black" -- black not so much specifically in that it is a separate African-American culture, though it is that at times -- but black in the sense that all of America may be like "June" a white woman pretending to be black, or more tellingly, a "white" woman whose real spirit is the blackness that she portrays as "other." In Immigrant Subjectivities, Sheng-Mei Ma argues that America is often figured within the unconscious fantasy of the male Asian immigrant as a "white woman." Certainly such a gendering of America recurs throughout East Goes West in Kim's and Chungpa's allied obsessions with Helen and Trip. But we should not fail to detect the irony here in at least one of the three romantic plots that constitute East Goes West: in representing George's displaced assimilationist desire for the "white woman," Kang makes her not really "white," and by doing so, he calls into question the racialized body of the "white" erotic fantasy of the Asian male in order to complicate the "color" of America. In finding June a "strange thing" -- an ambiguous sign of American national identity, either a white actor in black face, or a black soul under a white masquerade -- Chungpa pushes his readers toward the tabooed suspension of clear racial differences that the Ozawa and other prerequisite cases had tried to eliminate. In such a world of "race-changes," the trickster Chungpa seems to suggest, what can be the "commonsensical" understanding of whiteness?

  25. While Sheng-mei Ma argues that Asian-American writers tried to reverse their emasculation within American culture by treating women as objects to be dominated or idealized (65), Kang's Chungpa Han has a much more complicated relationship to femininity as well as to blackness. In East Goes West, Kang points at times toward an alternative narrative to what Dana Nelson has called "national manhood," the tactic within white nationalized masculinity to define itself through dissociation and the splitting off of the "black" and "feminine" as the rite of passage into the fraternity of white US citizenry (Nelson 11). Kang, by contrast, refuses such a practice of dis-identification within the immigrant naturalization history, instead hinting toward a third standpoint accepting of a different kind of multi-racial and gender consciousness. We see this struggle toward a different kind of identitarian positionality on several occasions when Chungpa draws attention to the fact that his "feminization" is the price he must pay in order to fit into American society. When Hsun Pak, for example, helps him attain his first job as a houseboy, he instructs him to "be shy like Korean bride" (61), and later, upon putting on the "white aprons, badges of servitude," Chungpa reflects that "the upper part looked man now, the lower, woman" (63). In this image of the literal whitening out of his penis, Chungpa offers a visual symbol of the Asian male's castration as part of the socioeconomic oppression in 1920s America. But not only is Chungpa in East Goes West reduced to the status of a woman by being confined to domestic labor in the home, he can find manufacturing work only by accepting the employment usually assigned to black women. After Chungpa finds a job as a seamstress in Mr. McCann's factory, he relates the story of how one mischievous coworker would tease him by placing on his head the hat of another girl, Queenie, "to see if I looked like a Negro woman" (123). Once again Kang's symbolic dreamscape is almost too evident in this comic scene as his wearing of Queenie's hat identifies his economic debasement from a bearer of the phallus to a feminine vessel of receptivity. In trying to sketch out the "unimaginable community" of overlapping allegiances and identifications in East Goes West, Kang connects questions of race and gender. Yet, instead of depicting a cross-racial brotherhood that depended on a shared misogynistic treatment of women, Kang initiates a cosmopolitan community that goes beyond a shared manhood. Rather than objectifying women to re-capture the "phallus," Kang figures this scene of his being "turned" into a "black woman" into a self-ironic joke that allows for the common economic strivings and anger at discrimination on the part of both black women and Asian males. He allows for a mutual translatability of their similar (though still different) experiences. Indeed Chungpa finds a resilience here in the strategy of the Negro, whose distinct humor lies in the ability to find "some funny side in lack of dignity, in losing face" (75). Although to become "naturalized" Ozawa had argued that he was "not black" and did not have the "qualities" and "personalities" of the black other (his soul was pure), Chungpa performs an ironic minstrel show in which he is forced to take on and yet willingly, at the same time, with a sense of humor, assumes the identity of the doubly discriminated against African-American woman. He permits himself to be "near-er" black (and even momentarily female) than near-er white.

  26. When Rev. Bonheure, an African-American preacher from Boston, invites Chungpa to testify as part of his ministry, Kang's alter-ego seems to deliver a Washingtonian message of self-help and discipline: "Make something of yourselves. Be educated. . . . Don't depend on your leaders. They can't help you. Nothing can, but your own will to make something of yourself" (338). Telling his story before a "black" audience, Chungpa at first reverts to the self-made immigrant story of the model minority, yet Chungpa is delivering here less an accommodationist message than an indirect warning to the congregation to distrust "good-time" con-artists and ministers who might abuse their trust and need for uplift. The people, however, do not hear his message: they only see the "miracle" of an articulate Korean who does not confirm their stereotypes of the Chinaman. As one woman cries out: "Chinaman can speak, too!!" (338) Basing their loyalties and their understanding on a simple "race" logic, they cannot discern the "genuine" from the "false" messenger just as they cannot discriminate between the real Korean from the Chinaman stereotype. Kang calls attention to this false association between the "genuine" and "race" in the conversation after the revival between Chungpa and Bonheure. After lauding Chungpa for giving a "good speech," Bonheure confides that he needs to correct some of the Korean immigrant's mispronunciations: the correct way to say "genuine," he notes, is "genu-wine" (339).

  27. Throughout East Goes West, Kang raises disruptive questions about the nature of the "genuine." While even here it may seem at first glance as if Kang is satirizing Bonheure's lack of education, his equal mockery of the insular, pretentious, Dale-Carnegiesque Mr. Lively suggests that Bonheure, and his way of speaking, may be no less legitimate -- and authentic -- than any other "American" way. In America, all "representative" men (black or white) tend to be "con artists" and "salesmen," and despite the insistence of Justice Sutherland in the Ozawa case about the common sense understanding of the true "qualities of personalities" possessed by the "white" American, this soul may not be any more genuine than "genu-wine" -- not without, that is to say, its many different inflections that tend to serve the interests of those looking for profit or power. In his fictional autobiography, as a consequence, Kang works to de-realize, de-normalize, and relativize the 'white body" which Ozawa tried to enact as "genuine" in his own case for citizenship. Rather than taking "America" to heart, Kang tries to demonstrate that there is only a "genu-wine" embodied whiteness to assimilate.

  28. We can clearly see Kang's oppositional gaze into the "genuine" soul of American "enterpreneurship" and "middle-class" family life in his portrayal of the encyclopedia salesman, Mr. Lively, who, when he invites Chungpa to stay at his home, promises to reveal to his Oriental protégé that "Americans are models of family life" and to show him what a "real American home looks like" (146). In Chungpa's naive agreement to be lead into the "holy of Holies of American civilization" (154), Kang traps the unsuspecting reader into a subversive mockery of their culture-bound expectations. If readers expect to share the pleasure of witnessing the foreigner's appreciation of one of the great "American" verities -- the middle-class family -- Kang repeats in excess the verbal glorification of the "American" way to reveal its empty bombast. As Chungpa soon learns, Lively's words are merely "sales talk" that correspond only to his self-advertised dream (148). Once in his Lively home, Kang lists details that slowly lift the veil on the simulacrum of cozy fireside contentment. Gradually Kang sets the reader up to feel uncomfortable with the tension between the family picture Chungpa deferentially reports (as if admiring) and the exaggerated dis-ingenuineness of Lively's conventional boosterism. Although Mrs. Lively was, Chungpa reports, "perpetually flustered and aggrieved" -- often bursting into tears "so much over unimportant things!" -- Lively "always said to [Chungpa] that [he] was lucky to come into a beautiful American home and see the inside" (142). Although Chungpa in his sly impersonality does not name the American housewife as aggrieved victim of her gender role, he does mock the fictive formula of American domesticity. Likewise, he mocks through apparent obedient repetition, Lively's constant deification of salesmanship as the sign of "manly independence" (142). While appearing to play up to and flatter this great white father, Chungpa is really exposing his foibles. In his lengthy transcription of the rhetoric of salesmanship, particularly, Kang imitates in order to expose the ridiculousness of this vaunted and self-aggrandizing white masculinity. By the end of the lesson, Chungpa remarks that in its attempt to make the "customer do what we know is good for her," Western business has the same policy and position as the "Western missionaries" (158). While Chungpa exposes the fictiveness of "white" American nationalism, Lively, by contrast, upon learning about Chungpa's knowledge of British literature, and his reading of Shakespeare, bursts into enthusiasm for "this fine boy seems the genuine article" (137) from which to make a profit.[5]

  29. Rather than trying to perform in his fictional autobiography a Korean-American identity that is the "genuine article," Kang tries to point toward a cosmopolitan consciousness of multiple affiliations (black, white, and Korean). Yet if Kang never does fully name this new "affiliative" positionality, he identifies the ironic sabotaging of whiteness as the first stage in the constitution of a new inter-racialism. This "un-doing" of whiteness is most clearly evident in his dramatization of the tragic romance of the Asian philosopher Kim and Helen, the American daughter of a prosperous Boston family. As the symbolic name of the idealized woman after the face that launched the thousand ships of Troy suggests, Kang is writing in the romance of Helen a "third world text," to borrow the definition of Frederic Jameson, which, although it might seem merely personal or private, "necessarily project[s] a political dimension in the form of a national allegory" (69). In Kang's national allegory, this interracial romance, prescribed in many states as illegal miscegenation in 1937, functions as a deterrent narrative about an "unbalanced" obsession for the "beauty" of Euro-American"white" civilization. In Helen, Kim thinks that he has found the perfect complement to his exiled Asian soul: "her difference of ideas was a thrilling stimulation, yet his own innate simplicity of soul -- an Eastern quality -- found an echo in hers from New England" (222). Although it might seem at first that Kang is arguing for a congruency of "souls" that would bespeak the Korean's qualifications for naturalization despite his color, he implies that such a complete "whitening" finally leads to Kim's diminution and death.[6]

  30. While in the romance of Kim and Helen Kang taps into paranoiac nationalist fantasies about imperiled white daughters of the empire which were used to justify racial violence (Sharpe 4-6), the story of the star-crossed lovers Kim and Helen connects with a more immediate cultural referent. In his defense of his rights to gain citizenship, Takao Ozawa argued that the immigrant's internalization of the "heart" of nationalism could be witnessed in his love for American education, the English language, Western churches, and also "white" Americanized women. In the Ozawa case, racial disputes over the "natural" body of the true American overlapped with gender, for to prove that America was in the heart, Ozawa abrogated not only his culture: he also erased the "abject" ethnic body of women of color. Proudly in his public statement, Ozawa reminds the judges that "I chose as my wife one educated in American schools . . . instead of one educated in Japan" (qtd in Ichioka 407). Since the end of the 19th-century as Martha Banta has carefully documented, advocates of cultural exceptionalism associated American society with its Daisy Millers and other New Women. In proclaiming his devotion to the idealized Western female (Helen), Kim like Ozawa was drawing thus upon a long discursive history tying feminine types to distinctive national/racial identities. This connection between gender and nationalism Kang was well aware of, for in one of his few documented speeches, he argued (as The New York Times reported in 1935) for the further economic emancipation of American women since gender equality was a sign of the US's advanced national culture.[7] To take America to heart was also to embrace, so the Ozawa case reaffirmed, the nativist woman.

  31. In his initial description of Helen, Kang clearly equates her feminine body with the corpus of America's pre-modern New England cultural heritage. On first meeting Helen, Chungpa notes that "I suppose it was that obviously she could never be Chinized! No more than a white meetinghouse. She was quiet, but lacked the feminine stodginess of Mrs. Brown . . . she moved from the higher centers and she had the temperament if not the talent for the realm of higher ideas" (213). By using the metaphor of the white colonial meetinghouse, the site of Puritan religion and revolutionary war meetings, Chungpa sees Helen as the living embodiment of this spiritual and political "American" idealism. In a manner similar to Henry Adam's often cited statements about the virgin and the dynamo, Kang uses Helen as the virgin the Platonic love for whom motivates a world before the modern machine age with its utilitarian values. Indeed this is the anti-modernist idealism that Kim would perceive in Helen's Western beauty: after telling Helen the story of the plant that found a state of bliss in the land of non-existence, he remarks that "this has been my philosophy, in utilitarian civilizations wherever I and my muse are not wanted" (216).

  32. Although Kim would adulate the feminine body of Western idealism, it is clear from the conversations and incidents that Chungpa reports that Helen is more accurately the symbol of imperialist and racist manifest destiny. In comparison to Kim who acknowledges that his "sane pessimism" has driven him to a cultural relativism (227, 236), Helen believes in moral absolutes, the absolutes of her New England fathers. With his typical seemingly dispassionate, but satiric undercutting, Chungpa reveals the prudery and superficiality of this idealized true New England woman: "she was bred in an old-fashioned Christian home which forgot that Adam was ever naked with his wife and not ashamed in the Garden of Eden" (219). When Kim speaks, moreover, about the less inhibited African civilizations, Helen can only read such "immodesty" as a sign of American cultural superiority: "There! And you still argue we are not better off than to be in Africa" (225). Although Kim exalts the noble Helen as the "product of this dominant west -- Europe as well as America. It took all thee centuries to make you what you are. And now you have just the right pattern" (223), Kang through the naive narrator Chungpa reveals the gap between Kim's idealized conception of Helen and her often rigid Puritanical white supremacism.

  33. But Kim's story is not one simply of disillusionment about the individual object of worship (whether of Helen or America), but an allegory about the racialized narrative of naturalization. When Chungpa naively exclaims that "Helen might save Kim if she only would," Kang links Kim's story with Ozawa's story, with the stories of many other refugee students and bachelors who have come and assimilated to the Gold Mountain of America. While Kim has "given up one world" and is searching for another (207), Kang shows that the answer to his restless exile is not simply to become wed to the centuries long Anglo-American/ New England tradition that Helen represents and which often legitimates colonialism and a rigid provincial nationalism. As Chungpa remarks, "Kim had no defense against Helen's conservative background. It intensified the feeling he had all along, that he was an unwanted guest in the house of Western culture" (244). In the Korean philosopher's "idealization" of the white western woman is finally a self-hatred for his own "racialized body." Although she makes him more aware of his difference, he believes that a consummate relation with her would allow him to transcend his own ethnic identity as part of some incorporeal love of the heart, whether that love is personal or national. In his love for Helen, Kim would secure (like Ozawa) American in the heart, and thus reconcile and marry East with West.

  34. By equating the white soul with a legacy of New England Puritanism and racism, Kang opens up a space, I would argue, for what Ross Posnock in his own recent study of W.E.B. Du Bois calls a performative cosmopolitanism that anticipates the contemporary moment of post-identity thinking (9-10). By exposing through the story of Kim and Helen the lack of genuineness within the purity of the "white" heart, soul, and consciousness of America, Kang refuses to see any fixed racialized identity as the endpoint of his fictional autobiography. As a diasporic post-modernist Kang was aware that there was no pre-modern or pre-colonial Eden to re-discover as "home." Literally, as he says in his autobiography, writing in the period of Japanese and American expansionism in the Pacific, there was no homeland of Korea to return to (341), and equally its traditional culture was disintegrating and passing under the forces of modernization. What Kang finally points out is an insight that Stuart Hall has suggested in his own essays on race and culture: identities are more a matter of becoming than being or discovering; they are future oriented rather than backward looking (225). From his opening poetic meditation on Time, Kang grounds his work on an understanding of "process" -- that identities are finally in process, the Asian American is in process, being fed by black and white and yellow streams. It was he said, a "great age of disintegration and new combinations" (314). Rather than falling into a post-colonial nostalgia that attempts to restore cultural cohesion under the logic of race, whether of whiteness or yellowness, Kang struggles to point to, though never able to name, a new Utopia, but it would be a Utopia of new combinations, of cultural interplays and mergers among different races and ethnicities, that would begin once American society had betrayed the logic of naturalization with its Negro-phobic assumption that America was near-er white.

  35. In his story of the Korean nationalist Mr. Lin who assassinated Chinwan the Japanese-educated Korean who "looked kindly" on all Asians regardless of their country of origins, Kang invites his fellow Asian readers to re-imagine their exile as the starting point for a cross-racial identification with other colonized peoples, particularly as we have seen African-Americans. Kang's criticism of the insularity of Lin's anti-Japanese nationalism is loosely based on the murder of Durham Stevens (1908), the American employed by the Japanese to downplay for the US government and business community the Korean resentment of Japan's invasion (Takaki 283). Yet in a telling reversal Kang makes the Korean nationalist hero Chang In-hwan the victim (Chinwan) of a nationalist zealotry in order to point toward a different kind of post-colonial Asian criticism. While Lin contends that he had to kill the "spy" to prove that he was a "true Korean," Kang in the voice of Chungpa calls instead for a greater sense of cosmopolitanism: "Here in this cosmopolitan city I saw Lin as living in a narrow world, a small world in a large. No message came back and forth from the large world to the little nor from the little world to the large" (69). Although equally displaced like his fellow Korean Lin in "America," Chungpa rebukes the narrow-mindedness of ethnic exclusivity, and invites his readers to locate themselves within a third space of fragmented and shifting cosmopolitan affiliations. As Chungpa remarks as he later hitchhikes across America, he was "repeating the life of his grandfather, the geomancer . . . a roving life of ever new contacts and scenes" (344). Kang's story, as told in the life of Chungpa, is one of continual self-displacement, a refusal not simply to assimilate to "America," but to settle, to reside in any one tradition. In words that echo that resistance of earlier 19th-century nonconformists such as Thoreau, Chungpa remarks as he takes flight from Boston, "We left Boston behind, where the accumulation of puritanic dirt made me uneasy. I would have liked to jump at once into the river, wash off all dirts and send them down to the sea, becoming a child again as I was in Korea" (235). To remain stagnant for Kang is to accumulate dirt, to lose one's receptivity to change and growth, and that would be a denial of what he calls in one moment of reflection, "the new age of broad communication, cross-fertilization, and the shaking of boundaries" (268). In leaving Korea, in leaving Maritime, Canada, in leaving Boston, in heading for New York, Kang remarks it was because "I had craved a more cosmopolitan environment" (176). Rather than simply demystifying race or nation-based ideas of identity, Kang affiliates himself with many different and particular ethnic communities, participating in their point of view and thus opening up translocal affections and solidarities.

  36. In both his lament at his "exile" and his embrace of it as a "trope" for a higher consciousness that transcends national and racial borders, Kang anticipates some of the recent writing about diasporic internationalism as Tim Brennan describes in the work of Salmon Rushdie and V.S Naipaul. His homelessness comes to characterize a frame of mind that is defined by its openness, its tolerance of uncertainty, contradictions, its freedom, its mixture of curiosity and skepticism, its constant flux and change. As Kang remarks in describing his approach to the West, "I was eager to feel its life in an unbroken stream pass through my heart-blood. . . . Seen in this way, history becomes not history, but poetry and creative process" (190). Although I don't want to suggest that Kang ever stopped feeling a certain loneliness that came with his alienation -- and his later attempt to naturalize as an American citizen shows that -- in his story of Chungpa Han he refuses to authenticate any single location -- to signal Chungpa's arrival anywhere. While many of the novel's early critics read the novel's end as an intimation of Chungpa's re-union with Trip, he is (we should remember reading allegorically) obsessed by the "trip," by the roving desire itself. I know that I am belaboring the obvious in a novel that is so episodic, but the absence of a single place or home set up in opposition to Korea or to America is a narratological clue to the text's theme. But while Brennan makes a distinction between the "disengagement" and "rootlessness" of privileged third world texts written from metropolitan centers such as those by Rushdie and Naipaul as opposed to the counterhegemonic aesthetics of those still writing from their homeland (24), I want to argue that Kang refuses to act as the "tourist exile," or "spectator" in order to re-attach himself to multiple sites of participation and belonging.

  37. In the end Kang preserves the post-national, post-ethnic cosmopolitanism (as he calls it) that Chungpa's mentor Kim loses in his surrender to Helen's "white" New England body. When Chungpa confessed his struggles to come to terms with "America," Kim had advised his friend not to lose his "proper balance": "I suppose, like myself, you can see without trying to do so the exaggerations and prejudices of the West. But by keeping a well-balanced mind, you will see too the exaggerations and prejudices of the Orient" (278). But Kang's "Oriental Yankee," as I have tried to argue, is not simply one who combines East and West, America and Asia (whatever these abstract locations may mean), but someone who moves toward a more particularized affiliation with the heterogeneous groups that constitute and, at the same time, dis-able the fiction of a "naturalized" white US citizenry. The Oriental Yankee (unlike Ozawa) is a participant performer of many different points of views, a genu-wine cosmopolitan always unfolding in time, remaining never fixed or static, but always being, as Kang notes in his closing image, reborn to a "happier reincarnation." For Kang, ethnic and racial identity is a homeland that he has left behind for a life that constantly opens itself up to new additions, new affections for and coalitions with others. It is an exile's journey that has no end, only the trip, and more new "re-incarnations."


  1. Such a re-inscription of "race" even as such a group identity is seemingly challenged can be found in David Leiwei Li's otherwise subtle reading of David Mura's Turning Japanese. In Mura, Li finds the representative of a contemporary Asian American perspective that has "change[d] from a single-minded American, though a racialized alterity, eager for national incorporation, to a multi-centered cosmopolitan U.S. citizen cognizant of his rights and commitments" (149). Although Li speaks of Mura's identification as "multi-centered" and "cosmopolitan," he understands these terms within a familiar binary logic of East/West, Japanese and American. There is an unexamined assumption of a unity of "white" "mainstream" American culture within Li's reading, and he wants only to foreground the "unresolved dialogues" between the East and the Wet, ethnicity and nationhood, rootedness and at-homeness." Yet there is something mystifying in calling this "exile" a "dialogue" as if there were only two worlds that divided the diasporic subject? For most Asian Americans, especially early immigrants who were classified as black, and forced to live adjacent to other marginalized racial and ethnic communities, the cross-cultural encounter would have been more a multi-lingual conversation. To call this "exilic migrancy" a dialogue is to suppress (much as white America did itself) the other cultures that comprised the "American" landscape. In his own peregrinations Younghill Kang's Chungpa Han refuses such a bi-racial mapping of America, and he attempts to expose the exclusionary practices behind America's performance of "naturalized" whiteness. Back

  2. In using the term "transpositional," I am indebted to Cheryl Walker's study of 19th-century native American autobiographies, Indian Nation: Native American Literature and Nineteenth-Century Nationalisms, see especially page 46. Back

  3. In my reading of the Ozawa case, I am drawing upon Walter Benn Michael's investigation into the shifting meaning of "race" during the modernist era from supremacy to difference, from biological character to a "spirit" legitimating a distinctive cultural consciousness. See Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism, particularly 122, 140-41. Back

  4. Although I do not have space in this short article to discuss other prerequisite cases, I want to note that the same logic of naturalization circulated within other Supreme court rulings. In 1927, five years after the Ozawa case, Gong Lum, a Chinese American from Mississippi, sued to be admitted to the white public schools. In its decision against Lum, the Supreme Court cited the landmark Plessy vs Ferguson case to uphold the constitutionality of the legal segregation of Chinese in the Jim Crow South. By determining the separate but equal clause applied to Asian Americans as well as "blacks," the Court placed all "non-whites" in the same social and economic class (See Loewen). Throughout the nineteenth century, as Alexander Saxton has argued, it was common for Asian immigrants to be assigned an economic position similar to freed blacks and marked as "near Negro" (8). Although Lum was suing for equal assess and not naturalization, the courts as in the Ozawa case, declared Asians and blacks kindred peoples in relation to a history of oppression and exploitation. As a consequence of legal decisions such as that in the Lum case, the courts further disseminated the logic of naturalization: that in struggling against oppression, it was in the Asian American's best interest to struggle to be nearer white than black, and that "black" culture ought to be as alien to Asian immigrants as it was to "hard-working" middle-class white Americans. Back

  5. Lively's promotion of Chungpa as the "genuine article" resonates, I would argue, with Kang's own career. As a writer who made his name like Lafacadio Hearn as a retailer/reteller of Asian images in his first autobiography, The Grass Roof, he knew that his middle-class white readers saw him as a safe, feminized object of their patriarchal gaze. Like the audience at Rev. Bonheure's revival they saw him not as an individual, but as the "genuine" native insider who could speak about the mysteries and manners of the Orient. Kang, moreover, was able to make his literary debut as a reviewer for the New York Times and The New Republic only by serving as a spokesperson for the "authenticity" of books on China. In an incendiary review of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth for The New Republic (July 1, 1931), however, Kang incited the furor of a number of letter writers because he questioned her "genuine" understanding of Chinese civilization. Kang's specific message in his critique of Pearl S. Buck I think has specific relevance for our consideration here. While, on one hand, he faults Buck for not fully understanding the more than ornamental details of Chinese culture, he inveighs as well against the universalizing of a "white" American/Western experience (here romantic love) and applying it to the inner life of people from another culture. This assumption of the normativity of their own experience, as Kang implies, is a common trait of "white" Westerners, and both in his review and his later fictional autobiography, he would resort to the strategic practice of challenging whiteness' naturalized normativity. Back

  6. In many ways, Kang's East Goes West seems to appeal to a "romance of likeness" between Asians and Americans to argue for the "Yankee Oriental's" naturalization because he is nearer white. Like other Asian writers such as Dr. No Yong Park in an Oriental View of American Civilization, who noted cultural similarities to promote harmony between East and West (Lee 65), Kang emphasizes the parallels between traditional Korean society and New England's (the originary America's) Puritan legacy. Although such a rhetorical strategy would allow Kang to repudiate the stereotypes of Asians as almond-eyed brutes, insidious Fu Manchus, or unemotional Spartans, to insist on this common civilized "whiteness" would replicate the Negrophobia that isolates Asians from other minority groups. But throughout East Goes West, Kang tends to invoke, so as only to satirize and re-signify, the meaning of this logic of naturalization that legitimates white supremacism. Thus, when Chungpa Han goes to work for the New England farmer, Mr. Higgens, he ponders the commonality between the lives of the simple rustic New England farmer and the hard-working rural Koreans. On one hand, he denies Anglo-Americans their identitarian difference: "Life here for me was simple, sound, wholesome, and primitive. The typical Oriental is all of these -- the view the West has yet to form of him, it seems, since as a stock character he is either cruel and brutish heathen with horrid outlandish customs, or a subtle and crafty gentleman of inscrutable sophistication" (209). On the other hand, in countering pernicious representations of Koreans, Kang doesn't just offer more positive images: he implies an originary spiritual affinity that would reconfigure the Korean as not alien, but kinsman. While, as Walter Benn Michaels has argued, many of the great modernist texts were committed to the "nativist project of racializing the American" (13), Kang likens the Korean and New Englander to imply that the admittance of Asians would provide an atavistic renewal of the nation's pre-modern soul. Back

  7. As The New York Times wrote in its opening paragraph: "While the American woman is considered emancipated and on an equal basis with men, economically this equality does not hold true, Dr. Younghill Kang, Professor of Oriental Culture at New York University declared yesterday" (1). Back

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