By Nancy Carranza
“My idea of home is a verb. Home is a straining toward belonging. For me the feeling of wanting to go home is home. For others, home is a place they want to escape, a place that doesn’t exist, a place that exists only in time, a place that exists in the breath of a parent, or the mouth of a lover. For some, home is geographical, but they cannot return because of political, financial, or personal reasons. Others are seen as foreigners in their chosen homes.” – Buchanan, Editor’s Note
This newly-released anthology of Asian Anglophone and Asian American stories, essays, and poems is as expansive as it is ambitious. The title Go Home! takes on a double meaning, both of which are defining experiences for a diasporic community, namely the confrontation of the racist and xenophobic sentiment that these “foreigners” should go back to wherever they came from and the occasional yearning and often existential questioning of what and where this home is and how to find it. In his foreword, Viet Thanh Nguyen adds a third layer of signification to the imperative “go home” for Asian and Asian American writers, who have found “a home in language and storytelling”. With such a broad theme, this collection includes an impressive variety of texts, styles, and authors, yet its expansiveness results in a rather tenuous thematic thread holding the anthology together. After all, almost any piece of writing about an immigrant, cosmopolitan, or diasporic experience can fit under at least one of these three implications of “go home.” Yet this critique does not undermine the brilliance of many of the individual works, or the visible effort of Buchanan and her colleagues at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and the Feminist Press to amplify and celebrate as many diverse voices as possible.
With its origins in an open submission call by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Go Home! features many emerging writers who have only recently been accumulating publications and accolades. Nevertheless, perhaps for marketing purposes, the anthology is bookended by more well-known writers, Alexander Chee and Kimiko Hahn in the opening and Marilyn Chin and Chang-rae Lee in the closing. Chee’s opening short story, “Release,” immediately complicates the notion of “home” as he raises the question of how one feels at home in one’s own skin, particularly within the nexus of race and sexuality. The narrator of “Release” describes meeting literary, hapa gay men like himself and feeling “like we were from a homeland that had never existed, but that if we collected enough of each other, maybe it would.” This yearning for an unknown homeland continues in the next short story, Alice Sola Kim’s genre-bending tale, “Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying,” in which a group of teenage Korean adoptees conjure up a spirit who declares herself their long-lost Mom. Though many of the short stories describe displacement and estrangement from a physical or psychological home, they also contain examples of finding a sense of home in the most unexpected of places. One of my personal favorites is the short story “Esmeralda” by Mia Alvar, which retells the unfolding of the day of 9/11 from the perspective of a Filipina maid and her unexpected personal connection to the falling towers. The stories of this anthology portray “home” as both departure and return, as exclusion and belonging.
Between the short stories are scattered poems encompassing a wide range of styles, including several narrative poems such as Mohja Kahf’s portrayal of the clash of civilizations in “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears.” The penultimate piece, Marilyn Chin’s poem “For Mitsuye Yamada on Her 90th Birthday” is a jubilant ode to the Asian American and Civil Rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as those of earlier decades who struggled against discriminatory laws such as Japanese internment during World War II. The spirit of the poem encapsulates Nguyen’s claim in the Foreword: “The existence of Go Home! testifies to the power of language as a home open to all, albeit a home that we must often fight for. Against the racist demand that we go back to where we came from, we say that we are already at home, not just in the United States, but in English.” As such, this anthology also acts as a political statement during this time of increased xenophobia and nativism in both the United States and Great Britain.
My only critique of the collection is that for all its breadth, it sacrifices a sense of intentionality in the selection of the works. Should this be an anthology of recent Asian and Asian American writings on this theme? If so, then why reprint Chang-rae Lee’s essay from 1993? If the only governing logic is diversity, the goal being to include as many different voices as possible, then why are there five poems by Rajiv Mohabir? Surely there are many other Asian and Asian American poets out there who are writing about the themes of belonging and estrangement. That said, the collection does try to include underrepresented voices, as well as weld the divide between the global Anglophone and Asian American literary traditions. The contributors come from a variety of ethnic and national backgrounds, including the Middle East and Guyana, widening the umbrella term of Asian and Asian American.
How can one anthology capture a notion as multivalent and fundamental as home in the plethora that is contemporary Asian Anglophone and Asian American writing? The answer, which Buchanan gives in the Editor’s Note, is that it cannot. While the anthology strives to cover a diverse array of styles and experiences, Buchanan explains that “this one book can’t contain all the vital voices.” Buchanan urges readers to consider the book as a “doorway.” She doesn’t specify where the door leads, but it may just lead us home.
Go Home! Edited by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan. New York: Feminist Press, CUNY, 2018.
Nancy Carranza is an English PhD student at University of California, Riverside studying Asian American literature. She received her B.A. in English from UCLA and M.A. from UC Irvine. Her research interests include interracial relations, narrative & spatial theory, and post/neo-colonialisms.