Academic journals for high school students

Academic journals

Introducing academic journals for high school students

Breaking Silence: Asian American Poetry In the Late 20th Century

Ava Chen

Philips Academy


During a 1994 Tufts University presentation, Chinese American poet Marilyn Chin said, “Think of how many essays there are on Maxine Hong Kingston; then think of how few essays are devoted to the whole genre of Asian American poetry.”1 With what Chin described as the “fear and loathing of poetry,” Asian American literary critics almost exclusively discussed the prose fiction, nonfiction, and even screenwriting of authors like Kingston in book-length studies and academic journals—but very rarely engaged with the work of Asian American poets. Even within the narrow field of Asian American critical literature, poetry remained disproportionately underrepresented, and thus underestimated in its role in history. Yet Asian American poetry of the late 20th century embodied a crucial component of Asian American justice and identity exploration.

A rapid influx of Asian immigrants caused the Asian American population in the United States to skyrocket from 880,000 in 1960 to 3.5 million in 1970, foregrounding social change.2 Indeed, long suppressed by injustices ranging from Japanese internment and police violence to the pervasive ‘model minority’ myth, a collective desire for justice had been stirring in Asian American communities for decades. With the concurrent rise of anti-imperialism and movements for Black, Latinx, and other minorities’ rights, Asian Americans unified to spur a newfound movement for Asian American equality in the early 1970s. Galvanized, Asian American poets authored fiery collections of poetry, enriching this movement with explorations of its anti-hegemonic sentiment and interracial alliances, as well as powerful deconstructions of historical oppression. They ultimately helped dismantle stereotyped Asian complacency in favor of establishing multifaceted conceptions of Asian American identity and culture.

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