Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies, Vol 3 (2012)

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Betwixt and Between Past and Present: Cultural and Generic Hybridity in the Fiction of Mary Yukari Waters

Rania Samir Youssef

Abstract


The cosmopolitan make-up of the American society has yielded cultural hybrid offspring and this cultural hybridity features strongly in contemporary American fiction. Amy Tan and Mary Yukari Waters are both Asian-Americans who portray such hybridity in their short stories which depict the shifting identities of the self. But do the internal categories of gender, race and ethnicity help in the coherence or do they add to the fragmentation of diverse identities? It is the dynamics of this critique of multiple identification and hybrid cultures that is being traced here in this study and how all this is reflected in narrative responses to such conditions of the examination of the self and, on a broader scale, community.  The fiction of both writers usually ends up with a metaphysical human aspiration that retains the past, holds on to the present and looks forward to the hidden joys of the future. “Betwixt and between” was a term coined by Victor Turner to describe those who are culturally both and neither, that is, they stand at a “liminal” (border) stage that should be a temporary state, but, in certain cases has become a permanent one. Waters and Tan fulfill Will Kymlicka's exemplary mode of multiculturalism. Kymlicka does not want ethnic/Americans to separate their conflicting identities in order to fit in. They should not bring their lifestyles to conform to various codes; instead, they should have the freedom of multiple identification in whichever place and with whichever group, be it a minority or mainstream. Multiple identification has been a blessing for both writers as both consider it like two alternate worlds that they can resort to the one when they are fed-up with the other. Two short stories were chosen for each writer: "Rationing" and "Aftermath" for Mary Yukari Waters; "The Moon Lady" and "A Pair of Tickets" for Amy Tan.  Cultural hybridity is clear in their appreciation of their ancestors' stoicism, wisdom and guidance on the one hand, and in their willingness to take in American cultural traits on the other. Generic hybridity is exemplified in the interpenetration of the historic, the mythic and the symbolic. The history of China and Japan during World War II is constantly conjured up and the present and the past are intermingled through the workings of memory. The mythic has a powerful presence in the texts of both writers given the influence of the myth in their Eastern spiritual cultures. Names and actions acquire a symbolic significance which adds richness in meaning to the texts. The two writers, moreover, add a touch of folklore to stress their Asian origin and to prove the fact that (multicultural) society and (hybrid) culture must have their influence apparent in all literary texts.

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