Publication Date

4-15-2017

Advisor(s)

Amy Tang, Marguerite Nguyen

Major

English

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

In the past two decades, people with mixed ancestral backgrounds and the notion of a multiracial America have come to the forefront of ethnic studies. However, although a large mixed-race population had existed in the state of Hawai'i for centuries before multiracial activism in the U.S., it has been commonly ignored or drastically oversimplified in the developing field of mixed race studies. Hawai'i has been predominantly nonwhite and notably mixed-race for centuries, but this history of immigration is rife with the traumas of colonialism, violence, and racism. Mixed-race identity in Hawai'i has thus taken on a set of implications and stereotypes that differs drastically from continental American narratives of mixed ancestry, which originated from the twentieth-century passing narrative and tragic mulatto stereotype. Despite that this history has articulated certain racial hierarchies and created a historically-bound and complicated conception of race and ethnicity in the islands, white Americans became fascinated by Hawai'i’s demographics and began to portray the islands as a harmonious racial utopia starting in the early twentieth century. Even today, most American analysis of Hawai'i’s interracialism is vastly oversimplified, ignoring how certain stereotypes were created and reinscribed in Americanist cultural and literary studies. Hawai'i’s stories simply cannot be forced into this literary history—they must be examined on their own terms. This thesis is organized chronologically over the course of three chapters, starting in the early days of Hawai'i’s statehood and ending in the current decade. Chapter One explores James Michener’s Hawaii, published in 1959 in concurrence with Hawai'i’s statehood, as one of the foundational literary texts of the melting pot myth. The novel itself offers a fictionalized history that erases Native Hawaiians and gives Hawai'i’s multiracialism primordial origins. Michener’s employment of mixed- race people – the “Golden Man” – as the embodiment of the synthesis of “eastern” and “western” values serves the ultimate goal of promoting American capitalism and imperialism. Chapter Two moves into the late twentieth century with an examination of the early Local literary movement in Hawai'i. Hawai'i writers began to write against the fact that Hawai'i literature had been dominated by non-local white American men for most of the twentieth century. Although the Local movement made significant strides in countering imperialist modes of cultural production, it was criticized in the 1990s for being neocolonialist, favoring the works and opinions of middle-class Asians over those more marginalized ethnic groups, like Filipinos and Native Hawaiians, and additionally casting these groups in an overwhelmingly negative caricature. I will focus my literary analysis on local writer Lois-Ann Yamanaka, as the controversy surrounding her work is exemplary of the time in which she was writing. Chapter Three will attempt to bring the first two chapters into the 21st century with a discussion of modern Hawai'i literature. I will examine Tyler Miranda’s 'Ewa Which Way (2013) and Kaui Hart Hemming’s Juniors (2015) as examples of the temporal and stylistic tensions that persist within the body of Hawai'i’s literature in the wake of 1990s criticism. While Miranda’s novel is, formally speaking, an incredibly typical 1990s novel, it ultimately participates in the same kinds of neocolonialist stereotyping that the genre has already been criticized for. On the other hand, Hemmings’s novel reads far more like Michener’s text, using the rhetoric of multiculturalism (now updated for the 21st century) to give the narrative more “authentic” value. I argue that each text is equally problematic, perpetuating stereotypes that have existed since the mid-century.

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