Understanding A Contentious "Local" Literary Community: The Controversy Over Lois-Ann Yamanaka's Blu's Hanging

Yamamoto, Caitlin
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
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I remember when I first heard the word ''controversy" uttered in regards to Lois-Ann Yamanaka's novel, Blu's Hanging, in a sophomore literature course almost three years ago. Being a big fan of Yamanaka's work and of "local" literature in general, the idea that a controversy had erupted over her newest book, Blu's Hanging, more than just sparked my interest. As I read through the packet of newspaper articles and critical essays that our professor had compiled and handed out to the class to educate us about the controversy, I remember feeling torn. The packet was put together in such a way that it covered a range of different perspectives, including those who felt that Blu's Hanging should receive the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) Fiction Award, as well as those who believed that it shouldn't receive the award. On the one hand, I absolutely loved Yamanaka's work. I had just finished reading Blu's Hanging (1997), and prior to that, had read her two other published works, Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre (1993) and Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers (1996), and had thoroughly enjoyed all three. This part of me really admired and respected Yamanaka, and felt that she deserved to receive the award because it validated her accomplishment and success as a local Asian American writer. On the other hand, some of the articles in the packet made me very uneasy about feeling this way. These articles were primarily concerned with the way in which Yamanaka had represented local Filipinos in her book. They argued that her depictions of Filipinos were stereotypical and one dimensional, promoting discrimination and racial profiling. As I referred back to Blu's Hanging, I found myself unable to refute this particular argument. They were absolutely right: the book did include flat and highly stereotypical characterizations of Filipinos, the most heinous of all being the villain of the story, Uncle Paulo, a young Filipino man who rapes and molests some of the children in his family and Blu, the narrator's eight-year-old brother.
ii, 59 pages
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