Saturday, August 18, 2007

Frank Chin - Bananas Conference Auckland

Collection Number: Wyles, MSS 103.
Size Collection: 67.2 linear feet (112 Document Boxes; 3 oversize containers; located in Del Norte oversize rack).
Acquisition Information: Acquired from Frank Chin, 2003.

Frank Chin is a UCSB graduate (1965) and is widely recognized as the most influential Asian American dramatist and writer (novels, short stories, essays) in the country. He is one of a handful of top literary figures in Asian American literary and cultural communities, and he is distinguished as being the first Asian American playwright produced in New York City. He founded the Asian American Theater Workshop in San Francisco which later evolved into the Asian American Theater Company (AATC). In discussing the value of the papers, Chin remarked, "I hope that my collection of research, letters and experimental manuscripts will stimulate a more traditional study of Asian American literature, beginning with an introduction to the Asian children's stories shared by China, Korea, and Japan since pre-historic times, and the "vernacular novels" developed to spread Chinese heroic tradition of the Ming, as a conscious expression of the myth of civilization throughout Asia.” “By making my papers available to the public, I hope that my efforts to treat knowledge of Asia and America as equally important will be seen and used.”

Born February 25, 1940, Frank Chin describes himself as a fifth generation Chinaman. His great-grandfather helped build the Southern Pacific Railroad and his grandmother was a steward. He worked as a brakeman for the line before he began writing. Frank Chin’s work broke new ground in the exploration of Chinese and Chinese American mythology, iconography and cultural misconception. At a time when most writers and scholars were merely examining the way that Chinese Americans experienced stereotypes, Frank Chin was confronting and destroying the perceived foundations from which those stereotypes evolved. In 1975 Frank Chin described his efforts as an activist for Chinese-American identity to Stanley Eichelbaum for the San Francisco Examiner, to fight what he described as “anti-yellow, love-em to death and extinction racism”, which he believed was still widely practiced here in the United States. “Not Chink-hating racism but a more subtle form that deprives us of identity and locks up our seven generations of history and culture in America.”

Growing up in Oakland California, Chin attended UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara and joined the Program in Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. He is both prolific and varied in his output, having produced documentaries, written novels, short stories, comic books, essays, plays and Hollywood scripts, as well as teaching classes in Asian American literature. Chin co-edited one of the marquee Asian American Anthologies entitled Aiiieeeee!, published in 1974, and a second volume entitled, The Big Aiiieeeee!, published in 1991. Among Frank Chin’s many contributions to Asian American literature and Asian American literature studies, is his tireless effort to fight against the emasculation of the Asian and Asian American male identity. In a letter to Margaret Chew for her term paper for Holy Family Academy, Chin clearly defines his views on his own writing and his views on cultural identity.

“My ideas on Asian America aren’t radical. What makes my ideas seem radical is that they are no longer popular. Whites wiped out the Chinese truth about China. The radical new idea is the current popular one about Chinese culture being passive, humble, docile, non assertive. That’s all bullshit. In schematic, here’s the old, the traditional, the classical vision of Chinese America.”

Chin believed, and continues to believe, that the cultural identities of the “Confucian” Chinese man or the serene and peaceful “oriental mind” are externally produced stereotypes, first introduced by white observers as a way to further dehumanize that which they could not understand. Because of his efforts, he has been criticized by many scholars as being misogynistic or homophobic, claims which Chin has boldly and outspokenly confronted in many of his writings, earning him notoriety and grudging respect. In Gunga Din Highway (1994), Chin articulates a visionary rejection of centuries of Chinese emasculation through stereotype, by presenting protagonists who identify with the warrior spirit of legendary Chinese figures such as Kwan Kung. It is no small sign of his prescience that his ideas are becoming more widely accepted in the modern American popular culture.

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