Intro: Against the Hyphen, Against the Empire

My name is Gray Eden, and I am a rising senior majoring in English Literature, Poetry Writing, and Philosophy. I live and attend university on stolen Shawnee territory, or so-called Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

This summer, I will create a compilation of essays, poems, and visual art called “Attempts against the Hyphen.” In crafting “Attempts,” I hope to better understand and depict the experience of a queer Filipino American growing in the so-called United States in 2020. I disavow the “hyphen”—a reference to the occasional spelling of “Asian-American”—which I interpret as a metonym for assimilation. The hyphen insidiously attaches “American” to “Asian” in a way that seems to legitimize not only the colonialist and imperialist state of America but also legitimizes Asian American assimilation into that state. The state encourages Asian Americans to believe in an impossible liberal assimilation— which Daryl J. Maeda defines in Chains of Babylon: The Rise of Asian America as: (1) civic participation, or proving allegiance to the state, in the public sphere and (2) cultural retention, or maintaining Asian tradition, in the private sphere. 

I believe that liberal assimilation is the heart of an abundance of Asian American creative writing—some of which is colloquially and derogatorily called diaspora poetry. Diaspora poetry does not challenge the hyphen; it accepts it. In turn, diaspora poetry accepts the violence of the US. It accepts melting pot diversity as a stand-in for multiracial solidarity. It legitimizes Asian American settling on indigenous land. However, it is crucial to note that liberal assimilation and diaspora poetry are not faults of Asian Americans: they are—although misguided—survival tactics in the colonial and imperialist system. The relationship between “Asian” and “American” is symbiotic, but it is not mutualism, it is parasitism. The suffix stretches through the leech-hyphen, latches onto the prefix, and slowly kills it. 

Under the guidance of my mentor Jen Lee, professor of creative nonfiction in the University of Pittsburgh’s English department, I will attempt radical diaspora poetics rather than a liberal one. This project is interdisciplinary in scope because I will weave in theory and criticism (from my philosophy and literature studies) as well as creative writing (from my poetry and nonfiction studies) and visual art (personal interest).  What does it mean, I wonder, to disavow the politics that so much of my community sustains? How can I forge new communities and heal familial trauma? These are the questions that the Brackenridge will help me answer. I also believe that “Attempts” will help me send innovative and radical creative writing on race to chapbook awards and creative writing magazines that transcends liberal assimilation and melting pot identity politics.

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