Kinohi S. S. Nishikawa

Dartmouth College

English


2000

Mentor: Dr. Monica Chiu, Assistant Professor of English

The Model Minority Mulatto: Amy Yamada’s Trash and the Tradition of the Interracial Outcast

There are numerous “classic” American literary motifs that seek to address issues of race in terms of a black/white paradigm. One of the more popular themes that has had a profound impact on our national literature is the fear of miscegenation, or an interracial coupling that produces a “mulatto” offspring. This hybridization of races attracts the most hostile forms of discrimination because, among other things, it poses a direct threat to the supposed “purity” of the white gene pool. More often than not, the interracial figure is represented as an outcast who is faced with the decision either to remain alienated from society or to become a part of it by “passing” as white.

Amy Yamada’s Trash, first translated into English in 1994, is a subtle and complex response to such obtuse generalizations regarding race, specifically, black/Japanese relations. The novel depicts the problematic relationship that evolves between a Japanese woman, Koko, her alcoholic and disillusioned black boyfriend, Randy, and his Japanese/black son, Jesse, from another woman. Yamada revises the motif of the hybrid outcast described above in order to comment on contemporary notions of racial conflict.

Choosing literary criticism (Gates, Johnson, Sollors) and cultural theory (Düttmann, Lowe, Okihiro) as enabling methodologies, I find that the fundamental dynamic of the motif—forcing the subject to choose either a “white” identity or a “black” one—is disrupted because the interracial figure in this case is black and Japanese. Thus, Asians’ in-between status on the spectrum of black and white extremes creates a tension in the novel that critiques America’s underlying fear of miscegenation and blood hybridity. The implications of Yamada’s text are far-reaching, for she not only resists portraying blacks and Asians as naturally antagonistic (which is what the model minority stereotype advocates), but she also discredits the black/white and either/or paradigms which frame Americans’ understanding of race.

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