Bespoke Immigrants in _Nisei_ Murayama, Accented Kim, and Mama Tan

Sheng-mei Ma


Bespoke immigrants are immigrant characters made-to-order for the master narrative of Asian American literature, particularly in the genre of bildungsroman featuring ethnic protagonists coming of age vis-à-vis their immigrant parents and the parent nation of America. These bespoke immigrants are emplotted to bring about the denouement as the protagonists come into their own. By virtue of such blood ties, a great number of Asian American writers have taken poetic license in representing immigrant characters as types, even stereotypes, long familiar to their Anglophone readers. Such portrayal reveals how white or whitewashed these American writers of Asian descent are, casting the white gaze onto immigrants who look like themselves. These immigrant prototypes harbor a schizophrenic split between the ancestral land and tongue versus the Promised Land and English. Morphing from alien clowns with baby English and farcical mannerisms to spiritual morphine supercharging ethnic quests of identity, immigrant characters serve as the foil in bildungsroman on maturing, mainstreaming, and Americanizing. Such poetic license, such self-serving discursive liberty, borders on “immigrant license,” or license to replicate creatures-characters. This is tantamount to the license to kill them, who would have otherwise been round, organic, and unto themselves, evidenced in Milton Murayama, Richard Kim, and Amy Tan.





Bespoke Immigrants; Immigrant License; Milton Murayama; Richard Kim; Amy Tan

Full Text:



Works Cited

Chin, Frank, Jeffrey Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong, edited. (1991). Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian American Writers. 1974. Mentor.

Chua, Amy. (2011). Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Penguin.

Crazy Rich Asians. (2018). Directed by Jon M. Chu, performances by Constance Wu, Henry Golding, and Michelle Yeoh, Warner Bros.

The Flower Drum Song. (1961). Directed by Henry Koster, performances by Nancy Kwan, James Shigeta, Benson Fong, Ross Hunter Productions.

Freud, Sigmund. (1919). “The Uncanny.” Collected Papers Vol. IV: Papers on Mepsychology and Applied Psycho-analysis. Translated by Joan Riviere. The Hogarth Press, 1953, pp. 368-407.

Girard, René. (1977). Violence and the Sacred. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kang, Younghill. (2019). East Goes West: The Making of an Oriental Yankee. 1937. Penguin.

Kim, Elaine H. (1982). Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and their Social Context. Temple University Press.

Kim, Richard E. (1998). Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood. University of California Press.

Kingston, Maxine Hong. (1976). The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Knopf.

Kwan, Kevin. (2013). Crazy Rich Asians. Penguin.

Larsen, Nella. (1986). Quicksand and Passing. Rutgers University Press.

Lowe, Lisa. (1996). Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Duke University Press.

Ma, Sheng-mei. (1998). Immigrant Subjectivities in Asian American and Asian Diaspora Literatures. State University of New York Press.

Ma, Sheng-mei. (2006). “The Fad(k)ing of 0.5 Generation: On Taiwanese and Chinese Retirees in the U.S.” National Taiwan University (NTU) Studies in Language and Literature. 15 (June 2006), pp. 63-86.

Marlan. Stanton. (2021). C. G. Jung and the Alchemical Imagination: Passages into the Mysteries of Psyche and Soul. Routledge.

Murayama, Milton. (1988). All I Asking for Is My Body. University of Hawaii Press.

Murayama, Milton. (1959). “I’ll Crack Your Head Kotsun.” Arizona Quarterly, pp. 137-149.

Naficy, Hamid. (2001). An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton University Press.

On the Waterfront. (1954). Directed by Elia Kazan, performances by Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Horizon Pictures.

Said, Edward. (1978). Orientalism. Pantheon.

Sollors, Warner. (1986.) Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture. Oxford University Press.

Tan, Amy. (2001). The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Ballantine.

Tan, Amy. (1995). The Hundred Secret Senses. G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Tan, Amy. (1989). The Joy Luck Club. G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Tan, Amy. (1991). The Kitchen God's Wife. Ivy Books.

Todorov, Tzvetan. (1973). The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Case Western Reserve Library.

Tsing. H. T. (2019). The Hanging on Union Square. 1935. Penguin.

Wang, Wayne, directed. (1993). The Joy Luck Club. Performances by Tamlyn Tomita, Rosalind Chao, Kieu Chinh, Hollywood Pictures.

Wong, Sau-ling Cynthia. (1993). Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance. Princeton University Press.

Wong, Sau-ling Cynthia. (1995). “‘Sugar Sisterhood’: Situating the Amy Tan Phenomenon.” The Ethnic Canon. Edited by David Palumbo-Liu. University of Minnesota Press, pp. 172-210.

Yee, Paul. (2002). Dead Man’s Gold and Other Stories. Toronto: Groundwood Books.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2023 Sheng-mei Ma

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved | Interface | ISSN: 2519-1268