Journal of Writing & Environment


From the Archives: Review of Flyway, Vol. 6.3/7.1 Spring 2002


Reviewed by Samantha Futhey

Otherness: Flyway’s Asian American Special Issue

Flyway reveals the “other” in identity, cross-cultural mishaps, food, and sense of place with this special Asian American issue. From the black and white photograph of Japanese-Americans departing for WWII internment camps, on the cover, to a white woman’s confusion in her Thai boyfriend’s family in “The Whitest Woman in America,” the writings in this collection reach beyond what it means to be Asian-American. Poems and stories in this issue reveal the collectivity of human experiences, exploring what it means to be human. The following are standout pieces of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction found in this issue:

  • “Minidoka, Idaho, Winter 1944,” a poem by former Iowa State University professor Neil Nakadate, recalls the double-standard of being “other,” as Japanese-Americans fought for the U.S. during WWII while their families were interned at relocation camps. The final two lines capture the heart of the poem: “Gold stars shine in the desert night,/ and dust settles on the windowpanes.” Another poem, “Backflips” by Charles Valle, portrays the duality and isolation of the speaker’s experience in tightly constructed tercets: “I learned from the laughter/ Simulated in sitcoms/ Just where to touch/ People and make them forget/ Just how foreign/ My first words were.”

 

  • Identity in this issue is taken seriously by most writers, such as Nakadate and Valle. However, some writers approach the subject with sardonic wit. In “How the Lee Family Has Fun on a Friday Night,” San Franciscan poet Priscilla Lee juxtaposes stereotypes of Chinese families with Richard Simmons exercise tapes: “Is this what Chinese people / do for a good time on a Friday night? George asks, wondering what the hell/ happened to mahjong and opium dens.” Sarah Littlecrow-Russel’s poem “My Ancestor’s Supernatural Dating Service Fails” provides a portrait of multicultural confusion and role of women in relationships. The prose piece “Deflowering the Sampaguita” by M. Evelina Galang, further explores the confusion of love in the context of a God-fearing culture: “Here is how we come to learn of Jesus, Our Savior. Here is what they tell us. First Holy Communion. Like the first time you are with the man you love — but they don’t say that part.”

 

  • Both of the previously described pieces and many others also present individuals in conflict with their families and family values.“The Whitest Woman in America” by Katherine Riegal is another example of family and cross-cultural misunderstanding, as the protagonist tries to fit in with her boyfriend Ira’s Thai mother and sisters. Many of the scenes center around the protagonist’s lack of knowledge about the Thai language, leaving her outside of the family dynamic: “Chin tastes a strawberry and says ‘Sweet!’ her highest praise for fruit. ‘Taste like,’ she pauses, ‘I don’t know the English word.’ Ira says ‘Monkut?’ ‘Yes, yes,’ she says, but when I ask Ira what monkut is, he says it doesn’t taste anything like strawberries.”

 

  • Place and natural imagery also dominates the issue, from reflecting on places where family came from to the places the speakers of these writings live, work and love. In the lyrical poem “Mid-Autumn Moon” by Jeffery Thomas Leong, where the speaker’s acute observations and rhythmic pacing mimics ancient Chinese and Japanese poets in his reflection on his future marriage: “Just moonlight laying itself down upon/ the newly-opened earth, absorbing crimson in layered soil, finally grounded.”

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