As one of the women who pioneered Asian American awareness in mainstream society through literature, Maxine Hong Kingston fought for our voices before we knew we had them. I remember reading an excerpt from “The Woman Warrior” in middle school, written for someone like me by someone who also understood the predicament of having to balance two cultures. Her stories were my stories until I could write my own. So when it came time to look for authors to interview, I knew it would be a crime not to include a woman who blazed the trail we at Mochi walk on today.
Mochi Magazine: In “The Woman Warrior,” you wrote, “Those of us in the first American generations have had to figure out how the invisible world the emigrants built around our childhoods fits in solid America.” How did you negotiate between the Asian and American aspects of your identity? What advice do you have for girls dealing with cultural identity issues?
Maxine Hong Kingston: The main task during our youth is to build the self. We do that by creating our values and our ethics. That is, we discover clearly what we value in our inherited cultures. We multi-cultural people have much to choose from. And we make a code of ethics that helps us be brave as we negotiate society. Strong in values and ethics, we don’t distort ourselves to fit into the milieu.
We change the world – and the family – with our very presence.
MM: Both you and Amy Tan wrote extensively about mother-daughter relationships, particularly of the haunted past world the mothers left behind in China. Why was it important for you to tell your mother’s stories?
MHK: Mother represents all of the known world. Each of us needs to come to terms with our own specific mother, and all of life. One needs to understand, interact, reconcile with, and possibly transform life conditions, including one’s relationship with Mom. My own mother was the most dynamic, energetic, interesting person I’ve known. As a writer, I was lucky to have her stories.
MM: Asian American presence in American culture, media, and politics has come a long way since you first published in 1970s. Looking back, what do you think were the movements that spurred the change and what do you believe still needs to needs to be accomplished?
MHK: The Civil Rights movement. The Feminist movement. The American wars in Asia. Literary movements, such as the Beats, Modernism, and Post-Modernism. The pride movements, which led to the existential creation of Asian and Pacific Islander America. The next immediate thing to accomplish is the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.