From our discussion in class about Otono Watane or Winnifred Eaton, I would like to expand on the idea of why Eaton perhaps wrote the Japanese Nightingale using Oriental Stereotype discourse. A classmate had mentioned Eaton’s background and the time period in which the book was written are key factors into why she wrote in this specific discourse. One thing that stood out to me during our class discussion is the idea of negotiating intersectional identities.

I believe negotiating with intersectional identities is an important theme played out in the short story and something that the author was negotiating with.  Intersectional identities like being biracial comes with a lot negotiation with how one fits into their society. Given the time period in which the short story was written in and the political discourse around the Chinese, I think perhaps the author had to negotiate with her intersectional identities. Especially because she was an half Chinese British woman.

I may not know what it is like to be biracial, however, I am a second generation Muslim-Bengali-American. At a time where Muslims are perceived as terrorists I too had to negotiate with my identities and it is a very tough thing to do. My have had to negotiate my place in society as a Muslim Bengali American woman. Sometimes this means I am not Bengali enough or I am not American enough. There have been different stages in my life where I felt more Bengali than I felt American and vice versa. And many other Muslims have gone through the same struggles. Many Muslim Americans that I grew up with did not want to acknowledge their Muslim identity in outside environments. At school they went by Mo instead of Mohammed. They did everything in their power to blend in and not be associated with the religion or heritage because it comes with darkness and bullying.

In the short story, I believe the purpose of having the protagonist as biracial is to represent the author. The author perhaps was negotiating with their intersectional identity and it manifested in Yuki’s character. Yuki is perceived as a half caste in which she does not look full Japanese, even though she grew up there. The same perhaps goes with Winnifred, she grew up in Canada. Because of the author’s external appearance, she is perceived as ‘other’ by other Canadians, Chinese, or Americans. And because of the time period in which she lived, the discourse on Chinese or Asians in general played into the Orientalism ideas. Perhaps this discourse was all that was available to her as she negotiated her identity as half Chinese British Canadian who also posed herself as a Japanese woman writer. As mentioned earlier when one of the identities a person possesses is a ‘threatening’ one, people do not want to be associated with it as it carries a lot of baggage and sometimes hatred.

I think it is crucial to address intersections identities and how people negotiate with it. Especially in this class as we continue to discuss Asian American literature, identity politics probably is a big theme in most of our classes reading. I think it is even more important to include in our conversations about biracial and multiracial people. They often must feel like they like they do not completely belong in their intersectional societies when in the our perspective we see them as having the best of all worlds because they are “blended”.

Negotiating Identity-Winnifred Eaton

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