Transnational Poetics: Asian Canadian Women’s Fiction of the 1990s is a scholarly work that aims to determine to what extent the new generation of Asian-Canadian women writers who started publishing in the 1990s feels at ease or at odds with a cultural climate that markets their writing as being exotic. It also examines in what ways they relate to the poetics and politics of their predecessors.
The authors of Transnational Poetics (professors P. Cuder-Domínguez, B. Martín-Lucas, and S. Villegas-López) discuss the work of writers such as Yasmin Ladha, Rachna Mara, Shauna Singh Baldwin, Lydia Kwa, Hiromi Goto and Kerri Sakamoto. They also pay attention to these writers’ contributions to new developments in the field of race and writing in Canada, and to how they challenge dominant conceptions of identity, not only in terms of race and gender, but also of sexual orientation.
Racial identity has in fact been the subject of much scrutiny in Canada in the second half of the twentieth century, particularly in connection with the definition of a national identity. During the 1960s and 1970s Canada severed its last colonial ties with Britain while it engaged in the construction of a coherent national image (flag, anthem, and related symbols) that was distinctive from both their old imperial centre (the United Kingdom) and their powerful neighbour (the United States).
There emerged then the notion of the “Canadian mosaic,” a symbol of inter-ethnic and inter-racial cooperation that gave the lie to the “American melting-pot” by reconciling differences instead of fostering assimilation into a normative white European identity.
Although the idea of the ‘two founding nations’ has proved extremely resilient and quite impossible to debunk, the mosaic framework was also open to other races and ethnic groups during the 1980s. In that decade, the writing of “visible minorities” in Canada attracted major media and academic attention for the first time. They became central to the project of displaying the pluralist makeup of Canadian society and culture as articulated in the Multiculturalism Act of 1988 and promoted from most cultural institutions.
By the late 1980s, however, critics and writers both expressed reservations about an official policy of multiculturalism that unproblematically celebrated “difference” without undertaking to analyze the unequal access to power that these social groups had. Out of these debates there rises throughout the 1990s a new conceptualization of racial identity that starts by re-examining the very terms used for it, like “visible minority” or “woman of colour.”