In fiction and nonfiction, Asian Americans and Jewish Americans grapple with their "model minority" status and the contested nature of citizenship
Jewish and Asian American Writing
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A title in the American Literatures Initiative.
Navigating deftly among historical and literary readings, Cathy Schlund-Vials examines the analogous yet divergent experiences of Asian Americans and Jewish Americans in Modeling Citizenship. She investigates how these model minority groups are shaped by the shifting terrain of naturalization law and immigration policy, using the lens of naturalization, not assimilation, to underscore questions of nation-state affiliation and sense of belonging.
Modeling Citizenship examines fiction, memoir, and drama to reflect on how the logic of naturalization has operated at discrete moments in the twentieth century. Each chapter focuses on two exemplary literary works. For example, Schlund-Vials shows how Mary Antin's Jewish-themed play The Promised Land is reworked into a more contemporary Chinese American context in Gish Jen's Mona in the Promised Land.
In her compelling analysis, Schlund-Vials amplifies the structural, cultural, and historical significance of these works and the themes they address.
"Schlund-Vials’ research is excellent and the accounts of individual texts consistently illuminating; her reading of the Neil Diamond kitsch classic version of The Jazz Singer is wondrous. The quality of analysis is high, and her argument is very well documented—especially with respect to the legal arguments and historical background. Modeling Citizenship will add to the current critical conversation that is extending ethnic studies beyond its established limits and entrenched polarities. It makes an important intervention in American studies, immigrant studies, Asian-American studies and Jewish-American studies—and it’s one that will find a wide and engaged audience."
"Cathy Schlund-Vials's timely and thoughtful book...probes into what it might mean for Asian American literary studies if the trope of naturalization were the hinge on which studies of Asian American racialization were to pivot.... One of the multiple strengths of Schlund-Vials's work is her ability to negotiate thorny debates within Asian American literary studies.... [Schlund-Vials's] stunning approach to negotiating difference puts [her] work at the center of emergent debates on how and where an attention to comparative modes of analyses can transform the paradigms of Asian American literary analysis.... Modeling Citizenship does for Asian American literary studies what Jonathan Freedman's Klezmer America does for Jewish American literary studies."
"The work's success lies in Schlund-Vials's comparative study of analogous yet divergent texts of Jewish and Asian American literatures regarding 'model minorities,' migration, relocation, and citizenship, thoughtfully interpreted in terms of law, public sentiment, and immigrant attitudes of belonging and alienation.... Summing Up: Recommended."
"[Schlund-Vials] read[s] Jewish and Asian American texts side-by-side to investigate how both ethnic groups have participated in and been shaped by model-minority discourse.... [Her] book is organized historically around a number of couplings between Jewish and Asian American writing that prove particularly fruitful for analyzing how shifting attitudes toward naturalization and immigration policy have determined whether or not, and to what degree, these two minority groups can obtain the status of model citizens.... [She] provid[es] nuanced, historically contextualized readings of literary works... [and] yield[s] strong insights into how cross-ethnic relations have bearing on the meanings of whiteness, transnationalism, model-minority identity, and citizenship."
Cathy Schlund-Vials is Assistant Professor of English and Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut-Storrs.