A well-known playwright in the Asian American community wrote me recently and said, “Everything I’ve done–in theater, in publishing . . . is more activism than art.”
I write with an activist spirit, but I prefer not to compromise art simply to promulgate my personal ideologies. The line between activism and art is hard to locate, however. I write to express my essence and as an Asian female living in the United States, racism, feminism, and cultural imperialism come into play. Not writing about my experiences in these realms would be disingenuous. Writing about it runs the risk of coming across as proselytizing, as somewhat angry and bitter, as flaunting the I’ve-been-marginalized card.
When re-reading my manuscript (what I have of it so far), story and politics intertwine like fibers of rope. I cannot pull out one without unraveling the other. Is that really what I want? I’ve read works where story and politics are layers. I haven’t the artistry to make my novel layered. It’s just rope.
As an Asian American artist, one faces an audience of stiff-lipped folk with their arms folded. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Too much Asian Americanism and people tell you to get over yourself. Too little of it and people accuse you of being white-washed, ignorant, entrenched in self-denial. You can’t write in an art vacuum. You can’t write fiction like a middle-aged white male, but you weather just as much hostility if you write like Frank Chin.
I don’t know whether I should say “My writing is more activism than art” or “My writing is more art than activism” or “My writing is both” or “My writing is neither.” I shouldn’t have to say any one of the above, but that’s most likely not going to be an option. I’m not saying every one of us must explain our actions and expressions, but if you keep on burning crosses on front lawns, at some point you have to stop and give your reasons.