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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Becoming-Animal in Asian Americas: Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s God of Luck and a Watanabean Triptych (Three Poems by José Watanabe)


Considering the implicit North American and Anglophone core of Asian American literature traditionally conceived, this essay discusses two examples of literatures of the Asian Americas. A narrative of a Chinese coolie’s heroic escape from a Peruvian guano mine, Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s novel God of Luck (2008) introduces a lesser-known point of view to the field: the nineteenth-century Chinese coolie in Peru. Rather than embrace the emblematic hero who accedes to voice, this essay attempts to read outside of an anticipated rubric of individual politico-economic repletion. In the poetry of Peruvian writer José Watanabe (1946–2007), motifs of animal encounter abound—yet dogs, fish, and other kinds of life are never deployed as a discrete metaphor through which we can see and know ourselves. As readers we are shifted to the edge of the world, in a “becoming-animal” that explores not the Asian American, but its restless morphing, illegibly human or otherwise.

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