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Walking and Wandering: Reconstructing Diasporic Subjectivity in T.C. Huo’s Land of Smiles and Lê Thi Diem Thúy’s The Gangster We Are All Looking For By Brian G. Chen The absence of Asian Americans in the literary scholarship on American mobility must be deemed a serious, if historically explainable, omission. For Asian American literature, from its very inception, has also been “a literature of movement, of motion.” ---Sau-ling Cynthia Wong (119-120) From the beginnings of literature, poets and writers have based their narratives on crossing borders, on wandering, on exile, on encounters beyond the familiar. The stranger is an archetype in epic poetry, in novels. The tension between alienation and assimilation has always been a basic theme. ---Jhumpa Lahiri (219) This article explores the shifting subjectivity of the Southeast Asian diasporic members, especially those from Laos and Vietnam, and their redefinition of home, through literary representations in T.C. Huo’s Land of Smiles (2000) and Lê Thi Diem Thúy’s The Gangster We Are All Looking For (2003). Since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the physical presence of the Southeast Asian refugees in the United States has changed the image of Asian Americans. The ways in which they grapple with their diasporic subjectivity by adopting the host country as their new home are fraught with resistance and ambivalence. According to Ngô, Nguyen, and Lam, the presence of the Southeast Asian refugees is “proof of the postcolonial truism ‘we are here because you were there’” (672), which



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Diaspora has often been defined as the condition of dispersal and displacement in which its members express minimal connections with their host country and always look to return to their ancestral homelands. However, from the literary representations in T. C. Huo’s Land of Smiles and Lê Thi Diem Thúy’s The Gangster We Are All Looking For, it is clear that members of the Southeast Asian diaspora determine to set root in their host country and refuse to be treated as temporary guests. This determination is warranted by their desire to redefine the contentious idea of home beyond cultural ancestry and geopolitical boundaries. Both authors utilize the trope of walking and wandering to debunk the essentialist conception based on the premise that one’s subjectivity is static, especially when it applies to diasporic members’ supposed sense of homelessness and the longing to return to their native countries. Rather than perpetuating the systemic labels onto diasporic members, such as homelessness, passivity, and powerlessness, through walking and wandering, the Southeast Asian refugees in the novels demonstrate the psychosomatic connections with their host country, take part in the pursuit of success, and declare an active, visible presence in their new homeland as fervent subjects who embrace opportunities to obtain material security in the United States.



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