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The idea of “Exotic” in All Over Creation

Alison's picture

ESem Paper Draft #8
October 30, 2015

The idea of “Exotic” in All Over Creation

When talking about the novel “All Over Creation” in the ESem class, I learn “exotic” as a new word. I used to think the meaning of this word would be “something form a foreign country and has a different background”. However, things are more complex than I expected. What I heard from my classmates about the word “exotic” is relatively negative, exclusive and not that welcoming. Because when a person is described as an “exotic” one, he or she is automatically eliminated from the mainstream community.

Then I go to the dictionary and search the word, and I find the following definition: “Exoticism means the tendency to adopt what is exotic or foreign.”(Oxford Online Dictionary) The explanation looks pretty positive to me: adopting a different culture, which means accepting. But when I am looking for the Historical Thesaurus of exoticism, I started understand why people think this word an unpleasant one: the synonym of this word is strangeness, abnormality, unconformity and irregularity.

In this book, the most exotic character is Momoko: she is from Japan, brought by Lloyd after the war. She eats rice instead of photos, and she makes her daughter rice boll for lunch, which is queer to Yumi’s classmates. “She is the cutest thing they have ever seen, so delicate and fragile looking, like a china doll.”(5) In such a place like Idaho, there are not many Asians. She cannot talk to others who have the similar background with her and can fully understand her culture. The only chance for her to talk in Japanese is possibly the time when she cultivate her plants. And she do regarded by other people as Lloyd’s “crazy wife” (9), a stranger who “still spoke with the deliberateness of a foreigner, carefully pronouncing words, lining them up one after another, and launching them tentatively into the air” after living fifty years in Idaho (10)

I have several ideas about the word “exotic” and how does it presented in this book. Firstly, could Momoco be an metaphor of the exotic plants or the plants that are not being genetically modified yet? Then there will be the relation between Momoko and the people in Idaho and the relationship between the plants and people.

The description of Momoko’s accent reminds me of the discussion between Geek and Frankie about the language of plants. Geek said: ”Genetic engineering is changing the semantics, the meaning of life itself.” He argues that “We’re trying to usurp the plant’s choice. To force alien words into the plant’s poem” when people are trying to modify the gene of plants.(124) Similarly, Momoko, as a foreigner, an exotic person in this situation, are forced to learn a foreign language to ensure the daily communication. But no one seems to be interest in her culture or learning her language. Just as the plants who are modified by people’s will — to be more persistent to pests and extreme weather, etc. Does Momoko feel in the same way that she was forced to learn English? Does she feel that her right has been usurp?

Secondly, What is Momoco’s role, as an exotic person in the story?

At first, Momoco seems like a marginal character. She never presents herself in front of others and she seems has little impact on her daughter. However, some of her unique perspectives influence the development of the whole story. She is the one who has the diverse and “exotic” garden and pay a lot attention on foster plants. Only with this garden and the network she created, the hippos noticed them and arrive the farm. And that is the beginning of many changes. Even though she chooses to give up her seeds at last, saying “Keeping is not safe. Keeping is danger. Only safe way is letting go. Giving everything away. Freely. Freely.” (358). And she brings none of her seeds, which she regarded as her sole and the only thing she remembers when she has AD, to Hawaii. She says :“Plenty of seeds in Hawaii. Everywhere is garden. It is enough.”(414) She seems to leave the past behind. But she actually create a more tight connection between Geek, Cassi and even Yumi, who does not care about the environmental stuff at all at the beginning. She is still an “exotic” person by definition. But she is not a stranger, an abnormality anymore. She receives many respects with her exotic plants and exotic identity

Thirdly, what is the real meaning of “Exotic” and “Native”?

Momoko is not completely exotic. She seems to assimilated with the American culture as she get used to the life in Idaho with her American husband. She prefers going to Methodist church instead of the religion in her original culture. When Yumi asked her about the Zen in Japanese, she questions “Why you need enlighten when you got good Methodist church to go to?” But she also keeps some of her special habits such as eating rice and keep her exotic garden. Momoco is in somewhere between Japanese culture and American culture.

I’m trying to find the opposite word for “exotic” or “exoticism” and ending up with “native," which is the most closet word for me. The definition of “native” is “A person born in a specified place, region, or country, whether subsequently resident there or not.” From this perspective, Yumi is a native person in Idaho. But looking into her thoughts regard identity, she does not think she belongs to this land. At the first several chapters after she goes back to Idaho, all the things she wants to do is leaving. And she thinks she would be an “angry housewife” if she stays here. She clearly feels more belonging in Hawaii or even in California where she could be in “a real Pan-Asian scene” (38). It is very interesting to think that she as an “hybrid” child, who has half blood form America and half blood from Japan, regard herself more as an Asian. She was born in America and grow up there. From the definition of the word “native”, she should be a naive people in America and feel more affiliation when she is immersed in American culture. But the fact is, she graduates form university “with honors in English and Asian Studies” (39, 40) and gets an award for her paper called “The Exiled Self: Fragmentation of Identity in Asian-American Literature”. When she is pursuing her master degree, her research is “Fading Blossoms, Falling Leaves: Visions of Transience and Instability in the Literature of the Asian-American Diaspora” (42). Concluded by that, Yumi cannot really be defined as a native American who should has more belongingness and emotions to that land and culture.

So can we really defined people as “exotic” or “native”? What about the plants, the people who live in Idaho, can they be defined as native?

Possibly thesis: No one can be completely exotic or completely native to one specific place or culture. All the native things are come from somewhere else with a long process of settling down. 

At last, what does the exotic background of Momoco influence the relationship between Momoco and Yumi

“No since the February when they woke to the groan the stair, lay side by side, listening in the dark to the sight the porch door closing, complicit in the mounting silence.

‘Go,’ she said, ‘Bring her back.’

But he hadn’t. ”

“Momoko wrote, not a lot, but she wrote, and she sent money when she could.”

Lloyd and Momoko have similar attitude when they notice Yumi’s change. But Momoko shows more acceptance to Yumi. Besides the mothering nature of her, is there any relations with her own experience as an “exotic” person? Because she experienced the kind of not accepting be others, so she accepts  her daughter’s choice to be different or be “exotic”? 


Quote related to exotic:

pg 5: People drove for miles to see her Oriental ornamentals and Asian creepers. Their massy inflorescence trust into bloom in the spring and stayed that way throughout summer and deep into the fall. It was truly exotic.

pg 43: I think I may have a chance at a teaching fellowship at the University of Hawaii, where I could work for my Ph.D. Wouldn’t that be exotic?

pg 67: I have seen how large corporations hold the American farmer in thrall, prisoners to their chemical tyranny and their but-outs of politicians and judges. I have come to believe that anti-exotic agendas are being promoted by these same Agribusiness and Chemical Corporations as yet another means of peddling their weed killers. 

pg138: They were strange and exotic in Idaho, but they reminded the kids of Pahoa.

pg 173: They’d stand around the potting table in the greenhouse,making exotic pictures of peat, sand, grit, lime, and if mold.


Quote related to Momoko:

pg 18: He blamed Momoko’s peach tremor attracting those aphid. Wanted to chop it down, but Lloyd wouldn’t let him. Mom means ‘pech’ in Japanese. 

pg 20: When you told it to Momoko, she looked at you like you were nuts.

“But mom, it’s Japanese, it’s Zen.”

“Stupid. Make no sense.”

“It’s not supposed to make sense. It’s supposed to help you reach enlightenment.”

“Never heard of it. Anyway. Why you none enlighten when you got good Methodist church to go to?”

Zen: A school of Mahayana Buddhism that emphasizes meditation and personal awareness and became influential in Japanese life from the 13th century after being introduced from China.

Methodist: a member of a Christian Protestant denomination originating in the 18th-century evangelistic movement of Charles and John Wesley and George Whitefield.

pg141&146 obsession to old stuff(bill and cloth)?

pg 287: “Nope,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s not mean happiness. It mean stupid”

“But stupid, too. Stupid to put such big happiness in back of you”

pg 332: “Those one are only flowers now, but they gonna be seeds.” She stretched her arms to accommodate the whole garden. “Everyone gonna be seeds.”(generation&offspring&new life)

pg 333: “Didn’t you worried about me?”

Yanking the stems. Heads bowed to the task. “She write me lotsa letters. I know she is a strong girl. Shikkari shiteru, you know? Like me. I send her all my seed money.”

pg358: “It’s a good way.”

“But they’re ours. We have to keep them safe!”

She shook her head.”No, keeping is not safe.Keeping is danger. Only safe way is letting go. Giving everything away. Freely. Freely.”

pg 414: “How about some of your favorite seeds?” I asked her.”Geek packed up some for you.”

But Momoko shook her head. “Plenty of seeds in Hawaii. Everywhere is garden. It is enough.”


Anne Dalke's picture

please tag this posting as a 'web event.'

You might want to check out two drafts by your classmates--the first looking @ the meaning of exotic, the second focusing on Momiko.

You've done a lot of work, and laid out several very interesting lines of inquiry; I find myself quite drawn to and struck by your possible thesis, that "exotic" and "native" are just two ends of a temporal continum, with all "native things coming from somewhere else."  So which category one (a person or a plant) lands in is not a distinction based on any fundamental difference, but rather only a function of time.

So now your task will be to comb back through all the material you've assembled above, decide which pieces will best enable you to support this interesting idea, and then figure out how logically to order the quotes and references....