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All over creation rough-culture, contact zones, asian cultural appropriation

awkwardturtle's picture

In my essay I will talk about how the environment of the farm brings different groups of people together and creates contact zones. There are a lot of cultural identities in All Over Creation, and I will start with a broad look at cultural identities and move specifically toward Asian culture and its appropriation.

First (or later)  I will question how names play into cultural identity. Early in the novel, Cass’s father “blamed Momoko’s peach tree for attracting those aphids. Wanted to chop it down, but Lloyd wouldn’t let him. Momo means ‘peach’ in Japanese” (18). The connection between the peach tree and Japanese culture raises the question of how the Japanese culture is perceived by Cass’s father. Does he feel xenophobic towards the peach tree or Japanese culture? Does he associate the peach tree with being “foreign” and therefore finds it dangerous and blames a tree as if it were a person? And is it logical to conflate the peach tree with Momoko and an entire culture? The concept of names is also something that appears often, such as when Lloyd initially disapproves of Yumi’s children’s names, “‘What kind of names are those?’” Although there is not an explicit reference to cultural identity with the children’s names, there is a clash between Lloyd’s ideas of appropriate names and Yumi’s choice of names. Questions raised by this include what makes names normal? Do the names Phoenix, Ocean, and Barnabas (Poo) relate to cultural identity (such as phoenixes being an auspicious symbol in some Asian cultures)? Do the names reflect the environment in which the children were born into or the environments that Yumi have been in? And is there a relationship between these “unique” names and the names of the members of the Seeds of Resistance? Is there tension between the unique names of Yumi’s mixed children and the unique names of white hippies? I also see a contrast between Yumi’s name and Tibet’s name. Tibet is an autonomous region in China, with its own culture, placed upon a white child, and Frank “was never very good at geography—but he liked the way it sounded” (346). In contrast, Yumi’s name is often reduced to Yummy by others, while Yumi is actually Asian. The concept of names also comes up with the labels that Momoko uses to remember things, but they are always mixed up. “The living room belonged to the kids and Momoko now; one by one, its ties to any external, verifiable reality were being severed, and it was developing a demented logic of its own” (117). Do the names reflect anything about the identities of Momoko or her grandchildren? And do they relate to cultural identity in any way?

Another topic I will question is the contact between different groups of people. First there is a conflation between exotic plants and immigrants, “there is a idea in circulation that these so-called “aggressive” non-native plants are harmful, invasive, and will displace “native” species...How ironic to hear these theories propounded by people of European ancestry in America!” (67). I question if the parallel between non-native plants and immigrants to America is logical, as asked by Anne in class discussion. The plants are described as “aggressive,” almost anthropomorphizing them and bringing them closer to the level of humans? Does the connection dehumanize immigrants to “aggressive” plants? A similar instance occurs with Momoko describes her “promiscuous squashes” as “like them. All mixed up” (118) toward her grandchildren. Again there is a conflation between plants and humans, and there is a question of logic. Does Momoko use this comparison to shame Yumi’s promiscuity or celebrate diversity? What is the significance of the facilitated diversity of squashes and the diversity of humans (whether it occurs naturally or not)? Phoenix gets caught up in a contact zone when he is arrested, “They want to clean up the school...Get rid of everybody. Niggers, Japs, queers, wetbacks, hippie scum, whatever” (237). “Clean up” and “get rid of” is not only dehumanizing but it also implies an environment which needs to be cleaned up. Phoenix is facing a power dynamic against authority figures as well as against white people, but all at the same time. How exactly do these power dynamics relate to the environment? And what is the significance of Phoenix’s school and the jail when most of the story is centered around the farm.

Another facet of All Over Creation is the appropriation of Asian cultures. The only Asian characters in the novel are Momoko, Yumi, and Yumi’s children, yet the references to Asian culture often come from or are connected to other characters. For example, the conversations and scenes including Duncan and/or Elliot often include references to Hinduism and Buddhism, “‘I was finding Buddhism somehow lacking—too spare for the new millennium...the times were calling for a more robust system of devotion’” (275). Here the eastern religions are presented like a jacket that can be taken on or off, exoticifying the religion and not realizing the culture behind the religions. Does the appropriation result from the environment of contact zones? The concept of reincarnation from these religions are used as a metaphor to describe seed life cycles and life and death in general, and is often used by the Seeds of Resistance. “Now Geek, eager for a chance to console, offered up the teaching. ‘Buddhists say...’” (347). Yumi immediately responds with “‘That’s bullshit!’” (347). Geek and the rest of the Seeds of Resistance reject a lot of religion (but were enthralled by Lloyd’s bible verses) but don’t treat Buddhism in the same way. What is the significance of these white hippies using Buddhism? Yet Buddhism is deeply rooted and Asian culture but that is not shown in the novel, and Buddhism is therefore seen as exotic? The novel also has many references to the “third world” and needing to feed them, from both the Seeds of Resistance and Elliot with the Cynaco company. “They want you to step back and retool their entire presentation, targeting it to Asia and the Third World” (344). The entire continent of Asia and the Third World is generalized as one entity, and there is a white savior complex. How does that affect the cultural identities of Yumi and Momoko?


Anne Dalke's picture

Well, I asked for questions, and you have certainly generated LOTS of them!

Thanks for the fertility ;) here!

In your conference on Tuesday, let's focus on how to narrow this wonderful range, figure out which of these questions (or what umbrella question) you'd really like to dig in and answer in your next draft of this paper. Is there another text you've read so far this semester (in this class or others?) that would help sharpen your lens?For example, George Lakoff's Philosophy in the Flesh might help you think about category-making and naming, if that's where you want to locate your inquiry (those ever-shifting labels are very funny and very profound, in terms of the reality of what names say...). Chapter 10 of Elizabeth Kolbert's book (we're reading some other chapters for Thursday's class) might help you think about the relation between invasive species and "invading" humans. I actually have a hunch that you'd like to focus on the way Ozeki handles the foreignness of being Asian in her text: you could link together the treatment of Momoko and Yumi by the folks in Idaho, Elliot's Asian fetish, Duncan's appropriation of religious practices...where might you go if you began w/ those passages...? What argument might emerge? Or what larger questions? Do you want to look @ some texts about Asians in American history and culture, such as Gary Y. Okihiro's Margins and Mainstreams (2014)?

We're looking for a thesis, a claim now...