I am scheduled to teach, for the first time, a class in Asian American Literature starting next month, and I am wondering if people here might have some thoughts on a question that I have been asking myself in terms of what should be on the reading list. I would like to include Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are the eerie parallels between the way the beginnings of the 1978-79 revolution are represented and the events that took place in Iran this past June and July after the contested presidential elections (and those parallels are even stronger in the movie). These parallels are important not so much because I want to teach something about Iran today, but because of the way they contextualize the protagonist’s conflicted sense of self after she has spent time outside of Iran, and she experiences herself as not being part of either Iranian culture or the culture to which she has traveled.
The thing is that Marjane Satrapi is not American, and so nothing about her book represents an Asian-American experience. At the same time, however, it would be foolish, I think, not to see her book as part of Asian-American literature. It exists in American English, is not, by virtue of its content, so easily and narrowly categorized as French literature in translation and it absolutely speaks to an experience that Iranian-Americans share and that others will recognize as part of the Iranian-American experience, even if some of the specifics are slightly different.
Normally, I do not worry so much about categorizing literature like this, but largely because this is the first time I am teaching this course and because I recognize that Asian American literature is an established field of academic study that I have a responsibility to represent accurately in my class, I am wondering about the degree to which assigning a book like Persepolis undermines the notion that a class like this should represent the Asian-American experience and present students with books written by Asian-Americans, even if the Asian-American experience is not, per se, what the book is about.
My own gut feeling as a writer is that the question I am asking sets up a false dichotomy, but I am not Asian-American, am not at all well-versed in the field of Asian American studies and so I don’t want to presume that my gut feeling is accurate–especially since, as I said, this is the first time I am teaching this class. So I am wondering what people here might think.