Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

Graphic Novel Convert?

September 26th, 2012 · 2 Comments

I have a bookshelf. And it neatly boasts a modest display of books that I have purchased or that others have been given to me over the course of my adulthood. I believe that the books reflect both my literary likes and dislikes as well as potential likes and dislikes. I love owning books I have read or have yet to read. I never fear purchasing a book only to find that I didn’t enjoy it – perhaps it comes from a place of wanting to own that experience as well. However, I will admit there isn’t a single “unconventional” piece of English literature on my shelf.

When we were assigned to read a graphic novel, I felt uneasy. But I found comfort in the excitement I felt when I spotted the one titled “American Born Chinese”. Neither an “ABC” nor a “CBC” (commonly used initials in Asian communities), but still Asian-Canadian, I am always either on the look out for or excited to see representations of Asians in a North American context. I am eager and curious to see how Asians are being represented in various media forms, be it in movies, TV shows, novels, and now even graphic novels. In particular, when I watch a movie or TV show, I’m always quick to notice the “token” Asian actor or actress, and to observe the ways they are represented in the film or TV show. More often than not, I find that in mainstream media, Asians are rarely cast in lead roles, unless the film has to do with some form of martial arts or Asian cultural history.

There were many interesting things that struck me in this graphic novel, but what I could relate to on a personal level was the idea of Jin dating the stereotypical all-American, yellow-haired white girl or white boy in order to validate his assimilation into “white culture” or the erasure of his “Asianness”, which comes into magical fruition when he gets his wish of turning into the handsome white boy from the nerdy Asian boy he once was. When I was a teenager and a new immigrant to Vancouver, I used to tell my friends (and even myself) that I would never date an Asian because I convinced myself that they were unattractive. (What a racist I was!) At one point, I was convinced I was going to marry a Backstreet Boy. But deep down, I felt that dating a white person would somehow solidify my cultural identity as a “Canadian”. Thankfully, I grew out of that and learned how completely misguided I was. Therefore, it’s refreshing and interesting to observe these perhaps cultural-specific, yet universal identity struggles that many youth experience depicted in Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel in an accessible and humorous manner.

Reading this graphic novel reminded me of a YouTube video “Yellow Fever” that I would like to share for your viewing pleasure, which pokes fun at racial stereotypes in a similar vein that Yang’s story did. I’m glad that LLED 368 has given me what I feel is a safe and comfortable space to explore literature that I too often steer away from. My initial prejudices about graphic novels as trivial and reductive texts have been effectively debunked, and it’s now a safe bet that they will be making a debut appearance on my colourless bookshelf.

Tags: Visual Literacy · Weblog Activities

2 responses so far ↓

  • sarahmoir // Sep 26th 2012 at 3:37 pm

    I took a graphic novels class in my undergrad to “shake things up” and honestly I thought it would be an easy reading course. Boy was I wrong! We started out with The Watchmen and it was rough!!! I highly recommend it, but it took me forever to finish and I was confused by graphics and text all blurring together to tell a complicated story, now that I have gotten through that, I feel like I can read anything. I find graphic novels evoke thoughts and senses that we don’t get with traditional novels. I am glad that people, including you are enjoying them as much as I do now!

  • kiranheer // Sep 26th 2012 at 4:01 pm

    I love the “Yellow Fever” video by WongFuProductions – it does an amazing job of breaking down stereotypes, depicting how ridiculous they can be. I’m so glad you posted this video!

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