Asian American Little Magazines 1968-1974: By Amardeep Singh

Asian American Little Magazines: Welcome

This site introduces readers to Asian American little magazines published between 1968 and 1974, marking the emergence of the Asian American movement both as an idea and as a network.

The writers in these magazines, some of whom would go on to become established figures, published breakthrough early work in new magazines during this period, including Gidra, Bridge: the Asian American Magazine, Rodan, Aion, Kalayaan International, Amerasia Journal, and Yellow Seeds. Writers whose early works are described on this site include Yuji Ichioka, Lawson Inada, Janice Mirikitani, Frank Chin, Emma Gee, Amy Uyematsu, Warren Furutani, Mike Murase, Ron Tanaka, among others.

To be clear, this is not a digital archive of Asian American little magazines. Many of the works published in those magazines are likely still under copyright -- and in any case, there are other sites that operate as repositories (for a list of such repositories, see below). It would be more accurate to say that this site is a kind of annotated -- and networked -- bibliography of the magazines from the period. The aim is to map the vibrant conversations occurring among writers and activists in the Asian American movement in the magazines where those conversations were first recorded and disseminated on a small scale.  

1968 seems an appropriate a starting point because that is the year when, scholars claim, Yuji Ichioka coined the term "Asian American" to describe a shared sense of identity among Chinese-American, Japanese-American and Filipino-American communities (other communities, including Pacific Islanders, Koreans, and others, would soon be brought under that umbrella). Until that point, there had certainly been advocacy and activism within those groups, but it was 'ethnic' advocacy -- Japanese Americans tended to advocate for other Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans advocated for their own community, and so on. The Asian American movement marks the beginning of true pan-ethnic Asian identity. It also marks the starting point for activists thinking of the racialization of Asian identity as a source of power in resistance.

The coinage of the term "Asian American" appears to be somewhat apocryphal -- Ichioka did not publish a specific manifesto or essay announcing the new concept -- but the immediate outcome was the creation of the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA) group at UC-Berkeley in the summer of 1968 (created by Ichioka and Emma Gee). This was a group largely focused on anti-Vietnam war activities and connected to the newly emerging Peace and Freedom Party. I have been unable to find a singular 'origin' statement from Ichioka or Gee themselves, but here is an excerpt from a speech given by AAPA member Richard Aoki (yes, that Richard Aoki) in July 1968 that shows the term being used confidently and in a manner that continues to seem relevant in the present era of 'intersectionality': 

"We Asian-Americans believe that American society has been, and still is, fundamentally a racist society, and that historically we have accommodated ourselves to this society in order to survive...We Asian-Americans support all non-white liberation movements and believe that all minorities in order to be truly liberated must have complete control over the political, economic, and social institutions within their respective communities. We unconditionally, support the struggles of the Afro-American people, the Chicanos, and the American Indians to attain freedom, justice, and equality… We are unconditionally against the war in Vietnam… In conclusion, I would like to add that the Asian American Political Alliance is not just another Sunday social club. We are an action-oriented group, and we will not just restrict our activities to merely ethnic issues, but to all issues that are of fundamental importance pertaining to the building of a new and a better world." (Cited in Voices of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Experience)


In effect, the fact that there isn't a single decisive origin story for the Asian American movement is telling -- and supports the thinking behind this site. The Asian American movement, I would argue, is not the story of a single hero-genius, but of a community of writers and activists attempting to develop and express a particular ideology together. It's also the story of the periodical infrastructure through which they communicated. 

In 1968, the AAPA was also involved in the groundbreaking student strikes at San Francisco State College (later, University) and UC Berkeley -- which led to the creation of the first Ethnic studies departments at American universities. While AAPA would quickly disband (in 1969), the Asian American identity concept was already being actively explored in other settings, particularly Los Angeles. The next few years would see impressive activity among Asian American activists, students, and community members -- and the emergence of numerous independent publications on both the east and west coasts. Many of these magazines were working on the same thematic issues, and some of them saw considerable cross-pollination in terms of contributing authors and editors. The magazine culture fed a developing market for anthologies of Asian American writing, beginning with Roots: An Asian American Reader (1971), the Asian Women anthology at UC-Berkeley (1971), and Asian-American Authors (1972). 

Since 1974 is the year of the publication of a major anthology of Asian American literature, Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers1974 seems like an appropriate endpoint for a narrowly-focused project like this one. 1974 also marks the end of the magazine Gidra (though a few other Asian American little magazines would continue). Finally, with the close of American combat activities in Vietnam, one of the most animating unifying historical motivations for the Asian American movement came to a close -- leading movement leaders to increasingly focus on local communities rather than global political struggles. 

Little Magazines 

A "little magazine" is typically understood as an independent publication aimed at a niche audience. Our usage of the term borrows from substantial scholarly work in modernist studies on the role of the little magazine in early 20th century writing. Little magazines were crucial to the emergence of an avant-garde modernist movement in England and the U.S. (See Churchill and McKible, 2005; Scholes and Wulfman, 2010).

A helpful summary of the importance of literary magazines to early 20th century modernism might be the following passage from Churchill and McKible's Introduction to Little Magazines and Modernism (2005): 

Little magazines acted as open, heterogeneous social settings in which writers of various races, nationalities, and classes read and responded to each other's work. Today, the provide loci of identification and difference, allowing us to map the lines of connection, influence, conflict, and resistance that entangled the many strands of modernism. [...] In short little magazines pulsed with the excitement of their times, and they often anticipated or forged future literary and political trends. By reading little magazines carefully, we can see how they set the stage for surprising collaborative efforts, wove webs of interaction and influence, set trends, established and ruined reputations, and shaped the course of modernism." (Churchill and McKible, 2)


I believe many of the dynamics Churchill and McKible identify as occurring in little magazines in the early 20th century might also be available in the Asian American little magazine scene that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As with modernist little magazines, Asian American little magazines, "pulsed with the excitement of their times" The issues at stake here are different and the language and style are different, but the idea that the magazine culture can give us valuable information about the architecture of an emergent literary movement applies to both contexts.

The small scale of Asian American literary magazines -- the largest, Gidra, had an average circulation of 4000 copies (and most other magazines had circulations of 1000 or less) -- gives them unique power. They were operated independently, without financial support from institutional structures or conventional publishing houses. As amateur ventures, they also gave themselves total editorial freedom. So they were largely free from the imperatives that typically drive conventional, commercial publications. (The significant outlier here might be Amerasia Journal, which was started by Asian American students at Yale, but eventually became a somewhat more conventional, professionalized academic publication housed -- and financially supported -- by UCLA's Asian American Studies program. )   

William Wei, in his book The Asian American Movement, describes the function of Asian American little magazines as follows: 

Both the mainstream and Asian ethnic presses often stifled unpopular ideas and refused access to people working for social and political change. Consequently, there was a cry for an alternative press that would present the Asian American community with a diversity of perspectives, stimulate people to ponder contemporary social issues, and mobilize them for specific social actions. [...] 

Three of the most influential Asian American periodicals were Gidra, Bridge magazine, and Amerasia Journal. All of them trace their origins to the Asian American movement, were influenced by it, and made contributions to it. Founded by students, they were read by the first generation to perceive themselves as Asian Americans. [...] Even though their distribution was limited, copies managed to find their way to readers living in isolated communities. Often they were the main communication link between Asian American activists working on common causes in different parts of the United States, unifying the Movement and Asian Americans, thereby enhancing existing community organizing efforts. (Wei, 102)


As Wei suggests, important conversations about the possibilities for pan-Asian organizing and political action were occurring among Asian-American writers in these magazines -- through which people from different ethno-national communities came to see their past experiences and their present status as minoritized Americans as intertwined for the first time. The outcome of this work was the formation of an Asian American literary movement -- which continues to develop today, in modified form. Alongside documenting the actual magazines in question, this site aims to show the emergence of a network during the time period in question. Who was reading whom? What conversations were happening in which cities? 

Visualizations

As I have been building this site, I have been dedicating a separate page for each issue of each magazine. I'm doing this for a couple of different reasons. First, it allows us to better segment the conversations occurring in different places. It also allows us to see the evolution of different magazines (especially the longer-running magazines -- Gidra, Bridge, and Amerasia Journal). Below is a preliminary visualization showing some of the connections between magazines and anthologies currently described on this site (as the site grows, the diagram will continue to evolve). Each of the nodes on the image below is clickable: 


Clearly, the periodical culture described here was vibrant and highly integrated!

A second visualization represents conversations in the magazines on this site with reference to thematic tags. Some key thematic tags include: "Yellow" Identity, Asian American Studies on College Campuses, Vietnam War: Protest and Critique, the Japanese Internment, Chinese-American Identity, Korean-American Identity, Japanese-American identity, and Filipino-American identity


I think this network diagram shows how centrally focused the magazines were on questions of identity. Many of the magazines featured in-depth stories on the particular histories of individual Asian American groups: Koreans in America, the history of the Japanese internment, Filipino laborers in Hawaii, and so on. These stories helped Asian American readers who were not members of the communities named gain a better understanding of other communities' histories. (As with the first diagram, this visualization will probably evolve as the site continues to grow.) 

Of course, these were by no means the only Asian American magazines being published at the time. Alongside the alternative publications showcased here were established magazines like Pacific Citizen, East/West, Kashu Mainichi, and Crossroads. Within the Japanese community, these were often operated and edited by the older generation (Nisei); the independent little magazine format was largely favored by the then-emergent third generation Japanese American community (Sansei). A longer-term goal of this project is to explore the archives of some of those magazines, and compare the approach to race and ethnicity found there to the thinking in the little magazines we are focused on here.  

Tips for Researchers and Students

While some readers may be at this site because of an interest in the particular magazines mentioned above, others may be interested in broader questions about the Asian American movement and identity. A good way to begin to access the materials on this site might be through the thematic tags I mentioned above: Clicking on any of those links will take readers to lists of materials that directly address those topics. (Again, as the site expands, those lists will grow longer.) 

Repositories 

This project has been greatly facilitated by several repositories of little magazine materials online, including:

the Gidra repository
the Aion repository
the Yellow Seeds repository

The journal Amerasia Journal was initially published as an academic journal by undergraduates at Yale University; its editors were in direct conversation with writers and editors who tended to publish in the other journals, so it will be considered here alongside the others. (Early issues of Amerasia Journal are available through academic journal providers.)

Magazines such as Bridge: the Asian-American Magazine can be found in the special collections of various research libraries, including some on the east coast. Magazines such as Rodan and Kalayaan International tend to be more limited to West Coast collections. 

--Amardeep Singh
amsp AT lehigh DOT edu
Department of English
Lehigh University
 

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This page references:

  1. Gidra 2.1 Front Page Banner
  2. Aion Cover Graphic
  3. Aiiieeeee Cover Image (1974)