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 as both idea and as social network.

The late 1960s and early 1970s was a moment when a new Asian American identity movement -- as developed by a community of activists, writers, artists, and musicians -- was in the process of emergence, at college campuses as well as at urban centers on both the east and west coast. Young writers and activists, some of whom would go on to become established figures, were first publishing their works 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, Mike Murase, Ron Tanaka, and 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 some of the works published in those magazines (for a list of such repositories, see below). 

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 amongst Chinese-American, Japanese-American and Filipino-American communities. 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. The Asian American movement marks the beginning of true pan-ethnic Asian identity. 

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 in July 1968: 

"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 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), it put in place a concept that would continue to grow in influence. The next few years would see impressive activity amongst 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. Since 1974 is the year of the publication of a major anthology of Asian American literature, Aiiieeeee: An Anthology of Asian-American Wariers, 1974 seems like an appropriate endpoint for a narrowly-focused project like this one. 

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 were different and the language and style were 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.

Important conversations about the possibilities for pan-Asian organizing and political action were occurring amongst Asian-American writers during the period marked here -- through which writers from different communities came to see their experiences as connected, despite real differences. 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? 

To be clear, 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, 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). 

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
Department of English
Lehigh University

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