Words Without Borders in September: ‘Asian Peruvian’ Writing

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

As the term ‘Asian’ begins ‘to groan under the weight of its load’ of many cultures, Jennifer Shyue looks at Nikkei and Tusán Peruvian writings in fiction, poetry, and short stories.

‘Lost Objects’ (cropped) by Eduardo Tokeshi. 32 x 60 inches, 2000. Image: By arrangement with the artist and provided to Publishing Perspectives by Words Without Borders

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Destabilized Notions of Home’
The September edition of the Words Without Borders magazine has focused on fiction, reportage, and poetry by Peruvian writers of the second and sometimes third generation of Peru’s diasporic Chinese and Japanese communities.

Translator Jennifer Shyue serves as guest editor this time and writes in her introduction, “A more precise subtitle would have been ‘Nikkei and Tusán Peruvian Writers,’ because ‘Asian Peruvian’ as an organizing principle simply doesn’t make much sense in the home contexts of these seven writers.

“The term trips off my (North) American tongue because I am used to identifying myself as ‘Asian American.’ In the United States, the political movements of the 1960s led to the construction of a pan-Asian identity that has since been incorporated into the foundations of how race is discussed in this country, but the same is not true everywhere.”

Shyue writes that “This issue’s agglomerative ‘Asian Peruvian’ focus was born of an external gaze—in this case, mine.”

And yet, she points out, “Though ‘Asian Peruvian’ is not necessarily the label these writers would have chosen for themselves, this is not to say they don’t share a community. On the contrary—they read and inspire each other.”

“Though ‘Asian Peruvian’ is not necessarily the label these writers would have chosen for themselves, this is not to say they don’t share a community. On the contrary—they read and inspire each other.”Jennifer Shyue

Nikkei is a term used for someone of diasporic Japanese descent. Tusán(e)s is a Peruvian Spanish term derived from a Chinese phrase meaning “local-born.”

And as Shyue develops her overview of the translated writings she’s chosen, that troublesome issue of the monolithic idea of “the other” comes into view—the abiding difficulty to see the internal complexity and multicultural range that takes time and care to discern.

“May—the month in which I’m writing this,” Shyue points out, “is Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month” in the States. “Discussions continue over whom the umbrella of ‘Asian’ includes and excludes, implicitly and explicitly, even as the term, which encompasses a majority of the world’s population, begins to groan under the weight of its load.”

Needless to say, in diaspora, the issue is deepened by physical, geographic, social, and political displacement. “One common thread,” Shyue writes, “is these writers’ willingness to complicate the idea of ‘home’—not just in writing, but also with their physical selves. Most of them have lived significant periods outside of Peru: in Germany, Japan, Macau, Mexico, the United States. For a few, constant cross-border movement has remained a hallmark of their lives.”

And that’s where “destabilized notions of ‘home,'” as she puts it, come into play.

“Who gets to be American?” she asks. “Who decides where to draw the line between in and out, whether Nikkei and Tusán belong in one category, how América is split (if at all) and why?”

She ends up reaching for “fuller, richer” complexity, the texture of reality, something she’s studied in her 2019 Fulbright grant work on Chinese Peruvian identity and literature. And she offers two short stories, seven poems by three poets, one novel extract, and a piece of literary nonfiction. All of it is translated from Spanish.

In the September ‘Words Without Borders’ Edition

On the upper row, from left, are Augusto Higa Oshiro, Julia Wong Kcomt, Julio Villanueva, and Doris Moromisato. On the lower row, from left, are Siu Kam Wen, Siu-Yun, Tilsa Otta, and guest editor and translator Jennifer Shyue

  • Simple Heart” is a short story by Augusto Higa Oshiro, translated by Shyue. The Lima-born author is the recipient of the Asociación Peruano Japonesa’s Premio José Watanabe Varas for prose (2012) and the Cámara Peruana del Libro’s Premio de Novela Breve (2014).
  • Two poems, “The Red Rooster” and “Inevitable Saint,” are by Julia Wong Kcomt, translated by Shyue. Kcomt, from a Tusán family, is a writer whose work, Words Without Borders says, “addresses perceptions of country borders, different cultures, and diversity in ethnicity and religion.”
  • Life Is a Pose” is nonfiction by Julio Villanueva Chang, translated by Nicolás Medina Mora. Chang, a journalist, in this piece writes about the career of the world’s oldest living nude model, still posing in his late 80s. The rather wonderful line highlighted by Words Without Borders: “In his spare time, he wears clothes.”
  • Here in Chorrillos” is a poem by Doris Moromisato, translated by Margaret Wright, an elegy to time and place in a seaside community of Lima. Moromisato is the former cultural director of the Peruvian Book Chamber.
  • The Final Stretch” is a short story by Siu Kam Wen, translated by Julie Hempel. The author was born in China and grew up in Lima, learning to speak and write in Spanish. He has published two collections of short stories and five novels, and lives in Hawaii.
  • Four short poems by Siu-Yun are translated by Shyue. The poet has published five collections of poetry. In one, she writes, “To turn away from evil / I’ve added every letter of your body / to my body, tattooing myself whole.”
  • The Golden Children of Sexual Alchemy” is a novel extract by Tilsa Otta, translated by Jacob Steinberg. The writer, Otta, has published four books of poetry, one short story collection, one poetry book for children, and a comic book. She also directs videos.
Words Without Borders’ ‘World in Verse’ Event: October 7

Scheduled for October 7, the “World in Verse,” a multilingual poetry reading, will feature winners of the 2020 Poems in Translation competition, which Words Without Borders runs in partnership with the Academy of American Poets.

Work will be heard in Spanish, Chinese Filipino, and English, featuring:

    • Yau Ching and translator Chenxin Jiang
    • Enrique S. Villasis and translator Bernard Capinpin
    • Translator Bryan Mendoza
    • Nguyễn-Hoàng Quyên

The event is hosted by the program’s juror David Tomas Martinez, who drew the four winning works from an initial pool of 935 poems by 448 poets from 87 nations.

Registration is free of charge but required here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on ‘Words Without Borders’ is here, and more from us on translation is here. More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.