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Opinion: Playing The Name Game – Yellowface In American Literature

Opinion: Playing The Name Game – Yellowface In American Literature

By Celina Philip

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Sparks Magazine as an organization.

When most writers submit their work under a pseudonym, they don’t necessarily take on a completely new identity to do so, except for Michael Derrick Hudson. When Hudson took on his new alias, he did not understand the severity and the great offense of his actions. If you were to pick up this year’s copy of Best American Poetry and look for his name you would be out of luck, however you will find the Chinese name “Yi-Fen Chou” instead.

While he is under his own creative liberties to use any pseudonym he wants, his use of Yi-Fen Chou, a Chinese name, is an insult.

Asian-American poet Jenny Zhang stated in her BuzzFeed article that his usage of a Chinese name was an act of yellowface. The poem he submitted to Best American Poetry, “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve,” had been rejected 40 times when he submitted it under his own name. Tired of rejection, but “persistent” enough to keep trying, as his self-written biography in the anthology states, he adopted this pseudonym in an effort to get published. Though he was still rejected nine times under the name Yi-Fen Chou, he added just enough foreignness to the anthology for them to cater to non-white community.

The problem is that it’s a blatant act of “yellowface.” He submitted his work under a Chinese pseudonym, but nothing about his experiences or even his daily life relates to that of a Chinese person, or even the Asian community in general. While using a Chinese identity when he himself is not Chinese, or Asian of any sort, he disregards all the prejudices, racism and struggles that the Chinese community has suffered. He used his pseudonym with only one goal in mind: to get his poem published. He succeeded, but it was selfish. The problem with his usage of this particular pseudonym is that it mocks our Asian community. It makes our battles, which are so integral to our being, seem insignificant.

In the field of literature and poetry, there is a large underrepresentation of Asian and Asian-American authors and poets. In her article, Zhang stated her own difficulties with getting published, but to the outside world, having a foreign name seemed like such a blessing. Other poets assumed that due to her name, her work would automatically be chosen. For this reason, Hudson assumed a Chinese identity. At the end of the day, he will get to return to his secure, white community while the Asian community continues to work hard because nothing is handed to us, even if we do have foreign names.

Feature photo courtesy of iStock