Yell-Oh! Girls: A Review

The word anthology has roots in the greek words "anthos," meaning flower, and "logia," meaning collecting. And while the young women featured in "Yell-Oh! Girls", an anthology of writings from Asian American girls, are not flowers as much as they are brave, intelligent storytellers, the definition seems fitting for the book. By following each writer's contributions, the reader can find an intricate, unique and honest blossoming of identity.  Edited by youth advocate and journalist Vickie Nam, "Yell-Oh! Girls" is a collection of poetry, essays and letters by young women exploring what it means to be an intersection of cultures and histories, mapping out a voice in what is largely uncharted terrain.
Their writings cover issues from universal adolescent concerns such as body image, dating, and sexuality to minority and asian-specific items such as do-it-yourself scotch tape eyelid surgery, "ching-chong" playground name calling, white-boy asian fetishization, and the reluctance of rigid family members to accept a mixed identity.

And what better a vehicle for the telling of these lives than anthology?

It has been only in the past five to ten years that anthology as a space for storytelling has gained widespread popularity. Formerly relegated to the obscure and often underappreciated world of historical, academic texts and readers, anthology is finally finding a place as a forum for contemporary voices.

As the genre becomes more popular, the definition of anthology as a literary format expands. Topic anthologies continue to be published on most subjects
"Their writings cover issues from universal adolescent concerns such as body image, dating, and sexuality to minority and asian-specific items such as do-it-yourself scotch tape eyelid surgery, "ching-chong" playground name calling, white-boy asian fetishization, and the reluctance of rigid family members to accept a mixed identity."
imaginable, opening a new space for dialogue about long mis- or underrepresented cultures  -- including that of youth experience.  Where anthology had formerly been essentially dead to youth culture, a resurgent interest in the format has made it more accessible.

For example, young women will probably more likely be able to relate to the style of "Yell-Oh! Girls", with its bright cover (designed by a young asian american artist), catchy graphics, and candid writing than to, say, "Women's Writing of the Romantic Period, 1789-1836", another anthology of women writers which, while important, may not be as vital to the 15 year old mind as Nams collection.

What is unique about "Yell-Oh! Girls" is the fact that it attempts to address a largely undefined audience. Asian-american girls have rarely been identified as an individual force, but rather as a disparate, often unconnected scattering of voices. While the writers in the book come from all reaches of Asian-America -- they are Indian, Hmong, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese -- Nam, through her editing and theme assignments, successfully realizes and portrays the underlying connection that these young women seek.

Nineteen year old Diya Gullapalli, in her piece "Funny Girl" writes about floating through most of adolescence with little real connection to her Asian-American identity, then getting to college and relearning her family's culture, involving herself with asian student organizations, and coming to view her life through the lens of her ethnic history. She writes that when she arrived at college, "the final pieces of the puzzling identity fell into place" and that "she found a community which reminded [her] of the one that made...[her] feel comfortable as a child."
Others write on the difficulties of having immigrant parents, foreign language spoken at home, expectations of assimilation and adherence to traditional values, inter-asian racism, barbie doll standards of beauty, and the ever present issue of asian fetishization by white sexual culture.

If you like Yell-Oh Girls you might also try:

"Listen Up!: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation", edited by Barbara Findlen

"Making Waves," edited by Asian Women United of California

"Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre," by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

"Warrior Lessons: An Asian American woman's Journey into Power," by Phoebe Eng

"Woman Warrior," by Maxine Hong Kingston

"Dogeaters," by Jessica Hagedorn

"Kitchen," by Banana Yoshimoto

In "For Those Who Love Yellow Girls", seventeen year old Meggy Wang coins the term "Mr. Asiaphile" to refer to white boys who have a thing for asian girls. She tackles her personal experience with a number of those such Misters, as well as a larger, wider analysis of the behavior. She writes, "Selective attraction to Asian characteristics and a desire for Asian women as objects are closely related and cannot be disguised by...romantic dressing. The problem is ignoring the societal and historical context that determine personal interaction as well as racial domination." Such intelligent commentary and awareness pervade this collection, and while the writing style is sometimes crude in its delivery, every piece is effective in communicating its purpose and often enhanced and made that much more poignant by its unrefined qualities. Overall, Yell-Oh! Girls is an impressive feat, a calling to arms -- or pens, paper, keyboard, paint and brush -- for young women everywhere, Asian (and) American alike, following unsung identity from root to petal to leaf to word.

Emi Kane, 20, is an Alternet associate editor and a WireTap contributor.

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