Bilingual Personhood and the Cultural Politics of Asian American and Latino Literature
Based on the premise that the growth of bilingualism in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century is a consequence of post-1965 immigration, the chapter presents the book’s dual objective of tracing the effects of the social changes to bilingualism in cultural representations of bilingual personhood and of querying how these representations illuminate the social lives of bilingual persons. Crucial to the book’s discussion of bilingual personhood is the two poles of good and bad bilingualism, of bilingualism as asset and liability, which emerges in the social perception of language difference as it intersects with racial difference. Relying on Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital, but also supplementing it with ideas of symbolic capital that emerge in the debates on bilingualism, the introduction makes a case for how the idea of bilingualism as human capital shows the assimilation of Asian Americans and Latinos into racial capitalism. The story of bilingual personhood shows that the economy of liberal personhood allows for a split between desirable and undesirable bilinguals. The introduction suggests a structure of feeling in Asian American and Latino literature around this polarizing economy of language difference through which dimensions of a liberal subject’s life, such as inclusion, belonging, rights and entitlement, are contemplated and questioned.
Keywords: Asian American literature, bilingual personhood, Latino literature, liberalism, symbolic capital