Giving Form to an Asian and Latinx America
Long Le-Khac




ON OCTOBER 3, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Hart-Cellar Act into law, ushering in a new era of immigration that transformed the nation’s social landscape. The act ended the discriminatory national origins quotas that for years had prioritized immigrants from northern and western Europe and restricted immigrants from much of the rest of the world. The story goes that by eliminating race and national origin as criteria for immigration, the law reshaped the nation’s demographics and led to the explosive growth of two communities that have become the new faces of U.S. immigration: Latinxs and Asian Americans.

Asian American and Latinx communities were indeed remade by Hart-Cellar, but in different ways. By finally dismantling a system of anti-Asian restrictions that the U.S. government began constructing in the 1870s, the law opened the door to Asian immigration and the rapid growth of the Asian American population. With its preferences for skilled labor and family reunification, the law also transformed the class and ethnic character of Asian America. Latin American immigration also accelerated. Millions entered through family migration slots. A wave of highly educated Latinxs, particularly from South America, arrived, contributing to a broader stratification of the population along ethnic and class lines. But it would be a stretch to say that the law drove the tremendous growth of Latinx communities, because it placed numerical limits on Latin American immigration for the first time in U.S. history. By imposing restrictions on the robust flow of immigrants from Latin America, the law intensified undocumented immigration. The result was the consolidation and racial branding of “illegal immigration” as a specifically Latinx problem.1

From only 4 percent of the U.S. population in the 1960s, Asian Americans and Latinxs have grown to over 23 percent of the population today and are projected to reach almost 40 percent in the coming decades.2 They have become the key figures of U.S. immigration, central players in the turbulent national drama sweeping Americans into an uncertain minority-majority future. But the existing story of 1965 and its legal reforms doesn’t fully capture the forces feeding into this drama. Americans need a more nuanced story of the reforms. But more than that, we need other stories of 1965 and its aftermaths.

So here’s a different story of 1965. This is a little known Cold War story that shifts our understanding of how this year transformed U.S. immigration and linked the fates of Asian Americans and Latinxs.3 It’s an obscure historical connection, because to see it requires looking across the histories of different migrations—of Dominicans and Vietnamese. One of the most powerful ways to perceive such connections is to turn to storytellers from these communities in an act of literary comparison. The imaginative work of writers who have been shaped by these histories and are shaping the historical materials they bequeath can reveal much if read together. It’s this shaping, or more precisely, literary form, that can unveil the connection.

In trying to narrate the Cold War migrations that formed their communities, Dominican American author Junot Díaz and Vietnamese American author Aimee Phan develop a strikingly similar form in their first works. Drown (1996) and We Should Never Meet (2004) are short story cycles, interlinked yet discontinuous arrangements of short stories. Both works map national borders onto the narrative gaps separating stories. These national and narrative borders fragment the life stories of the migrants they depict. Meanwhile, the story cycles imply social relations and networks of effect across these gaps. Both works sequence their stories so that they cut between past and present, country of origin and the United States, intimating the historical links between these settings. Díaz and Phan use this form to narrate the experiences of Dominican immigrants and Vietnamese refugees, contemporaneous but quite distinct migrations. This shared form across different contexts invites us to consider whether these works are grappling with convergent historical challenges. The comparison places side by side two histories that we never think about together. In juxtaposition, Díaz’s and Phan’s aesthetics are revealing. These story cycles are fragmented, crisscrossed, and expansive because they are concerned with how to narrate Cold War displacements that span national borders. They struggle to make perceivable life stories ruptured and communities dispersed by violent histories that also span national borders. Their works take on a tangled narrative form to insist on the deeply entangled histories of U.S. forces in the Dominican Republic and Vietnam and of Dominican and Vietnamese migrants in the United States.

Their aesthetic practices suggest a formal axis for tracing a global Cold War migration history linking Asian and Latin American displacements generated by U.S. interventions.4 This axis links two scenes separated by half a world. March 8, 1965: the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade lands at China Beach, Đà Nẵng, the first U.S. combat troops deployed in the Vietnam War.5 April 28, 1965: the 82nd Airborne Division lands in Santo Domingo, beginning the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic. Less than two months apart, these dates mark the moments when the Vietnamese and Dominican civil wars officially became American wars, proxy pieces in the U.S. Cold War chess match. They inaugurated wars whose violence and disruptive aftermaths displaced over a million Southeast Asians and hundreds of thousands of Dominicans to the United States.6 These two seemingly separate arenas of U.S. militarism turn out to be intimately related. The escalation of the Vietnam War in March 1965 informed the decision to invade the Dominican Republic just over a month later. Records from the Johnson administration show that President Johnson felt the need for a forceful intervention in the Dominican civil war to project strength as the United States was diving headfirst into its Vietnam adventure. As Johnson put it, “What can we do in Vietnam if we can’t clean up the Dominican Republic?”7 He and his advisors saw the Dominican crisis as a crucial test of the United States’ anticommunist mettle. The connection between two U.S. invasions 10,000 miles apart was not lost on Dominicans, as this remarkable image from the streets of Santo Domingo in May 1965 reveals (see Figure 1). The graffiti, which translates as “Yankees out of Vietnam,” demonstrates a Latin American–Asian solidarity with another country dealing simultaneously with U.S. imperialism.

Figure 1: Graffiti behind U.S. troops in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, May 1965: “Yankees out of Vietnam.”
SOURCE: Photograph by Douglas Jones. “The Grim Price of Power,” Look, June 15, 1965, p. 43. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This other story of 1965 opens a broader view of U.S. immigration history and the Asian and Latin American flows that altered its course. It compels Americans to consider what our country was doing in the world to generate migrations while it was debating immigration reforms to open itself to the world.8 The broader story reveals that the United States was treating the borders of sovereign Third World nations as open to the bodies of U.S. military forces at the same moment it was exercising its sovereign powers to manage its borders, constructing a new immigration regime that would select and regulate bodies from the Third World.

Read together, the stories of Asian American and Latinx communities reveal unexamined connections that shift our sense of contemporary immigration history and concretize the relations between the groups most rapidly changing the U.S. social landscape. Giving Form to an Asian and Latinx America argues that the transformations of these communities are not separate. These communities were formed in mutual relation by linked forces. They share an intertwined history that this book traces through a shared aesthetic paradigm, an interlinked yet discontinuous transfictional form that structures many contemporary Asian American and Latinx fictions. Phan’s and Díaz’s works are characteristic of a prevalent aesthetic that powerfully models social struggles linking Asian Americans and Latinxs. Within the shared history of these groups is the potential for solidarities that could confront the global military and capitalist forces buffeting so many of their members and intervene in the present and future of the United States and its relations to the world. This book explores the linked stories of the post-1965 period, from Cold War migrations to cross-ethnic organizing, that have made the United States of America a formation that we have not yet reckoned with: an Asian and Latinx America.9 It considers literary works and their aesthetic practices as invaluable guides to an emergent formation that Americans do not yet perceive. This emergent formation can become a political force only if it’s recognized across minority communities that currently see their fates as separate. Read together, literature by Asian Americans and Latinxs make this formation palpable. Their aesthetics give it a legible shape, frame it into shareable stories, make visible its tensions, and help us imagine its possibilities. They give form to an emerging Asian and Latinx America.


It’s easy to think of the stories of Asian Americans and Latinxs as separate. Our public discourse circulates opposed stereotypes: Asian Americans as model minorities, Latinxs as “illegal” immigrants. Feeding into this sense of separation are the fields of Asian American studies and Latinx studies, which have little interchange. There are also few widely recognized political alliances between these groups.10 When mainstream media mentions their political interests together, the emphasis is usually on the conflicts between them. One story that caught the national attention in 2017 concerned the efforts by conservative Asian American groups to oppose affirmative action practices at Harvard University. The rhetoric surrounding the case pit Asian Americans against Latinxs and other minorities.11 This book counters the image of separation to reveal the linked stories of contemporary Latinxs and Asian Americans.

There is a clear need for Asian American–Latinx alliances today. These groups are centrally involved in undermining the demographic basis for the white supremacy that has been a foundational premise of the United States. As the 2016 election and the Trump administration made clear, this demographic transition and the restructuring of power that it portends (but does not guarantee) will be a painful process marked by powerful opposition. Racialized as foreigners, Latinxs and Asian Americans are among the central targets of a nativist backlash of which the Trump administration is both a symptom and an instigator. In the wake of Trump’s election, Latinxs were primary targets of hate incidents.12 This is not surprising given the anti-Latinx nativism that Trump made central to his political rhetoric. Rates of hate crimes against Asian Americans also rose.13 On closer inspection, this too is not surprising. An underappreciated theme of Trump-era nativist rhetoric is the linking of Asia and Latin America as a combined threat to the United States. Trump opened his first campaign speech by calling out the dangers that China, Japan, and Mexico pose to American success.14 Given these shared threats, Latinxs and Asian Americans need to be able to perceive a connection pivotal to the nation’s transition to a more racially egalitarian future. The backlash inevitable in that transition will only make shared resistance and solidarity more crucial.

Latinxs and Asian Americans are transforming the nation today, but this is not new. If it feels new, it’s because U.S. historical narratives have tended to erase their long-standing presences.15 These groups have had paradoxical roles within the United States. Nicholas De Genova observes that they have been central to the “social production of ‘America’ and ‘American’-ness” by being framed as outsiders that are not part of the nation.16 In these senses, the United States has long been an Asian and a Latinx America. But what has changed with the explosive growth of these groups in the past fifty years is that their presence can no longer be ignored.

As this growth drives the nation toward the minority-majority threshold, it is important to temper the political hopes invested in this demographic shift. Whatever potential it may have to decenter white supremacy depends on the formation of interminority coalitions that are far from inevitable. Central to the emerging minority-majority nation, Latinxs and Asian Americans exemplify its potential and its challenges. I argue that there is a potential solidarity here: that Asian Americans and Latinxs share crucial challenges and entangled fates. At the same time, many differences and frictions exist. This solidarity cannot be taken for granted. We should not underestimate the racial order’s power to divide and manage minority groups. As Claire Jean Kim argues, racial formation in the United States unfolds along multiple intersecting axes of difference that fuel interminority conflicts and obstruct recognition of shared challenges.17 For an Asian American–Latinx coalition to emerge will require political imagination and on-the-ground work.

Giving Form to an Asian and Latinx America centers on this potential coalition and advances the cross-field dialogue needed to understand it. I draw on social science work that has opened the dialogue. Nicholas De Genova, Mae M. Ngai, and Eileen O’Brien have brought out some of the challenges linking Asian Americans and Latinxs. Both groups are navigating ambivalent places in a black-white racial order, and both are combating perceptions of foreignness.18 I also build on the work of scholars who have taken Asian American–Latinx comparative work into literary studies. Crystal Parikh’s pioneering research showed how Asian Americans and Latinxs are linked by alien racialization and charges of national betrayal.19 More recently, Jayson Gonzalez Sae-Saue has traced the transpacific scope of Chicanx literature.20 Jeehyun Lim has drawn out Asian American and Latinx literary engagements with the conundrums of bilingualism.21 And Susan Thananopavarn shows how these literatures highlight histories of U.S. occupation, wartime racism, and Cold War ideologies.22 This book builds on these issues and extends beyond them to make a broad claim: not just that Asian Americans and Latinxs share specific challenges but also that neither group, as they have formed in the last fifty years, can be fully understood unless we grasp how they have been shaped in mutual relation. I show literature addressing a sequence of historical situations that have transformed and linked these communities: the uneven openings of the post–civil rights era, the Vietnam War and Cold War in their global reverberations, the labor flows of neoliberal capitalism, and panethnic coalition building in an era of proliferating difference. These situations have been central topics of discussion in Asian American studies and Latinx studies. But the conversations have been separate, so they fail to recognize that these situations constitute racial projects that have relationally racialized Asian Americans and Latinxs.23 Relational racial projects have often assigned these groups to different positions, encouraging the idea of separate struggles rather than linked fates. Against that idea, I show how post–civil rights politics, migration policy, military strategy, neoliberal development, and panethnic institutionalization have acted on Asian Americans and Latinxs in tandem.

In extending the work on Asian Americans and Latinxs, I believe that the comparison of literatures presents a useful challenge. Linking minority literatures with issues that social science identifies risks reducing ethnic literatures to social and ethnographic content. This approach can perpetuate a historic lack of attention to the aesthetics of ethnic literatures and reinforce a tendency to judge minority works as socially interesting artifacts but not significant artworks.24 More important, this approach can constrain our ability to perceive the imaginative range of Asian American and Latinx literatures. I sense this tendency to align minority literatures with their social content in Asian American–Latinx literary studies, where the analysis emphasizes content, themes, and tropes. Instead of taking social content as the starting point for comparative analysis, this book turns to the aesthetics emerging from the Asian and Latinx United States to glean the groups’ shared history. It focuses on the aesthetic forms that are the surprisingly generative features of literature for comparative ethnic studies. As the case of Dominican and Vietnamese stories of the Cold War showed, comparison through form is powerful for perceiving solidarities across different social and racial positions, because related forms can suggest connections beyond overt parallels of social content and context. It’s not just readers and literature scholars who should care about literary aesthetics. This book makes an aesthetic argument for bringing together two literatures, two fields of study, and two communities.


The aesthetic at the center of this book is a transfictional form structuring many of the short story cycles and multiplot novels in contemporary Asian American and Latinx literatures. This form models the social struggles that link Asian Americans and Latinxs. Criticism has not adequately recognized it because its instances cut across the distinctions critics draw between short story cycles and novels. Building on the concept of transfictionality from transmedia narrative studies, I offer the first theorization of this form.25 Transfictional form describes narrative works that create an effect of many distinct, semiautonomous stories, each focusing on different characters and events but taking place within the same imagined world. Readers construct a sense of this expansive storyworld by reading and thinking transfictionally, that is, by drawing relations across stories, and from one story to another.26 But the stories do not merge into a single, causally interconnected narrative; the relations readers can draw are often not ones of direct causal relation and plot impact.27 Many of the stories remain their own stories rather than subplots in a larger narrative spanning the work. The distinctness of each story is a key feature of transfictional form. While transfictional works are not linked by direct causal relations, they invite readers to perceive many other forms of connection, including character recurrences, social ties, and overlapping settings.28 Questions of causal relation are by no means absent, but transfictional works consider more ambiguous causal relations—indirect, mediated, and tenuous networks of impact, communities of consequence that span distances and degrees of separation and defy clear mapping.29 This range of ambiguous causal relations leaves unresolved the question of whether and to what extent one story affects another.

In a transfictional work the stories are distinct yet related. It’s a difficult tension to sustain but a socially important one to recognize. This form offers a narrative shape for grasping the links among stories and people without eliding the differences and separations between them. By using this form, writers implicitly argue that the social world they shape into narrative is neither atomized nor unified. It cannot be grasped as completely separate stories, but at the same time, its many pieces and complexities cannot be contained within one story. One compelling example is Cristina Henríquez’s The Book of Unknown Americans. The novel uses transfictional form to represent the experiences of migrants from across Latin America. This form challenges us to consider whether divergent Latinx migration experiences can be told in one story and, if not, whether there are still important ways that they are related.

A more familiar example is Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoir The Woman Warrior, particularly the story “At the Western Palace.” The story focuses on Maxine’s aunt, Moon Orchid, who is bullied by her sister Brave Orchid into a disastrous confrontation with her cheating husband. Maxine, meanwhile, is not even a named character in the story. And Moon Orchid’s story has no clear effects on Maxine’s.30 “At the Western Palace” focuses on several characters Maxine has never met and on settings that play no role in her story. Set off by page breaks and its own title (a common practice in transfictional works), the story stands relatively on its own. And yet, readers can draw resonant relations: the character ties between Maxine and her aunt, the echo between Brave Orchid’s bullying of Moon Orchid and the famous scene in which Maxine bullies a female classmate. Whatever causal connections exist between the stories are ambiguous. To what extent does the story inform Maxine’s actions in her own story? And to what extent does the story recognize the drama of her aunt’s life in itself? A transfictional work doesn’t clearly resolve such questions, though it’s telling that in an interview with Elaine H. Kim, Kingston refers to multiple women’s stories in the memoir rather than just her story.31 Both Maxine and Moon Orchid struggle with forms of Chinese patriarchy and female agency, but their distinct stories show that their particular struggles cannot be conflated into one narrative.

It’s also clarifying to consider examples that are not transfictional, such as story collections. The stories in a transfictional work take place in the same storyworld, so they differ from the stories in a collection, where each story implies its own world. Stories in a collection often focus on completely separate characters, events, and settings. Some collections take place in the same general location—for instance, the stories of Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find are all set in the American South—but share no other storyworld elements. Transfictional works are linked by closer and more numerous kinds of storyworld elements than story collections.

Transfictional form has a more complex relation to the short story cycle and the novel. Examples of the form extend across both genres. Story cycles and multiplot novels frequently span different protagonists, plots, and settings, and they ask readers to piece together a fictional world across many plots. They share these features with transfictional works. But transfictional form describes a distinct subset of story cycles and novels. It does not apply to works that open multiple plots but merge them into a larger, causally interconnected story. Think of Jennifer Egan’s novel A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010). Encompassing the stories of dozens of characters involved in the music industry, it cuts across multiple periods and settings. Readers have to figure out how all these people are related and how their stories fit into a broader timeline. But in the end, the novel resolves into an interconnected story of two main characters, Sasha and Bennie, and the motley cast of characters whose stories affect their lives. Each plot has a clear entanglement with one or both of the narrative spines, which helps secure the novel’s unity despite its freewheeling scope. A transfictional work does not resolve its stories into the kind of cohesion that Egan’s novel ultimately offers.32 Some nontransfictional story cycles aim for a similar cohesion. Such story cycles circle back in their endings to gather many stories into a causally linked whole, usually by encompassing them in the story of a protagonist. The ending of Tomás Rivera’s classic Chicano story cycle . . . y no se lo tragó la tierra (1971) shows the boy protagonist thinking back on all the stories in his community that were presented across the cycle. Flowing one into another, the stories integrate into one vision in his process of coming to consciousness. By cyclically integrating many stories into one, story cycles like this diverge from the transfictional possibilities of the genre.

The stories in a transfictional work are neither interconnected into a single narrative nor unconnected, as in a story collection. Exploring the possibilities for arranging narrative between these poles, transfictional works pull in conflicting directions. The resulting formal tensions distinguish the form. The potential unity of the work conflicts with the multiplicity of stories that jostle within it. The unity of the stories is an open question. For example, Karen Tei Yamashita’s transfictional novel about the Asian American movement, I Hotel, encompasses dozens of stories of activism and questions whether they add up to a unified movement. Other tensions include narrative borders that separate stories and relations that cross those borders, the autonomy of stories and their interdependence, causal connection and disconnection. Transfictional form also highlights the conflict between a focus on an individual protagonist and attention to the stories of other characters in a community. This conflict keeps Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street from encompassing the stories of diverse Latinas within Esperanza’s story of formation. Transfictional works pull readers between the concerns of the story we’re currently reading and parts of the storyworld on its periphery. One story hovers against many others, making clear that this story’s circle of concerns is only a piece in a wider world. Think of the stories Junot Díaz sets in the New Jersey barrio in Drown and how they unfold against other stories across the Dominican diaspora. Such transfictional works challenge readers to attend simultaneously to divergent scales of narrative relations—the local ties within a story, indirect links between specific stories, and the global relations that span the whole work.

Unity and multiplicity, borders and border crossings, autonomy and interdependence, individual and collective, local and global—these are the sustained tensions animating transfictional form. When examined, they reveal that this form is more than a way to articulate a prominent aesthetic for Asian Americans and Latinxs—it is a way to structure, through literary form, some of their central social struggles. Borders and border crossings are a lived reality of the transnational migrations that characterize Asian American and Latinx communities.33 Their stories bear witness to economic and military forces crossing the borders of Latin American and Asian nations while the migrant populations they displace confront militarized borders and legal barriers.34 Asian Americans and Latinxs see themselves within and across local, national, and global scales of belonging.35 They are also increasingly stratified communities where the managerial class and the undocumented, “model minorities” and the “underclass,” coexist.36 They are caught within uneven global labor flows and an unequal immigration regime. Economic prospects in these communities raise conflicts of individual mobility and collective blockages. Moreover, the very idea of community is fraught. Latinx and Asian American collective identities are consolidating at the same time that mass immigration and diversification undermine the premises of unity. The panethnic categories of Asian American and Latinx strain to encompass different ethnic groups, histories, and cultures.37 Questions of unity and multiplicity, autonomy and interdependence are at the heart of Latinx and Asian American politics.


1. De Genova, “Migrant ‘Illegality.’

2. Colby and Ortman, “Projections,” 9.

3. I am very grateful to Daniel Y. Kim who, in a stimulating conversation, suggested that I use these two stories of 1965 as an opening.

4. I am taking up Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof’s call for a migration history of the Cold War by showing how the aesthetics of communities shaped by the Cold War can be a revealing axis of comparison. See A Tale of Two Cities, xiv.

5. U.S. military advisors to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) had been deployed in Vietnam before 1965, but this date marked the official entry of U.S. combat troops into the Vietnam War, as authorized by the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964. From about 23,000 military advisors in Vietnam at the end of 1964, the American presence escalated drastically in 1965 to over 180,000 combat troops by the year’s end.

6. While the Dominican displacement was on a smaller scale than that of the Southeast Asian displacement, it produced the fifth largest Latinx ethnic group in the United States. It is an important story because it is not an exceptional story but rather one representative episode in the recurrent drama of U.S. Cold War interventions across Latin America that each generated displacements.

7. Quoted in Kumar, US Interventionism, 142.

8. The Cold War was a crucial context for the 1965 immigration reforms. Along with civil rights legislation, these reforms were seen by Cold War liberals as a way to project an image of U.S. racial democracy as the battle for the hearts and minds of Third World nations was at its most intense. See Ngai, Impossible Subjects, 228–29, and Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights.

9. The indefinite article here is important since the Asian and Latinx America that has formed in the United States is one of many Asian and Latinx Americas across the Americas. To that end, I also use the term Asian and Latinx United States when the specification seems necessary. While this book focuses on Asian Americans and Latinxs in the United States, it registers their intertwined histories in the American hemisphere and more globally as well. See especially Chapters 2 and 3 on how the Cold War and neoliberal labor migrations linked Asian Americans and Latinxs on these broader scales.

10. This is not to say that alliances do not exist. For an important case study of Asian American–Latinx political alliance that formed around shared causes of immigration, bilingual education, discrimination, employment, and legislative redistricting, see Saito, Race and Politics.

11. Anemona Hartocollis and Stephanie Saul, “Affirmative Action Battle Has a New Focus: Asian-Americans,” New York Times, August 2, 2017.

12. Southern Poverty Law Center, “Ten Days After.”

13. Ibid.; Chetanya Robinson, “Forever the Foreigner—‘Disturbing’ Rise in Hate Crimes Targeting Asian Americans,” International Examiner, August 8, 2017.

14. “Full Text: Donald Trump Announces a Presidential Bid,” Washington Post, June 16, 2015.

15. Thananopavarn, LatinAsian Cartographies, 20.

16. De Genova, “Latino and Asian Racial Formations,” 11.

17. Claire Jean Kim, Bitter Fruit, 10–12.

18. De Genova, Racial Transformations; Ngai, Impossible Subjects; O’Brien, Racial Middle.

19. Parikh, Ethics of Betrayal.

20. Sae-Saue, Southwest Asia.

21. Lim, Bilingual Brokers.

22. Thananopavarn, LatinAsian Cartographies.

23. I draw on Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s concept of racial projects. See Omi and Winant, Racial Formation in the United States.

24. The political commitments of ethnic studies coupled with its organization as an interdisciplinary effort place distinct pressures on the balance of form and content in approaches to ethnic literatures. See Ling, Narrating Nationalisms, on the mobilization of culture, literature, and scholarship to serve political functions in the foundations of ethnic studies. On tendencies to overlook aesthetic concerns and reduce ethnic literatures to social content, see Gates, Figures in Black; Rocío G. Davis and Lee, Literary Gestures; and Zhou and Najmi, Form and Transformation. For other studies that seek to balance form and politics in ethnic literary studies, see Rocío G. Davis, Transcultural Reinventions, and Marcial González, Chicano Novels.

25. See Ryan, “Transmedial Storytelling,” and Thon, “Converging Worlds,” for trans-media studies accounts of transfictional storytelling. I clarify my relation to this scholarship in more detail later in the introduction.

26. I draw on David Herman’s definition of storyworld: the world “evoked” by a narrative, the “global mental representations” of the events, characters, settings, processes, relationships, situations, and physical environments mentioned or implied by a narrative work (Basic Elements of Narrative, 106).

27. I take causal disconnection from other stories as a central determinant of the relative autonomy of a story because causal connection has been fundamental to definitions of what makes a story a story. As David Herman and other narrative theorists observe, “causal-chronological connections” are an essential part of what makes a group of events a story and not just a group of events (Basic Elements of Narrative, 11; see also Bal, Narratology). Richard J. Gerrig has shown that many of the processes of comprehending narratives revolve around “the search for causal relations.” Such relations are crucial for giving a story a sense of “global coherence” and unity (Experiencing Narrative Worlds, 46). Thus, the question of whether many stories ultimately form one unified story or whether they remain relatively autonomous turns in large part on the factor of causal relation.

28. These relations are crucial for giving the sense that these stories occur in the same world. As Roberta Pearson explains, the traces and overlaps of storyworld elements between stories are what allow readers to identify the connection to an established storyworld (“Additionality and Cohesion,” 114).

29. Not all causal relations in transfictional works are so ambiguous or indirect. Such works often include some stories that are linked with clear causal connections. But transfictional works include several or more stories that stand apart from each other causally.

30. The following story, “Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe,” opens with a brief reference to Moon Orchid but quickly drops the subject.

31. Elaine H. Kim, Asian American Literature, 207.

32. Another recent novel that illustrates the boundary between the transfictional novel and the multiplot novel is Nicole Krauss’s Great House (2010). A lonely writer in New York, a father and son confronting each other in Jerusalem, a husband in London trying to uncover his wife’s past, and a man searching for his father’s desk—these are the four disparate stories Krauss presents. The reading experience mimics the storyworld construction of transfictional works as it’s not clear until very late in the book how or if the four plots relate to each other. But in the end it emerges that each story has one or more life-changing connections to the other stories. The novel sustains a quasi-transfictional tension of separation and interconnection for much of its duration, but in the end resolves it.

33. On borders and crossings in Latinx studies, see Concannon, Lomelí, and Priewe, Imagined Transnationalism. In Asian American studies, see Palumbo-Liu, Asian/American.

34. On the asymmetric histories of economic interdependencies and political relations that link the United States and Latin America, see Suárez-Orozco and Páez, “The Research Agenda.” On economic, military, and imperial relations with Asia affecting Asian immigration to the United States, see Lowe, Immigrant Acts, and Jodi Kim, Ends of Empire. For a comparative view of U.S. imperialism and its impacts on Asian Americans and Latinxs, see De Genova, “Latino and Asian Racial Formations.”

35. On the conflicts of local and diasporic commitments in Asian American studies, see Dirlik, “Asians on the Rim.” For a useful overview of the debate between the transnational and national orientations of Asian American studies and politics, see Zhou, “Critical Theories and Methodologies,” 4–13. See also Sau-Ling C. Wong, “Denationalization Reconsidered,” and Koshy, “Fiction.” On the conflicts of national and transnational orientations and scales of analysis in Latinx studies, see, for example, Saldívar, “Social Aesthetics”; Mariscal, Brown-Eyed Children, 91; and Torres-Saillant, “Problematic Paradigms.”

36. Ong, Flexible Citizenship; Ty, Unfastened; Gimenez, “Latino/‘Hispanic’”; Caminero-Santangelo, On Latinidad.

37. On the crisis of panethnic Latinidad, see Beltrán, Trouble with Unity, and Caminero-Santangelo, On Latinidad. On the impasses of Asian American panethnicity, see Koshy, “Fiction,” and Chuh, Imagine Otherwise. I discuss this issue at length in Chapters 4 and 5.