"Yell-OhGirls!" edited by Vickie Nam -review by Daria Ng and Kavita Rajanna
Yell-Oh Girls! provides an enthusiastic entrance for the voices of young Asian American women into North America1s mainstream consciousness. This anthology demands that people pick it up, read it, and hear the righteous roar of"yell-oh" girls everywhere.
Even before you crack the spine of the book, the cover illustration shouts out at you. Inside a yellow lunchbox is a plate with sushi on one side, and cheetos on the other. The picture is a poor attempt to show the merging of two cultures through stereotypical images of Asian and American food. The cover art is cheesy and doesn1t do justice to the complexities of Asian American girls. In contrast, the multi-media collages that introduce each chapter are full of depth and beauty. The fact that these images are created by a young woman, Annie Than, makes them even more intriguing this is truly a yell-oh girl sharing her complex voice with the world.
From the title, we assumed this book wouldn1t include Asian American women who identified as brown or biracial and yet it did. The title Yell-Oh Girls! plays off the idea that all Asians identify as yellow, which is not true. Vickie Nam falls into the dilemma most writers find themselves in when they try to represent a group too vast to attempt labels or categories. This is especially apparent in"Dolly Rage," the third segment, where girls speak out about the physical struggles of being Asian, specifically dealing with straight hair, slanty eyes, the "exotic" stereotype. Well, we don1t all look like that. However, the stories in this section are gutsy and begin an important dialogue about Asian beauty myths, pieces like Alison Park1s Maybelline on Maple Street strut in the unexpected tokenization of being an Asian American hottie, and Alice Chung's Anorexic goes deep into experiences of how...
In Orientation, Family Ties and Finding My Voice, issues such as the tensions of being bi-cultural and not feeling at home in North America or in one1s native land, as well as the dichotomy of being Asian and American are echoed over and over throughout the anthology. After reading one story about a particular issue, all the others in the same category sound alike. In the same vein, most of the essays in Yell-Oh Girls! are revelation pieces, in which the writer, all of a sudden reaches a conclusion that results in an important lesson learned. In real life, however, such revelations don1t happen instantly. Despite its attempts to provide an authentic voice spanning the vast Asian American diaspora, the anthology leaves you wanting to hear more from young women who are marginalized within these communities: girls who are pregnant, girls who are homeless, girls who drop out of high school, girls who don't go to college, girls who transcend gender definitions, girls dealing with issues of abuse.
Vickie Nam has created an anthology in which Asian American girls across the country will connect with other girls with similar identity, family, and cultural obstacles. At its best, this anthology will inspire young women to understand the importance and power of their images and words, and will hopefully lead Asian American girls to create their own anthologies, made by girls, for girls. As you read Yell-Oh Girls! imagine the ways in which this anthology would have looked and sounded differently, if young women had the resources to frame their stories in their own words, instead of having them filtered through the eyes of adults. Enjoy this book and then start writing your own.