Interrogating Identity Construction: Bodies versus Community in Cynthia Kadohata’s In the Heart of the Valley of Love

Interrogating Identity Construction: Bodies versus Community in Cynthia Kadohata’s In the Heart of the Valley of Love

Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies
Volume 1 (2010)
pages 61-69

Nicole Myoshi Rabin, Instructor of Liberal Arts & Interdisciplinary Studies
Emerson College, Boston. Massachusetts

In an interview for the journal MELUS, Hsiu-chuan Lee claims that Cynthia Kadohata suggests her novel In the Heart of the Valley of Love does not directly take “any specific ethnicity as its central concern,” nor deal explicitly with the “identity issue” (165, 179).  Despite these assertions by the author, In the Heart of the Valley of Love is mainly taught at the university level in Asian American Literature courses.  While Kadohata’s novel has been established within this specific canon of Asian American Literature, her novel deals with issues that resonate among all racial groups. This paper considers the ways in which Kadohata creates an imagined future not wholly detached from issues of race and identity, but where the conceptualization of race-based identity is conceived by means of self-fashioning and self-signifying. In the novel’s “futuristic” American society, concerns of class and the divides of wealth between the white “richtowns” and the multiracial majority may seem to be the central themes, but issues of race and issues of class become conflated in the novel, and Kadohata uses more subtle ways to discuss issues of racial difference.  What Kadohata suggests through her novel In the Heart of the Valley of Love is not that racialized bodies cease to be of importance in American society, but that race as a critical factor in identity formation and categorization must be reframed by self-signification and social interactions.

…Kadohata’s indictment of current racial understanding goes further as Francie, the mixed race narrator, is marginalized by our current monoracial understanding of race as the determinant factor of identity. She says, “I enjoyed the feeling of the heat making my loose shorts billow around my yellow-brown legs—the yellow from my Japanese mother, the brown from my Chinese-black father” (22). Viet Thanh Nguyen suggests in Race and Resistance that Francie embodies “the novel’s conception of nonwhite identity as being a mélange of different ethnic and racial backgrounds” (150). While the narrator does occupy the space of the raced majority within the novel, her value as a mixed race character does not end at being the embodiment of the “novel’s conception” of a “nonwhite identity.” Francie as a mixed-race subject maintains her position as marginalized in our current understanding of racial categorization. Keeping with the notion of the body, Kadohata locates Francie’s indeterminacy in her yellow-brown skin, which is not easily identified as one race or another, until Francie herself declares where she “belongs.” Knowing what races and ethnicities Francie belongs to serves a purpose beyond making her a mixture of incongruent elements of race and therefore some sort of representative of everything “nonwhite” as Nguyen suggests; her “parts” are named, and so while she may embody the majority within the text, she is still marginalized by our current understanding of race along monoracial lines. By making the protagonist a “mélange,” Kadohata renders this multiracial character incapable of being assigned identity by physical racial markers and forces Francie to seek a different means by which she must forge an identity…

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