Other: An Asian Pacific Islander Prisoners' Anthology

Eddy Zheng and the Asian Prisoner Support Committee

January 1, 2008

For years, I've been complaining that Asian American literature is either trapped in Amy Tan's mystical Chinatown or Jhumpa Lahiri's "whitewashed" suburbs. Where are the stories of the people who don't fit the narrow focus of the model minority myth? Well, ask and you shall receive. The self-published anthology, Other, was driven mainly by Eddy Zheng, a Chinese American who spent some 19 years in prison for a robbery he participated in at the age of 16. Zheng, who was released from prison in 2006 and now awaits possible deportation, did most of the organizing and editing work from behind bars. The pieces are at once brutal and poetic, and show an incredible range of diversity among the writers-from Southeast Asian gang members from San Francisco's Tenderloin to anonymous South Asian detainees writing out of Passaic County Jail in New Jersey. But beyond one's opinion of the prison industrial complex, much of the writing in this book just makes for really good reading. I could have read a whole novel by A Day in the Life writer Viet Mike Ngo, who takes you on an unforgettable journey through the daily operations of a life sentence. This anthology is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand a more complex picture of Asian America.

Magazine Section: