The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.
Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.
Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.
As the spring semester gets underway at many colleges and universities around the country, that means that new groups of students get their first introduction to Asian American Studies. With that in mind, these recently-published books provide some more details and sociological context about the history and contemporary dynamics of the Asian American community.
Asian Americans are often stereotyped as the “model minority.” Their sizeable presence at elite universities and high household incomes have helped construct the narrative of Asian American “exceptionalism.” While many scholars and activists characterize this as a myth, pundits claim that Asian Americans’ educational attainment is the result of unique cultural values. In The Asian American Achievement Paradox, sociologists Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou offer a compelling account of the academic achievement of the children of Asian immigrants.
Drawing on in-depth interviews with the adult children of Chinese immigrants and Vietnamese refugees and survey data, Lee and Zhou bridge sociology and social psychology to explain how immigration laws, institutions, and culture interact to foster high achievement among certain Asian American groups. For the Chinese and Vietnamese in Los Angeles, Lee and Zhou find that the educational attainment of the second generation is strikingly similar, despite the vastly different socioeconomic profiles of their immigrant parents. Because immigration policies after 1965 favor individuals with higher levels of education and professional skills, many Asian immigrants are highly educated when they arrive in the United States.
They bring a specific “success frame,” which is strictly defined as earning a degree from an elite university and working in a high-status field. This success frame is reinforced in many local Asian communities, which make resources such as college preparation courses and tutoring available to group members, including their low-income members. While the success frame accounts for part of Asian Americans’ high rates of achievement, Lee and Zhou also find that institutions, such as public schools, are crucial in supporting the cycle of Asian American achievement. Teachers and guidance counselors, for example, who presume that Asian American students are smart, disciplined, and studious, provide them with extra help and steer them toward competitive academic programs.
These institutional advantages, in turn, lead to better academic performance and outcomes among Asian American students. Yet the expectations of high achievement come with a cost: the notion of Asian American success creates an “achievement paradox” in which Asian Americans who do not fit the success frame feel like failures or racial outliers. While pundits ascribe Asian American success to the assumed superior traits intrinsic to Asian culture, Lee and Zhou show how historical, cultural, and institutional elements work together to confer advantages to specific populations. An insightful counter to notions of culture based on stereotypes, The Asian American Achievement Paradox offers a deft and nuanced understanding how and why certain immigrant groups succeed.
A New History of Asian America is a fresh and up-to-date history of Asians in the United States from the late eighteenth century to the present. Drawing on current scholarship, Shelley Lee brings forward the many strands of Asian American history, highlighting the distinctive nature of the Asian American experience while placing the narrative in the context of the major trajectories and turning points of U.S. history. Covering the history of Filipinos, Koreans, Asian Indians, and Southeast Indians as well as Chinese and Japanese, the book gives full attention to the diversity within Asian America.
A robust companion website features additional resources for students, including primary documents, a timeline, links, videos, and an image gallery. From the building of the transcontinental railroad to the celebrity of Jeremy Lin, people of Asian descent have been involved in and affected by the history of America. A New History of Asian America gives twenty-first-century students a clear, comprehensive, and contemporary introduction to this vital history.
Born out of the Civil Rights and Third World Liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, Asian American Studies has grown significantly over the past four decades, both as a distinct field of inquiry and as a potent site of critique. Characterized by transnational, trans-Pacific, and trans-hemispheric considerations of race, ethnicity, migration, immigration, gender, sexuality, and class, this multidisciplinary field engages with a set of concepts profoundly shaped by past and present histories of racialization and social formation.
The keywords included in this collection are central to social sciences, humanities, and cultural studies and reflect the ways in which Asian American Studies has transformed scholarly discourses, research agendas, and pedagogical frameworks.Spanning multiple histories, numerous migrations, and diverse populations, Keywords for Asian American Studies reconsiders and recalibrates the ever-shifting borders of Asian American studies as a distinctly interdisciplinary field.
While there are books on racism in universities, few examine the unique position of Asian American undergraduates. This new book captures the voices and experiences of Asian Americans navigating the currents of race, gender, and sexuality as factors in how youth construct relationships and identities. Interviews with 70 Asian Americans on an elite American campus show how students negotiate the sexualized racism of a large institution. The authors emphasize the students’ resilience and their means of resistance for overcoming the impact of structural racism.
In the past fifty years, Asian Americans have helped change the face of America and are now the fastest growing group in the United States. But as award-winning historian Erika Lee reminds us, Asian Americans also have deep roots in the country. The Making of Asian America tells the little-known history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, from the arrival of the first Asians in the Americas to the present-day.
An epic history of global journeys and new beginnings, this book shows how generations of Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants have made and remade Asian American life in the United States: sailors who came on the first trans-Pacific ships in the 1500s; indentured “coolies” who worked alongside African slaves in the Caribbean; and Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and South Asian immigrants who were recruited to work in the United States only to face massive racial discrimination, Asian exclusion laws, and for Japanese Americans, incarceration during World War II.
Over the past fifty years, a new Asian America has emerged out of community activism and the arrival of new immigrants and refugees. No longer a “despised minority,” Asian Americans are now held up as America’s “model minorities” in ways that reveal the complicated role that race still plays in the United States. Published to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the United States’ Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that has remade our “nation of immigrants,” this is a new and definitive history of Asian Americans. But more than that, it is a new way of understanding America itself, its complicated histories of race and immigration, and its place in the world today.
Below is a solicitation for respondents for an online survey about experiences of discrimination by Asian American men. As always, the announcement is provided for informational purposes and does not necessarily imply an endorsement of the research study being conducted.
I am emailing you for distributing my survey on Asian American men’s experiences of discrimination on your blog. I am currently a doctoral student in counseling psychology at Indiana University Bloomington and collecting data for a research project. This survey intents to understand how Asian American men experience discrimination differently from Asian American women or men of other races.
This is a anonymous survey that investigates Asian American men’s experiences of discrimination based on both of their gender and race. Eligible participants are Asian American men who are 18 or older, either born and raised in the U.S. or immigrated to the U.S. at age 10 or younger. The survey takes 30 minutes to complete and each participant has the chance of winning a $20 Amazon gift card after completing the survey.
This study has been approved by Indiana University’s Institutional Research Board. The results of the study will be used to develop scales that measure Asian American men’s experiences of gendered racism. Please consider this request. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at liu323@Indiana.edu or my dissertation advisor Dr. Joel Wong at joelwong@Indiana.edu . Thank you very much!
Tao Liu, M.S. & M.A.
Doctoral Student in Counseling Psychology
Indiana University Bloomington
Below is a solicitation for respondents for an online survey about Chinese Americans who were internationally separated from their parents. As always, the announcement is provided for informational purposes and does not necessarily imply an endorsement of the research study being conducted.
We are seeking Chinese Americans for a new paid research study that looks at international separation between parents and children. You may qualify if you: 1) are 18 years or older; 2) lived in China, Taiwan, or Hong Kong as a child for at least six months while both of your parents were in North America; and 3) can speak about your experiences at length.
You will receive a $30 Amazon gift card for filling out an online survey and participating in a phone interview. The researchers are affiliated with Wellesley College, Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center, and the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
The fact is: such deportations are already happening, in record numbers. Experts are divided about what the impact of President Obama’s 2014 executive order will be. Will the granting of temporary status be outweighed by the increased enforcement measures?
In the meantime, families continue to live in fear, especially those with children.
When we deport their parents, we reinforce the rhetoric that “anchor babies” are a drain on the system by turning them into public charges. I have been thinking a lot about these left-behind children as my teaching at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and research on immigration intersects with their very real stories.
1.6 Million Kids
In September, five-year-old Sofía Cruz captured headlines and sympathy when she delivered a letter to Pope Francis pleading for comprehensive immigration reform.
Rewind five years. Then seven-year-old Daisy Cuevas stole hearts by telling Michelle Obama that “Barack Obama is taking away everybody who doesn’t have papers” and “my mom doesn’t have any.’ Her family then went into hiding.
Sofía’s and Daisy’s only crime is being born to parents who lack proper papers. That and being brown, or yellow.
In the span of eight years, our nation’s decision to deport 3,165,426 unauthorized immigrants has affected about 1,582,711 citizen-children. … Legislators who promote increased enforcement effectively increase family disruption and separation; citizen-children are collateral damage.”
Potentially as many citizen-children are living abroad in exile, as their parents grapple with taking them to countries where they have never set foot or leaving their children in the US.
Sammy is a teenager I recently met who was born and raised in the Southwest. His parents were living in the US, working and raising their children, until they were stopped for a traffic violation, or audited for taxes, or turned in by a teacher or medical provider, or any of the mundane ways that undocumented status gets uncovered.
Now Sammy is living with foster parents. They are kind and genuinely interested in his well-being. Sammy is doing his best to adjust to a new school and community. His parents communicate with him regularly, but they can’t be here to help him learn to drive, prepare for the SAT or nurse him through his first heartbreak.
In Loco Parentis
I am glad Sammy has someone in loco parentis – in place of a parent – to help him weather the normal teen dramas, and the exceptional challenges of his situation. But I also think we as a society are “loco” for refusing to fix an immigration system that makes so many parents unable to parent their own children.
The Economic Policy Institute’s Facts About Immigration and the U.S. Economy states:
“Immigrants have an outsized role in US economic output because they are disproportionately likely to be working and are concentrated among prime working ages. Indeed, despite being 13% of the population, immigrants comprise 16% of the labor force.”
In recognition of this reality and to create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, Congress introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, but failed to pass it.
As these studies show, we rely on immigrant labor to care for our children, elders and sick, but do not provide sufficient legal pathways for them to do this work, then vilify them for breaking the law and deport them. Many people have heard about the massive increase in deportations, but ignore them or convince themselves that they are necessary. The argument goes that these are criminals and potential terrorists, rather than our neighbors and our coworkers.
We are in a moment where we may be able to see these children, and their parents, as people and citizens, but we have had many of these moments and they have passed without action. It’s time now to move away from this crazy loco parentis.
Below is a solicitation for respondents for an online survey about parenting practices among Asian American fathers. As always, the announcement is provided for informational purposes and does not necessarily imply an endorsement of the research study being conducted.
My name is Zuzanna Molenda-Kostanski and I am a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program in the Department of Professional Psychology and Family Therapy at Seton Hall University. I am interested in gaining a better understanding of the experiences of Asian American men as fathers by exploring how certain factors, including acculturation, gender-role conflict and parenting self-efficacy may impact father’s involvement with children. I would like to invite you to participate in my study.
The study consists of a survey that is quick and easy to fill out. You can complete it online at your own convenience, and it may take approximately 15 minutes to complete.
Participation in this study is completely voluntary and anonymous. The survey will not ask you for any identifying information about you and you are free to withdraw at any time. Additionally, any information gathered from the study will be kept on a USB memory key and stored in a locked secure office that will only be accessible to myself and my research advisor, Dr. Laura Palmer.
If you are at least 18 years old and are willing to participate in this study please click on the following link: https://shucehs.co1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_5uJYdeSa6QVoVrn
Your consent to participate in the study is indicated by clicking on the link and completing the survey. The survey will be running between August 2015 and January 2016.
If you have any questions about the study please feel free to contact me or my research adviser using the contact information provided below. This study has been approved by the Seton Hall University Institutional Review Board.
Thank you for your time and consideration of your participation in my study.
Zuzanna Molenda-Kostanski, M.A.
Counseling Psychology PhD Program
Seton Hall University
Laura Palmer, Ph.D.
Counseling Psychology PhD Program Seton Hall University
Mary F. Ruzicka, Ph.D.
Director of Institutional Review Board
Seton Hall University
I must admit that I did not know that June is Immigrant Heritage Month. Up until now, I thought that although the U.S. recognizes all sorts of historical occasions with their own official month that we did not have a month to celebrate the contributions of immigrants to the U.S., despite the U.S. supposedly being the “Land of Immigrants.” I was therefore surprised to learn that 2014 was the first year that we officially celebrated June as Immigrant Heritage Month. Better late than never, I suppose.
At any rate, to mark this occasion, the Census Bureau released the infographic below that highlights some important demographic data and trends about the U.S.’s foreign-born population in 2010 compared to 1960.
If you are interested, the Census Bureau also has a more detailed summary report titled “The Foreign-Born Population in the U.S.: 2010” as well. Here are some highlights regarding the U.S.’s foreign-born population in 2010, with some comparisons to the U.S.-born population:
In 2010, more than 1 in 4 foreign-born residents lived in California.
Over 80% of the foreign-born population was between the ages of 18 to 64, compared to 60% for the U.S.-born population.
However, the native population had a higher proportion under the age of 18 than the foreign-born population. About 27% of the native population was under age 18, compared with 7% of the foreign born. This difference reflects the fact that children of immigrants born in the United States are, by definition, native.
More than three-fourths (77%) of foreign-born households and almost two-thirds (65%) of native households were family households.
A higher proportion of foreign-born (55%) than native (48%) households were maintained by a married couple. Among the regions of birth, householders born in Asia (63%) and Oceania (62%) were the most likely to be in a married-couple household. Within Latin America, households with a householder born in Mexico were the most likely to be maintained by a married couple (58%).
The average size of foreign-born households (3.4 persons) was larger than that of native households (2.5 persons). One reason for this difference is that a higher proportion of foreign-born family households (62%) than native-born family households (47%) included children under the age of 18.
Additionally, a higher proportion of foreign-born family households (10%) than native-born family households (5%) were multi-generational households with three or more generations living together.
Fifteen percent of the foreign-born population spoke only English at home. An additional 33% spoke a language other than English at home and spoke English “very well.”
In terms of educational attainment, among the foreign born aged 25 and older, 68% were high school graduates or higher, including 27% who had a bachelor’s degree or higher. By comparison, 89% of the native born aged 25 and older were high school graduates, including 28% who had a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Foreign-born males (79%) were more likely to be in the labor force than native males (68%). In contrast, native females (60%) were more likely to have participated in the labor force compared with foreign-born females (57%).
The median household income of foreign-born households in the 12 months prior to being surveyed was $46,224, compared with $50,541 for native households. The difference in income was larger when focusing only on family households: the median income was $62,358 for families with a native householder and
$49,785 for families with a foreign-born householder.
Finally, we sure to look through Asian-Nation’s list of best documentaries about immigration, arranged by category:
Here are some more announcements, links, and job postings about academic-related jobs, fellowships, and other opportunities for those interested in racial/ethnic/diversity issues, with a particular focus on Asian Americans. As always, the announcements and links are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of the organization or college involved.
Call for Submissions: Intersectionality and Public Policy
Call for chapters for an edited volume on Intersectionality and Public Policy
Olena Hankivsky (Simon Fraser University), and Julia Jordan-Zachery (Providence College)
Intersectionality is concerned with simultaneous intersections between aspects of social difference and identity (e.g., race, gender, class) and forms of systematic oppression (e.g., racism, sexism, classism) at macro and micro levels and their varied impacts. Central theoretical tenets of intersectionality are: human lives cannot be reduced to single characteristics; human experiences cannot be accurately understood by prioritizing any one factor or constellation of factors; social categories such as race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and ability are socially constructed and dynamic; social locations are inseparable and shaped by interacting and mutually constituting social processes and power structures that are influenced by time and place.
Grounded in black feminist scholarship and activism (e.g., Collins, 1990; Combahee River Collective, 1977; hooks, 1984) and formally coined in 1989, by black legal scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, intersectionality has been used across a significant number of disciplines. Diverse scholars have drawn on intersectionality to challenge inequities and promote social justice, as have government policy actors, human rights activists and community organizers. Indeed, while it is easier to simplify research, policy analysis and practice by labeling people into single or separate (e.g., female, male), rather than multiple and interlocking categories (e.g., poor, female immigrant of colour), it is increasingly apparent that this way of utilizing one category is limited in its ability to accurately represent the complexity of social life (Hankivsky et al., 2012). Against this backdrop, intersectionality is now recognized as a significant research and policy paradigm for bringing about necessary shifts in how social issues and related inequities are understood and addressed.
Simultaneously, an ongoing challenge is how to operationalize intersectionality, especially in relation to policy analysis. Until very recently, strong claims were made that effective methodologies do not exist. The situation is, however, rapidly changing. Scholars are advancing conceptual clarity, precision and guidance for intersectionality applications, in both research and policy. Nevertheless, advancements in the context of public policy are in nascent stages (e.g. Lombardo, Meier and Verloo 2009; Manuel 2006; Parken and Young 2010; Hancock 2011; Hankivsky and Cormier 2011; Hankivsky, 2012; Wilson 2013; Jordan-Zachery and Wilson 2014) and there is a pressing need for knowledge development and exchange in relation to empirical work that demonstrates how intersectionality improves public policy.
The goal of our edited collection is bring together international scholars to consider the state of the art of intersectionality in the context of policy research and analysis. Special consideration will be given to submissions from developing and transitional country contexts. We are looking for submissions that reflect on key challenges, possibilities and critiques of intersectionality-informed approaches across a variety of policy sectors, including but not limited to health, education, social policy, the environment, and the economy.
200 word abstracts of your proposed chapter submission are due August 1 2015. Please send your abstracts to BOTH Olena Hankivsky firstname.lastname@example.org, and Julia Jordan-Zachery email@example.com. All invited authors will be notified by August 31, 2015 and completed chapters will be due by December 1, 2015.
Call for Papers, Graduate Students: Intergenerational Collaborations
Amerasia Journal, Special Issue Call for Papers
Intergenerational Collaborations: Graduate Student Scholarship in Asian American Studies
Professor Yến Lê Espiritu (University of California, San Diego) and Professor Cathy J. Schlund-‐Vials (University of Connecticut)
Paper submissions (6,000 – 7,000 words, inclusive of endnotes) due September 1, 2015
Since finding a permanent publishing home at UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center Press in 1971, Amerasia Journal has served as a scholarly hub for Asian American Studies. Slated for publication in Summer/Fall 2016, marking the journal’s forty -‐ fifth anniversary, this special issue of Amerasia Journal brings together graduate student scholarship and faculty mentorship — two foundational components of the field of Asian American Studies. The issue is innovative in two ways: it is devoted exclusively to graduate student work, and it pairs graduate student authors with senior scholars who will provide guidance during the revision process.
The guest editors will be responsible for selecting the papers to be sent out for review, and for connecting graduate student authors with appropriate senior scholars in the field. Such “intergenerational” collaborations represent an Amerasia “first,” and the editors are guided by the desire to increase both access for and representation of graduate students in the field’s leading interdisciplinary journal.
As a key frame, the editors in part return to the journal’s mission statement, which reflects the founding, revisionary tenets of a field born out of civil rights movements and international liberation struggles. The open nature of this call for submissions — which takes seriously the diversity of Asian American Studies scholarship— echoes the innovative, multidisciplinary work that has been a hallmark of Amerasia Journal. Understanding that Asian American Studies has grown considerably over the past four decades, the editors ask possible contributors to situate their work within and beyond the context of this originating mission and multifaceted vision.
Submission Guidelines and Review Process:
The guest editors, in consultation with the Amerasia Journal editors, reviewers, and potential mentors, will make the decisions on which submissions will be included in the special issue. The review process is as follows:
Initial review of submitted papers by guest editors and Amerasia Journal editorial staff
Papers approved by editors will undergo blind peer review
Accepted projects will be assigned an appropriate mentor, who will work with the writer to develop and revise the submission; this process should begin and go through the last few months of 2015
Revision of accepted papers and final submission for production
Please send correspondence and papers regarding the special issue to the following addresses. All correspondence should refer to “Amerasia Journal Intergenerational Collaborations” in the subject line.
Professor Yến Lê Espiritu: firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor Cathy J. Schlund-‐Vials: email@example.com
Arnold Pan, Associate Editor, Amerasia Journal: firstname.lastname@example.org
Call for Papers: Cross-Racial and Cross-Ethnic Personal and Group Relationships
A special issue of Societies
Deadline for manuscript submissions: 15 September 2015
Special Issue Editors:
Dr. Silvia Dominguez
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA
Dr. Cid Martinez
Department of Sociology, Sacramento Sate University, Sacramento, CA 95819-6005, USA
Phone: +916 278 6694
In the face of an increasingly complex society, people seek out and form relations with those whom they feel safe and comfortable and perceive to be similar. As a result, racial and ethnic groups form their own distinct social networks that are separated and isolated from others, limiting information and awareness and the ability to develop consensus to address community problems and promote mobility. Homogenous networks also limit the ability of affluent groups to appreciate and address the social barriers of less fortunate groups. They are thus more likely to reinforce negative views of minorities, and the poor. Frequently, inter-racial/ethnic division is the norm rather than the exception.
In fact, very few people have access and/or opportunity to develop cross-racial, or ethnic relationships due to the long lasting high levels of racial and ethnic segregation. Nevertheless, we know that Asians and Latin Americans have high rates of intermarriage, which signifies the emergence of networks that cross ethnicity and or racial lines. This special issue provides a window into the social mechanisms that foster cross ethnic and cross-racial and ethnic networks. What makes people develop heterogeneous networks across race and ethnicity? What do people gain from these heterogeneous networks?
Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. Papers will be published continuously (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.
Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are refereed through a peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Societies is an international peer-reviewed Open Access quarterly journal published by MDPI.
Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 300 CHF (Swiss Francs). English correction and/or formatting fees of 250 CHF (Swiss Francs) will be charged in certain cases for those articles accepted for publication that require extensive additional formatting and/or English corrections.
Call for Submissions: Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian American Studies
2016 Calls for Papers: Gateways, Ports and Portals: Re-imagining Points of Departure for Asian American Studies
2016 Association for Asian American Studies Conference
April 27-30, 2016, Miami, Florida
Submissions due by: October 16th, 2015
Chris Lee (University of British Columbia) and Crystal Parikh (New York University)
Inspired by the city of Miami’s nickname –- “the Gateway to Latin America’ -– the 2016 conference asks participants to consider how forms of movement, transit, and exchange have shaped Asian America. If Asian American Studies has been frequently conceived as an intellectual, institutional, and political point of arrival, how would identifying alternative points of departure reconfigure our conceptions of the field? How might relocating origins and destinations not only change our notions of what the field is, and what it might become, but also the “gateways, ports, and portals” that enable our research, teaching, and activism?
Florida is an especially apt site to consider overlapping encounters between empires and other forces of modernity. Its intersecting histories of indigeneity, slavery, labor migrations, and refugee resettlements call for comparative approaches that place Asian American Studies in different continental, hemispheric, and, even planetary configurations. The state has been a key site in overlapping circuits of workers, intellectuals, artists, social movements and capitalist systems, reflecting its close connections to the Atlantic and Caribbean worlds.
In turn, the changing environmental conditions along Florida’s coastlines and the Everglades prompt us to look to ecocritical approaches that interrogate “the human” as the primary subject and scale of ethnic studies. As one of the hardest hit housing markets on the U.S. eastern seaboard during the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing recession, the conference location asks us to consider how contemporary forces of finance and speculative capital urgently call for critical, institutional, policy, and activist analyses and responses that question our conceptions of vulnerability, risk, crisis, and recovery.
As a key electoral swing state, Florida further prompts an examination of Asian Americans’ role in political contests, coalitions, and consensus-building. While the proportion of its population that identifies as Asian American is relatively small, Miami is a metropolis with remarkable racial diversity. This might inspire us to consider how comparative perspectives can inform and challenge the research and teaching agendas of Asian American Studies.
These questions call for intellectual conversations across the humanities, social, and physical sciences, as well as professional fields such as public policy, law, public health, and education.
Our 2016 conference theme thus invites participants to reflect on how disciplinary gatekeeping and entryways inform, but also restrict, the ways in which we undertake Asian American Studies. What innovative approaches, such as comparative, multilingual and/or interdisciplinary frameworks, has Asian American Studies remitted not only to traditional academic disciplines, but fields such as American, postcolonial, and diaspora studies among others?
How does the growth of Asian American Studies outside the borders of the United States demand a deeper interrogation of the often unacknowledged (US) nationalist biases of the field? We accordingly invite participants from all disciplines to submit proposals that engage seriously with questions and productive possibilities of collaboration and conflict, as we shuttle across the imagined spaces of Asian America.
We welcome scholarship, cultural work, as well as political activist submissions for the 2016 AAAS conference. Proposals for mentorship or professionalization round tables, panels, or workshops are also welcome. All submissions and proposals are due Friday, October 16, 2015. Please note: Participants may only appear in the program twice and only in different roles.
Program Questions? For specific questions regarding type of sessions, submission guidelines, or other programmatic issues, please contact the Program Committee Co-Chairs: Chris Lee (Chris.Lee@ubc.ca) and Crystal Parikh (Crystal.Parikh@nyu.edu).
As a follow up to my recent post titled “The Affirmative Action Debate Among Asian Americans,” these recently-published books provide some more details and sociological context regarding Asian American academic and socioeconomic success, as well as how these achievements affect their position in the larger U.S. racial landscape.
The Color of Success tells of the astonishing transformation of Asians in the United States from the “yellow peril” to “model minorities” — peoples distinct from the white majority but lauded as well-assimilated, upwardly mobile, and exemplars of traditional family values — in the middle decades of the twentieth century. As Ellen Wu shows, liberals argued for the acceptance of these immigrant communities into the national fold, charging that the failure of America to live in accordance with its democratic ideals endangered the country’s aspirations to world leadership.
Weaving together myriad perspectives, Wu provides an unprecedented view of racial reform and the contradictions of national belonging in the civil rights era. She highlights the contests for power and authority within Japanese and Chinese America alongside the designs of those external to these populations, including government officials, social scientists, journalists, and others. And she demonstrates that the invention of the model minority took place in multiple arenas, such as battles over zoot suiters leaving wartime internment camps, the juvenile delinquency panic of the 1950s, Hawaii statehood, and the African American freedom movement. Together, these illuminate the impact of foreign relations on the domestic racial order and how the nation accepted Asians as legitimate citizens while continuing to perceive them as indelible outsiders.
By charting the emergence of the model minority stereotype, The Color of Success reveals that this far-reaching, politically charged process continues to have profound implications for how Americans understand race, opportunity, and nationhood.
In 2012, the Pew Research Center issued a report that named Asian Americans as the “highest-income, best-educated, and fastest-growing racial group in the United States.” Despite this optimistic conclusion, over thirty Asian American advocacy groups challenged the findings, noting that the term “Asian American” is complicated. It includes a wide range of ethnicities, national origins, and languages, and encompasses groups that differ greatly in their economic and social status. In Redefining Race, sociologist Dina G. Okamoto traces the complex evolution of “Asian American” as a panethnic label and identity, emphasizing how it is a deliberate social achievement negotiated by group members, rather than an organic and inevitable process.
Drawing on original research and a series of interviews, Okamoto investigates how different Asian ethnic groups created this collective identity in the wake of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Okamoto documents the social forces that encouraged the development of this panethnic identity. The racial segregation of Asians in similar occupations and industries, for example, produced a shared experience of racial discrimination, which led Asians of different national origins to develop shared interests and identities. . . . According to Okamoto, ethnic organizations provided the foundation necessary to build solidarity within different Asian-origin communities. Leaders and community members who created inclusive narratives and advocated policies that benefited groups beyond their own moved their discrete ethnic organizations toward a panethnic model. . . . As Okamoto shows, the process of building ties between ethnic communities while also recognizing ethnic diversity is the hallmark of panethnicity.
Redefining Race is a groundbreaking analysis of the processes through which group boundaries are drawn and contested. In mapping the genesis of a panethnic Asian American identity, Okamoto illustrates the ways in which concepts of race continue to shape how ethnic and immigrant groups view themselves and organize for representation in the public arena.
Forcing a fundamental rethinking of the Asian American elite, many of whom have attained top positions in business, government, academia, sciences, and the arts, this book will be certain to generate a good deal of controversy and honest discussion regarding the role Asian Americans will play in the new century as China and India loom ever larger in the world economic system. Not since the large-scale infusion of scientists and engineers fleeing Nazi Germany has there been such a mass importation of intellectual labor from U.S. client states in Asia.
One of the specialized tasks assigned to this group is to build the technetronic infrastructure for the new world order command and control system. Servitors of Empire is not intended to fan the flames of suspicion and paranoia aimed at Asian Americans, but serves to illuminate the way in which highly trained knowledge workers are being employed to bring sovereign nations such as the United States under centralized rule made possible through advances in bioscience, IT, engineering, and global finance.
Conventionally, U.S. immigration history has been understood through the lens of restriction and those who have been barred from getting in. In contrast, The Good Immigrants considers immigration from the perspective of Chinese elites—intellectuals, businessmen, and students—who gained entrance because of immigration exemptions. Exploring a century of Chinese migrations, Madeline Hsu looks at how the model minority characteristics of many Asian Americans resulted from US policies that screened for those with the highest credentials in the most employable fields, enhancing American economic competitiveness.
The earliest US immigration restrictions targeted Chinese people but exempted students as well as individuals who might extend America’s influence in China. Western-educated Chinese such as Madame Chiang Kai-shek became symbols of the US impact on China, even as they patriotically advocated for China’s modernization. World War II and the rise of communism transformed Chinese students abroad into refugees, and the Cold War magnified the importance of their talent and training. As a result, Congress legislated piecemeal legal measures to enable Chinese of good standing with professional skills to become citizens. Pressures mounted to reform American discriminatory immigration laws, culminating with the 1965 Immigration Act.
Filled with narratives featuring such renowned Chinese immigrants as I.M. Pei, The Good Immigrants examines the shifts in immigration laws and perceptions of cultural traits that enabled Asians to remain in the United States as exemplary, productive Americans.
During the Cold War, Soviet propaganda highlighted U.S. racism in order to undermine the credibility of U.S. democracy. In response, incorporating racial and ethnic minorities in order to affirm that America worked to ensure the rights of all and was superior to communist countries became a national imperative. In Citizens of Asian America, Cindy I-Fen Cheng explores how Asian Americans figured in this effort to shape the credibility of American democracy, even while the perceived “foreignness” of Asian Americans cast them as likely alien subversives whose activities needed monitoring following the communist revolution in China and the outbreak of the Korean War.
While histories of international politics and U.S. race relations during the Cold War have largely overlooked the significance of Asian Americans, Cheng challenges the black-white focus of the existing historiography. She highlights how Asian Americans made use of the government’s desire to be leader of the “free world” by advocating for civil rights reforms, such as housing integration, increased professional opportunities, and freedom from political persecution. Further, Cheng examines the liberalization of immigration policies, which worked not only to increase the civil rights of Asian Americans but also to improve the nation’s ties with Asian countries, providing an opportunity for the U.S. government to broadcast, on a global scale, the freedom and opportunity that American society could offer.
You may have heard that a coalition of about 60 Asian American organizations recently filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, alleging that Harvard University and other Ivy League schools systematically discriminate against Asian American applicants using affirmative action. This complaint follows two similar lawsuits filed in federal court last November that allege the same charges of discrimination against Asian Americans using affirmative action.
Specifically, the complaints allege that Harvard and other universities around the country that use affirmative action policies ultimately discriminate against Asian American applicants by, among other things, imposing a quota that artificially limits the total number of Asian Americans admitted, and by forcing Asian American applicants to achieve higher GPAs and SAT or ACT scores in order to have an equal chance of admission compared to non-Asian applicants.
Before I continue, I want to reiterate that I strongly support affirmative action. Rather than detailing the multiple reasons why affirmative action ultimately benefits the Asian American community, I refer you to the recent post on AsianAmericanCivilRights.org that contains a concise summary of the arguments in favor of affirmative action, along with a list of more than 135 Asian American organizations that support affirmative action. Further, you can download copies of two studies by academics that provide even more detailed arguments about affirmative action and specifically, how “negative action,” rather than affirmative action, explains the inequalities Asian Americans face in college admissions:
Chin, Gabriel, Sumi Cho, Jerry Kang, and Frank Wu. 2003. “Beyond Self-Interest: Asian Pacific Americans Toward a Community of Justice.” (PDF)
Kidder, William C. 2006. “Negative Action Versus Affirmative Action: Asian Pacific Americans Are Still Caught in the Middle.” (PDF)
These articles also get into how claims of discrimination play into the model minority image of Asian Americans, how affirmative action has been used repeatedly as a ‘wedge’ issue to divide communities of color by conservative actors, and to impart a superficial “honorary White” status onto Asian Americans and to use our community as an example that African Americans, Latino Americans, and Native American Indians should follow. So instead of elaborating on these aspects in detail, the purpose of this post is to provide an historical and sociological context for us to understand why some Asian Americans oppose affirmative action.
As I have written on previously, affirmative action is one of, if not the most divisive issue within the Asian American community (up there with interracial dating and marriage). As such, I am not surprised that many Asian Americans are passionately opposed to affirmative action. I also understand why they are so opposed.
The first factor that helps us to understand why many Asian Americans are against affirmative action is that, more than likely, those Asian Americans who oppose affirmative action tend to be recent immigrants. This is an important distinction because, as recent immigrants, they are less likely to be familiar with the U.S.’s unfortunate history and ongoing legacy of systematic inequality and discrimination against groups of color, particularly African Americans.
Instead, these recent immigrants are more likely to see the U.S. in very idealized ways, specifically as the “Land of Opportunity” where, if they just work hard enough and achieve the highest test scores and GPAs, they will be able to achieve “The American Dream” of economic, if not social, success. In other words, many recent Asian American immigrants see the U.S. as a pure meritocracy, where those with the highest ‘objective’ qualifications should reap the biggest rewards.
Unfortunately, this view of the U.S. as a pure meritocracy is rather simplistic, naive, and fails to consider the multitude of institutional mechanisms that historically, have given members of certain groups a systematic advantage over others, and how such advantages (and disadvantages) have accumulated and become reinforced year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation. As many supporters of affirmative action would rightly point out, even if a student is extraordinarily intelligent, motivated, and hard-working, s/he may not have access to certain economic resources and educational opportunities to maximize their talents and skills to succeed.
Based on this idealized, simplistic, and meritocratic view of U.S. society, these recent Asian American immigrants who oppose affirmative action are likely to think that if their child has higher SAT or ACT scores and/or a higher GPA than other applicants, then their child should be admitted, end of discussion. To them, any other factor besides ‘objective’ measures such as test scores and GPA are irrelevant. They would scoff at suggestions that factors such as applicant’s life experiences, increasing demographic diversity in the student population, or racial identity can be considered (even though the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently concluded that it is constitutional to consider all such factors in college admissions).
Many of these recent Asian American immigrants who oppose affirmative action also come from professional or upper-income backgrounds. This tends to reinforce and perpetuate their meritocratic mentality of how the world, and U.S. society in particular, should work. In other words, they are likely to think, “If I worked hard and became successful, then why can’t everybody else can do the same.” Also perhaps because these Asian immigrants tend to come from a racially homogenous country, they are not likely to be aware of, or even care about, the history of systematic racism against African Americans, Latino Americans, Native American Indians, and other Asian Americans (such as those from refugee backgrounds in Southeast Asia from and therefore do not have the same levels of human capital) here in the U.S., and how the legacy of racism still hurts the chances of these groups of color even today.
If nothing else, this debate over affirmative action within the Asian American community should illustrate once and for all that Asian Americans are not a monolithic category and that instead, there are numerous differences across ethnicities, human capital and social class, generation, and political ideologies. With this mind, I completely understand why some Asian Americans are opposed to affirmative action. I just think that their arguments are misguided, too narrowly-focused, and completely miss the larger sociological and historical context that continues to frame the contentious dynamics of race and ethnicity in U.S. society today.
I recently received the following email from a family that is seeking help to identify an Amerasian from Viet Nam. Feel free to circulate among your friends and networks and to contact them directly (email address is at the end of the post) if you can provide any information or assistance.
Good Afternoon Professor Le,
My purpose in contacting you is due to my direct involvement in the support of my husband, who is a Vietnam War veteran, who has recently embarked upon a search to learn if he had fathered a child during his time in Vietnam. Larry Gentz was stationed in Vietnam from December 1969 through December 1970.
He and I are in contact with a number of the Amerasian communities on Facebook, who have been very gracious and supportive in allowing us to post Larry’s military service time and locations, along with his photos upon their Facebook pages. In addition, Larry recently completed his DNA test and we are awaiting those results. It is my desire that we are able to connect with all of the appropriate Amerasian support groups in an effort to broaden our chances of success in learning the answer to his question regarding did he leave a child or children in Vietnam.
Shortly after we embarked upon our search, I came upon a photo taken in March of 1988 of a group of Amerasian youth (below), which had been taken at Dai Lo Park in Saigon. One of the youth in the photo bears a striking resemblance to my husband. In talking with my husband of the possibility that the young man (who would now be in his mid-forties) could possibly be his son, Larry identified that he had been stationed 15 miles from where the young man was then living when his photo was taken. I learned that the park became know as Amerasian Park due to the Amerasians coming to the park and living there in order to be in close proximity to the American Consulate Office.
I realize that I’ve given you a ton of information, assuming on my part that you would know where to direct me in my continued search of trying to locate a man based solely upon a picture taken 27 years ago. I’m posting the photo of the young man, who is identified by the asterisk on his shirt, along with a photo of my husband Larry taken in 1970 in Vietnam, which shows the strong resemblance between the two. This photo has been used extensively in various articles regarding the plight of the children who were left behind following the departure of their military personnel fathers.
The photographer of the photo, Robert Mulder, has given me permission to use his photo in the search for this young man. As Mr. Mulder shared with me, when he took the photo of the youth, they were anxious to have their picture taken in the hope that their fathers would see them, and then search for them. In the case of my husband’s search, this has happened in seeing the resemblance of the one young man to my husband.
Wife of Larry Gentz, a Vietnam War veteran
Today, April 30, 2015, is the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, the day when the North Vietnamese officially overthrew the South Vietnamese government and ended the Viet Nam War. As summarized in more detail in my article “A Modern Day Exodus,” most immediately, the Fall of Saigon led to a series of events that resulted in the hurried departure of over 125,000 Vietnamese out of the country to be eventually resettled into western nations such as the U.S. For a detailed historical summary of the Fall of Saigon, I highly recommend the documentary being shown this week on PBS stations all across the U.S., the Last Days in Viet Nam.
My family was among those who left Viet Nam in this first wave of refugees in the days immediately after the Fall of Saigon. I would like to share a few memories and reflections on this occasion and relate it my life in the U.S. now, and what my life likely would have been if I had stayed in Viet Nam.
The Journey Out
I was only five years old around this time. People frequently ask me what it was like back then and back there, and I always tell them the same thing — I had no idea a war was going on. The few memories that I have of that time were all very happy and normal ones — I remember going to the zoo with my parents, traveling into the countryside to take pictures with my dad and his friends on the weekends, and riding around with my dad on his motorcycle (to the right is a portrait of me, my little sister, mom, and dad from 1973). Fortunately or unfortunately, I have no memories of our departure out of the country, so what I am about to describe is what my parents have told me through the years about our exit from Viet Nam.
Both of my parents had worked for the South Vietnamese military, and in close conjunction with the U.S. military up until the Fall of Saigon. After finishing his education as a Structural Engineer, my father enlisted in the South Vietnamese Army Corps of Engineers and several of his first projects involved working closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After five years, his tour of service was complete and he left the army and eventually opened his own engineering firm in Saigon. My mother started working for the South Vietnamese government and U.S. military as an office clerk (her brother Trang, also an engineer, worked with my father and eventually introduced them to each other).
After a few years, she eventually was promoted to writing radio propaganda programs (the “Voice of Freedom” program, eventually renamed the “Voice of Mother Viet Nam”) for South Viet Nam that were broadcast throughout the country. She was still working at this job right up to the Fall of Saigon. In these capacities, both of my parents would have been obvious targets for retaliation and punishment by the North Vietnamese had they stayed in the country. Fortunately, her South Vietnamese and U.S. employers arranged for our family’s exit out of the country by first evacuating us to the island of Phu Quoc, located off the southwestern coast of Viet Nam and about 100 miles west of Saigon, a week before the Fall of Saigon.
The North Vietnamese forces officially toppled the South Vietnamese government and took over the country on April 30, 1975. They issued a public announcement that said all U.S. personnel and their South Vietnamese allies had 24 hours to leave the country. After this announcement, panic and chaos ensued as our family and the hundreds of other Vietnamese families on Phu Quoc with us tried to arrange passage off the island and onto any U.S. vessel that would take us out of the country. Later that night, a cargo ship was dispatched to pick us and all the other evacuees up from Phu Quoc island. But we needed a way to reach that cargo ship located in the Gulf of Thailand. Eventually, we and other evacuees were able to board a small fishing boat and set off toward the cargo ship.
My uncle Trang’s family (my mother’s brother, who introduced my mom and dad to each other) were also with us on Phu Quoc, since he had worked for the South Vietnamese government as well. The plan was for all of us to stay together and to leave the country together. However, in the confusion of the moment, my uncle decided that he needed to try to secure some food for everyone before we boarded the cargo ship, so he kept his most of his family behind while he got a loaf of bread from one of the local villagers. Unfortunately, after he returned to the beach, all of the fishing boats had left. He and his family were now stuck and left behind on Phu Quoc.
My grandmother (my mom’s mother) did leave with my family on one of the fishing boats. Once our fishing boat neared the cargo ship, there was a “traffic jam” of dozens of other fishing boats and hundreds of other Vietnamese who were also trying to board the ship. The only way to get closer to the cargo ship was to jump from boat to boat. In the process of doing so (also remembering that this was in the middle of the night), our family got separated from our grandmother. Our grandmother was not physically mobile enough to jump from boat to boat, especially after the boats began drifting away from each other. Unfortunately, she was also left behind after everyone left and no one was around to help her.
Although my family had successfully boarded the cargo ship and were now on our way to the Philippines to eventually be resettled in the U.S., both of my parents were in shock and traumatized over losing first, their homeland, the country of their ancestors. Second, they (especially my mother) were traumatized that many of our loved ones, including her mother, brother, and brother’s family, did not make it out of the country and were left behind and in my brother’s case, would ultimately be singled out for punishment and sent to one of the notorious “reeducation” camps.
Connecting the Past and the Present
It would be more than 20 before my parents were able to return to Viet Nam and to see their relatives again. Unfortunately my mom’s mother had passed away in the meantime and my mom was never able to see her again. Nonetheless, in the intervening years, we did everything we could to send money to my uncle’s family, support them to achieve a comfortable, middle class standard of living, and sponsor them to immigrate to the U.S. One of my dad’s brothers received a visa and immigrated to the U.S. about 10 years ago. But for various reasons, no one in my uncle’s family has been able to immigrate to the U.S.
In our case, because both of my parents were relatively well-educated and proficient in English, they were able to get relatively good jobs soon after we were resettled in southern California. After just two and a half years, we were able to save and borrow enough money to buy a house in the suburbs and take a big step toward achieving the American dream. As I reflect on the past 40 years, I am very thankful to have gotten out of Viet Nam, to become an American, and to have access to the kinds of social and economic opportunities that billions of people around the world can only dream about.
One of those billions is my cousin Bao, the only son of my uncle Trang (the one who made the fateful decision to get a loaf of bread at Phu Quoc). He and I were born only six months apart and growing up in Viet Nam, we were basically brothers. Bao is now married with three young children. With his parents, he has been able to achieve a comfortable middle class lifestyle. He’s even been able to buy two cars in recent years. Nonetheless, he has been, and continues to be, desperate to leave Viet Nam in order to give his children a chance at a better life.
As I compare my life with his on this 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, I can’t help but think that I easily could have been in his place. I easily could have been the one left behind while he was successful in boarding the ship to leave the country. I easily could have been the one to have suffered and been punished by the North Vietnamese. I easily could have been the one thinking that I and my family have no future as long as we stay in Viet Nam. I know that there are plenty of injustices and inequalities that I and others like me face in the U.S., but I cannot escape the fact that, compared to my cousin Bao, I am a very fortunate person to be where I am.
My cousin Bao recently told me that he is making one last ditch effort to leave Viet Nam by paying a labor recruiter to get him a job in the U.S. doing manual labor at a meat processing plant somewhere in the Midwest. If this employer is able to obtain a Labor Certificate for him (in which the employer can document that there are very few American workers available and willing to work in this job), supposedly Bao would be able to take his entire family to the U.S. while he works for at least one year at this meat processing plant and in the meantime, apply for permanent residency (i.e., a “green card”) for him and family to ultimately stay in the U.S. permanently. If everything goes according to plan, Bao will have to pay the labor recruiter around $40,000 by the end of this whole process.
Personally, I am a little skeptical at the legitimacy of this arrangement and have my suspicions that it may be a scam. I recently spoke to an immigration attorney who said that while the fees that this labor recruiter is charging are very high, this labor certification process is legitimate and if my cousin Bao is able to obtain such a certification, it could be a successful method for him and his family to immigrate to the U.S. But there are a lot of “ifs” along the way and many points within this plan where everything could fall apart and Bao would have basically no recourse whatsoever.
Nonetheless, I certainly cannot fault Bao for trying everything he can to leave Viet Nam. He too is aware of the multitude of barriers that he and his family would face if and when they come to the U.S. But his desire to leave Viet Nam is so strong that he is willing to endure all of these challenges so that his children can have a chance at a better life.
So on this anniversary of the Fall of Saigon and as I reflect on my life in the intervening years, I am reminded of the events and emotions that took place 40 years ago — the desperation and resilience of so many Vietnamese to leave for a better life for themselves and their families — and I see that these emotions and desires are still as strong today as they were back then. I also see that life can change in a split second and can lead to such dramatically different outcomes.
Within all of this, I am also very happy for being both Vietnamese and being able to draw on this history and community of strength and resilience, and to also be American and being in a nation that, despite its ample problems and shortcomings, is still the destination of choice for billions of people all around the world.
My friend and colleague Oliver Wang recently completed a book titled Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the San Francisco Bay Area Duke University Press) and it’s based on his many years of ethnographic research on the mobile DJ scene in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1990s and in particular, the leading role played by Filipino Americans in shaping, defining, and leading that cultural and music scene. The book’s description:
Armed with speakers, turntables, light systems, and records, Filipino American mobile DJ crews, such as Ultimate Creations, Spintronix, and Images, Inc., rocked dance floors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s. In Legions of Boom noted music and pop culture writer and scholar Oliver Wang chronicles this remarkable scene that eventually became the cradle for turntablism. These crews, which were instrumental in helping to create and unify the Bay Area’s Filipino American community, gave young men opportunities to assert their masculinity and gain social status.
While crews regularly spun records for school dances, weddings, birthdays, or garage parties, the scene’s centerpieces were showcases — or multi-crew performances — which drew crowds of hundreds, or even thousands. By the mid-1990s the scene was in decline, as single DJs became popular, recruitment to crews fell off, and aspiring scratch DJs branched off into their own scene. As the training ground for a generation of DJs, including DJ Q-Bert, Shortkut and Mix Master Mike, the mobile scene left an indelible mark on its community that eventually grew to have a global impact.
Oliver Wang is Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University, Long Beach and his research interests center on pop music, culture, and politics. He has also written on Asian Americans and hip-hop, retro soul music, and the critical geography of the Kogi BBQ truck, among other essays. He is the editor of Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide and has written for NPR, Vibe, Wax Poetics, the Los Angeles Times, the Oakland Tribune, and the Village Voice, amongst others.
I asked Oliver the following questions about his work and his new book (I added some links to certain words and terms in his answers to provide readers with more context and information):
How did you first become interested in this particular scene?
I first started reading about the Bay Area’s Filipino American (FA) scratch DJs in local alternative weeklies in the early ’90s. As I was a budding DJ myself, I was intrigued at how all these world class Asian American DJs had emerged out of the Bay. A few years later, as a music journalist, I began interviewing scratch DJs like Q-Bert and Shortkut and discovered that the common link they all had was that their careers all began in the 1980s as a part of mobile DJ crews. I had never heard about that scene and my journalistic and scholarly instincts lit up. At the very least, I felt like there was a good story to be told here.
In what ways are the Filipino American DJs that you focus on unique? How do they assert their own identity onto the DJ scene?
The unique quality of the mobile scene was that it was predominantly Filipino American and it had the right conditions in place for that to be self-sustaining for over a decade. There were other Bay Area mobile scenes, with other ethnic groups, but apparently, none had the same kind of size, longevity, or intensity and as I argue in the book, that’s because the Filipino American community was especially well-organized to help circulate the necessary capital to support a long-term scene of this nature. It’s not because FA DJs were more gifted or somehow more culturally inclined towards DJing; I resist any impulse to culturally pathologize this community. It’s because they have a remarkable social network of family, student/church groups, and community organizations that helped to circulate gigs (and therefore money) amongst the crews.
As for how they asserted their identity, what’s notable is how little my respondents thought their ethnicity had anything to do with the DJ scene. If there were identities being asserted, it had far more to do with what school or neighborhood they were from – as well as their identity as a crew – and on a less self-aware level, their identity as young men. But expressing their “Filipino-ness” wasn’t part of their performance. I think that stands in stark contrast with the generation of hip-hop-influenced DJs that came after them, for whom ethnic identity was far more at the forefront.
The book’s description mentioned that these Filipino Americans used their DJing as opportunities to assert their masculinity. Can you elaborate on this a little bit? How did their idea of being masculine compare to say, conventional notions of White or Black male masculinity?
As I suggested, those assertions of masculinity weren’t necessarily self-aware nor different from what you’d find amongst other young men. The crew structure is very similar to that of other homosocial organizations you find amongst male youth: sports teams, youth gangs, fraternities, etc. Being part of a crew gives them a sense of belonging and purpose and they often spoke of it in gendered language, i.e. “a brotherhood” or the like.
There’s been some debate over the years about whether Filipino Americans consider themselves to be an integral part of the larger Asian American community, or whether they tend to identify more as Hispanic/Latino. Based on this project, how did these Filipino see themselves in relation to the larger Asian American community?
This wasn’t a topic I landed upon with them but I will say that there was no uniform kind of ethnic self-awareness that my respondents expressed. Some of them were confused about their identity growing up but others had a much better sense of themselves as Filipino Americans. It really varied and depended on their family/life experiences. As to the pan-ethnic question, we never got into that but I do think to the extent that there were other scenes, like a Chinese American mobile scene, they did see their scene as being distinct from that as opposed to them all being in some greater “Asian American mobile scene.” The important thing to remember is that while their scene wasn’t exclusively Filipino, all the key parts of the social infrastructure that supported it linked back to Filipino family, religious and community networks. Being Filipino certainly wasn’t incidental even if it wasn’t being actively expressed/performed.
Lately, there’s been more attention paid to Asian Americans using alternative means to express themselves artistically, such as through YouTube and other forms of social media. Do you think Asian Americans on YouTube are content with asserting an alternative, independent cultural identity, or do you think they’re looking to use it as a springboard to get into mainstream media?
I don’t think it’s an either/or, especially as these days, YouTube practically IS mainstream media (though differences still abound, see below).
To me, what I find fascinating about the mobile DJ scene story is that they were inspired to form these crews — as teenagers — because they saw DJs in clubs and thought, “Why can’t we do this back at home?” It’s a simple but profoundly powerful idea to realize one’s own creative/expressive potential using the tools you have around you. In the 1980s, that meant cobbling together a sound system from family stereo systems, before you could invest in professional equipment.
In the 1990s, in the import car scene, you saw middle class youth taking their personal transportation and transforming that into mobile canvases for self and collective expression. In our current age, it’s about using the tools built into digital devices, be they computers or smartphones. I think the vast majority of youth seek to make their voices heard, not necessarily in a self-conscious way to be either alternative or mainstream. It’s only later that people like us (scholars, journalists) try to parse their activities into these kinds of subcultural dichotomies but I don’t think, for example, mobile DJ crews were a subculture. I don’t think they saw themselves as one nor did they function as one (in the strict, Hebdigean definition of subculture).
Based on your academic work and personal observations, are there any emerging artistic or cultural trends within the Asian American community that we should keep an eye out for?
There are at least two areas that I hope scholars will spend time exploring:
1) Social media “stars” who’ve used non-traditional media platforms to produce and distribute their own content. While I do think the distance between mainstream vs. social media is fast collapsing, there is still a traditional media industry in place (i.e. record companies, television networks, movie studios, et. al.) and they still command much power and influence. But what we’ve seen is that Asian Americans have bypassed those institutions to find other ways of getting themselves “out there.” That, to me, is really profound especially compared to how limited things were for the mobile DJs who largely were invisible to anyone outside of their scene or region.
2) Asian Americans involved in the contemporary food scene, whether as chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, etc. This is something I’ve begun to write more about myself and I think we’re only going to see more and more Asian Americans pursuing careers around food and more to the point: food culture.
If I had to pick a third, I think K-pop is going to be a fascinating topic to study. Its popularity, of course, is transnational and transracial but to the extent that most Asian pop musics have never found solid footing in the American pop scene, I think K-pop might be the one to crossover and if so, I imagine that Asian American k-pop fans will be somewhere in that mix. Maybe.
Broadly speaking, I just think Asian American cultural formations, performances and participation is STILL woefully marginal in Asian American Studies. For a variety of reasons, “we” produce a disproportionate amount of scholars who study literature and that’s all fine and good but I feel that Asian American Studies really lags behind other, similar disciplines in our exploration of popular culture as a site for critical examination and discussion. This was certainly the case when I started grad school nearly 20 years ago and it’s not like we’ve seen a sea change since then. I hold out hope that some future generation of scholars will be the ones to turn that particular tide.