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.
Students at a Chinese language school in Vancouver. Photo by Felex Liu (Flickr/Creative Commons).
Thank you, C.N., for inviting me to write for Asian-Nation. I hope to contribute to this blog a perspective on Asian America that looks both within and beyond the United States. The Asian American experience has been transnational since the very beginning, and has only become more so with economic globalization, the increasing affordability of travel and communications technologies, and the acceptance of multiple citizenship. Though the boundaries of the nation-state have not become irrelevant, I believe that we must look at Asian Americans as situated in the United States and in the larger global context.
With that frame in mind, I would like to introduce you all to some of the transnational dimensions of my current research on extracurricular Chinese language schools. What kinds of influence do the US, Mainland Chinese, and Taiwanese governments have in these schools, and how do the schools handle these influences?
I am currently conducting an ethnography of two Chinese schools. One school is located outside of an ethnic enclave and serves a predominantly upper-middle-class student body. The other, in the heart of an urban Chinatown, serves mainly students from working-class backgrounds.
It is in the interest of the Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese governments to support extracurricular Chinese language programs like these. As anthropologist Gladys Nieto (2007) argues, these schools foment cultural and linguistic ties between children of immigrants and their ethnic homeland. Not only do these programs open up the possibility that these children “return” to their ethnic homeland and invest in the homeland state’s economic and political projects, but they may also make them more sympathetic advocates for the homeland in their country of residence.
The US government has been marginally involved in these schools for decades. For example, many schools do not have their own facilities and will rent public schools or community centers for the day. With the designation of China as the world’s emerging superpower, federal and local government investment in Chinese language programs has increased dramatically. There are national initiatives for teaching and learning “critical languages” such as Chinese, and at least one school district has mandated that all students learn the language. Though these initiatives have generally ignored privately-run extracurricular programs like the ones I am researching, the opportunity is wide open.
These extracurricular programs are often in need of space, financial support, and affordable materials. They will apply for help from the three governments as they are able. What kinds of assistance they seek and from whom they seek this assistance depends on community politics, language ability, and connections (or, in Mandarin, guanxi 關係). How they balance the competing influences coming from the three governments depends on the same three factors.
The following new books highlight the different dimensions of globalized and transnational connections between Asia and Asian American as reflected in empirical, cultural, and literature studies of diasporas, communities, and ethnic enclaves within the U.S. and their relationship back to Asia and the rest of the world. As always, a book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.
In the United States, perhaps no minority group is considered as “model” or successful as the Asian American community. Rather than living in ominous “ghettoes,” Asian Americans are described as residing in positive-sounding “ethnic enclaves.” Writing the Ghetto helps clarify the hidden or unspoken class inequalities faced by Asian Americans, while insightfully analyzing the effect such notions have had on their literary voices.
Yoonmee Chang examines the class structure of Chinatowns, Koreatowns, Little Tokyos, and Little Indias, arguing that ghettoization in these spaces is disguised. She maintains that Asian American literature both contributes to and challenges this masking through its marginalization by what she calls the “ethnographic imperative.” Chang discusses texts from the late nineteenth century to the present, including those of Sui Sin Far, Winnifred Eaton, Monica Sone, Fae Myenne Ng, Chang-rae Lee, S. Mitra Kalita, and Nam Le. These texts are situated in the contexts of the Chinese Exclusion Era, Japanese American internment during World War II, the globalization of Chinatown in the late twentieth century, the Vietnam War, the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and the contemporary emergence of the “ethnoburb.”
Combining critical dance history and ethnography to look at issues of immigration, citizenship, and ethnic identity, Priya Srinivasan’s groundbreaking book Sweating Saris considers Indian dance in the diaspora as a form of embodied, gendered labour. Chronicling the social, cultural, and political relevance of the dancers’ experiences, she raises questions of class, cultural nationalism, and Orientalism. Srinivasan presents stories of female (and male) Indian dancers who were brought to the United States between the 1880s and early 1900s to perform.
She argues that mastery of traditional Indian dance is intended to socialize young women into their role as proper Indian American women in the twenty-first century. The saris and bells that are intrinsic to the shaping of female Indian American gender identity also are produced by labouring bodies, which sweat from the physical labour of the dance and thus signifies both the material realities of the dancing body and the abstract aesthetic labour.
Srinivasan merges ethnography, history, critical race theory, performance and post-colonial studies among other disciplines to investigate the embodied experience of Indian dance. The dancers’ sweat stained and soaked saris, the aching limbs are emblematic of global circulations of labor, bodies, capital, and industrial goods. Thus the sweating sari of the dancer stands in for her unrecognized labor.
Srinivasan shifts away from the usual emphasis on Indian women dancers as culture bearers of the Indian nation. She asks us to reframe the movements of late nineteenth century transnational Nautch Indian dancers to the foremother of modern dance Ruth St. Denis in the early twentieth century to contemporary teenage dancers in Southern California, proposing a transformative theory of dance, gendered-labor, and citizenship that is far-reaching.
As Adam M. McKeown demonstrates, the push for increased border control and identity documentation is the continuation of more than 150 years of globalization. Not only are modern passports and national borders inseparable from the rise of global mobility, but they are also tied to the emergence of individuals and nations as the primary sites of global power and identity.
McKeown’s detailed history traces how, rather than being a legacy of “traditional” forms of sovereignty, practices of border control historically rose from attempts to control Asian migration around the Pacific in the 1880s. New policies to control mobility had to be justified in the context of contemporary liberal ideas of freedom and mobility, generating principles that are taken for granted today, such as the belief that migration control is a sovereign right of receiving nations and that it should occur at a country’s borders.
McKeown shows how the enforcement of these border controls required migrants to be extracted from social networks of identity and reconstructed as isolated individuals within centralized filing systems. Methods for excluding Asians from full participation in the “family of civilized nations” are now the norm between all nations. These practices also helped institutionalize global cultural and economic divisions, such as East/West and First and Third World designations, which continue to shape our understanding.
Over three decades have passed since the first wave of Indochinese refugees left their homelands. These refugees, mainly the Vietnamese, fled from war and strife in search of a better life elsewhere. By investigating the Vietnamese diaspora in Asia, this book sheds new light on the Asian refugee era (1975-1991), refugee settlement and different patterns of host-guest interactions that will have implications for refugee studies elsewhere. The book provides:
A clearer historical understanding of the group dynamics among refugees – the ethnic Chinese ‘Vietnamese refugees’ from both the North and South as well as the northern ‘Vietnamese refugees’
An examination of different aspects of migration including: planning for migration, choices of migration route, and reasons for migration
An analysis of the ethnic and refugee politics during the refugee era, the settlement and subsequent resettlement
This book will be of interest to students and scholars of globalization, migration, ethnicities, refugee histories and politics.
This collection examines the exchange of Asian identities taking place at the levels of both film production and film reception amongst pan-Pacific cinemas. The authors consider, on the one hand, texts that exhibit what Mette Hjort refers to as, “marked transnationality,” and on the other, the polysemic nature of transnational film texts by examining the release and reception of these films.
The topics explored in this collection include the innovation of Hollywood generic formulas into 1950’s and 1960’s Hong Kong and Japanese films; the examination of Thai and Japanese raced and gendered identity in Asian and American films; the reception of Hollywood films in pre-1949 China and millennial Japan; the production and performance of Asian adoptee identity and subjectivity; the political implications and interpretations of migrating Chinese female stars; and the production and reception of pan-Pacific co-productions.
Exploring how each Chinatown is different; Benton explains how a unique culture developed and outlines their basic cultural, social, and political features. He highlights the unique features of the different Chinatowns surveyed. For instance, in Paris, there is a Chinatown populated primarily by Chinese who are the descendants of Chinese migrants to Southeast Asia (a former French colony).
In the United States, the cloistered nature of Chinatowns stemmed from institutionalized racism. And in Australia, weaker taboos against interracial sex led to more open enclaves. Everywhere, though, Chinatowns have been stereotyped as places of exoticism and corruption, and to this day are frequently viewed through an Orientalist gaze. In this truly unique book, Gregor Benton applies his vast knowledge to cover all of these features.
As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them. A book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its complete contents.
A common theme in many of my posts is how globalized and transnational the world in general and American society in particular have become. Within this evolving process, the lives and identities of Asians and Asian Americans also reflect these cross-national formations. The following new books shed light on some specific examples of how these forms of globalization and transnationalism affect different aspects of American society as they relate to Asians and Asian Americans.
Ends of Empire examines Asian American cultural production and its challenge to the dominant understanding of American imperialism, Cold War dynamics, and race and gender formation.
Jodi Kim demonstrates the degree to which Asian American literature and film critique the record of U.S. imperial violence in Asia and provides a glimpse into the imperial and gendered racial logic of the Cold War. She unfolds this particularly entangled and enduring episode in the history of U.S. global hegemony—one that, contrary to leading interpretations of the Cold War as a simple bipolar rivalry, was significantly triangulated in Asia.
The Asian American works analyzed here constitute a crucial body of what Kim reveals as transnational “Cold War compositions,” which are at once a geopolitical structuring, an ideological writing, and a cultural imagining. Arguing that these works reframe the U.S. Cold War as a project of gendered racial formation and imperialism as well as a production of knowledge, Ends of Empire offers an interdisciplinary investigation into the transnational dimensions of Asian America and its critical relationship to Cold War history.
Claiming Diaspora explores the thriving contemporary musical culture of Asian/Chinese America. Ranging from traditional operas to modern instrumental music, from ethnic media networks to popular music, from Asian American jazz to the work of recent avant-garde composers, author Su Zheng reveals the rich and diverse musical activities among Chinese Americans and tells of the struggles and creative searches by Chinese Americans to gain a foothold in the American cultural terrain.
In doing so, she not only tells their stories, but also examines the transnational and racialized experiences of this musical culture, challenging us to take a fresh look at the increasingly plural and complex nature of American cultural identity. . . . She unveils the fluid and evolving nature of music in Chinese America, discussing current cultural struggles, while acknowledging an unavoidable connection to a history of Asian exclusion in the U.S. . . .
The book delineates the introduction of each music genre from its homeland and its subsequent development in New York, and explains how Chinese Americans express their cultural longings and belongings. Ultimately, Zheng reveals how Chinese American musical activities both reflect and contribute to local, national, and transnational cultural politics.
Examining a variety of intriguing issues, this sociological study analyzes the impact global culture has had on the flora and fauna, people, economies, languages, and cultures of the Pacific for many centuries. The survey draws on findings from a 40-year research partnership, illustrating the effects of globalization from the perspective of a typical Samoan village and documenting the country’s shift from baskets to buckets, from religious authority to a questioning democracy, and from in-kind work to a cash economy.
Delving into questions such as When do Pacific emigrants stop sending money to their home village? Do villagers stop giving away fish when they get a refrigerator? and How do cell phones change villages? this argument contends that contemporary changes are presenting a more profound challenge to Samoan social institutions and society than at any other time in the past. Comprehensive and accessible, this guide is essential for those interested in the way global forces are shaping change in small Pacific nations.
Born and raised in San Francisco, Lai was trained as an engineer but blazed a trail in the field of Asian American studies. Long before the field had any academic standing, he amassed an unparalleled body of source material on Chinese America and drew on his own transnational heritage and Chinese patriotism to explore the global Chinese experience.
In Chinese American Transnational Politics, Lai traces the shadowy history of Chinese leftism and the role of the Kuomintang of China in influencing affairs in America. The result is a nuanced and singular account of how Chinese politics, migration to the United States, and Sino-U.S. relations were shaped by Chinese and Chinese American groups and organizations.