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.
Today’s new book announcement is a little different from previous ones. The book I would like to profile is entitled The Managed Hand: Race, Gender and the Body in Beauty Service Work and it takes an individual- and institutional-level look at the recent proliferation of Korean American-owned nail salons in New York City and the interactions inside them between the owners, workers, and customers across racial, social class, and immigrant identities. The book’s description:
Two women, virtual strangers, sit hand-in-hand across a narrow table, both intent on the same thing-achieving the perfect manicure. Encounters like this occur thousands of times across the United States in nail salons increasingly owned and operated by Asian immigrants. This study looks closely for the first time at these intimate encounters, focusing on New York City, where such nail salons have become ubiquitous. Drawing from rich and compelling interviews, Miliann Kang takes us inside the nail industry, asking such questions as: Why have nail salons become so popular? Why do so many Asian women, and Korean women in particular, provide these services?
Kang discovers multiple motivations for the manicure-from the pampering of white middle class women to the artistic self-expression of working class African American women to the mass consumption of body-related services. Contrary to notions of beauty service establishments as spaces for building community among women, The Managed Hand finds that while tentative and fragile solidarities can emerge across the manicure table, they generally give way to even more powerful divisions of race, class, and immigration.
The book is written by Miliann Kang, recently-promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in the Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. As it turns out, Miliann also happens to be my wife. On a personal level, I am extremely thrilled and proud of my wife and the hard work that she’s put into her life and her career and this excellence is particularly evident in her book and so it deserves to be profiled here.
But this is more than her proud husband going on and on about his wife — Miliann’s book is published by the University of California Press (widely considered the most prestigious academic press in the social sciences). Secondly, The Managed Hand recently received the Sara Whaley Book Prize from the National Women’s Studies Association. Finally, her book has been acclaimed by nationally-recognized scholars around the country as “a must read for women’s studies and sociology classes on labor, migration and gender,” “a significant contribution to the existing literature on Asian-American women, gender relations, service workers, beauty and the body,” an “innovative and compelling ethnography,” and finally, “a wonderful example of what sociology does best.”
I was also fortunate to land an exclusive interview with Miliann and asked her the following questions about her work and her book:
What initially motivated you to start researching Korean-owned nail salons in New York City?
I was a graduate student in Sociology at New York University and I was interested in doing research on Asian immigrant women and work, and nail salons happened to be one of the largest niches in which they were employed. I was also working with an Asian American community organization at the time and we started offering English language workplace literacy classes in one salon. I quickly realized what a rich and revealing research site these salons were for exploring the microinteractions of service exchanges between women of diverse backgrounds. In addition, by exploring both the processes inside and outside of these salons, I could contextualize them within large social shifts such as the emergence of new kinds of services, especially those involving commercialized work on the body, and the influx of new immigrants into filling these jobs.
There’s been a lot of debate about the nature of Korean-Black relations in large cities such as NYC. What contributes to such tensions on both sides? Ultimately, are such tensions exaggerated by the media?
I think the media has at times misrepresented these tensions, framing them in racial terms rather than focusing on issues such as poverty, lack of jobs and cuts in government programs that have led to tensions in inner-city neighborhoods. At the same time, there is a history of tensions– including the Red Apple boycott in Brooklyn and the Los Angeles uprising following the Rodney King verdict – that has produced animosities between black communities and Korean small businesses. What struck me in the nail salons was that many of the very positive interactions between these groups go under the radar, as people for the most part negotiate smooth if not cordial relations despite language and cultural differences.
Your book goes into a lot of detail about the intersections of gender, social class, race/ethnicity, and immigrant status among the workers and customers. In a nutshell, which of these forms of identity would you say is the most significant in the interactions inside these nail salons?
Rather than trying to isolate forms of difference and their impacts, I was more interested in seeing how they operate simultaneously, and how they shift in different situations. So in upscale salons in mostly white, upper and middle class neighborhoods, I focused on how manicuring services mirrored racial and class privileges outside of the salons. In nail art salons servicing mostly black and Latino working class customers, the interactions revealed how minority groups negotiate hierarchies and differences among themselves. Discount nail salons serving a mixed racial and class clientele showed how women’s consumption of generic beauty services created a sense of equality, but also resulted in misunderstandings around rushed or botched exchanges.
It seems that in most other cities around the country, nail salons are most disproportionately owned and staffed by Vietnamese women. Is this true and if so, why is it that Koreans predominate in NYC?
This is a complicated question. The short answer is that immigrants tend to cluster in particular niches, and new immigrants follow their ethnic networks and end up in the same jobs. So in New York, Koreans went into the nail business because it required little capital or English language skills and at the time was not highly regulated. In other places like California and Texas, Vietnamese were the first to make inroads and they continued to dominate. The longer answer has to do with shifting patterns of service provision and consumption in the global economy and how Asian immigrant women fit into these.
This is how I sum it up in the book: “The lifestyle that many urban residents take for granted in cities such as New York is only possible because of the influx of new immigrants and their willingness to work long, arduous hours for minimal pay in jobs that many native-born Americans view as beneath them. Furthermore, the availability and skills of immigrant women to fill these feminized jobs is also a crucial component. While immigrant women from specific ethnic groups are not the sole creators of these jobs or the terms under which they perform them, they contribute to job creation in these specialized niches by capitalizing on the limited choices available to them within the opportunity structure of the global service economy.”
What’s your most significant or poignant memory when you were working, hanging out, and conducting research in these nail salons?
What stands out for me are the many mundane, daily occurrences in these sites where people from all walks of life find themselves thrown together in intimate physical and emotional contact, and they somehow manage to figure things out. While in the book I focus on the inequalities and differences between customers and manicurists, I also hold onto a sense of awe and hope in people’s ability to connect as human beings through the simplest of acts, such as sharing stories about their kids or work, or just treating each other with dignity.
If the Korean women in your study could tell your readers one thing about their work or their lives, what do you think it would be?
I think it would be very similar to what most of us would say – that we work hard to contribute something to society and to support ourselves and our families, and that we want to be treated with respect for the work we do. This quote from one manicurist I think says it well:
We have to get very close to the customers, like this (holding her hands together) so we try best to get along with them. If you don’t like someone and you have to do this – hold their hand and talk to them face to face – it can be very difficult. This is service work – so you know you have to act a certain way. Of course I don’t like doing the pedicures, having to kneel down, and the foot smell. But I just think of it as part of giving the service… I try very hard to ask them about their families and how they feel. It would be nice if once in a while they asked me, too.
In other words, manicurists may not be particularly enthralled with their work, but they adjust and find meaning and purpose in it, and the relations that they have with their customers can either enhance or undermine their sense of worth in performing this work.
Here are some more announcements and links out that have come my way relating to Asians or Asian Americans. As always, links to other sites are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of their contents.
The Asian American Studies Program at Hunter College, The City University of New York, currently seeks candidates to teach Asian American Studies courses in History, Political Science, Economics, Community Studies, and Psychology. Applicants must have an M.A. or ABD in a relevant field, as well as a record of successful undergraduate teaching.
The Asian American Studies Program (AASP) at Hunter College was founded in 1993 on the initiative of students and faculty. Today, we are a small but dynamic program with a growing number of minors, and we offer approximately 12 courses per semester, ranging from our interdisciplinary survey courses to more advanced courses in Literature, Cultural Studies, and Diasporic community formations — West Asian American, Chinese American, and Korean American in particular.
Located in the heart of New York City, the AASP works closely with Asian American organizations to build and sustain ties to local communities and concerns. Affiliated full-time faculty in the College are located in areas as diverse as Urban Studies, Film and Media, Sociology, English, and Dance.
Applicants should ideally be prepared to teach the interdisciplinary survey course as well as relevant courses within the scope of their fields of research. The majority of our courses are taught by adjunct faculty, and as a result, the work you will do in our program is crucial to the process of introducing undergraduates to concepts concerning Asian American history and experience; we hope to work with dedicated, effective, and intelligent educators, and we seek to provide a welcoming and supportive work environment for our faculty.
Please visit the department website for more information concerning our course offerings, faculty, or student activities. Please send CV, letter of intent, and contact information for at least 3 references to:
Jennifer Hayashida, Acting Director
Asian American Studies Program
Hunter College, CUNY
695 Park Avenue, Room 1037HE
New York, NY 10065
The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill offers the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (MURAP) for rising junior and seniors who are interested in pursuing a career in academia. I have served as a MURAP faculty mentor last summer — they have traditionally not received many applications from Asian American students and/or students hoping to pursue Asian American research topics; hence, I am trying to solicit all of you for your best and brightest undergraduate students interested in one day getting into the PhD pipeline.
UNC Chapel Hill
Short-Term Research Positions on Census 2010
The U.S. Census Bureau is seeking up to 18 ethnographers to do short-term research in nine race/ethnic research sites during Census 2010 field data collection operations as contractors for 4-6 months. Past research has shown that race/ethnic minority subpopulations are differentially miscounted, with implications for possible imbalances in congressional representation and allocation of federal funds.
Examples of miscounts include persons not included on the census form who should be counted in the household, persons counted in more than one place or in the wrong place, and missed housing units. The study aims to document how and why miscounts happen, who is affected, and what can be improved to reduce miscounting in future censuses.
This comparative qualitative study of enumeration methods and coverage in nine race/ethnic sites will be conducted in 2010 in three census operations. The objectives are to identify 1) types of coverage error; 2) sources of coverage error (e.g., questionnaire issues, interviewer error, residence rules, socio-cultural and/or language factors, complex households, etc.); and 3) characteristics of households and persons with coverage error; and to 4) assess the extent to which these are similar or different across the race/ethnic groups, and to 5) recommend how to improve coverage of race/ethnic groups.
Current Summary of Scope of Work: Each researcher will receive training at Census Bureau headquarters in Suitland, Maryland. Each researcher will go to his/her designated race/ethnic site for 7-9 continuous days during one of three specific census data collection time periods to accompany census interviewers as they conduct 35 interviews. The researcher will tape and unobtrusively observe and listen to the census interview for cues of possible coverage errors and/or household relationships not identified with the census relationship question.
If there is such a cue, the researcher will conduct an immediate targeted semi-structured debriefing with the respondent to resolve questions as to where each person should be counted, according to the census residence rules, and to clearly delineate household composition. The researcher will transcribe interviews (perhaps at a Census secure location), analyze data, write case studies, write a site report addressing the objectives and other factors identified in the research, and give a Census Bureau talk. The methodology may change somewhat before it is finalized.
Race/ethnic subpopulations: We seek 2 ethnographers to do studies in each group: American Indian (reservation), Alaska Native, African American, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, Middle Eastern, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, White (non-Hispanic), and Generalized site. Research sites will be designated by the Census Bureau.
Specific Time Periods for Field Research: Census operations are on a strict timetable and just one researcher will be in each site in each operation. To ensure each site and operation is covered, all selected researchers must commit in writing to full-time work for 7-9 continuous days in their designated sites during one of the following time periods: March 29 – April 9: American Indian reservation; May 5 – May 22: Sites other than the Indian reservation; August 30 – Sept. 30: All sites.
Compensation will be determined soon. If you are interested and would like to learn more, compile the following:
Cover letter, including information directly relevant to this study and its methodology:
Any experience with past censuses and/or surveys
Experience with unobtrusive observation and debriefings
Identification of the race/ethnic subpopulation with which you have done past research, and the specific US research locations (preference will be given to those with past or present race/ethnic research sites in the US)
Any foreign language fluency, with level of fluency in conversation
State your US citizenship status (you must be a US citizen)
Current resume or CV
Brief summary of your past research with the race/ethnic group you have chosen, including research design and methods employed. Identify the specific US location(s) where you conducted your past research
Please specify if you are/are not of the same race/ethnicity as the group you wish to study
Representative paper or report showing methodology and/or results relevant to this proposed study (less than 25 pages)
Dates of observation in this study: State which of the three observation time period(s) listed above when you will be available to spend 7-9 continuous days of observation at the site (you will need to commit to one of these time periods in writing in order to be selected for this study).
Send these materials: 1) if by e-mail, send to all contact people below, OR 2) if by regular mail, send to just one: Laurel Schwede, Matt Clifton, or Rodney Terry:
By regular mail:
U.S. Census Bureau
Statistical Research Division
4600 Silver Hill Road
Washington, D.C. 20233
By FEDEX or UPS:
U.S. Census Bureau
Statistical Research Division
4600 Silver Hill Road
Suitland, MD 20746
Deadlines: American Indian site: February 1, 2010. Other sites: February 10, 2010.
The Program in Asian American Studies and the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota invite applications for the 2010-2011 Postdoctoral Fellowship in Hmong Studies.The fellowship is for work in any field of Hmong Studies and is generously funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.
Applicants should conduct research germane to Hmong Studies. Proposed research projects should have the potential to make a significant contribution to the field. During their stay at the University of Minnesota, postdoctoral fellows will be expected to participate in research, teaching, and service. While research is the primary responsibility, fellows will be expected to teach one course related to their research interests and consonant with the curricular needs of the Asian American Studies program. In addition, fellows are expected to give one talk on campus on their research project.
The stipend for 2010-2011 year will be $45,000, with full fringe benefits. The Institute for Advanced Study will provide the fellow with office space and routine office support for photocopying, faxing, mailing, etc. A doctoral degree in hand is required by August 30, 2010. Preference will be given to applicants who have completed their degrees in the past five years. The postdoctoral fellowship will begin on August 30, 2010, is for one year, and is non-renewable.
Applications should be completed on-line through the University of Minnesota Job Site. Search for requisition #164296 and follow instructions. Review of applications will begin on February 8, 2010. If you have any questions, please contact Ann Waltner (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Erika Lee (email@example.com.