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.
2009: Gary Locke and the Future of Asian American Identity As Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke prepares to become the U.S’s new Ambassador to China, I look at how he represents the forging of a new identity for Asian Americans as they contribute to strengthening American society in the 21st century.
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 contents.
In addition to mentioning new book releases, I will periodically include links to recent news articles from around the internet that relate to the books’ topic as well, to give readers a wider exposure to the different dynamics involved. This time around, I highlight books and internet links that focus on art and entertainment involving Asians and Asian Americans.
From cuisine and martial arts to sex and self-esteem, East Eats West shines new light on the bridges and crossroads where two hemispheres meld into one worldwide immigrant nation. In this new nation, with its amalgamation of divergent ideas, tastes, and styles, today s bold fusion becomes tomorrow s classic. But while the space between East and West continues to shrink in this age of globalization, some cultural gaps remain.
In this collection of twenty-one personal essays, Andrew Lam, the award-winning author of Perfume Dreams, continues to explore the Vietnamese diaspora, this time concentrating not only on how the East and West have changed, but how they are changing each other. Lively and engaging, East Eats West searches for meaning in nebulous territory charted by very few. Part memoir, part meditations, and part cultural anthropology, East Eats West is about thriving in the West with one foot still in the East.
Yellow Future examines the emergence and popularity of techno-oriental representations in Hollywood cinema since the 1980s, focusing on the ways East Asian peoples and places have become linked with technology to produce a collective fantasy of East Asia as the future. Jane Chi Hyun Park demonstrates how this fantasy is sustained through imagery, iconography, and performance that conflate East Asia with technology, constituting what Park calls “oriental style.”
Park provides a genealogy of oriental style through contextualized readings of popular films-from the multicultural city in Blade Runner and the Japanese American mentor in The Karate Kid to the Afro-Asian reworking of the buddy genre in Rush Hour and the mixed-race hero in The Matrix. Throughout these analyses Park shows how references to the Orient have marked important changes in American popular attitudes toward East Asia in the past thirty years, from abjection to celebration, invisibility to hypervisibility.
Unlike other investigations of racial imagery in Hollywood, Yellow Future centers on how the Asiatic is transformed into and performed as style in the backdrop of these movies and discusses the significance of this conditional visibility for representations of racial difference.
No Safe Spaces looks at one of the most radical and enduring changes introduced during the Civil Rights era — multiracial and cross-racial casting practices in American theater. The move to cast Latino/a, African-American, and Asian-American actors in classic stage works written by and about white Europeans and Americans is viewed as both a social and political gesture and an artistic innovation. Non-traditionally cast productions are shown to have participated in the national dialogue about race relations and ethnic identity and served as a source of renewed creativity for the staging of the canonical repertory.
The book opens with a historical overview of multiracial casting, considering the artistic, political, and pragmatic dimensions of nontraditional approaches to casting. Two subsequent chapters examine non-traditional casting in terms of the relationship between reality and stage representation being assumed by various theatrical genres and in the context of the process of racial formation in the United States. The remaining chapters focus on case studies from the dominant genres of twentieth-century American theater: classical tragedy and drama, modern domestic drama, anti-realist drama, and the Broadway musical.
Since Japanese horror sensations The Ring and Audition first terrified Western audiences at the turn of the millennium, there’s been a growing appreciation of Asia as the hotbed of the world’s best horror movies. Over the last decade, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and Hong Kong have all produced a steady stream of stylish supernatural thrillers and psychological chillers that have set new benchmarks for cinematic scares.
Hollywood soon followed suit, producing high-profile remakes of films such as The Ring, Dark Water, The Grudge, and The Eye. With scores of Asian horror films now available to Western audiences, this guide helps viewers navigate the eclectic mix of vengeful spooks, yakuza zombies, feuding warlocks, and devilish dumplings, discussing the grand themes of Asian horror cinema and the distinctive national histories that give the films their special resonance.
Tracing the long and noble tradition of horror stories in eastern cultures, it also delves into some of the folktales that have influenced this latest wave of shockers, paying tribute to classic Asian ghost films throughout the ages.
A Chinese-made production of the story of “Mulan” competes with the Disney version to capture attention, history, and revenue. As the article also notes, “While the Disney film wove comedy into a Disney-esque plot about a young girl breaking out of the confines of tradition to pursue her own destiny, the new Mulan focuses on patriotism, filial piety, romance and the difficulties of war. The formula is part of an evolving mainland genre that has seen filmmakers incorporating more nuanced, entertaining storytelling into patriotic plots.”
The Alma Mater Society of Queens University in Kingston, Canada declares that sumo costumes are offensive and that organizations should stop using them as part of their activities:
“Sumo suits, the plastic novelties that can transform a skinny sports fan into a comically unstable sphere for the delight of a stadium audience, are racist and dehumanizing instruments of oppression, according to the student government of Queen’s University. They “appropriate an aspect of Japanese culture,” turn a racial identity into a “costume,” and “devalue an ancient and respected Japanese sport, which is rich in history and cultural tradition.” They also “fail to capture the deeply embedded histories of violent and subversive oppression that a group has faced.”
Likewise, the owners of the two suits have never imagined they could be considered offensive. “It’s the first time we’ve heard of [the racist aspects],” Mike Grobe, a spokesman for Queen’s Athletics, which uses the suits at football and basketball games for half-time shows, when people run obstacle courses in them. “They’re just big puffy suits. They’re pink… No one’s complained.”
Comprised of four Filipino Americans from San Francisco, Legaci has recently gained fame by performing in support of Justin Bieber. But does their success reinforce the notion that Asian American pop music performers can’t be successful as lead acts?
“Even if most people just know us as Justin Bieber’s Asian backup singers,” [Legaci co-founder] Micah Tolentino said, “we’re proud to be out there, to show the world that Asian-Americans are talented.” While the pop charts are a familiar home to African-Americans and Latino-Americans, they’ve been less hospitable to Asian-Americans in the United States.
“Asian-Americans are locked out,” said Phil Yu, who runs the pop-culture blog angryasianman.com. “There are definitely elements of racism, but it’s also that audiences are not used to seeing Asian faces on the pop charts or on music videos, and record labels won’t take a chance on that.” Legaci can list its fellow travelers on one hand. There’s the Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger (her father is Filipino), the fledgling Filipino pop star Charice (who sings a duet with Iyaz on her first United States single, “Pyramid”) and most famously, Allan Pineda, a k a Apl.de.ap, of the Black Eyed Peas.
Christine Balance, a professor of Asian-American studies at the University of California, Irvine, points out that while Latin and black music have longstanding currency in the industry, there’s nothing comparable for Asian-Americans. “How do you market an Asian-American star?” she said. “African-Americans are foundational to U.S. popular culture, and for Latinos there’s the adjective ‘Latin’ music that’s used to describe a variety of musical forms. But Asians are still seen as foreign or alien to mainstream America.”
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.