UNFOUND TH E PR I N C E TO N JO U R N AL O F AS I A N A M E R I C A N S TU D I ES
2 017 VO L . 4
Angela Feng ’19 Rebecca Weng ’18 Professor Anne Cheng
Kathy Fan ’19 Ling Ritter ’19 Catherine Wang ’19 Nicholas Wu ’18 Ivy Xue ’ 20
Managing Design Editor
Catherine Wang ’19
Ilene E ’ 21 Tiffany Sun ’21
LET TER from the editors
Dear reader, The past year has seen immense levels of political and social unrest taking place on various platforms, both old and new. We have seen the effects of a new administration on national and statelevel policies. But far from just a bleak year of tension, we have also seen solidarity across groups of people, who have come together to hear each other’s concerns and share in each other’s triumphs. It is within this climate that the work of identity construction for the sake of understanding ourselves and others whose stories may not be unlike our own has become increasingly important. Our journal is only a small part of one university’s efforts to do this kind of important work. This year we are pleased to present five articles, which explore vastly different topics and fields of study within Asian American studies. We believe that these authors represent a new cohort of scholars ready to engage deeply, explore rigorously, and write passionately about the rich aspects of the burgeoning field of Asian American studies. In the following pages, we hope you will find arguments with a fresh twist. These articles certainly made our own staff think more critically about topics like the model minority myth and the role of the medical profession in the opium epidemic. We followed an author as she explored all that Bruce Lee symbolized, another as he explored leftist ideology in Asian American communities, and yet another as she recounted and analyzed the student advocacy for Asian American studies at Northwestern University. Our journal began four years ago as a student-led initiative to show the interest in Asian American studies and the potential of undergraduate research. Since its inception, we have been continually humbled by the privilege of being at Princeton University during a critical time for American studies. This year has been no different. After nearly forty years of advocacy, students finally have a course designation with which to search for Asian American studies courses. While this may seem small, this course designation represents an institutionalized promise to Princeton’s students. The community can finally welcome a new junior faculty member, who will join Professors Anne Cheng and Beth Lew-Williams in teaching courses on Asian American studies. Through the generosity of Nancy H. Lin ’77, we can also celebrate the establishment of the Lin Family Endowment for Asian-American studies, which will provide valuable resources as American studies and Asian American studies continue to grow at Princeton. This certainly has been a big year for Princeton, and we look forward to being a part of this continued growth of scholarship. Sincerely yours, Angela Feng and Rebecca Weng Co-Editors-in-Chief, Unfound
The title Unfound refers to the ambiguities of the Asian American experience. â€œUnfound,â€? in its most basic sense, simply refers to something that remains elusive. But the word connotes deeper, emotional meaning upon reexamination. Unfound implies that there is something to be discovered. Unfound implies that someone has tried and tried again to find what she has been looking for, only to come up short. Caught between two identities, the Asian American seeks to carve out her own place in the greater American narrative. Asian American studies and Unfound seek to create a space where what has remained unfound can be discovered.
All articles submitted to Unfound go through a double-blinded selection process. Following blinding by our managing layout editors, articles are distributed to our selection editing team, of which our managing layout editors are not a part. Each article is read by at least two editors and graded according to a standardized rubric that takes into account factors such as quality of argumentation, quality of writing style, and quality of research. Following discussions between all editors comparing the relative merits of all submitted articles, articles are selected based on group consensus.
If you would like to subscribe to receive physical copies of Unfound, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name, address, and institution (if applicable). A subscription fee will apply. Virtual copies of Unfound are available at unfoundjournal.com via ISSUU.
Unfound is a publication of the Princeton Asian American Studies Committee. This journal is possible due to the generous support of the Program in American Studies, the Asian American Studies Research Fund, and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Dismantling Diasporic Archetypes with Bruce Lee
Yvonne Ye, Yale University ’19
Pathologizing the Chinese: An Examination of OpiumSmoking and the American Medical Establishment’s Vested Interest in the Exclusion Debate
Hansen Shi, Harvard University ’18
Reconsidering the Model Minority Myth: Desire and Melancholia in Nina Revoyr’s Southland
Libby Kao, Mount Holyoke College ’17
“No Program, No Peace!”: The Fight for Asian American Studies at Northwestern
Miki Takeshita,The University of Chicago ’17
Leftist Ideology in Asian American Communities
Luke Kertcher, University of Pennsylvania, ’19
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Dismantling Diasporic Archetypes with Bruce Lee Yvonne Ye, Yale University ’19 When we tell stories about the Asian diaspora, three prominent archetypes emerge: the financiallygifted cosmopolitan who leverages their ethnic and national identities for personal gain, the perfectly acculturated and vaguely mythic individual who has come to terms with their dual identity, and the psychological victim of ethnic dysphoria who fails to reconcile the different facets of their ethnic and national identities. This paper seeks to methodically dismantle the mutual exclusivity of these archetypes through the life, career, and legacy of Lee Junfan, more commonly known as Bruce Lee, thereby emphasizing the heterogeneity of diasporic experience.
In the Shadow of His Stardom: An Overview of Bruce Lee Few men have left such large and lasting legacies on the world before the age of 32 as Lee Junfan did before his death, but ironically, most people do not even recognize him by his birth name. One of the most visible people of East Asian heritage in global consciousness, Lee Junfan, known to most as Bruce Lee, experienced a meteoric rise in popularity in the early 1970s for his five feature-length kung fu films, going on to become a cult symbol after his sudden and mysterious death in 1973. Some in film studies trace his “significance as a martial arts icon” to “his charismatic ability to cross over from East to West,” as he made movies both in Hong Kong and Hollywood; others have written insightful pieces on his ties to Chinese nationalism and the projection of the ‘hard’ Asian body.1 Still others maintain that Bruce Lee “essentially pioneered the concept” of combining “real [martial arts] technique and cinematic effect,” a style that would come to “characterize all kung fu pictures after Bruce Lee.”2 But few people have taken the time to step back and allow the afterimage of the silver screen to fade and reveal Bruce Lee as more than a filmic icon. Lee, as member of the Asian diaspora, actively engaged with the multiplicity of identity that came from being Chinese, Cantonese, and American. Within his own home, he negotiated the binary of East and West. As a diasporic figure, Lee alternately struggled with or utilized his ethnic identity in his life, both public and private. Born in San Francisco in 1940, raised in Hong Kong, and an American citizen for life, Lee was extensively exposed to the cultures and ideas on either side of the Pacific.3 Returning to the land of his birth for college, Lee majored in philosophy at the University of Washington, where he read deeply into the foundational texts of Western canon and sought to reconcile the
1. Teo, Stephen, Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/yale-ebooks/reader.action?docID=434312, 75. 2. Ibid., 79. 3. Little, John, ed. Words of the Dragon, (Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 1997), 35-42. 4 | UNFOUND
ideological differences of Chinese culture with Western culture.4 At university, he met and married Linda Cadwell in what newspaper articles heralded as a “really international” or “mixed-up marriage.”5 In 1966, Bruce Lee first appeared in American mainstream media on the television show “The Green Hornet” as Kato, the Oriental sidekick of crime-fighting newspaper editor Britt Reid.6 Tapped as “one of the finest natural acting talents” in the industry by executive producer Bill Dozier, Lee began to elbow his way into the traditionally whitedominated American film industry.7 But when Lee’s personal project “The Warrior,” a television series centered on Chinese martial arts, was whitewashed into “Kung Fu” starring David Carradine instead of Lee,8 Lee returned to Hong Kong, where he made five feature films prior to his untimely death. Those five films took the world by storm, sparking a “kung fu craze” that brought the Hong Kong martial arts genre into the international spotlight.9 The son of a famous Cantonese opera singer, Lee was no stranger to the world of performing arts, appearing in his first film as a child actor and occasionally throughout his adolescence and teenage years.10 A 4. Ibid., 35-42. 5. Ibid., 113, 51. 6. Ibid., 17. 7. Ibid., 64. 8. Ibid., 152. 9. Desser, David, “The Kung Fu Craze: Hong Kong Cinema’s First American Reception,” in The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity, ed. Poshek Fu and David Desser (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 20. 10. Little, 14.
devoted practitioner of Jeet Kune Do (the “Way of the Intercepting Fist”), pioneered by Lee himself, Lee supported himself and his family mostly through the income of the martial arts studios that he founded along the West Coast prior to his acting career.11 His high level of physicality and skill snagged the attention of Hollywood producers and gained him numerous fans despite the stereotypical perception of Chinese people in US culture at the time. Though Lee died young, he left behind a towering cinematic legacy for Asians and Asian diasporic figures in American cinema, so much so that film scholar Yvonne Tasker refers to him as “the only Chinese star to achieve an international visibility that included the West.”12 Ironically, it is this same legacy that leads most people to ignore or forget the other facets of Lee as a person: Bruce Lee the philosopher, Bruce Lee the poet, Bruce Lee the father of a multi-racial family, Bruce Lee the diasporic individual. Just behind his feral, magnetic, charismatic persona onscreen was a sensitive and culturally-conscious individual both troubled and enriched by his unique cultural inheritance. With his early passing, Bruce Lee never had the opportunity to craft his legacy the way he might have intended. In this paper, I examine the character of Bruce Lee through two texts: Words of the Dragon, a collection 11. Ibid., 95-99. 12. Tasker, Yvonne, “Fists of Fury: Discourses of Race and Masculinity in the Martial Arts Cinema,” in Asian Cinemas — A Reader and Guide, ed. Dimitris Eleftheriotis and Gary Needham (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006), 445. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 5
of newspaper articles and interviews with Bruce Lee from 1958-1973, and Bruce Lee: Artist of Life, a collection of his notes, writing, and poetry, both published posthumously by his editor and acquaintance John Little. In doing so, this paper seeks to reject one-dimensional portraits of Bruce Lee as merely a filmic icon, a culturallyconflicted individual, or a canny negotiator of international film markets by discussing Lee in context of three common diasporic narratives. This paper explores the multiple dimensions of Bruce Lee as a cross-cultural, diasporic individual and human being. The Canny Cultural Cosmopolitan Diaspora offers a unique opportunity to those cunning enough to capitalize on it; take, for example, Frank Jao, an influential Chinese-VietnameseAmerican entrepreneur of Southern California’s Little Saigon in the 1970s. In Nhi T. Lieu’s book The American Dream in Vietnamese, the author takes note of Jao’s ability to manipulate his many cultural identifications.13 Thanks to Jao’s ethnically Chinese heritage and Vietnamese origins, Jao could “align himself with other Chinese Americans as well as to argue for panAsianism without inciting resentment from the Vietnamese community,” and did so to great effect.14 Backed by his considerable “wealth and power” (Jao developed eleven mini-malls and two large shopping centers 13. Nhi T. Lieu, “Vietnamese by Other Means: The Overlapping Diasporas of Little Saigon,” in The American Dream in Vietnamese, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 40.13 14. Ibid., 41. 6 | UNFOUND
in the district), Jao nearly succeeded in rebranding Little Saigon as “Asiantown” in a bid to cater to other nearby Asian ethnicities.15 Had he succeeded, Jao would have generated even more revenue from his many developments in Little Saigon. This “struggle to forge the geographic space of Little Saigon,” Lieu notes, offers insight into “the way in which Chinese Vietnamese perform strategic ethnicity in the overlapping diaspora.”16 Diasporic figures automatically have multiple identities to deploy, and some manage to skillfully manipulate their identities for financial gain. This, then, is the first archetypal diasporic narrative: that of the consummate businessperson in possession of what Aihwa Ong terms “flexible citizenship,”17 capable of adopting and discarding identities without the hindrances of sentiment or loyalty. Though Bruce Lee never tried his hand at urban development, he, like Frank Jao, also utilized his ethnicity to spur his career forward. As a Chinese-American man attempting to break into the visuallydominated film industry, Lee was intensely conscious of his race, and sometimes used it to his advantage. In fact, he often played his ethnicity off for laughs in interviews, making terrible puns (“700 million Chinese can’t all be Wong”) and joking that he got the part of Kato because “after all, how many Chinese can pronounce Britt Reid 15. Ibid., 40. 16. Ibid., 40. 17. Ong, Aihwa, “The Pacific Shuttle: Family, Citizenship, and Capital Circuits,” in Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality, (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999), 112.
[the name of the show’s white protagonist]?”18 Interview sound bytes not only reveal a wry, self-deprecating side to the fearsome martial artist, but also suggest that Lee was confident in his own ethnic identity—or at least, confident enough to poke fun at it and its stereotypes. In doing so, Lee engages the American side of his identity, laughing at himself and his race from an American point of view through puns on language and accents. At the same time, Lee leveraged his Chinese identity to lay claim to a purer, more authentic form of Oriental martial arts; in many of his interviews, Lee openly criticized karate as “gimmick stuff,” scoffing that “this matter of breaking bricks or boards with the edge of [one’s] hand” was silly, because “a human being [wouldn’t] just stand there and wait to be hit.”19 Instead, Lee stressed that the form of martial arts he practiced was “an ancient Chinese art ... the ancestor of karate and judo,” highlighting the superiority of kung fu (in Lee’s eyes) due to its older roots. 20 Capitalizing on the popularity of East Asian martial arts in the United States at the time, Lee marketed himself as a selfdefense instructor. As his reputation grew, he raised his prices from $26 to thousands of dollars per hour as his clients began to include Hollywood big names like Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Stuart Whitman, and Stirling Silliphant.21 These connections proved to be useful, as Lee entered into a collaboration with Coburn and Silliphant
called Silent Flute (although the film was never made).22 Here, Lee also embodies Ong’s concept of “flexible citizenship” as an “Asian subjec[t who] selectively engage[s in] orientalist discourses encountered on travels through the shifting cultural terrains of the global economy.”23 Lee, by promoting and teaching Chinese kung fu to his predominantly white clientele, successfully “manipulat[ed] global schemes of cultural difference, racial hierarchy, and citizenship to [his] own advantage.”24 Through examining Lee’s career, we see a man who both engages with and utilizes his ethnic identity to further his own (often financial) goals. Both Frank Jao and Bruce Lee succeeded in turning an economic benefit from their ethnicities: Frank Jao through strategic “deploy[ment]” of his alternate Asian identities, and Bruce Lee by taking advantage of the Orientalizing Western gaze present in American film culture.25 Even in his film roles, Lee benefits from the existence of a specific niche role—that of the Oriental martial arts-adept, perfect for filling the role of sidekick to a white protagonist or enlightened master of martial arts. However, pigeon-holing Lee as a selfOrientalizing profiteer is far too simplistic. Lee maintained an impressive degree of autonomy over the roles he played onscreen, turning down ones he disliked. Acting was not Lee’s primary career; as a result, Lee had the financial autonomy to refuse
18. Little, 80. 19. Ibid., 56. 20. Ibid., 82. 21. Ibid., 95-99.
22. Ibid., 98. 23. Ong, 112. 24. Ibid., 112. 25. Ibid., 44.
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demeaning roles: “No cook. No laundryman ... I have to be a real human being,” Lee declared.26 Conscious of filmic stereotypes of the Chinese as “pigtails, chopsticks and ‘ah-so’s,’ shuffling obediently behind the[ir] master[s],” Lee asserted multiple times that he had no intention of taking on any such demeaning roles.27 Unlike the gain-focused archetype of Frank Jao, Lee’s primary motivations throughout his career rarely pivoted around the question of money. Though Lee acknowledged that the many film contracts he received were “tempting offers” that made “life more and more complicated,” his strong feelings on the moral messages delivered in his movies led to his self-assertion as an artistic individual, more than a stock character on screen.28 Eventually, Lee began writing his own movies, though he admitted with remarkable frankness that:
more international box office hits. In the American film market, he played up his Chinese-ness, as an ambassador of Chinese martial arts; in Hong Kong, he was a beacon of Western education and culture who sought to “rais[e] the standard of the thenprimitive ways of Eastern film production.”29 Lee undoubtedly engaged with this particular archetypal diasporic narrative— that of the canny cultural cosmopolitan who benefits financially from his multiple identities—but to end our analysis of his character there would be a great injustice. Lee’s artistic sensibility testified to a set of motivations that derive more from personal beliefs than from monetary gain; he was more than this one narrative.
Bruce Lee utilized his experience in American cinema and his familiarity with Chinese culture to write and star in
The Boring Bicultural Man If Bruce Lee cannot be contained in a single archetype of profiteering selfOrientalist, could he embody the elusive figure of a perfectly-adjusted, culturallyadapted individual who has managed to reconcile the two disparate aspects of his identity? More than one newspaper has noticed Lee’s multicultural fluency, dubbing him the “ultimate Mid-Pacific Man, what with all sorts of good things happening, career-wise, on both sides of the ocean.”30 Moving freely between the hemispheres of his identities, Lee took notes from both Western philosophy and Eastern thought in order to synthesize his own attitude towards life.31 He wrote notes on Plato and Socrates and translated Chinese poetry in his spare
26. Little, 98. 27. Ibid., 93. 28. Ibid., 40.
29. Ibid., 15. 30. Ibid., 113. 31. Ibid., 149.
I write in Chinese and get somebody else to polish it up a bit. I tried writing it in English at first and to have somebody translate it into Chinese, but it didn’t work. The translation inevitably loses some of the original ideas. So I decided to write in Chinese with the help of a dictionary. It is quite funny really. I bought this English-Chinese dictionary originally to help me find the suitable English words when I first went to the United States when I was 18. Now I find that I have to use it to find the Chinese words which I have in mind. (133)
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time.32 His multicultural philosophy was reflected in his parenting beliefs: “Brandon [his son] will learn that Oriental culture and Occidental culture are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent.”33 Lee firmly believed in the interdependency of Eastern and Western culture, noting that “[n] either would be remarkable if it were not for the existence of the other.”34 Lee once went so far as to comment to an interviewer: If I say I believe that everyone under the sun is a member of a universal family, you may think that I am bluffing and idealistic. But if anyone still believes in racial differences, I think he is too backward and narrow. Perhaps he still does not understand man’s equality and love. (119) Seen through this lens, Lee seems to have achieved enviable success as a
remarkable, content, and well-adjusted diasporic individual. Capable of interacting with both his Chinese heritage and his American education, he does not have to repress one identity or the other in order to fit in. What this idealized version of Lee embodies, then, is none other than the realization of American Dream—what Guiyou Huang notes in The Columbia Guide to Asian American Literature Since 1945 as a common “immigrant theme” in Asian American literature.35 With financial success, widespread fame, and a harmonious home life in the face of “both assimilation and exclusion,” Lee becomes a dream-like model 32. Lee, Bruce, Bruce Lee: Artist of Life, ed. John Little (Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 1999). 33. Little, 43. 34. Ibid., 43. 35. Huang, Guiyou, The Columbia Guide to Asian American Literature Since 1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 125.
for those struggling with internal conflicts stemming from diasporic backgrounds.36 But this image of Lee, no matter how appealing or accurate it may seem, still fails to capture the multidimensionality of his character, as the man was just as vulnerable to the nagging doubts of multiple identities as any other member of the Asian diaspora. The Pitiable Pile of Diasporic Distress The third diasporic archetype Bruce Lee embodied is what I term the “Hübinette model,” after Tobias Hübinette, who penned the article “Asian Bodies Out of Control: Examining the Adopted Korean Existence” in 2007. In his study, Hübinette focused extensively on the angst and conflict of being a person with dual nationalities or diasporic identities. Plagued by melancholia, nostalgia, and a longing for a homeland one may never have seen, Hübinette’s hypothetical diasporic individual suffers from “severe psychic violence and physical alienation ... for never being able to fit in and find a balance between racial expectations and ethnic and cultural identifications and experience,” forever doomed to “always feel like a social misfit and an ethnic outsider.”37 Though Hübinette’s descriptions may be somewhat extreme, the archetypal diasporic narrative that he presents is a familiar one, one that readers may associate with the wide corpus of immigrant literature. Many members of the Asian diaspora have experienced 36. Ibid., 94. 37. Hübinette, Tobias, “Asian Bodies Out of Control: Examining the Adopted Korean Existence,” in Asian Diasporas — New Formations, New Conceptions, ed. Rhacel S. Parreñas and Lok C.D. Siu (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), 194. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 9
elements of the Hübinette model in some shape, way or form—including Bruce Lee. In contrast to his cocky, confident onscreen persona, Lee’s poetry and statements in interviews betray an ongoing negotiation of his ethnic identity and loyalties. When Lee acknowledged his fading Chinese language abilities, he echoed a common lament among diasporic individuals: sorrow for the loss of a heritage language. This same mourning for a heritage language is an integral part of the Hübinette model. Hübinette’s diasporic individual feels alienated from the white, American society that surrounds them due to their ethnic appearance; simultaneously, they feel alienated from their heritage culture by a linguistic divide, thereby isolating them further and causing even more suffering due to diasporic identity.38 Though Lee does not emphasize the potentially angst of losing fluency in heritage language as much as Hübinette does, he still wistfully acknowledges the irony of his situation. In contrast to a portrayal of Lee as a perfectly-adjusted bicultural individual, Lee’s struggle with his diasporic identity has surfaced several times in his interviews. He once noted that “[I s]ometimes feel a little schizophrenic about it [his international stardom] ... When I wake in the morning, I have to remember which side of the ocean I’m on, and whether I’m the superstar or the exotic Oriental support player.”39 Anxieties over his performance of ethnicity and nationalism also plagued the normally self-confident actor: “There were some 38. Ibid., 194. 39. Little, 149. 10 | UNFOUND
scenes in The Big Boss [Bruce Lee’s first Hong Kong film] where I really didn’t think I was Chinese enough,” Lee stated in an interview.40 These throwaway lines, hidden in selfdeprecation, hint at an internal struggle, a yet unresolved fracture of identity.41 Lee actively reflected on the difficulties of balancing his multiple identities. Further clues of Lee’s diasporic-identity-dissonance emerge in his poetry, found in the collection Bruce Lee: Artist of Life: “Down the Western Hill” Down the Western hill the bright sun sinks making yellow gold of all the air. On a lonely hilltop, away from the distant mist, A golden dragon stands staring, with Dreams that fade and die in the bright West. (94)
The last line of the poem reveals Lee’s preoccupation with the division of East and West—both on a nationalistic level and in the context of his own identity. Contemplative, subdued, and vivid, Lee’s diction partitions the two lands: where the West is described as “bright,” the East is portrayed as “lonely” and “distant” from the glory of the setting sun.42 Meanwhile, it is difficult not to read the dragon in the poem as a stand-in for Lee himself, whose various Hong Kong feature films are titled Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon, in addition to his Chinese screenname, ‘the Little Dragon.’ With the historical context of Lee’s failure to create an Asian martial arts television series in America, the poem can be interpreted as Lee’s own disenchantment 40. Ibid., 114. 41. Ibid., 108. 42. Lee, 94.
with his “dreams” of cinematic fame in Hollywood.43 Despite his popularity in East and Southeast Asia, Lee never did star in any Hollywood project, film or television. That being said, Lee was not, by any means, the angst-ridden “final triumph of the colonial project” that the Hübinette model implies for diasporic Asians; since his relationship to the Western side of his identity was much more complex than that.44 The Hübinette model is hopeless and despairing in its extremes, railing against the chokehold of Western colonialism on its diasporic subjects. Lee, as we have seen in his engagement with earlier diasporic narratives, has not been subdued by any Western colonial project. In another one of his poems from Artist of Life, “The Dying Sun,” Lee muses more on the perceived world of difference between Eastern and Western philosophy, meditating on the seemingly unavoidable rift between the two halves of his diasporic identity.
Lee characterizes the streams as “part[ing] unwillingly,” which ties into his optimism in the foundational goodness of mankind—separation and alienation are neither the natural nor the preferred trend for relationships between people.45 In contrast to the disillusioned, disappointed
tone of “Down the Western Hill,” “The Dying Sun” instead rings of Lee’s belief that “everyone under the sun is a member of a universal family.”46 Lee goes on to dismantle the dichotomy of East and West as “two streams” parting, “never to meet again,” by suggesting an alternative model: the cycle of the “sun ... ris[ing] again” and “the leaves ... [turning] green again in spring.”47 If the setting sun in “Down the Western Hill” was associated with Western culture and philosophy, then the rising sun hinted at in “The Dying Sun” could be seen as the East. The cycle of sunrise-sunset, the rise and fall of the East and West, becomes a tempered, harmonious balance rather than a fractious conquest—an image of cyclical, returning hope rather than desolation. Through this poem, Lee acknowledges the rift between his Eastern and Western identities; he struggles, like Hübinette’s model of diasporic narrative, to “find a balance” between the halves of himself.48 Lee refuses to simply lie down and give up, however; relentlessly optimistic, he offers another way of framing the disparate parts of diasporic identity, one in which both his Eastern and Western identities can coexist. Through his poetry, we can see that, despite Lee’s dominant image as a confident performer of culture, it is important to acknowledge that he, too, experienced doubt and discomfort due to his diasporic identity. Lee struggled to reconcile who he was from a Western perspective with who he was from an Eastern perspective, to the
43. Ibid., 94. 44. Hübinette, 196. 45. Lee, 95.
46. Little, 119. 47. Lee, 95. 48. Hübinette, 194.
Excerpt from “The Dying Sun”: From the mountain peak, Two streams parted unwillingly One to the West, one to the East. The sun will rise again in the morning. The leaves will be green again in spring. But must we be like the mountain stream, Never to meet again? (95)
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point where he felt almost “schizophrenic” about it. 49 Accordingly, Lee embodied the Hübinette model of diasporic narrative, one characterized by distress and angst, but did not let himself be overcome by it. What Lee offers, then, is a ray of hope for individuals trapped in the Hübinette model; this particular narrative archetype is real, but not inescapable. Conclusion By examining the public and private figure of Bruce Lee, this paper methodically dismantled some of the most prominent narratives of the Asian diaspora: the financially-savvy cosmopolitan capable of self-Orientalization, the mythic figure of the perfectly adjusted individual, and the victim of multicultural allegiances. As more studies are conducted on the Asian diaspora, it has become more and more important to, as Lisa Lowe urges in her 1991 article “Hetereogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences,” resist the temptation of essentializing the Asian diasporic narrative and reducing it down to a trichotomy of connotations: pity for the victims, respect for the culturally confident, and uneasiness at the slippery identity politics of the cosmopolitan. Avoiding the homogenization of diasporic narratives can help question our notions of “‘dominant’ or ... minority’ cultures as discrete, fixed, or homogeneous.”50 Understanding the overlap between the prominent narratives 49. Little, 149. 50. Lisa Lowe, “Hetereogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences,” in Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 1, no. 1 (1991): 28. 12 | UNFOUND
of the Asian diaspora allows us to better grasp not only the “heterogeneity, hybridity, [and] multiplicity” of the diasporic culture, but also the complexity and nuance of the individuals that make up the Asian diaspora. 51 The Asian diaspora is not a monolithic mass that can be summed up in a few archetypes, and by acknowledging that these three common narratives are not mutually exclusive, or indeed, comprehensively representative, we can help further the process of understanding the diversity of diasporic experience. Bruce Lee provides a high-profile case study of a well-known diasporic figure; his multifaceted personality, life, and artistic endeavors illustrate the complexity of his personal experience with multiple identities and diaspora. Though known first and foremost for his cinematic legacy, Bruce Lee also proves himself irreducible to the narratives of victimhood or economic profiteer, and, both in death and in life, bridges multiple narratives of East, West, and the Asian diaspora at the same time. Three different archetypal diasporic narratives converge and interact in his short lifetime, testifying to the richness of his cultural identity. This is not to say that we should throw out narrative archetypes altogether; to do so would be to sacrifice familiar narrative tropes, mutual checkpoints, and the commonalities of experience across the Asian diaspora. What is important is acknowledging that multiple narratives exist and coexist, so that we do not make the mistake of reducing a person to a single 51. Ibid., 24.
narrative, or of ossifying the diasporic experience into a few monolithic archetypes. Understanding of the Asian diaspora as an ultimately heterogeneous body of experience and narrative will ensure that one never feels overly restricted or defined by archetypes, because these narratives are dynamic, changing, and evolving across individuals and their experiences. Bibliography Desser, David. “The Kung Fu Craze: Hong Kong Cinema’s First American Reception.” In The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity, Edited by Poshek Fu and David Desser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Huang, Guiyou. The Columbia Guide to Asian American Literature Since 1945. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. Hübinette, Tobias. “Asian Bodies Out of Control: Examining the Adopted Korean Existence.” In Asian Diasporas — New Formations, New Conceptions, Edited by Rhacel S. Parreñas and Lok C.D. Siu. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007. Lieu, Nhi T. “Vietnamese by Other Means: The Overlapping Diasporas of Little Saigon.” In The American Dream in Vietnamese. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. Lee, Bruce. Bruce Lee: Artist of Life, Edited by John Little. Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 1999. Little, John, ed. Words of the Dragon. Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 1997. Lowe, Lisa. “Hetereogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences.” In Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 1, no. 1 (1991): 24-44. Ong, Aihwa. “The Pacific Shuttle: Family,
Citizenship, and Capital Circuits.” In Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Durham: Duke University Press, 1999. Tasker, Yvonne. “Fists of Fury: Discourses of Race and Masculinity in the Martial Arts Cinema.” In Asian Cinemas — A Reader and Guide, Edited by Dimitris Eleftheriotis and Gary Needham. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006. Teo, Stephen. Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition: Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.
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Pathologizing the Chinese: An Examination of Opium-Smoking and the American Medical Establishment’s Vested Interest in the Exclusion Debate Hansen Shi, Harvard University ’18 This paper examines the often-overlooked role of the medical establishment in advancing the Chinese exclusion movement of the late 1800s. While most contemporary scholarship has focused on the economic dimension of the pro-exclusion discourse, concerns about the supposed moral corruption of the Chinese—especially in connection to the phenomenon of opium dens—also fueled much of the Chinese Exclusion Act rhetoric. One influential voice in the public discussion about Chinese moral corruption was the American medical establishment, which published scientific studies that racialized the public health problem. In this paper, I demonstrate that beyond whatever moral positions the doctors may have held, they were also motivated by the threat that opiumsmoking posed to the legitimacy of their own profession, which relied heavily on the drug.
Introduction and Methodology Contemporary historians of the Chinese exclusion movement have overwhelmingly focused their attention on the economic threat that Chinese laborers posed to white laborers. Consequently, the existing historiography features a familiar cast of actors: labor organizers, demagogue politicians, and journalists. The Democratic Party and the labor movement in California feature prominently in Alexander Saxton’s The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (1971), for instance, which identifies the white workers’ psychological experience of their livelihoods being threatened by an influx of cheap labor as the primary driver of Chinese exclusion.1 Other historians like Martha Gardner have framed the road to Chinese exclusion in terms of the formation of class identity through economic competition between white and Chinese laborers.2 By contrast, in The Opium Debate and Chinese Exclusion Laws in the Nineteenth-Century American West, historian Diana Ahmad attempts to add a moral dimension to the debate by focusing on the role of the American medical establishment in advocating Chinese exclusion on the grounds that opium posed a moral threat to the nation. In her account, a new set of actors—physicians, psychiatrists, and the American 1. Alexander Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971). 2. Martha Gardner, “Working on White Womanhood: White Working Women in the San Francisco Anti-Chinese Movement, 1877-1890,” Journal of Social History 33, no. 1 (1999), accessed May 9, 2016, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/17620. 14 | UNFOUND
Medical Association—takes center stage. In particular, underneath the spotlight was a physician named Dr. Harry Hubbell Kane, a prolific writer on the public health problem of opium who, in 1882, authored a work called Opium-Smoking in America and China. In this paper, I place the physicians’ case against smoking opium in the context of the history of their profession. Ahmad was correct insofar as sex was the main issue on which physicians established their moral case against opium. However, a closer examination of Kane’s OpiumSmoking in America and China reveals that Ahmad underestimated the role that race played in the medical argument. Despite purporting an objective of merely conducting scientific study on opium smoking and its effects on individuals and the nation, doctors stoked the flames of racialized moral outrage against the Chinese by implicitly portraying them as a sexual threat to white women and, by extension, the moral fabric of society. In addition, contrary to what Ahmad has argued, doctors as a class were not making the case against opium solely because of their own moral convictions, or biases against the Chinese; rather, they had a vested interest in the opium debate because of the reliance of their own profession on the drug. The opium-smoking public health problem created a crisis of credibility for the medical establishment. For American doctors, condemning the smoking of opium—and, by extension, pathologizing the Chinese— was necessary for purifying their profession. In The Opium Debate and Chinese
Exclusion Laws in the Nineteenth-Century American West, Diana Ahmad argues that American doctors rallied behind the cause of Chinese exclusion because they saw opium-smoking as a moral threat to the nation. Ahmad’s argument in this historical work, one of a few, if not only the one that identifies the medical community as a key player in the push for Chinese exclusion, is summarized in the preface to her shorter article on the same subject: “During the 1870s and early 1880s, members of the American medical community sought to exclude the Chinese from immigrating to the United States because these physicians believed that the Chinese opium smoking habit threatened the moral system of the country.”3 In the third chapter of her book, entitled “Threats to Body and Behavior,” Ahmad parses the precise terms of this perceived threat to virtues, which, she writes, “included loss of religious conviction, insanity, and moral degeneration.”4 According to Ahmad, American physicians were troubled, above all else, by the sexual dimension of opium’s moral influence. While she acknowledges that some were concerned about the effect that miscegenation would have on racial purity, Ahmad frames the physicians’ opposition to opium primarily in terms of their nonracial 3. Diana Ahmad, “Opium smoking, anti‐Chinese attitudes, and the American medical community, 1850–1890,” American Nineteenth Century History 1, no. 2 (2000), 53, accessed May 9, 2016. doi: 10.1080/14664650008567016. 4. Diana Ahmad, The Opium Debate and Chinese Exclusion Laws in the Nineteenth-Century American West (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2007), 39. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 15
anxiety over the prospect that the excessive sex encouraged by smoking opium would lead to national decline. These anxieties, she argues, were firmly grounded in widely held nineteenth-century beliefs that sex drained the individual and the nation of the “vital force” that it needed to grow.5 Ahmad claims that elite and middle-class nineteenth-century Americans believed that “sexual activity, either with a partner or by himself, took an irreplaceable amount of energy away from the man. America needed that energy to grow strong and it should not be spent seeking sexual satisfaction.”6 It was primarily in this nonracial context of sexual energy and national productivity, Ahmad argues, that physicians founded their opposition to opium: “The use of smoking opium raised new problems for those opposed to recreational sex, as the American medical community believed that smoking opium possessed an aphrodisiac power.”7 In this analysis, race emerges as a merely secondary factor contributing to the damaging moral effect of opium. Throughout her argument, Ahmad relies heavily on Dr. Harry Kane’s 1881 treatise, Opium-Smoking in America and China: A Study of Its Prevalence, and Effects, Immediate and Remote, on the Individual and the Nation. A close-reading of Kane’s text reveals that race played a much more central role in the medical argument than the one Ahmad identified, for he stirred up a public reaction through portraying the Chinese as threats to white women, 5. Ahmad, “Opium smoking,” 57. 6. Ibid., 57, 58. 7. Ibid., 58. 16 | UNFOUND
and by extension, the greater society. Kane’s treatise had two goals: first, to outline the physiological effects of smoking opium, and second, to assess the social and moral impact of those effects on American society. In this sense, Kane’s broader sociological argument extrapolated and built upon the foundation of his physiological observations, primarily established in chapter IV, in which Kane described his experiment with trying opium on himself. This, Kane seemed to argue, was no haphazard excursion, but a carefully designed scientific experiment that took place in a controlled environment; indeed, Kane noted that he even “had a Chinese bunk erected in [his] office.”8 By including the characteristics of the Chinese opium dens in his “control conditions,” Kane emphasized the inextricable link between smoking opium and the dens in which it took place, implying that the problem of opium ought to be studied not in isolation, but in its social context. Kane’s description of the full range of symptoms he experienced included “nausea, dizziness, accompanied by a pleasant sense of exhilaration, and followed by a quiet easy contentment.”9 The final line is short and conclusive: “The sexual appetite was increased.”10 Throughout the rest of the work, however, the particular symptom of an 8. Harry Hubbell Kane, Opium-Smoking in America and China: A Study of Its Prevalence, and Effects, Immediate and Remote, on the Individual and the Nation (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1882), 51. 9. Ibid., 51. 10. Ibid., 52.
increase in libido is gendered and turned into a social problem. While both men and women experienced heightened libido, Kane wrote, women were more likely to be “ruined” by it: “Instead of a normal sexual tone, the appetite is exalted to a veritable condition of satyriasis in the male and nymphomania in the female. This increase of sexual appetite is most marked in women.”11 That opium made women more responsive to sexual stimulation also made them susceptible to sexual exploitation. B y appealing to Christian ideals of feminine chastity and innocence, Kane engendered moral outrage in the reader. As he wrote in Chapter I, “Many females are so much excited sexually by the smoking of opium during the first few weeks, that old smokers with the sole object of ruining them have taught them to smoke. Many innocent and over-curious girls have thus been seduced.”12 The use of the passive tense here invokes a conception of women as passive objects and victims, rather than active agents, in the usage of opium. The women were portrayed as innocent victims “excited sexually” and “seduced” by men with a guilty conscience; thus, a physiological symptom was transposed into a moral one. The readers’ strong reaction was compounded by the fact that Kane repeatedly characterized the corruption of chastity as a social problem. As he wrote in the first chapter, “It is thus seen ... with what rapidity it [the habit of opium-smoking] is spreading all over the country, ensnaring individuals in all
classes of society, leading to the downfall of innocent girls and the debasement of married women, and spreading its roots and growing in spite of the most stringent measures looking to its eradication.”13 In this sense, Kane presented the problem of opium addiction not only as a medical disease, but as an epidemic corrupting the moral fabric of American society. This picture of exploitation resurfaced in more explicitly sexual terms in Chapter V, in which Dr. Kane described what he saw during a visit to an opium den: “The women who are to be found smoking at the joints manifest no bashfulness in smoking with strange men, and evince no hesitation in going down into the slums to meet other habitués,” he wrote. “They usually remove the shoes, loosen the corsets, and remain for hours on the hard wooden bunks.”14 Here, the image of the women physically removing their clothing was portrayed as a moral transgression of the feminine virtue of restraint: the corset in particular, as a physical restrainer for the breasts and a symbolic restraint on female sexuality, emphasizes this point. The shock and moral disapproval was particularly enhanced by the dirtiness of the dens—“slums” with “hard wooden bunks” where “strange men” preside. Yet who are these “strange men”? While race did not feature explicitly as a factor in his analysis—Kane emphasized that he preferred the scientific method over “loose generalization and weak moralizing”—he
11. Ibid., 131. 12. Ibid., 8.
13. Ibid., 14. 14. Ibid., 74. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 17
nevertheless implicitly identified Chinese men as the culprits of sexual exploitation by attributing the source of the opium to them.15 As he wrote in chapter I, “Cannot this increase [of opium usage in America] be accounted for on the ground of a rapid increase in our Chinese population, about twenty percent of whom smoke opium occasionally, and fifteen percent smoke it daily?”16 For Dr. Kane, the people and places surrounding opium were equally as or more important than the drug itself. Opium itself was not the problem; as Ahmad observes, most members of the medical establishment considered medical opium to have no effect on the morals, since it could be taken in isolation and under a doctor’s supervision.17 The issue, Kane implied, was when the smoking took place in the company of morally suspect others.18 Indeed, the concept of “moral influence” figures prominently throughout Opium-Smoking in America and China. Kane claims that “upon the morals ... the pipe-habit exercises a very strong influence. The surroundings, the low companionship, and the effect of the drug, combine to effect [sic] any thing other than a raising of the moral tone. Female smokers, if not already lost in point of virtue, soon become so.”19 In the historical context, these “surroundings” could be none other than the opium dens in Chinatown—the “low companionship” none other than the Chinese operating 15. Ibid., 83. 16. Ibid., 17. 17. Ahmad, “Opium smoking,” 55. 18. Ibid., 55. 19. Kane, 81. 18 | UNFOUND
the dens. In addition, seduction itself was understood as a form of moral influence. By attributing both the drug and the threat of moral corruption to the Chinese and their localities, then, Kane implicitly identifies them as the culprits of sexual exploitation. Research conducted by other historians of Chinese exclusion has confirmed that the racialized fear of sexual exploitation physicians invoked was well-established prior to the publication of Kane’s treatise. Examples of this fear can be found in many newspapers from the time period. For example, the following passage appeared in a news report in the Virginia City Evening Chronicle on July 30, 1877: “Young girls are introduced to the dens, seduced while under the influence of the drug, and then they drift rapidly down into some crib on D Street.”20 As historian Martha Gardner argues in an article entitled “Working on White Womanhood,” the issues of economic competition and sexual exploitation were often conflated by politicians, such as Senator Aaron Sargent, and the populist Workingmen’s Party of California, who published pamphlets decrying Chinese men’s sexual perversion and skill with seduction— attributing the latter, of course, to opium.21 While Ahmad is correct to note that the medical establishment played a part in the Chinese Exclusion debate, her analysis overlooks a critical factor underlying these physicians’ arguments: 20. Ronald James, Comstock Women: The Making of a Mining Community (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1997), 95. 21. Gardner, 77.
their incentives. During the Chinese exclusion debate, American physicians were not the disinterested moralizers Ahmad makes them out to be. Rather, as the issue of opium as “social problem” poured onto the pages of America’s newspapers, doctors found their legitimacy as a profession at stake. The 1854 edition of The Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics described opium as “undoubtedly the most important and valuable remedy in the whole Materia Medica.”22 In 1888, opium was the top selling “patent medicine” in America, and at the time, it was being used to treat everything from diarrhea to diabetes.23 As Ronald James observes in Comstock Women, opium had become such a crutch for practicing physicians at the time that they invented a new disease opium alone could treat: neuralgia, a disease for which the only symptoms were “pains the origin of which is not clearly traceable.”24 That opium had turned into a racialized social problem created the need for the medical establishment to protect themselves from liability. Another factor compounded the extent to which doctors faced a crisis of legitimacy because of the problem of opium dens: their complicity in the problem of white female victimhood. As discussed above, many pro-exclusion groups framed their 22. Marcus Aurin, “Chasing the Dragon: The Cultural Metamorphosis of Opium in the United States, 1825‐1935,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 14, no. 3 (2000): 418, accessed May 9, 2016, doi: 10.1525/ maq.2000.14.3.414. 23. Ibid., 418. 24. James, Comstock Women, 107.
anti-Chinese rhetoric, both during political rallies and in the press, in terms of the perceived victimhood of white women at the hands of Chinese men. In this sense, opium was seen as a moral and sexual danger to women everywhere. However, throughout the nineteenth century, many women in America already suffered disease or death from being addicted to the opium that their own doctors had prescribed to them.25 In an article entitled “Excessive Opium Eating” published in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, physician A. T. Schertzer spoke out on the widespread issue of addiction: “We have an army of women in America dying from the opium habit—larger than our standing army ... The [medical] profession is wholly responsible for the loose and indiscriminate use of the drugs.”26 During the nineteenth century, the use of prescribed opiate medicine was shockingly widespread amongst women; some estimate that between 60 and 70 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 35 were given opium, often to treat menstrual cramps.27 For these women, following a doctor’s orders often produced deadly results. Nor was the problem of women’s addiction a well-kept secret confined to the medical community; rather, by the time that Kane’s treatise was published, it had made its way into the mainstream press: an article published in the Reno Evening Gazette (qtd. in James) on March 7, 1881, declared that “physicians are no doubt largely to blame for the alarming increase of the opium 25. Ibid., 109. 26. Ibid., 109, 110. 27. Ibid., 108. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 19
habit in this country.”28 Physicians, then, were very much in the spotlight of public scrutiny for many of the same issues that the Chinese were being criticized for. The American medical establishment shielded its own reputation from the growing stigma surrounding opium and its victims by strategically pathologizing the method of usage—smoking—that was particular to the Chinese and their opium dens. Physicians were not strictly anti-opium, but anti-opium-and-Chinese. This distinction manifested in the literature of the time through a division between medical opium and opium-smoking, the latter existing exclusively in the domain of Chinese opium dens that housed a company of morally suspect others.29 As Kane wrote in his treatise, “another very decided factor, both in working moral deterioration and spreading the vice, is the fact of the companionship, two usually smoking together.”30 This line illuminates the terms of the analogy between smoking opium and an infectious disease: the symptoms—“moral deterioration” —were contagious—“spreading the vice”—and contaminated the population through contact between individuals— “companionship.”31 In the next line, Kane went on to implicate the Chinese as the original carriers of this moral pathogen: “In this country many honest and respectable young men and women have been led to try the pipe ... and been corrupted by association with low companions.”32 Given 28. Ibid., 109. 29. Ahmad, “Opium smoking,” 55. 30. Kane, 135. 31. Ibid., 135. 32. Ibid., 135. 20 | UNFOUND
that opium was seen as a quintessentially Chinese problem, these “low companions” could be none other than the Chinese owning and operating the dens. In the context of the profession’s incentives to protect their credibility, the distinction between medical opium and smoking opium takes on a critical significance. By attributing all of opium’s associated social ills to a specific means of consumption, people, and place, doctors effectively placed a quarantine of sorts on the damage that the drug could do to their credibility. Contemporary scholarship of the Chinese Exclusion Act has focused too narrowly on labor dynamics. In The Opium Debate, Diana Ahmad astutely identified the issue of opium as another critical element of the Exclusion Act. During the public debate over whether the Chinese should stay or go, the American medical establishment, as a class, was drawn into the fray by the crisis of credibility that opium created for their profession. Their inclusion in the historiography of Chinese exclusion is important, but not just for the reasons that Ahmad claims. The case made by the American medical establishment against opium and against the Chinese was not solely motivated by a moral vision of society, but also by the class-specific interests of their profession—namely, that of defending their own practices with opium. In other words, a moral argument covered up a structural incentive. These conclusions suggest avenues for further research that interrogates the motives of actors in the exclusion debate beyond “the usual suspects.”
Bibliography Ahmad, Diana. The Opium Debate and Chinese Exclusion Laws in the NineteenthCentury American West. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2007. Ahmad, Diana. “Opium smoking, anti‐Chinese attitudes, and the American medical community, 1850–1890.” American Nineteenth Century History 1, no. 2 (2000): 53-68. Accessed May 9, 2016. doi: 10.1080/14664650008567016. Aurin, Marcus. “Chasing the Dragon: The Cultural Metamorphosis of Opium in the United States, 1825‐1935.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 14, no. 3 (2000): 414-441. Accessed May 9, 2016. doi: 10.1525/maq.2000.14.3.414. Gardner, Martha Mabie. “Working on White Womanhood: White Working Women in the San Francisco Anti-Chinese Movement, 1877-1890.” Journal of Social History 33, no. 1 (1999): 73-95. Accessed May 9, 2016. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/17620. James, Ronald Michael. Comstock Women: The Making of a Mining Community. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1997. Kane, Harry Hubbard. Opium-Smoking in America and China: A Study of Its Prevalence, and Effects, Immediate and Remote, on the Individual and the Nation. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1882. Accessed April 4, 2016. http://nrs. harvard.edu/urn-3:HMS.Count:920075. Saxton, Alexander. The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.
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Reconsidering the Model Minority Myth: Desire and Melancholia in Nina Revoyr’s Southland Libby Kao, Mount Holyoke College ‘17 Through a theoretically contoured analysis of melancholia and interracial desire in Nina Revoyr’s 2003 novel Southland, this essay endeavors to rethink the effect and utility of the model minority myth as a generative critical modality in Asian American literature. Rather than unilaterally pronouncing the model minority myth to be an expendable distortion or mischaracterization of Asian American subjects, I read the genealogical investments and inextricable intimacies of the myth as a disciplinary structure of feeling that, as laid bare in Southland, is just as productive as it is insufficient. In this essay, such a reading opens up explorations of liberal coalition building, queer and multiracial alternative kinship formations, and the mutual mourning of racial grief—all topics that press upon Southland’s 1940s-1990s landscape of Los Angeles, perhaps as urgently as they do today.
Introduction Nina Revoyr’s Southland is a novel about interracial desire: not only the emotional or sexual desire between individuals across racial lines, but a vast and incommensurable condition of loss and consequent attraction that is carved out by racial Otherness interfusing with layers of class, sexuality, and gender. As the novel spans over a half-century of Los Angeles’s cultural history—from WWII Japanese internment to the 1965 Watts Uprising to the post-L.A. Uprising mid-1990s—it becomes evident that without the theme of interracial desire, this dense archive does not quite hold together when brought to light. History, as Southland unveils, requires multiple forms of kinship to prompt excavation. In this essay, I claim that the model minority myth1 comes into play in Southland not 1. First and foremost a construction of sociological discourse, the “model minority myth” was coined in 1966 to frame Asian Americans as paragons of hard-earned merit, docility, and self-made success—as opposed to “problem minorities,” a term that primarily referred to African Americans—by pointing specifically to the example of Japanese Americans’ post-WWII-internment socioeconomic ascent. As the term proliferated news media, scholarship, and entertainment well into the 1990s and arguably into the present day, the myth’s impact on Asian American identity has come to not only follow a neoliberal logic; it has in many ways become the logic. Frank Wu elucidates this subsuming process as one that “turns some activities [like studying] into Asian activities.” (Frank Wu, Yellow: Race in American Beyond Black and White, 41-56) This perfectly follows Roland Barthes’s formulation of how “myth transforms history into nature” and “freezes” the underlying “motives” of a phenomenon into “reasons,” “into something natural.” (Roland Barthes, Mythologies, 240) Unsurprisingly, the power of such a conflation is insidious. Not only does the model minority myth divisively turn minority groups against each other, implicitly forcing them to compete on the terms of the white-dominated neoliberal state; the myth can also be discursively wielded to give discrimination a certain self-gratifying serviceability, which sublimates structural harms placed upon minority groups as innocuous, even advantageous.
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simply because protagonist Jackie Ishida fulfills various model minority formulae, but because the novel’s labyrinthine configurations of desire and history— not only desire f or history, but desire as history—do not align unless we consider how model minority myth’s simultaneously individualistic and conformist underpinnings are heavily invested in precluding intimacies that are affectively unruly and beyond-normative. It should come as no surprise, then, that myths like that of the model minority are not so easily dispelled by a well-worded rebuttal. Instead, at cultural, interpersonal, and psychic levels, they seep into and help shape most closely held senses of self and the world. Interracial kinship, a theme the novel consistently foregrounds, is an exemplary focal point of such intimacies. In order to approach these intricate sites more productively, I propose that the model minority myth comprises a vivid example of Raymond Williams’s “structures of feeling”: circuits of “social experience in solution” that not only escape articulation “at the very edge of semantic availability,” but demand new language.2 Expanding erin Ninh’s thesis in Ingratitude: The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature that points to the Asian American immigrant home as the welldisciplined primary site of model minority subjection, I argue that if the model minority myth comprises a disciplinary structure of feeling, then its coercive and 2. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 133.
penetrating logics should consequently interpellate all Asian Americans. Thus, I am interested in bringing Ninh’s framework of model minority disciplinary power to bear upon works of Asian American literature not necessarily concerned with centering oppressive immigrant family dynamics, but instead symptomatic of richly layered subjectivities in and beyond domestic space. Southland—a generationcrossing detective crime story mediating LA’s uneven landscapes of interracial history—is an ideal place to begin. The Model Minority Discipline of Melancholia In the novel, protagonist Jackie Ishida discovers a mysterious inheritor of $38,000 in her maternal grandfather Frank Sakai’s will, named Curtis Martindale. Prompted by filial guilt and a considerable factor of personal ennui, Jackie signs on to track down Curtis and soon finds herself sifting through a life her grandfather led, about which she had known nothing. This veiled life revolved around Crenshaw: a once thriving multiracial Los Angeles Mesa turned black ghetto, “a crucible that forges interactions between those whose love is prohibited and those whose hate is boundless,”3 in essence, a site interwoven with interracial desire. Partnering with Jackie in her search as co-detective is James Lanier, an African 3. Monica Chiu, “The Conspicuous Subjects of Interracial Spaces in Nina Revoyr’s Southland,” Scrutinized!: Surveillance in Asian North American Literature (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2014), 60. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 23
American community leader with a deep commitment to Crenshaw and family ties to Curtis as well. Ultimately it becomes clear that Jackie and Lanier’s4 complex, unplumbed relationship is both haunted by and uniquely articulated through the specter of implausible kinship—forming a powerful locus of desire that this essay will treat as a final point of arrival. At first glance, Southland’s multifold tensions of race, gender, sexuality, and class can appear to undermine and overwhelm the novel’s preoccupation with family history and recovery. In fact, many critics of Southland fault Revoyr for “[cluttering] the story” with overly “ambitious attempts to tackle history, love, race, and gender in one fell swoop.”5 However, since such appraisals do not go unacknowledged by Revoyr herself,6 we can confirm that the possibility of identity politics overload was indeed a risk—or perhaps a redemption— consciously taken in and by Revoyr’s narrative project. After all, for protagonist Jackie Ishida, the very idea of interracial desire overrun with identity politics is an idea that sits at the convergence of two 4. In the novel, James Lanier is nearly always referred to by his surname only; as such, my essay does so as well. 5. Sari Long, “Southland (Book).” Progressive 67, no. 7 (July 2003): 44. 6. Reflecting on her experience shuffling between publishers unwilling to publish Southland, wherein “some [publishers] went so far to tell her to pick an issue: race and class or sexuality,” Revoyr notes in an interview: “Had it just been one thing or another or had Jackie been straight it probably would have been hard to place this book, but maybe not as hard.” (Gilmartin, T.A. “Nina Revoyr’s Southland A Los Angeles Love Story,” Lesbian News 29, 2004.) 24 | UNFOUND
closets she cannot yet leave—a racial closet and a sexual one. Despite being in a serious romantic relationship with her white girlfriend Laura, and more tentatively later on with her biracial Irish-Japanese law school classmate Rebecca, Jackie is still only “selectively out” of the closet about her queer sexuality. She has never discussed it with her parents,7 and avoids the topic with Lanier well into their friendship until he presses the question himself.8 The framework of racial melancholia offers an approach well suited for probing such interplays of concealment, loss, and paucity of language in contexts of Asian American identity. In their 2000 article “A Dialogue on Racial Melancholia,” David Eng and Shinhee Han employ Freud’s theories of unresolved grief to propose that “processes of immigration, assimilation, and racialization are neither pathological nor permanent but involve the fluid negotiation between mourning and melancholia.”9 In a resonant intervention exploring racial identity formation as a set of ongoing, melancholic processes, Anne Cheng’s The Melancholy of Race compellingly illuminates the ways in which the “subjectivity and social damage” of racial and sexual minority identity formation become embedded in everyday personal-as-political experience, by way of loss’s afterlife and its deferred 7. Nina Revoyr, Southland (New York: Akashic Books, 2003), 103-104. 8. Ibid., 287. 9. David Eng and Shinhee Han, “A Dialogue on Racial Melancholia,” Psychoanalytic Dialogues 10, no. 4 (2000): 667.
mourning.10 When examining Southland, I aim to pursue such a level of interpretive nuance—not to simply comb Jackie’s and other characters’ encounters with interracial and queer desire for traces of either “self-hatred” or “denial,” but to instead follow Cheng’s charge: What is needed is a serious effort at rethinking the term ‘agency’ in relation to forms of racial grief … When it comes to facing discrimination, we need to understand subjective agency as a convoluted, ongoing, generative, and at times selfcontradicting negotiation with pain ... One place where such complex signs come into play and where such complexity gets theorized is literature.11
It bears remembrance that the narrative of Southland does not lead Jackie to exit either her racial or sexual closet by the usual pathways of progress and development toward coming out or liberation. Rather, through her friendship with Lanier and the search they embark on together to bring justice to their family and community histories, Jackie intensely engages in this “convoluted, ongoing, generative, and at times self-contradicting negotiation with pain.”12 Thus the impetus for her eventual closet-abandonment had to be joltingly unfamiliar enough to prevent Jackie from continuing to sort herself out at her own pace, according to her own long-held perceptions of intimacy and kinship. In this essay, I emulate Cheng’s treatment of melancholia as a “powerful 10. Anne Cheng, The Melancholy of Race (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 25. 11. Ibid., 39, emphases added. 12. Ibid., 39.
critical tool” uniquely capable of melding together nuances of personal subjectivity like Jackie’s, with societal-level issues of history and cultural politics, in order to investigate the complex impacts of living in and reading a racist imaginary.13 According to Cheng, this critical method reveals much about the case of Asian Americans in particular: “as both the targeted, racialized group in United States immigration policy and yet the least ‘colored’ group in racial debates, Asian Americans offer a charged site where American nationhood invests much of its contradictions, desires, and anxieties.”14 Additionally, while emphasizing that such scrutiny upon psychic dimensions of racialized experience “must [not be mistaken] for essentialization,” Cheng elucidates that this framework requires us to think about what it takes to not only instrumentalize melancholia but to respond to it—despite how “minority subjects [develop] relations to [an] injunctive ideal which can be selfaffirming or sustaining ... a painful negotiation must be undertaken, at some point if not continually, with the demands of that social ideality, the reality of that always insisted-on difference.”15 Along this formulation, I argue that the model minority myth constitutes not only one potential injunctive ideality and “always insisted-on difference” projected onto Asian Americans; in many cases, it offers the only injunctive ideality, or at least the first that invariably comes to mind, which opens up a wealth of affective contact 13. Ibid., 33. 14. Ibid., 50, emphasis added. 15. Ibid., 25, emphasis added. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 25
that racial melancholia can help to probe. The conventional argument in Asian American studies might follow such an equation with a outcry of dissatisfaction, claiming that the “self-affirming” positivity and supposed empowerment of the model minority myth arguably bars Asian Americans from “undertaking” that “painful negotiation” at all.16 After all, who would take up pain in order to reckon with a good thing? However, this essay pushes back on such a unilateral insistence on model minority complacency, broaching instead that when we invoke the critical tool of melancholia, it becomes impossible to overlook how Southland’s Asian American characters do in fact take up that “painful negotiation” when grappling with interracial desire. As such, we must ask different questions. In the case of Jackie Ishida, do these negotiations necessarily unseat or disprove the disciplinary power of the model minority myth? Or rather, do the lineages and breakages of myth as a discursive vantage point somehow enrich her stillforming purview as an Asian American individual—in but not of a kaleidoscopic array of interpersonal irreconcilabilities, structural harms, and ideological contexts? Model Minority Genealogies To ascertain the model minority myth in Southland, we must begin with Jackie’s parents—arguably some of the characters 16. See Viet Thanh Nguyen’s discussion of this point, using David Palumbo-Liu’s framing of “model minority discourse” as a “discourse of healing,” in Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America, pp. 148-149. 26 | UNFOUND
of least interest to the novel. Nonetheless, as third-generation Japanese Americans, Jackie’s parents do much to complicate the novel’s interaction with the racialized history that Jackie, a fourth-generation Asian American in the 1990s, now desires to reclaim. When the novel opens, we find Jackie’s parents well settled in the filmy indifference of suburban upper middle class existence—separated and elevated from Crenshaw, enshrouded in their “huge place up in Ojai ... a four-bedroom house on a lovely five-acre lot.”17 They are in fact never characterized without mention of their remoteness and privacy, Jackie’s relationship with them is clearly anything but close,18 and they remain persistently absent and irrelevant to the excruciatingly complex events that comprise the narrative. In their oblivion, Jackie’s parents may be the truly “lost” model minority generation. However, as the novel’s flashbacks suggest, Jackie’s mother Rose may deserve a closer look. While her father, Frank Sakai, is clearly identified as the Nisei secondgeneration whose parents were the first to immigrate to the US from Japan, Rose is never mentioned or identified as the Sansei 17. Revoyr, 19. 18. This departure from centering a biological parent-child framework of kinship is meaningful, particularly considering how the model minority concept operates through and helps fortify conventional premises of the nuclear and implicitly heteronormative family unit, which was most desirable in the production and regulation of continuing generations of ideal neoliberal American subjects. (Robert Lee, Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999), 160.)
third-generation. She grew up as simply the elder tennis-playing perfectionist daughter, especially in comparison to her sister Lois, “the bad daughter … a brat, the bad student.”19 Yet, teenage Rose’s rather loathsome personality—which goes largely unchecked in the urgency of her prim success—holds a distinct melancholic quality. In a flashback, Lois recalls that even as young teenagers, “[Rose] wanted to move”20 to the “stiff and all-Japanese” suburb of Gardena, “where everyone lived in big, bland houses; where all the boys her age were already talking about college and becoming doctors, and all the girls spoke of make-up tips and Barbie dolls.”21 Lois could tell Rose greatly preferred this suburban middle-class model minority haven to Crenshaw where their family lived, because “every weekend” Rose would return from visiting her Gardena friends “sighing and sad, looking out the window for hours.”22 What Rose “sighs” and spends “hours looking out the window” moping about is something Lois can only find extremely perplexing. Does Rose long for class and comfort, or for a racially homogenous sanctuary? It is quite possible that Rose herself does not even know. But already, under the age of fifteen, Rose knows what she does not want: the interracial landscape of Crenshaw that her father loved so deeply to the point of crossing boundaries to share in its kinship. Her melancholia participates in safeguarding a deeply buried intimacy: 19. Revoyr, 38. 20. Ibid., 35. 21. Ibid., 34. 22. Ibid., 35.
through a secret relationship with an African American woman in Crenshaw named Alma—his first and perhaps only love—Frank is actually the biological father of Curtis Martindale. This quiet but profound rift between the Nisei and Sansei generations—capable of engendering such longing, avoidance, and melancholia in the latter, as well as draining out sympathy and memory along the way—raises a compelling opportunity to ponder: what exactly was lost (or found) in the melancholic gap of cultural assimilation, that Jackie must later recover (or break with)? To contemplate this point, it is imperative to consider how the securityseeking genealogy of Jackie’s maternal side of the family carries the legacy of internment and carceral discipline, which not only eroded the Japanese American community in both the US and Canada via post-internment resettlement and dispersal policies, but also cast a shadow over even the vexed execution of reparations.23 From experiencing the trauma of internment and warfare as a part of “the 442nd, the all-Japanese regiment [that was] asked to carry out the most difficult assignments,” 23. “By the 1980s, Japanese Americans had also been designated by various media reports and politicians as a ‘model minority’ whose educational and economic achievements apparently exceeded those of the white majority. Capping a narrative of triumph from adversity, the US government’s offer of an apology and reparations [for WWII internment] in 1988 reflected the political changes enabled by the civil rights movement and the growing backlash against its gains.” (Ju Yon Kim, The Racial Mundane: Asian American Performance and the Embodied Everyday (New York; London: NYU Press, 2015), 98) Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 27
to facing heavy discrimination when he came home after the war,24 it is no wonder that Frank Sakai kept secrets in his corner grocery market for decades at least in part out of survival instinct. Rose, in turn, may have put up walls between herself and the multiracial neighborhood of Crenshaw as a strategic means to propel herself into the middle-class mainstream, which had never been accomplished in her family before. As unlikable as Rose may be, we cannot overlook how she, as the daughter of WWII internees, faced silently looming odds in the task of leveraging a sense of belonging amidst environments her parents could not have imagined accessing. However, by the time it is Jackie’s turn to enter professional adulthood as a fourth-generation American in her own right, this legacy of secrecy and privacy no longer works for her. While Rose is positioned at barely a generation’s move from Frank’s trauma of being interned and fighting in WWII, the paternal side of Jackie’s family, the Ishidas, experienced the privilege of the model minority myth differently, even in its nascent stages. Thanks to a luckily disqualifying but not injurious physical abnormality, Jackie’s paternal grandfather avoided direct contact with the war altogether. Not only that, but after the war, the Ishidas quickly launched themselves economically, 24. Frank’s inexplicable elimination from middle-class higher-education ascendancy can be summed up in one sentence, in which the element of racial discrimination is not utterable to narration, yet unmistakable: “Frank took classes at UCLA on the GI Bill, but after he got not one callback from his interviews for summer jobs, he quit school and started working full-time.” (Revoyr, 120) 28 | UNFOUND
starting a business in the “one field where their names didn’t hurt them”: home landscaping.25 This detail in the novel, though small, is significant for how it plainly reveals that the Ishidas were well aware that discrimination against their Japanese racial identity would pose a problem in any other professional field. Beyond a matter of immigrant resilience and ingenuity, the Ishidas deliberately cultivated their success in line with the arbitrary, fortuitous, and exoticized desirability assigned to their cultural Otherness: “the perception that the Japanese were better with plants.”26 This contextualizes the predicament outlined by Robert Lee in “The Cold War Origins of the Model Minority Myth” of how after the trauma of WWII internment, “Japanese Americans, for the most part, were anxious to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and reluctant to relive their experience.”27 Such efforts to “rebuild” in turn helped “[build] the silent minority”28 idea, which spun the success of Japanese Americans in particular as a reward for their silence and docility. It follows to argue that the discursive development of the model minority myth is in itself melancholic. As Cheng theorizes, the processes of racialization and subsequent assimilation of racialized Others inevitably illuminate how “the history of American national idealism has always been caught in this melancholic bind between incorporation and rejection.”29 Not only 25. Revoyr, 189. 26. Ibid., 189. 27. Lee, 151. 28. Ibid., 151-153. 29. Cheng, 31, emphasis added.
does this “institutional process of producing a dominant, standard, white national ideal” sustain itself by the “exclusion-yet-retention of racialized others,” it establishes a “[particularly acute] American melancholia” that is self-destructively fueled by myths like that of the model minority.30 In this respect, the model minority myth occupies a vexed space: as a singled-out “model,” it fulfills the paradoxical terms of an ultimate “exclusion-yet-retention” and feeds upon on unstable temporalities—gaining traction from “institutional” processes of cultural formation that are both retroactive and portentous, at once placed out of time and heavily dependent on history. In Abnormal, Michel Foucault similarly formulates this temporal notion of power as an exclusion-to-quarantine trajectory: “from a technology of power that drives out, excludes, banishes, marginalizes, and represses, to a fundamentally positive power that fashions, observes, knows, and multiplies itself on the basis of its own effects.”31 When placed in the context of Asian American history (from the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and other antiAsian immigration legislation at the turn of the twentieth century to WWII Japanese internment), such a sequential “passage” between “technolog[ies] of power” maps the paradoxes of American race relations onto historical specificities, particularly in the discursive genealogy from racial segregation to multiculturalism—a transition for which the Asian American “model” has been most
useful. It is by now common knowledge in and beyond race and ethnicity studies that, when conferred upon the entire Asian American racial group in US discourse, the model minority narrative conveniently helps disqualify the experiences of other minority groups that continue to face discrimination even after explicitly targeted structural oppressions have been removed. However, before we can analyze the entirety of the “model minority myth” as a “melancholic bind,” we must rigorously consider the potency of myth to, in Roland Barthes’s terms, to facilitate the “loss of the historical quality of things,” so much so that “things lose the memory that they once were made.”32 The model minority myth can thus be understood as an ongoing and unfixed process of loss, “a ceaseless flowing out”33 of historical specificity—not only particular details of one’s ancestry or facts of wartime abuse, but also the “memory” or awareness that what is currently “natural” has in fact been “made” or constructed. These embedded, operative intricacies of myth compel us to parse questions of theoretical genealogy in order to approach Jackie Ishida’s experiences of desire as a study of the model minority melancholic. After all, in all her fourth-generation oblivion, Jackie’s lost object is not her grandfather. Her lost object is, rather, the cognizance and consequent agency—no matter how vexed, contested, or doomed— her grandfather once had, in determining his own bonds of interracial kinship.
30. Ibid., 30-31. 31. Foucault, Abnormal, 48.
32. Roland Barthes, Mythologies (New York: Hill and Wang, 2012), 255. 33. Ibid., 255. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 29
Whiteness and the Discipline of Sanctuary A notable moment in the novel when Jackie most acutely comes face-to-face with the appealing, spatialized complacency of the model minority myth, is when she visits the downtown LA law firm she will join full-time after graduating law school. Jackie’s experience of the law firm visit is blissfully blank, devoid of history or complications of feeling, as professionalism dictates and as her own well-disciplined propriety and sense of restraint enjoy. The narration reveals that what entices Jackie so much about the law firm, with its “big plush offices” and “soft, plump leather chairs,” is not so much the luxury or the salaried value attached, but the pleasure of “[envisioning] herself there.”34 This distinction of space over financial gain is subtle, but crucial. As Jackie relishes the prospect of becoming “a regular part of the landscape,” it is clear she has come to vest her professional aspirations in an idealization of how prestige and comfort can configure a myth of belonging into material reality. However, when she departs from this vertically lofty, well-appointed dreamscape of elite modernity and decadent success, she re-encounters the unruly horizontality of the street. Los Angeles’s ethnic urban spaces steadily re-remind her of her own Asian identity as she “[watches] the faces change from white to black to brown, saw the signs on the buildings go from English to Spanish. At the corner of 1st and Main, right before the New Otani Hotel, she saw her 34. Revoyr, 186. 30 | UNFOUND
first sign in Japanese.”35 Here, on the street level, “faces” and “signs” are anonymous no longer—they hold not only names, but also colors, languages, and histories. This horizontal progression of racial space in Los Angeles is nothing new to the Ishida/Sakai family lineage, which can be interpreted as a generation-by-generation movement toward whiteness: from Frank’s life in multiracial urban Crenshaw to Rose’s longing to be a part of a Japanese American enclave in Gardena, to Jackie at UCLA Law School with her white girlfriend, elite career prospects, and virtually nonexistent knowledge of Japanese culture. According to such a formulation, Jackie would seem to have already arrived at whiteness and become ensconced in it, perhaps irrevocably. But if as Jackie’s friend Rebecca declares at one point in the novel, “Jackie’s being gay had saved her”36—then perhaps it is Jackie’s queer sexuality that “save[s] her” from, or at least forestalls her along, this very trajectory toward whiteness. Jackie’s closeted queerness keeps her at a remove from her parents and thus at a remove from perfectly cohering to the pressures of (hetero)normative and increasingly “white” success they impose on her. Meanwhile, the silent, cozy insularity of their unconcern about her sexual and racial identity gives Jackie just enough space to question that unconcern’s truthfulness; it prompts her to notice that her parents “lived with the luxury of an innocence that [she] didn’t totally believe in.”37 35. Ibid., 186-187. 36. Ibid., 197. 37. Ibid., 103.
For all her desperation to distance herself from them,38 Jackie replicates the way her parents “don’t want to talk about anything”39 when navigating her relationship with her girlfriend Laura. If such behavior makes no real sense yet is persistently sustained, then we are beginning to approach the heart and gravitas of Jackie’s subjection to the disciplinary power of the model minority myth. The myth not only disciplines Jackie’s hazy racial unconscious and inarticulacy; it also sustains in her a desire to retain that racial anonymity and inattention, especially in her relationships that are supposed to be most emotionally intimate and important. In this way, the myth and all its surrounding, unfixed material render Jackie, in erin Ninh’s words, “a self-producing subject”40— determined along neoliberal individualist premises of perpetual insecurity and need for privatization of space. By heightening the guardedness between Laura and herself, alienating their intimacy and quarantining their friction, the internalized discipline of isolation and melancholia (which perhaps the model minority myth in fact depends on in order to function) compels Jackie’s estrangement from the very person who ought to be a figure of desire. In order to protect an unfixed notion of something too intimate to share—“memories”? “thoughts”? “images”?41—Jackie will 38. Ibid., 19. 39. Ibid., 103. 40. Ninh, Ingratitude: The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature, (New York: NYU Press, 2011), 141. 41. Revoyr, 43.
continue to reproduce the myth along its contours of ambition, privacy, even invisibility, if only for herself to believe in. As the novel progresses, mutual reticence proves to be a deepening problem in Jackie and Laura’s relationship. The novel’s first break with the model minority myth—specifically its discord with expectations of whiteness—revolves around this very point of what they have not been telling each other. In the scene, after hearing from Rebecca about the discovery and arrest of a large group of illegal Thai immigrants (female garment workers and exploited “indentured servants”), Jackie returns home to confront Laura, who works at the local mayor’s office: “why isn’t [Mayor] Jimenez standing up for those women?”42 An intense argument ensues, marking the irreconcilable breaking point of their relationship. On the surface, by harshly berating her girlfriend about a bureaucratic mess that she as one employee cannot possibly control, Jackie seems to be unfairly taking her anger out on Laura, especially since, at this point in the novel, it is evident that Laura is depressed. However, if we consider for a moment that Jackie is projecting internal realizations inflected with emergent crises of racial and psychic selfhood, for which there is no available language, the situation begins to take on much more nuance. Unlike the melancholic way she and her family have long dealt with the racial tensions around them, in this moment Jackie does not hold back; she explodes. She seems to be aware, 42. Ibid., 224. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 31
on some level, that if she holds back, she would only further replicate the loss of consciousness that has plagued her for her entire life. Yet to let out the true magnitude of her frustrations and “repulsion” risks the demise of her and Laura’s crumbling relationship altogether. The resentment and thwarted desire of their shared melancholia has, after all, been a crucial part of what is keeping them together. Within this vexing space of confrontation, Jackie experiences how desire gets normalized at a political register. Specifically, she sees through what she had initially found attractive in Laura: Laura’s “conviction,” “faith in government,” and “belief” in neoliberal ideas of social change, which now all fall flat.43 However, in trying to make sense of the ensuing disillusionment, Jackie becomes incomprehensible to Laura. At the same time, with defensive repetitions of “well, I don’t understand why you care so much” and “you should get this, Jackie,”44 Laura exposes her own rigid construction of Jackie’s political consciousness. As the only recurring white, liberal, upper-middle-class character in the novel, Laura brings a weight of raced and classed approval when she expects Jackie to support and understand her own politics. As Laura’s incredulity turns to vehement resentment—“since when are you concerned about what happens to those women?”45—it becomes clear she can neither accommodate nor respond to the intersectional and inter-
minority nuances of Jackie’s frustration. Among these nuances is Jackie’s perplexity at how enraged she is allowed to be that a Hispanic politician is not doing as much to advocate on behalf of South Asian workers as she presumes he would “if those women were Latino.”46 Such an imagining of a minority individual in power who would only seek the protection and advancement of his own group follows the same multiform anxieties that collect around and reinforce the model minority myth, but in the inverse. Jackie is also beginning to perceive traces of a vast and inscrutable bureaucratic apparatus around illegal immigrant laborers—an apparatus that, in Foucault’s terms, invests heavily in the zero-sum life-death politics of biopower, which “racism justifies.”47 Again, this touches upon an aspect of the governmental system neither visible nor reasonable to Laura. Staggered at being so displaced and de-familiarized, Laura encodes and conveys her lack of comprehension instead on emotional, interpersonal terms. She pivots to the secrecy and estrangement of her and Jackie’s crumbling relationship: “You know what I think this is really about? It’s about the fact that I don’t tell you what I’m working on anymore. I mean, God forbid I keep anything from you. Since you, of course, tell me everything that you do.”48 For all of her failings as a communicative romantic partner, Jackie’s initiation of this break does signal her first attempt to renounce her own containment
43. Ibid., 225-226. 44. Ibid., 224, emphasis in original. 45. Ibid., 224.
46. Ibid., 224. 47. Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, 254-258. 48. Revoyr, 225.
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and political apathy toward the outside world. As a complacent model minority subject, she has long been complicit in the way whiteness performs erasure. However, as indicated by the overall hostile and unresolved mood of the confrontation, this particular mythic break proves unproductive because Jackie is attempting to break out of her containment and melancholia vis-à-vis the wrong person—Laura, a white woman, who would not be able to understand the ways Jackie is trying to negotiate her politics across racial lines. In this conversation, there is no other minority individual with whom Jackie can candidly exchange an underground resistance of sorts, a mutually self-conscious “you feel me” sense of solidarity49 amidst an affective landscape of liberal politics still largely dominated by whiteness. In this way, rather than exposing particular character flaws of either Jackie or Laura, perhaps this scene in Southland serves to posit a critique for liberal politics’ coalition-building endeavors, which despite white liberal individuals’ best intentions, can be intolerable for non-white minority individuals without recognition and rapport from each other. This predicament is not only new to Jackie; it is indeed new to all Asian Americans of her generation. As a fourth-generation Japanese American in the 90s, Jackie’s historical position is at a considerable distance from that of the Asian Americans of her paternal 49. John L. Jackson, Jr., “Peter Piper Picked Peppers, but Humpty Dumpty Got Pushed,” in Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness, (New York: Basic Civitas, 2008), 121-149.
grandfather’s generation, who mediated white expectations a different way: by utilizing model minority exceptionalism (i.e., cleverly starting a landscape business because people believe “the Japanese are better at plants”) as a potentially subversive tactic to assemble survival and success in a way that still allowed for dignity. However, while her ancestors had a clear need for socioeconomic survival, Jackie holds a presumed ticket to material success, a white partner, and a body of political knowledge so readily available that she could ignore it for years. How is Jackie to leverage her newly conceived political passions to a white individual who is no longer a boss or an immigration officer—but a lover? How is she to negotiate whiteness not as a blatantly exclusionary institution, but as something intimate, densely felt, approximating kinship—while still exploring and exercising her unique politics? As this moment in the novel shows, there is yet no available way to do this; it is a predicament that exceeds all vocabulary. Jackie and Lanier: Breaking into a Structure of Feeling At the climax of the novel, after they finally put all the pieces of their search together, Jackie and her co-detective Lanier share a fraught and physically intimate encounter that this section will read as a final, shattering mythic break of Southland. After thinking all along that Curtis Martindale had been murdered by a white police officer during the 1965 Watts Riots, Jackie and Lanier are devastated to discover Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 33
that the deed had in fact been done by a Black police officer whose profound racial self-hatred, as Lanier says, made it all “even worse.” In this scene, Jackie’s point of view notably recedes as Lanier’s grief swells. Her pain is acut50e, but his pain is tempestuous, earthshaking, torrential: “Lanier didn’t know whether to cry or scream or drive his car into the bay ... impotent, enraged, and betrayed ... he felt the world heave up from under him and toss him like a toy.”51 Although they both had emotional stakes in the outcome of this search, as a Black man in America, Lanier’s “twenty-nine years’ worth of grief”52 bears an immeasurably more unbearable weight of un-mourned history. Jackie is the one who, after helplessly watching Lanier sob, “reach[es]” for him, “pull[s] him gently toward her.”53 In the kiss and mounting tension that follows, the narration interjects: Something was wrong here, they both knew it, but it wasn’t simply that Lanier was a man; that Jackie desired women. She knew that she’d never be in this situation, feel so open and connected, with any man but Lanier, but it was also the fact that it was Lanier that kept it from going further. And he knew he didn’t want this as much as he did. Not because of the limits and idiosyncrasies of desire, but because, they both realized, with a clarity that shocked them, they were, at least in some sense, family.54
The magnitude of emotional turbulence in this moment cannot be overstated; it 50. Revoyr, 316. 51. Ibid., 316. 52. Ibid., 316. 53. Ibid., 317. 54. Ibid., 317. 34 | UNFOUND
quakes the narrative and clearly struggles to articulate itself. “Raw with emotion,”55 the narration oscillates from a note of protest, “never ... with any man but Lanier,” to a sense of self-reassurance that “it was also the fact that it was Lanier that kept it from going further.” Such oscillation does not leave room for doubt on the question of how seriously, even desperately, Jackie and Lanier are engaging with the core strangeness of their situation. They do not lurch and rebound and reason in order to avoid or excuse the enormity of what is at hand. It would rather seem that Jackie and Lanier plunge headfirst into incoherent fits and starts of desperate probing, earnest agitation—grappling both physically and internally to try and understand what has no language to be expressed. Swinging between what “it was” and what it “wasn’t simply,”56 the narration communicates to the reader—as Jackie and Lanier try to convince each other, or their own individual selves—that something already known, or at least dimly felt, is at play. Jackie and Lanier’s relationship at this peak exceeds and speaks back to constructions of sexuality and interracial desire, and that act of speaking back is not containable by available emotional literacy or discourse. If the model minority myth is the already-coherent, then this scene occupies the unstable space in gaps between coherent discursive knowledge. We can understand this in-between space of intimacy between Jackie and Lanier as 55. Ibid., 317. 56. Ibid., 317.
a structure of feeling, which, according to Raymond Williams, offers “the only fully available articulation” of “meanings and values as they are actively lived and felt.”57 Still emergent from “a social experience which is still in process,” such a structure is “often not yet recognized as social but taken to be private, idiosyncratic, and even isolating.”58 When Jackie and Lanier contend with and push past “the limits and idiosyncrasies of desire,” they create an unfocused formation of their mutuality, “family,” and kinship that “still in process” and runs potentially unanswerable risks in order to remain “open and connected.”59 What mobilizes and then holds together such an earth-shattering moment? It is an externalized mutual mourning— certainly not commensurable to a racial grief that can be evenly shared between respective African American and Asian American, but powerful in breaking through their entangled melancholia all the same. In this state, both Lanier and Jackie move beyond themselves and recognize the grief in the other. Although the loss is primarily Lanier’s devastation—on the terms of his family, his work as a community leader in Crenshaw, his lifelong hypervisibility as an “intimidating” Black male—Jackie is tightly, inextricably implicated in this moment, too. This bond is one of desire, but desire as intense empathy that cannot look away; desire to be able to do anything at all to quell the surging tide of “heav[ing] ... jagged, 57. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 132. 58. Ibid., 132-133, emphases added. 59. Revoyr, 317.
uncontrollable” racial grief that consumes Lanier, and empties Jackie of herself, until she feels “as if her heart had been removed.”60 It is also desire forestalled, held at bay, “kept ... from going further.”61 A short moment later, alone in her hotel room, Jackie helplessly “[feels] the injustice of not desiring the person she connected with, and loved.”62 But, as almost a saving grace to them both, Lanier feels the same way: he knocks on the door, promising, “I won’t touch you.” Jackie responds, “I know,” and they climb into bed together to fall asleep in each other’s arms.63 As with the apparent paradox of Lanier knowing “he didn’t want this as much as he did”—no matter what Jackie and Lanier desire from moment to moment of incoherent intimacy, they want each other as “family” more. 64 At this juncture, Lanier and Jackie’s relationship represents a “‘smash back’ at a history inflamed by race relations ... one of kinship and not territory.”65 With kinship hovering as a potential antidote to melancholia for them both, sexuality evidently serves as a site to negotiate many other “contradictions, desires, and anxieties” (in a nod back to Cheng) that do not necessarily directly concern sexuality. Indeed, even if Jackie and Lanier’s relationship never continues, the smashing has been irrevocably done. Both of their 60. Revoyr, 316. 61. Ibid., 317. 62. Ibid., 317. 63. Ibid., 317-318. 64. Ibid., 317. 65. Chiu, 66-67. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 35
perspectives on Black/Asian American relations are irreversibly changed, and these notes of simultaneous familiarity and unfamiliarity continue to invoke and queer their respective ideas of interracial/interminority kinship. Even in the novel’s final pages, these changes remain emergent and in process, as both Jackie and Lanier “[realize] how used to [each other they’d] gotten,”66 and grapple with what to do with such a realization. At the beginning of the novel, Jackie had access to a ready-made kinship formation in her model minority Japanese American family (though this was a source of kinship she could neither choose nor desire to pursue, except out of guilt), while Lanier is first introduced as firmly placed in his role at the heart of Crenshaw’s Marcus Garvey Community Center: a leader, a role model, an “insider” who “lived and breathed Crenshaw, always had.”67 By the end of the story, after the case has been solved and they have “no reason to see [each other] again,”68 Jackie and Lanier find themselves sharing a bond compelling enough for Lanier to sheepishly invite Jackie to “come down and volunteer at Marcus Garvey” regularly in the future, even after she begins her full-time corporate career in downtown LA. Casting aside her own initial “reactions to say no” and excuse herself as too unqualified or out of place, Jackie smilingly acknowledges that, even in her ineptness, “it was a wonderful idea—a way to see Lanier regularly, and to honor her grandfather. And it was a way 66. Revoyr, 336, emphasis added. 67. Ibid., 61. 68. Ibid., 336. 36 | UNFOUND
for her, finally, to do something useful; to get out of herself and give to somebody.”69 It is noteworthy that these new bonds, which Jackie and Lanier are willing and even eager to “get out of [themselves]” to preserve, no longer adhere to structures of kinship prescribed by model minority subjectivity, requirements of heteronormativity, or racial homogeneity. Such displacements and replacements of sexuality norms70 thus not only resignify kinship in the novel, but also throw into relief how the model minority myth as an economic or political modality has been operating at many levels—psychic, sexual, emotional—in order to work effectively. In these ways, Southland ultimately renders interracial desire as a structure of feeling to break into rather than break out of. A final example of this emerges near the conclusion of the novel: when testifying about their findings in court, Jackie and Lanier “omit” Frank and Alma’s relationship in order to “protect Frank and Alma and their undercover love.”71 This act of concealment is not formed out of the denial or defensive shame that comes with hiding something one does not fully know, such as a half-told, embarrassing family secret, an inscrutable village rumor, or a disconcertingly incomplete yet powerful myth. Rather, Jackie and Lanier reach out first to each other, then to use that bond to shield the intimacy of the answers they have sought together; they do so out of 69. Ibid., 337, emphasis added. 70. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1999), 30. 71. Revoyr, 339.
a desire to honor and thus to shelter the newfound histories they have finally come to know. Perhaps, then, interracial desire as a structure of feeling in Southland is a reconsideration of safety—through language available and to-be-made-available—that speaks to what we protect, why, and to what lengths we do so beyond ourselves. Coda When treating narratives like Southland that seem—and are intended—to be overloaded with heavy multiplicities of identity and history, critical inquiry cannot be bracketed to the same, unsurprising pronouncement that Asian American characters are damaged by and must renounce the model minority myth. Careful readers of Asian American literature must push further and examine how these narratives might in fact map a far less simple possibility: that this much-repudiated myth’s cogency took hold through what mattered most to those who came before us—even those who did not look like us— as they pieced together an existence from the baffling and contradictory projections of how newcomers and racial Others are supposed to “make it” in America. Rather than seeking to preemptively disestablish the myth’s salience in Asian America and its imaginary, scholarly projects need to dislocate what has long been dominant discourse on the model minority myth, while carving out analytical space for endlessly complex psychic and ideological subjectivities that have collected and continue to collect around disciplinary
configurations of the myth. Put another way, in order to avoid exacerbating what Viet Thanh Nguyen identifies in Asian American critical studies as a “polarization between those Asian Americans who perceive themselves and are perceived as the model minority, the inheritors of the American Dream, and those who perceive themselves and are perceived as bad subjects”—in Asian American studies we must think about countering the essentializing operations of the model minority myth without doing away with the precious material being essentialized: the landscapes of affective vulnerability, genealogical proximity, and densely wrought desire and loss that Southland, for one, charts with assiduous detail. As this essay has proposed, for this task it can be useful to conceptualize this myth—like all myths—not so much as a forceful oppressor or a despicable enemy, but rather a set of seductively familiar logics sounding out something our humanity has always craved; something like protection, validation, explicability. In the ongoing task of unraveling this myth’s operations, the latter conceptualization will almost undoubtedly be the one that calls for more caution, seriousness, painful negotiation, and continual empathy. Bibliography Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 2012. Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York : Routledge, 1999. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 37
Cheng, Anne Anlin. The Melancholy of Race. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Chiu, Monica. “The Conspicuous Subjects of Interracial Spaces in Nina Revoyr’s Southland.” In Scrutinized!: Surveillance in Asian North American Literature. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2014. Eng, David L., and Shinhee Han. “A Dialogue on Racial Melancholia.” Psychoanalytic Dialogues 10, no. 4 (2000): 667-700. Foucault, Michel, et al. Abnormal: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1974-1975. London: Verso, 2003. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. New York: Vintage Books, 1980. Gilmartin, T.A. “Nina Revoyr’s Southland A Los Angeles Love Story.” Lesbian News 29, no. 9 (April 2004): 22. Jackson, John L., Jr. Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness. New York: Basic Civitas, 2008. Kim, Ju Yon. The Racial Mundane: Asian American Performance and the Embodied Everyday. New York; London: New York University Press, 2015. Robert G. Lee, “The Cold War Origins of the Model Minority Myth.” In Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999. Long, Sari. “Southland (Book).” Progressive 67, no. 7 (July 2003): 43. Nguyen, Viet Thanh. Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Ninh, erin Khuê. Ingratitude: The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature. New York: New York University Press, 2011. Revoyr, Nina. Southland. New York: Akashic Books, 2003. 38 | UNFOUND
Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977. Wu, Frank H. “The Model Minority: Asian American ‘Success’ as a Race Relations Failure.” In Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White. New York: Basic Books, 2002.
“No Program, No Peace!”: The Fight for Asian American Studies at Northwestern Miki Takeshita, The University of Chicago ’17 This paper details the struggle staged by Asian American and non-Asian American students at Northwestern University to implement an Asian American Studies program. Past scholars have argued that the institutionalization of Asian American studies and other ethnic studies programs undermine their radical roots. I propose, however, that while the movement for Asian American Studies at Northwestern did not include radical calls for autonomy and student and faculty control, it is still a social movement worthy of academic inquiry, as it reflects key components of one as outlined by scholars of social movements. Those in AAAB along with their allies framed their arguments for the need of Asian American Studies within the context of Northwestern University as a liberal arts college and understood the need to appeal to the institution as an authority that legitimated knowledge and knowledge production. Yet the means by which they engaged in contention pointed to a larger and more significant struggle between rank-and-file student and powerful administration, in which the students engaged in an extreme measure to attack its bureaucratic governance and decision-making processes that actively ignored the students’ demands to shape their own education.
David Hish thought he had missed the rally by the time he showed up at the courtyard in front of President Bienen’s office in the Rebecca Crown Administrative Building. The 200 students at Northwestern University had already moved from Rock, a small boulder sandwiched between Harris and University Halls that still serves today as a common meeting point for rallies and campus groups, to the courtyard.1 They were there on this snowy day in April 1995 to rally for an Asian American Studies program, which the Asian American Advisory Board (AAAB) had proposed and requested from the administration three times but received a noncommittal response. Grace Lou, chairperson of the AAAB, was fed up with the administration and announced three days before that members and allies would go on a hunger strike.2 Hish, as president of BGALA, the Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Alliance, snaked his way to the top of the steps and gave a speech to the crowd in support of the implementation of the Asian American Studies program. The view from above was incredible and unlike anything he had ever seen during his four years at Northwestern—people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds had come to the rally to show solidarity with AAAB and the seventeen 1. David Hish, “hunger: a guide to the asian american studies hunger strike,” in Records of the Asian American Studies Program, Box 1 Folder 1 (Northwestern University Archives, Northwestern University, 1993-2012), 1995. 2. Ibid. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 39
hunger strikers, who would begin striking that day in front of the administrative offices.3 After the rally, the crowd dispersed and the hunger strikers left to set up their tents for what would later become a highly controversial and nationally recognized three-week hunger strike.4 The 1995 hunger strike for Asian American Studies at Northwestern University bears resemblance in many ways to the 1968 strike at San Francisco State University staged by the Third World Liberation Front, a coalition of minority students that protested the Eurocentrism inherent within the curriculum and demanded an autonomous School of Ethnic Studies in which student groups had the authority to hire faculty and control the curriculum. Scholars have gone on to argue that subsequent efforts to bring Asian American Studies in the 1970’s and 1980’s have diverged from their radical origins, noting that Asian American Studies has become institutionalized, factionalized, and in essence, had “sold out” in favor of academic legitimacy and accumulation of cultural capital.5 Applying these scholars’ theories would suggest that students at Northwestern, in asking for an Asian American Studies program, could not foresee that their demands would 3. Please see Figure 1 and 2, attached at the bottom. Courtesy of Michael Schneider, who was student at Northwestern University at the time of the strike and wrote an op-ed in support of the program. 4. Boaz Herzog, “Students begin hunger strike for Asian American Studies,” The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL), April 13, 1995. 40 | UNFOUND
eventually lead to the institutionalization of the program, which would then be subsumed into the bureaucratic structure of the university. Those in AAAB along with their allies framed their arguments for the need of Asian American Studies within the context of Northwestern University as a liberal arts college and understood the need to appeal to the institution as an authority that legitimated knowledge and knowledge production. Yet the means by which they engaged in contention pointed to a larger and more significant struggle between rank-and-file student and powerful administration, in which the students engaged in an extreme measure to attack its bureaucratic governance and decision-making processes that actively ignored the students’ demands to shape their own education. Historiography on the 1995 hunger strike for Asian American Studies at Northwestern remains scant, with no book or even journal article covering this specific moment. Other than the highly popular 1968 strike at SFSU, most scholarship has covered movements for Black Studies in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s either nationally or on specific campuses, as a part of the greater Black Power movement 5. Mark Chiang, The Cultural Capital of Asian American Studies—Autonomy and Representation in the University (New York: New York University Press, 2009); Lane Ryo Hirabayashi and Marilyn C. Alquizola, “Asian American Studies: Reevaluating for the 1990s,” in The State of Asian America, ed. Karin Aguilar-San Juan (Boston: South End Press, 1994): 351-365; Evelyn Hu-DeHart, “The History, Development, and Future of Ethnic Studies”, The Phi Delta Kappan 75 no. 1 (Sep. 1993): 50-54.
that flourished after the perceived failure of the Civil Rights movement to address institutionalized racism. Ibram Rogers traces the Black Studies movement from as early as 1965, in which Black students conceived of “Black universities,” where they would learn about experiences from a Black perspective that would give them the tools to advance themselves and their communities. Through nonviolent and violent means, such as sit-ins and occupations holding people hostage, students demanded “necessary changes to [a] curriculum” which had “no real relevance for Black students.” During these tumultuous few years, several Black students died, hundreds were injured, and thousands were arrested, suspended or expelled in their fight to institutionalize Black Studies and force institutions to diversify higher education.6 Several scholars have focused on the push for Black Studies specifically at elite liberal arts colleges with a mission focused on diversity. Kabria Baumgartner, for example, argues that while Black students were inspired by the Black Student movement, their counterparts at Amherst “sought neither to overthrow Amherst College nor to challenge its mission”; instead they framed their arguments around Amherst’s mission to emphasize the “whole person” as well as the “intellectual and moral well-being of its male student body.” They argued that courses on the Black experience would help to cultivate a greater sense of “wholeness and inclusion” 6. Ibram Rogers, “The Black Campus Movement and the Institutionalization of Black Studies, 1965-1970,” Journal of African American Studies 16, no. 1 (2012): 27.
across the campus and that Black Studies would contribute to a “more democratic and inclusive” liberal arts education.7 Martha Biondi, in The Black Revolution on Campus, argues that Black students at Northwestern, who staged a sit-in in 1968 to demand not only Black Studies but also more comprehensive support that would accommodate Black students and their experience, challenged whiteness and white supremacy disguised as universalism and integration inherent within the university. Biondi writes that the sit-in was not an isolated event; rather, it resulted from an accumulation of racist policies against and lack of protection for Black students on the campus. She writes about, though not in great detail, the movement-building tactics used by the students, such as building trust amongst students so that news of their sit-in would not be leaked beforehand and developing sophisticated media strategies to personally control the framing of their struggle.8 As has been noted by Brian Dill and Ronald Aminzade in “Historians and the Study of Protest,” Rogers, Baumgartner and Biondi have highlighted the development of social movements under specific historical contexts with little regard for theoretical conceptions of social movements. What is critically missing in these works is a thorough examination of the elements 7. Kabria Baumgartner, “‘Be Your Own Man’: Student Activism and the Birth of Black Studies at Amherst College, 1965-1972,” The New England Quarterly LXXXIX, no. 2 (June 2016): 301. 8. Martha Biondi, The Black Revolution on Campus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012): 81-93. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 41
proposed by social scientists that have constituted social movements, which include attributing and perceiving threat and opportunities as a result of external political changes, organizing mobilizing structures, and socially constructing grievances as calls for action.9 In addition to countering Asian American scholars’ dismissal of the fight for Asian American Studies as one removed from radical roots, in this paper I hope to marry these specific theoretical frameworks for studying social movements and expository narrative to propose the struggle for Asian American Studies as a social movement that flourished under these concepts. Hish writes in his 1995 report, “hunger: a guide to the asian american studies hunger strike,” that there was already much discontent within student groups at the administration’s refusal to address the students’ needs, which laid the conditions for mobilization and coalition building across racial, ethnic and other identity lines. For three years AAAB had been trying to get the University to acknowledge the needs of Asian American students. In the fall of 1991, AAAB had requested an Asian American advisor to address specifically the concerns of Asian American students and their experiences at Northwestern, only to be rejected by the Office of Student Affairs three times after multiple revisions of the proposal. AAAB not only wanted to 9. Brian Dill and Ronald Aminzade, “Historians and the Study of Protest*,” in Handbook of Social Movements Across Disciplines, ed. Bert Kleandermans and Conny Roggeband (New York: Springer, 2010): 267-311. 42 | UNFOUND
immediately address the concerns of the students but also hoped to establish “an ongoing dialogue” between the University’s administration and its students. They believed that an Asian American advisor would serve as the link between the students and the administration and show the administration’s commitment to fostering of a “campus climate of mutual respect.”10 The rejection of AAAB’s proposals in 1992 was a strong message that the administration did not care about its Asian American students. Rejection from the administration led AAAB to receive significant student support, expanding its reach and visibility across campus.11 Asian American Heritage Week was expanded to last the entire month of May in 1992, and has been held every year since then. The deficit of Asian American Studies in their existing classes and curriculum led members of AAAB to create two student-organized seminars, “The Asian American Experience” and “Asian and Pacific American Women,” which were only one credit each, did not meet distribution requirements, and could only be taken as pass/fail.12 These classes covered Asian American history, the urban ghetto, the feminist movement, anti-Asian violence, and institutional racism.13 These were not just classes in which people “sat around”; the 10. David Hish, “hunger: a guide to the asian american studies hunger strike,” 2. 11. Ibid. 12. Ibid. 13. Asian American Advisory Board, “Proposal to Establish an Asian American Studies Program at Northwestern University,” 8, in Hish, “hunger: a guide to the asian american studies hunger strike.”
student leaders and participants took them very seriously. They read books, discussed important points in Asian American history, and watched documentaries; Hish recalls watching Who Killed Vincent Chin?, which resonated with him. As the child of a family who owned a car dealership, he recognized the tensions between Japanese and American car brands.14 Watching the documentary helped him to situate the violent effects that this transnational tension had on not only Chin, but also the Asian American community at large. The AAAB was not the only student group at this time frustrated with the administration’s blatant rejection of their demands. When AAAB’s proposal for an Asian American advisor was rejected, thenPresident Arnold Weber also denied equal benefits for same-sex domestic partners employed by the University, after two years’ worth of campaigning by BGALA and other student organizations. The Casa Hispana was focused on increasing the number of Latino/a students at Northwestern. Realizing that student organizations had common grievances against the administration, they recognized that they could work together for common goals. BGALA and AAAB prepared their respective proposals on domestic partnership benefits and Asian American Studies, in consultation with each other and with other progressive organizations, including Casa Hispana and the International Socialist Organization, a group that advocated for the replacement 14. Interview with David Hish, Personal Interview, March 13, 2017.
of capitalism with socialism yet still collaborated with groups of color to advance racial equity on campus. When BGALA approached the administration first with their new proposal for equal benefits for employees with samesex domestic partners, President Henry Bienen had only been in office for a few weeks. He had directly succeeded President Weber, who Hish describes as an “outright homophobe.”15 This direct change in the external administrative system, despite not giving any more power to the students, led Hish to believe that Bienen could be different and thus more receptive to the proposal. BGALA met with him privately over the course of a few weeks, which Hish recalls was a “low-key approach.”16 Eventually, BGALA received a “satisfactory commitment” from Bienen, leading members in AAAB to think that Bienen would be just as receptive to their proposal, after three years of rejection by Weber.17 The proposal was over 200 pages long and contained several letters of faculty support and 1,200 student signatures. In it, AAAB, along with its supporting allies, framed their arguments for an Asian American Studies program by stating students’ demands and connecting its relevancy to the mission of Northwestern as a liberal arts college committed to diversity, all the while appealing to Northwestern’s authority as a higher educational institution to legitimate knowledge and knowledge 15. Ibid. 16. Ibid. 17. Hish, “hunger: a guide to the asian american studies hunger strike,” 6. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 43
production. They recognized Northwestern as a microcosm of American society and an institution where students had to be adequately prepared to deal with society’s increasing multiculturalism, especially as they entered the workforce. The proposal cited demographics to support the observed trend of increasing racial diversity: Asian Americans were “the fastest growing nonwhite minority group in America,” and this growth was reflected at Northwestern, where Asian American students made up 18% of the student body, more than all the other minorities combined. By not supporting this program, the proposal suggested that the administration would be neglecting the very existence of a relatively large percentage of the student population, and the university would be unfit to “prepare for the realities of the twenty-first century”—namely, an increasingly racially diverse society.18 AAAB argued that Asian American Studies was a legitimate discipline grounded in real scholarship that would enhance and diversify intellectual life at Northwestern, stating that understanding of race and ethnicity in American history would “remain incomplete at best, and perhaps flawed” if scholars ignored the study of Asians in America.19 The proposal then listed the many instances in which Asian Americans were racialized and excluded but still contributed to American economic and social history, US-Asia relations, and American culture through film, architecture, 18. AAAB, “Proposal to Establish an Asian American Studies Program at Northwestern University,” 10. 19. Ibid, 10. 44 | UNFOUND
and literature.20 AAAB asserted that failure to implement a program that explored Asian American contributions’ to society would render students’ understanding of American society and culture incomplete and would signal to its students that the Asian American experience was not legitimate or worthy of study. Perhaps one of the proposal’s strongest arguments is that if the students found Asian American Studies to be worthy of their time at the University, the administration should respond accordingly and create a program to institutionalize and therefore legitimate the discipline—as the administration’s job was to work in the interest of the students. The studentorganized seminars had a twenty-person limit, and students were still willing to take these courses despite them not counting for distribution requirements, often filling up waiting lists. Those who did take the courses agreed that each topic covered in the seminar would “merit its own course” in order to “better comprehend the multitude of concepts within each topic.”21 AAAB believed that it was not “the students’ responsibility” to educate other students, but that of “qualified” and “trained” professors who have spent years in the discipline. These sentiments were also reflected in letters of support drafted by faculty members, who stated that Northwestern “must realize the important of these programs for its own student
20. Ibid, 7. 21. Ibid, 9.
body.”22 Students had a strong desire to shape their own educational experiences, and the failure to implement an Asian American Studies program meant that students would be “shortchanged in their educational experience at Northwestern” and that the administration did not recognize students and their intellectual needs.23 On February 14, 1995, President Bienen issued a response stating his gratitude for pointing out a gap in the curriculum, yet did not provide any affirmative words of commitment to the program, avoiding the issue and confirming AAAB’s preexisting thoughts on the administration and its unwillingness to listen to student demands. He suggested that students find ways to integrate the Asian American experience into existing courses, despite AAAB pointing out that integration was insufficient and that there was a dire need for its own program. He also stated his responsibility as president was to “think about priorities and costs,” raising questions about the importance of a program over other “valuable things” and that the AAAB’s suggested timeline deadlines for implementing the program were inconsistent with the administration’s “normal channels” of discussing, reviewing, and implementing programs. In his letter, Bienen strongly affirmed his commitment to the administration rather 22. Charles M. Payne, Chairperson of AfricanAmerican Studies to Northwestern University Administration and Board of Trustees, in Records of the Asian American Studies Program, Box 1 Folder 1 (Northwestern University Archives, Northwestern University, 1993-2012), 1995. 23. Ibid.
than to the students and their needs.24 Dean Lawrence Dumas—Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), which would theoretically oversee the creation of the program—also followed up with a noncommittal response that strongly indicated he did not read the proposal, therefore not taking the students seriously. Like Bienen, he preferred integrating Asian American studies into existing courses. Additionally, he stated that CAS had already made initial efforts in Asian Studies, stating that it served as “part of the intellectual underpinning of Asian-American studies.” He specifically mentioned adding Korean language classes that would provide “additional language support important to understanding the Asian-American experience,” hiring a Korean politics professor, and expanding their international studies curriculum, “in which our Asianists play a role of increased significance.”25 The AAAB responded to Dean Dumas’ letter on March 29, and subsequently issued a statement at their press release that expressed their frustration and anger at the administration’s consistent denial of the students’ desire for an Asian American Studies program. While AAAB accused Dumas of advancing the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype, they were more upset 24. President Henry Bienen to Robert Yap and Asian American Advisory Board, in Records of the Asian American Studies Program, Box 1 Folder 1, (Northwestern University Archives, Northwestern University, 1993-2012), February 14, 1995. 25. Dean Lawrence B. Dumas to Asian American Advisory Board, in Records of the Asian American Studies Program, Box 1 Folder 1 (Northwestern University Archives, Northwestern University, 1993-2012), February 23, 1995. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 45
at him for not having read the proposal in its entirety, noting that they had explained to them “countless of times that Asian American Studies is the study of the Asian experience in the United States”, yet these claims fell on deaf ears.26 They also noted that Bienen did not take time to sincerely consider the proposal that they had worked on and expected Bienen and Dumas to match their efforts in considering the proposal. The statement ended with a direct rebuke of the administration, saying that the administration’s decision to marginalize Asian American Studies within the curriculum denied “both Asian and nonAsian students the opportunity to study” the discipline. Lou stated that Northwestern students deserved “better treatment” from the administration, and that students were “unsatisfied,” “mobilizing for action,” and ready to take “drastic measures” to fight for the program if Bienen, Dumas, and administrators did not agree to another meeting before April 12th.27 While Lou and AAAB spoke to the legitimacy of Asian American Studies as a discipline and a part of a robust liberal arts education, they seemed to highlight more that the students’ needs were legitimate and worthy of consideration. After a few more negotiations in which both administrators rejected AAAB’s new proposal for one program director and two tenure-track professors—considerably scaled back from its original proposal for six tenure26. Grace Lou, President-Elect, “Statement at Asian American Studies Press Conference,” in Records of the Asian American Studies Program, Box 1 Folder 1 (Northwestern University Archives, Northwestern University, 1993-2012), March 29, 1995. 27. Ibid. 46 | UNFOUND
track professors—it was clear to AAAB that neither Dean Dumas nor President Bienen would commit and secure funds for a program. This was a blatant disregard of the students’ desires to shape their own education. By this time, AAAB had built coalitions and gained support across student groups, such as BGALA, Casa Hispana and the International Socialist Organization (ISO). AAAB had already publicly supported BGALA’s proposal for granting benefits to same-sex domestic partners—a risky move at a time when there was still so much stigma associated with homosexuality.28 AAAB had also been supporting some of ISO’s events as early as May 1994—a flyer for one event, featuring union workers and how students could get involved in the local community to fight for economic and social justice, listed AAAB as a co-sponsor.29 On April 10, with the support of over twenty multicultural and ethnic student organizations and local organizations such as Midwest Asian American Students Union and Japanese American Citizens League, Grace Lou announced AAAB’s intentions to go on a hunger strike, actively framing the strike as a response to the administration’s refusal to take the students seriously, and as a show of the students’ seriousness about their desire for Asian American Studies.30 The strike, and the entire movement, represented the student body’s united struggle against 28. Interview with David Hish. 29. International Socialist Organization, “Forging Links Between Campus and Community,” flyer in Records of the Associated Student Government, Box 27 Folder 37 (Northwestern University Archives, Northwestern University), May 19, 1994. 30. Ibid.
the administration for the issue of Asian American Studies, which would benefit the entire school, not just the Asian American students. Mike Yap, a leader in the movement, recalled the meeting in which the core group of AAAB leaders decided to go on a hunger strike. “We didn’t want to get arrested because we planned to have futures,” Yap recalls. “But we wanted a nonviolent way to show the administration that this was urgent without being criminalized and arrested. A hunger strike would say, ‘this is so important,’ it would broadcast to the administration that [the students] care so much about this that they are willing to put their bodies on the line. There was no way for the administration to say confidently that the students did not care about this.”31 At the rally that initiated the hunger strike on April 12, Freda Lin, a member of AAAB, was quick to distance the issue as one only affecting the Asian American students on the campus; she announced to the crowd that the program was “not just a little class where all Asian-American students can go and say, ‘oh yay, we all know about ourselves, we feel so good, I love myself.’ This is for all Americans to truly know what society we live in.”32 She led the group from the Rock to the Crown Center housing the administrative offices of Bienen, where they “shouted for University President Bienen to acknowledge them.”33 AAAB had mobilized seventeen students to begin the hunger strike (fifteen were Asian American, two white) on the 31. Interview with Michael Yap, Personal Interview, March 15, 2017. 32. Boaz Herzog, “Students begin hunger strike for Asian American Studies.” 33. Ibid.
morning of April 12, and sixty more vowed to fast for one day.34 A student of Italian descent had signed up to fast for one day, citing that she felt like she “deserve[d] to have a class so I can learn” about Asian Americans, saying that she felt like it was not fair for her to have to learn from her Asian American friends. While the strike gained a lot of attention, some of it was negative—many students believed that the strike was not an efficient way to bring attention to a cause. “We had people who thought we were throwing a silly and ridiculous temper tantrum,” Hish recalls. Even some Asian Americans did not agree; Amy Liu, a sophomore majoring in Speech (now known as Communications), thought that “it isn’t the right means to get what they want.”35 Another student, Macarthur Antigua, said that while there was a real demand for Asian American Studies, “there’s also tons of factors to that proposal that we don’t even realize.”36 The most infamous incident of a counterdemonstration was when the Conservative Council started handing out pizza in front of the hunger strikes, at which their president stated, “we were demonstrating against the absurd by being absurd.”37 In response to the negative backlash, 34. They are: Jen Abellera, Stefanie Chan, Crystal Chappell, Charles Chun, Miika Fukuwa, Deepti Hajela, Dave Kahn, Sa Kim, Joshua Klugman, Christina Lee, Joann Lee, Eric Salcedo, Jen Taniguchi, Scott Winship, Susan Wu, Mike Yap and Robert Yap. 35. Jim Wilkinson, “Some Asian-Americans Not Eating Up Strike Proposal,” The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL), April 12, 1995. 36. Ibid. 37. Kai-Yui Anny Kuo, “Strike Marked by Vigil, Hecklers,” The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL), April 14, 1995. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 47
AAAB and its allies ramped up its efforts to spread awareness of the issue and reiterated that the program was not about the Asian American students, and that the hunger strike was the only choice the AAAB had after a frustrating four-year process in which the administration refused to listen to the students’ demands. Hish penned an oped for The Daily Northwestern, in which he lamented that “the students, eager to be educated, must research, develop and teach the courses many want to take,” stating that the administration was not listening to the students’ demands to shape their own education. He also stated that this issue was about “the administration continuing to ignore the concerns of the student body.”38 AAAB, to respond to the claims that the hunger strike was an unreasonable method to deal with the administration, also released and disseminated a timeline of events leading up to the strike, to show skeptical students that this was a multi-year struggle in which the students had tried every channel possible and had no other choice except to take on a drastic tactic of raising awareness and getting the administration to listen. Many of these messages resonated with students, even non-Asian Americans who supported the cause. One of two non-Asian American original hunger strikers, Joshua Klugman was a freshman, who had been involved with the ISO on campus. However, he soon became dissatisfied with ISO, as it soon became meeting after meeting with little change; sometimes he would have to 38. David Hish, “In Other Words: University Should Commit to Asian-American Studies,” The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL), April 14, 1995. 48 | UNFOUND
get up early on Saturday mornings to write for their newsletter. He did not quite feel that the ISO was doing as much as possible. He soon realized that the ISO’s mission of overthrowing the capitalist system was impossible, but that implementing Asian American Studies seemed like a practical goal. Klugman recalled that he was drawn to the cause because he thought the institutions were supposed to working for the students, even if Asian American Studies were to be institutionalized and swept up under the bureaucracy of the administration.39 Woody Lucas was one of the few African-American students who got very involved in the movement. He started fasting later on in the week, as part of Grace Lou’s later “strike shifts” in which people could sign up to strike in shifts to ease the burden off of the original strikers, many of whom had been fasting for over a week by then. He said he took part in the hunger strike because he believed in “equity, justice and diversity” and that it was condescending of Northwestern not to recognize differences within the student body. He told me firmly over the phone that this was not an initiative for Asian Americans but one started by Asian Americans that would benefit the entire student body.40 Not only were the hunger strike and rallies representative of a larger struggle between students and an administration that refused to acknowledge the students’ needs, but also, they were innovative strategic tactics 39. Interview with Joshua Klugman, Personal Interview, March 15, 2017. 40. Interview with Woody Lucas, Personal Interview, March 15, 2017.
employed by the AAAB to raise awareness and visibility. They aimed to garner sympathy, to shame the administration, and to show the administration that a unified campus among racial lines was possible, despite their claims that Asian American Studies would further divide the campus. At the initial meeting to decide what to do after Bienen rejected their proposal for the second time, Lin, Yap, and others knew that a sit-in at the administration’s building would have had less of the intended effect on the administration and would criminalize, and therefore delegitimize, their movement. “A hunger strike causes harm to no one except the person doing the hunger strike,” Lin explained. “It was a show of dedication and self-sacrifice in which people were saying, ‘I’m not eating because I want Asian American Studies.’”41 The hunger strikers were also camped out by the Rock, a central location on campus where many students and professors passed by each day. Jennifer Taniguchi, an original hunger striker, remembered that many curious onlookers would stop by the tents to ask what they were doing; some people would discuss racial issues with the strikers. Hunger strikers would tell them why they were striking and hand out flyers and more information, including the timeline, to these onlookers, to further spread information on why they were doing so. Many of them expressed sympathy and compassion for the “strikers’ plight.”42 The
rallies themselves were constructed in such a way to gain visibility and attention—Hish recalls that the Korean drum group who came to perform at the rallies energized the rally attendees, and “the noise of the drums would echo and vibrate all across campus so that people would listen, be curious and come to the rally.”43 After about a week, with no word of commitment from President Bienen, Grace Lou and the rest of AAAB announced a change in tactics and held another rally, this time with a group of 250 that filled almost the entire courtyard. Seven of the original hunger strikers dropped out for health reasons—for example, Yap had started to develop a fever and a bad cough, and Miika Fukuwa stated that she had become too tired to focus on her schoolwork. AAAB’s decision to start a “multi-ethnic serial strike” allowed the hunger strike to keep going without losing momentum. Those who supported the cause but did not want to put their health at risk could choose to sign up for one- to six-day shifts. Having different people at the Rock daily would demonstrate the sheer number of people who wanted an Asian American Studies program. It was also a response to Bienen’s increasingly apparent lack of concern for the students— Gene Kim of AAAB announced to the rally that “the administration, by refusing to act, is responsible for not only the deterioration of these students’ health but also the stagnation of their liberal arts education.”44
41. Interview with Freda Lin. 42. M. Kathleen Pratt, “‘They Can’t Ignore a Hunger Strike’”, The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL), April 19, 1995.
43. Interview with David Hish. 44. Elizabeth Carmody, “AAAB Seeks New Strikers for Program,” The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL), April 18, 1995. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 49
AAAB, by changing tactics, publicly shamed the administration for not addressing the health and education concerns of the students, health-wise and education-wise. AAAB continued its efforts to bring attention to the administration’s lack of concern for the students, but the hunger strike and rallies also came to serve as sites for community building, showing Northwestern the kind of democratic and racially unified society that they envisioned. Hish said that the movement “mobilized students in a way that has [not] been seen on the campus in years.”45 On the first night of the strike, sixty students gathered at the Rock for a midnight vigil to help the strikers pass through their first night. They lit candles, read Asian-American literature and history, and one student even sang “Anthem” from the musical Chess to encourage the strikers. One striker, Christina Lee, called it a “spiritual experience.”46 The strike was able to connect students who came from every ethnicity and cultural student organization who united around a common goal.”47 Woody Lucas announced to a rally, “this is the first time this campus has been racially unified, ethnically unified and religiously unified against the true enemy, and that enemy is ignorance.”48 If Northwestern could 45. David Hish, “hunger: a guide to the asian american studies hunger strike,” 1995. 46. Kai-Yui Anny Kuo, “Strike Marked by Vigil, Hecklers,” The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL), April 14, 1995, in Hish, “hunger: a guide to the asian american studies hunger strike.” 47. Interview with David Hish. 48. M. Kathleen Pratt, “They Can’t Ignore a Hunger Strike,” The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL), April 19, 1995, in Hish, “hunger: a guide to the asian american studies hunger strike.” 50 | UNFOUND
not commit to uniting the campus under the name of racial and cultural diversity, the students took it upon themselves to show the administration that they were indeed capable of uniting across racial and ethnic lines to advocate for their needs. On May 8, 1995, AAAB, after a long three weeks of striking, called off the strike.49 Grace Lou said that the strike was no longer “a practical way” for AAAB to get the administration to commit, seeing that even after 23 days, they were not willing to give into the demands of the students.50 AAAB then decided to work through the bureaucratic procedures and wait until the Curricular Policies Committee made its decision on moving through with the proposal.51 The hunger strike, despite not being immediately successful in gaining an Asian American Studies program, was incredibly successful in bringing awareness to Asian American Studies and reviving student activism on the campus. All in all, the hunger strike and the entire movement was extremely effective because it mobilized under a recently changed administration, built coalitions united under shared grievances against the administration, and highlighted the power disparity between Northwestern students and their administration. The movement communicated the students’ seriousness and frustrations at getting a program and spread awareness of the harsh inequities in Northwestern’s 49. Kai-Yui Anny Kuo, “AAAB Calls Off Strike,” The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL), May 8, 1995. 50. Ibid. 51. Ibid.
supposed liberal arts education. While Asian Americanists like Evelyn Hu DeHart and Lane Ryo Hirabayashi would argue that in the end Asian American Studies at Northwestern had become institutionalized and privy to bureaucratic procedures, it is important to remember that most Asian American Studies and ethnic studies programs have never been implemented without some form of social movement against the administration, whether through small actions like petitions or meetings with the administration or bigger tactics like sit-ins and hunger strikes.52 Student activists saw universities as microcosms of society and sought to expose them as disguised institutions of white supremacy that were just as hostile and racially violent as the world outside. They demanded that the institutions recognize and acknowledge the students’ educational needs and work in the interest of the students. In 2016, over twenty years after the hunger strike, Northwestern University finally approved a major in Asian American
52. The most famous example is the Third World Liberation Front’s 5-month strike at San Francisco State University to demand an ethnic studies program and more faculty of color. Other notable efforts include 1996 hunger strike at Columbia University, 1999 hunger strike at UC Berkeley in response to drastic budget cuts, 2011 protests at Tucson Unified School District protesting a state law targeting ethnic studies in public schools, 2016 petition to launch an ethnic studies specialization within the History and Literatures major at Harvard, a 2016 hunger strike again at SFSU in response to budget cuts, etc.
Studies.53 This, too, was not without continued momentum on the part of later students who continued to carry out the work of Lin, Yap, Lou, Hish and others to see the institutionalization and legitimization of Asian American Studies.54 While the 1995 movement for Asian American Studies at Northwestern may have been small in size and contained within a relatively privileged environment, it is still representative of the ways in which ordinary people mobilize to be heard and acknowledged by those in power. There is a small but percolating movement among a network of students at top-tier colleges fighting to implement Asian American Studies programs at their respective schools, such as the University of Pennsylvania, Yale, Wesleyan, Cornell and Harvard. Student activism at the University of Pennsylvania serves as a relevant example. While it is still contained amongst those who are familiar with the state of Asian American Studies, growing frustrations with the lack of Asian American Studies programs became campus-wide conversations when The Daily Pennsylvanian, The University of Pennsylvania’s undergraduate newspaper, published a guest column by the Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board. In it, the Board expressed concerns about the impending collapse of the program following the departure of Professor Grace Kao, who was solely responsible for the 53. Daniel P. Smith, “Faculty Approve Major in Asian American studies,” Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, accessed January 14, 2018, http://www.weinberg. northwestern.edu/after-graduation/weinberg-magazine/spring-summer-2016/faculty-approve-major-in-asian-american-studies.html. 54. Ibid. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 51
growth of Penn’s Asian American Studies.55 The Board demanded the hiring of a replacement director, more administrative and financial support for the program, as well as more physical space to hold programsponsored events and lectures. These demands were followed by many rallies on the college campus hosted by the Board.56 While student activism at the University of Pennsylvania echoes the movement at Northwestern, it is unclear if the University of Pennsylvania will also successfully have their demands met, as it took over twenty years for Northwestern to have their demands met. More research focusing on the years between the hunger strike and the final implementation of the Asian American Studies major must be conducted to determine the conditions and factors that finally led to the creation of a major, if any progress is to be made in institutionalizing Asian American Studies as a legitimate field of scholarship and inquiry.
Figure 1: Photo from the rally. Courtesy of Mike Schneider
55. The Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board, “Who Killed Asian American Studies?” The Daily Pennsylvanian (Philadelphia, PA), accessed January 14, 2018, http://www.thedp.com/ article/2017/01/guest-column-asian-american-studies893c. 56. Ibid. 52 | UNFOUND
Figure 2: Photo from the rally. Courtesy of Mike Schneider
Bibliography The Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board. “Who Killed Asian American Studies?” The Daily Pennsylvanian (Philadelphia, PA). Accessed January 14, 2018. http://www.thedp.com/article/2017/01/ guest-column-asian-american-studies-893c. Baumgartner, Kabria. “‘Be Your Own Man’: Student Activism and the Birth of Black Studies at Amherst College, 1965-1972.” The New England Quarterly LXXXIX, no. 2 (June 2016): 286-322. Bienen, Henry. President Henry Bienen to Robert Yap and Asian American Advisory Board. In Records of the Asian American Studies Program, Box 1 Folder 1 (Northwestern University Archives, Northwestern University, 1993-2012), February 14, 1995. Biondi, Martha. The Black Revolution on Campus. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. Carmody, Elizabeth. “AAAB Seeks New Strikers for Program.” The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL). April 18, 1995. Chiang, Mark. The Cultural Capital of Asian American Studies—Autonomy and Representation in the University. New York: New York University Press, 2009. Dill, Brian and Ronald Aminzade. “Historians
and the Study of Protest*.” In Handbook of Social Movements Across Disciplines, Edited by Bert Kleandermans and Conny Roggeband. New York: Springer, 2010. Dumas, Lawrence B. Lawrence B. Dumas to Asian American Advisory Board. In Records of the Asian American Studies Program, Box 1 Folder 1 (Northwestern University Archives, Northwestern University, 1993-2012), February 23, 1995. Hawkinson, Olivia. “After 12 Days, Last Striker Calls It Quits.” The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL). April 26, 1995. Herzog, Boaz. “Students begin hunger strike for Asian American Studies.” The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL). April 13, 1995. Hirabayashi, Lane Ryo and Marilyn C. Alquizola. “Asian American Studies: Reevaluating for the 1990s.” In The State of Asian America: Activism and Resistance in the 1990s, Edited by Karin Aguilar-San Juan. Boston: South End Press, 1994. Hish, David. “hunger: a guide to the asian american studies hunger strike.” In Records of the Asian American Studies Program, Box 1 Folder 1. (Northwestern University Archives, Northwestern University, 1993-2012), 1995. Hish, David. “In Other Words: University Should Commit to Asian-American Studies.” The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL). April 14, 1995. Hu-DeHart, Evelyn. “The History, Development, and Future of Ethnic Studies.” The Phi Delta Kappan 75, no. 1 (Sep. 1993): 50-54. International Socialist Organization. “Forging Links Between Campus and Community.” In Records of the Associated Student Government, Box 27 Folder 37 (Northwestern University Archives, Northwestern
University, 1960-2008), May 19, 1994. Lou, Grace. “Statement at Asian American Studies Press Conference.” In Records of the Asian American Studies Program, Box 1 Folder 1. (Northwestern University Archives, Northwestern University, 1993-2012), March 29, 1995. Kuo, Kai-Yui Anny. “Strike Marked by Vigil, Hecklers.” The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL). April 14, 1995. Payne, Charles M. Charles M. Payne (Chairperson of African-American Studies) to Northwestern University Administration and Board of Trustees. In Records of the Asian American Studies Program, Box 1 Folder 1 (Northwestern University Archives, Northwestern University, 1993-2012). Pratt, M. Kathleen. “‘They Can’t Ignore a Hunger Strike.’” The Daily Northwestern (Evanston, IL). April 19, 1995. “Proposal to Establish an Asian American Studies Program at Northwestern University.” In Records of the Asian American Studies Program, Box 1 Folder 1 (Northwestern University Archives, Northwestern University, 1993-2012). Rogers, Ibram. “The Black Campus Movement and the Institutionalization of Black Studies, 1965-1970.” Journal of African American Studies 16, no. 1 (2012): 21-40. Smith, P. Daniel. “Faculty Approve Major in Asian American studies.” Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences. Accessed January 14, 2018. http://www.weinberg.northwestern. edu/after-graduation/weinberg-magazine/ spring-summer-2016/faculty-approvemajor-in-asian-american-studies.html. Wilkinson, Jim. “Some Asian-Americans Not Eating Up Strike Proposal.” The Daily Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 53
Northwestern (Evanston, IL). April 12, 1995.
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Leftist Ideology in Asian American Communities Luke Kertcher, University of Pennsylvania â€˜19 Revolutionary leftist ideologies from Marxist-Leninist nation states and individuals have been a guiding light for activists for more than a century. This paper identifies the key organizations representing radical leftist ideology of different forms in disparate Asian American ethnic communities, as well as in the broader pan-Asian American community, using primary source documents and interviews from known leftist Asian American activists. The radical leftism espoused by organizations like the I Wor Kuen, Red Guard Party, and Katipunan has historically been the most influential rallying point for activism in Asian America. However, this offers a stark contrast to the vehemently anti-communist Vietnamese American community whose activism is centered in opposition to the Communist Party of Vietnam. The mere mention of communism in the United States conjures up images of red, failed economic systems, suffering, propaganda, and corruption. As one of the supposed
champions of capitalism and freedom and as a staunch opponent of communist ideology around the world for decades, the United States and many of its peopleâ€™s relationships to communism are undoubtedly strained, combative, and even repressed. From American foreign policy objectives of containing communism throughout the world to Senator Joseph McCarthyâ€™s Red Scare during the Cold War period, communism and other associated leftist ideologies as well as the states and organizations that espouse them, have been viewed as the de facto enemy of the American state. Despite the stigmatization and negative connotations of communist identification in the United States, a host of fringe sociopolitical organizations adopted communism or some subset of it as their guiding ideology. Some of these organizations have reached a level of mainstream acknowledgement and historical significance warranting coverage in traditional American history textbooks, while others remain relatively hidden and less publicized. The divide between mainstream leftist organizations and the more undercover ones can be closely examined in the Asian American community, which became home to a number of radical leftist organizations that performed extensive activist and community-building work. Among some of the more notable leftist Asian American groups were the Katipunan ng mga Demokratikong within the Filipino American community, I Wor Kuen, the Red Guard Party, and Wei Min She within the Chinese American community, and Asian Pacific Islander labor movements and ethnic studies movements within the pan-Asian community. For a community currently numbering more than 17 million, many of the strongest activist movements and
Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 55
organizing efforts came from these leftist organizations.1 However, this does not ring true for all ethnic communities under the umbrella of Asian America; the most prominent force of activism and organizing within the Vietnamese American community stems from the polar opposite of leftism in the form of anticommunism. Though much of the momentum built up during the twentieth century by leftist organizations in the United States eventually abated during the 1980s and 1990s, leftism within the Asian American community still persisted.2 In order to gain a complete understanding of communism and its sub-ideologies, one must first gain a full understanding of capitalism as a sociopolitical structure. In the United States, capitalism is often viewed as the light in the world, while communism is branded as the darkness; they are viewed as polarizing forces and ideologies. However, assessing ideology is a matter of injecting one’s personal beliefs and understandings of each system as well as examining the extent to which each system serves to benefit certain actors. Capitalism, in its purest form, is both a political and economic system in which private individuals and groups, as opposed to the government, decide how they should utilize their own labor and capital 1. Sandra L. Colby and Jennifer M. Ortman, “Projections of the Size and Composition of the US Population: 2014 to 2060,” US Census Bureau, 2015, 9. 2. Kent Wong, “Building an Asian Pacific Labor Movement,” in Legacy to Liberation: Politics & Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America, ed. Fred Weihan Ho (Brooklyn, NY: AK Press, 2000), 90. 56 | UNFOUND
according to a market.3 The fundamental capitalist concept of a market is based upon the exchange of commodities‐the products of labor that can take virtually any form as a good or service‐by both individuals and groups.4 These commodities, sold in virtual or real free markets, hold both a “use value” and an “exchange value,” which are their ability to satisfy a “social need” and be traded for other commodities or money respectively.5 Under a purely capitalist system wherein the agency of the individual is emphasized, the individual will attempt to make a profit by exchanging a commodity at a higher value than what the labor and use values of the commodity represent.6 Additionally, labor itself is a commodity, able to be bought and sold freely within a capitalist economy.7 It is important to recognize, however, that pure capitalism does not currently exist in any state. Rather, it has been implemented in the form of mixed economies that allow governmental intervention and nationalized development programs in economic systems.8 Of course, there are both benefits and detriments to capitalism, but when discussing communism as an ideological opponent, the detriments are naturally highlighted. 3. Bruce R. Scott, “The Political Economy of Capitalism,” Harvard Business School Working Papers, no. 07-037 (2006): 3. 4. David Ruccio, “Capitalism,” Keywords for American Cultural Studies, Second Edition (2014): 38. 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid. 7. Ibid. 8. Radhika Desai, “The Absent Geopolitics of Pure Capitalism.” World Review of Political Economy 1, no. 3 (2010): 469.
Communists and other critics emphasize the extreme class disparities created by the political and economic systems under capitalism as individuals exploit the labor used to produced commodities to earn profits. Karl Marx, a founding father of communist theory, states in his famed pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto, that the two classes in constant struggle with each other are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.9 From Marx’s perspective, the bourgeoisie are the elites of society, holding an immensely disproportionate amount of capital and wealth under the capitalist system.10 The bourgeoisie are the corporate CEOs, the government elites, the rich and the powerful, and the one percent of the world. According to Marx, they lord over the common population with their vast fortunes and the great influence that accompanies great wealth. Contrastingly, Marx’s proletariat, which comprises the vast majority of the world’s population, is composed of the workers of the world who hold what little capital the bourgeoisie do not possess.11 As the “slaves of the bourgeois class,” the proletariat are exploited and oppressed to an extreme degree, even fighting among themselves and further stratifying themselves into more distinct socioeconomic classes.12 Marx argues that 9. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, vol. 1, in Marx/Engels Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969), 18. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/ works/1848/communist-manifesto/index.htm. 10. Ibid., 17. 11. Ibid., 18. 12. Ibid., 19-20.
unending class struggle is fundamental to the capitalist system, with the proletarian masses continually feeding and serving the glorified bourgeoisie, increasing their hoards of wealth and furthering the gap between classes. Communist and other leftist ideologies are generally concurrent with these criticisms of capitalist ideology, acting as the antitheses to capitalism. Communism, as defined by Marx, calls for the “formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, [and] conquest of political power by the proletariat.”13 Thus, communism and its sub-ideologies are polar opposites of capitalist ideology. As previously stated, capitalism allows private individuals and groups to manage and hold their own private property or capital. By contrast, communism’s principles necessitate the total “abolition of private property” and the returning of the majority of wealth, previously held by the select bourgeoisie, to the proletarian masses.14 Moreover, communism emphasizes that, ideally, this abolition of private property and redistribution of wealth should occur internationally across borders, not just in select states. Such a drastic change in the political and economic systems of governance is undoubtedly difficult to imagine as it mandates a complete restructuring of current systems that provide stability throughout the world. However, communists view this political and economic restructuring as necessary 13. Ibid., 22. 14. Ibid., 22-23. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 57
to building a world free of the injustice and inequality caused by the gap of wealth between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. Such a view is utopian and egalitarian in nature, conceiving of an idealistic world of unified humanity that transcends the divisive socioeconomic classes that make up contemporary society. Since private property would cease to exist in a communistic society, all property comes into possession of the common populace, belonging not to individuals but to all.15 In summary, communism is an extremely broad ideology that would have the primary . political and economic system of the present world dissolved, with those at the top of the socioeconomic hierarchy becoming equal to the masses of working class people. Within communism, a number of subideologies and movements have splintered into distinct ideologies with sizable followings. Of special importance are Marxism-Leninism and Maoism, which have become immensely popular due to their attempted implementation in real world governmental systems. Former leader of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, who serves as the ideology’s namesake, primary theorist, and primary practitioner, formulated Marxism-Leninism as a political ideology. Marxism-Leninism draws heavily upon the work and theory of Karl Marx, with several major adjustments made to accommodate for Lenin’s personal beliefs and experiences. While communism advocates for the masses of the proletariat to overthrow the 15. Ibid., 23. 58 | UNFOUND
bourgeoisie, Lenin believed that a select group, or vanguard, should be primarily responsible for overthrowing capitalism, establishing the new government, and maintaining governance thereafter.16 This vanguard would consist of the intellectual elite, meaning those who have an adept understanding of communist ideology and are thus able to practically implement it in a fully functioning society.17 This is of course no small feat; Lenin acknowledged that it may require violent upheaval and revolution to yield a complete transition from capitalist society to a communist, Marxist-Leninist society. MarxismLeninism is, in effect, authoritarian, which is a major distinguishing factor from standard communism and Marxism. Instead of the power and wealth residing directly in control of the common people, it rests firmly in the hands of the ruling elite of the communist or other ruling party to prevent the discord that may result from common ownership and rule.18 As a result of its perceived practicality and stability, MarxismLeninism has become the guiding practice of revolutionaries and leftist governments around the globe, being the official ideology of multiple communist countries even today. Currently, the governments of China, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam identify as Marxist-Leninist states, with power resting in the hands of a central ruling party. Within Marxism-Leninism exists another sub-ideology known as 16. Bernard D’Mello, “What is Maoism?,” Economic and Political Weekly 44, no. 47 (2009): 42. 17. Ibid. 18. Ibid., 43.
revisionism. According to revisionists, the violent overthrow of capitalism is wholly unnecessary and much too destructive to be viable.19 Revisionists instead advocate for a more legitimized, peaceful political transition from capitalism to communism that would ultimately serve to exclude the common proletariat who exist outside of the political sphere.20 Dolly Veale succinctly summarizes revisionism as “a non-revolutionary, non-liberating notion of socialism and communism” that “[takes] the rebellion out of Marxism”.21 As a result, proponents of MarxismLeninism and true revolution look unfavorably upon revisionist movements Maoism, or Mao Zedong thought, is another form of Marxism-Leninism. Theorized and practiced by its namesake, the founding father of Communist China Mao Zedong, Maoism has gained a significant following. Drawing upon the specific contexts and experiences of China, Maoism called upon the hundreds of millions of agrarian peasants in China to become the source of revolution and movement toward communistic or socialistic society.22 This differs from the standard Marxist-Leninist view of the proletariat as an industrialized working population in order to fit the realities of China’s population. 19. Christian Joppke, “Revisionism, Dissidence, Nationalism: Opposition in Leninist Regimes,” The British Journal of Sociology 45, no. 4 (1994): 549. 20. Ibid. 21. Dolly Veale, “Mao More Than Ever!,” in Legacy to Liberation: Politics & Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America, ed. Fred Ho (Brooklyn, NY: AK Press, 2000), 187. 22. D’Mello, “What is Maoism?,” 44.
The shifted emphasis from industrialized proletariat to rural peasantry marks the primary ideological difference between Maoism and Marxism-Leninism. Just like the Marxist-Leninists, Maoists believe that an intellectual elite vanguard, which previously existed in communist China as the Red Guards, should pave the pathway to revolution for the peasant proletariat.23 Maoism gained traction worldwide as a practical ideology for its reputed success in Chairman Mao’s China, citing the supposed successes of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.24 The Great Leap Forward, beginning in 1958, was a deliberate movement from what was the rural, agrarian society of early twentieth century China to a more industrialized, socialist society. Similarly, during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, revolutionaries attempted to purge all remnants of capitalism from their society and culture in order to make a more complete, permanent transition to a communist society in 1966.25 Similarly, the Great Leap Forward was a deliberate movement from what was the rural, agrarian society of early twentieth century China to a more industrialized, socialist society. Maoism, as well as its counterpart Marxism-Leninism, appealed especially to communities of Asian American activists who were directly inspired by communist leaders like Mao himself. Although not specifically communist, nationalist movements around the globe and domestically within the United 23. Veale, “Mao More Than Ever!,” 189. 24. Ibid. 25. Ibid. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 59
States are often intertwined with leftist movements, most often those identified as Marxist-Leninist. The Third World, defined as non-Western (First World) and non-Soviet (Second World) countries, consists of those fighting against the forces of colonialism and imperialism for national liberation and independence. Some of the most prominent movements for national liberation that intertwine with leftist movements include the Viet Cong’s fight against France, South Vietnam, and the United States for a unified, independent Vietnam; the Cuban Revolution during the 1950s; and Mao’s China. These movements were indeed fighting against colonialism and imperialism, but they also had a vested interest in dismantling the capitalist systems established by Western interveners. Notably, Marxist social activist Fred Ho describes capitalism as a white, European system of political economy that is ultimately unsuitable for the nations of the Third World and the people who reside there, as well as people of color around the world.26 In accordance with an internationalist belief that there is a common struggle against a common enemy under a united front,27 Ho states that he and many Asian Pacific Islander Americans in their activist communities, as well as revolutionary Americans in general, “called [themselves] Third World people in the U.S. as [they] identified with the national liberation 26. Fred Ho, “Fists for Revolution,” in Legacy to Liberation: Politics & Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America, ed. Fred Ho (Brooklyn, NY: AK Press, 2000), 3. 27. Veale, “Mao More Than Ever!,” 193. 60 | UNFOUND
struggles waged in Africa, Asia, so-called Latin America and the Caribbean and Pacific Islands.”28 This is the fundamental link between leftist revolutionaries around the world: fighting the injustice and inequality set up by Western imperialists in capitalist systems. As a result, many activist groups have adopted revolutionary leftist ideologies, recognizing the inequity perpetuated by capitalism and the mass oppression of the proletariat. These nationalistic, leftist, revolutionary movements developed into tangible, although very idealistic movements domestically within the United States. For example, Black American nationalists sought to create a New African or Black-Belt Nation within the Southern United States, the Chicano movement nationalists desired a Chicano Nation, the indigenous peoples an indigenous nation, the Hawaiians an independent Hawaii, and the native Alaskans an Aleutian Nation.29 While some Asian Pacific Islander Americans supported these movements, the strongest sense of activism within many Asian American communities stemmed from intra-ethnic organizations espousing revolutionary leftist ideology. In exploring leftist ideology in Asian American communities, most leftist organizations were sprouted from the “radical movements of the late 1960s and
28. Ho, “Fists for Revolution,” 3. 29. Ibid., 8.
early 1970s.”30 Within the Filipino American community, the strongest, most organized leftist organization is the KDP, or Union of Democratic Filipinos.31 Known in the Filipino language as the Katipunan ng mga Demokratikong Pilipino, the American KDP’s origins trace back to the original revolutionary Katipunan, which was founded in 1892 in the Philippines to fight against the Spanish colonizers.32 The original Katipunan did not identify itself as a leftist organization but as a proud nationalist group fighting for an independent Philippines. However, later in the 1970s during the revolution against President Ferdinand Marcos, multiple communist groups conducted armed insurgencies throughout the Philippines that undoubtedly served as an inspirational force for the KDP.33 The Filipino Americans that supported the KDP, primarily in major cities throughout the United States, sought to “continue the unfinished revolution that the original Katipunan was not able to fulfill, and to express solidarity with the revolutionary movement in the Philippines.”34 Formally founded in July of 1973 in the San Francisco Bay Area, the KDP’s ultimate goals were to instill a sense of progressive politics into an otherwise politically repressed and conservative community and to solidify a community agenda of local and national
30. Helen Toribio, “Dare to Struggle,” in Legacy to Liberation: Politics & Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America, ed. Fred Ho (Brooklyn, NY: AK Press, 2000), 31. 31. Ibid. 32. Ibid. 33. Ibid. 34. Ibid.
issues.35 As an organization that espoused nationalism, anti-imperialism, socialism, and communist ideologies, the KDP viewed itself as the intellectual, elite vanguard characteristic of revolutionary MarxismLeninism.36Acting as a vanguard, the KDP’s primary work was community-building and organizing in order to establish a politically aware, strong community that would be able to begin working on vital issues both at home in the United States and abroad Dual identities and an awareness of both domestic American issues and issues from their ancestral home countries inform the political lives of many Asian American activists, especially those of the Filipino American KDP revolutionaries. They were and continue to be tied to their homeland through language, culture, politics, and economics. The KDP rallied around common issues in the Filipino American community like immigrant rights, labor rights, racism, and low-income housing.37 Simultaneously, the KDP worked tirelessly in “organizing the diverse opposition to the martial law regime of President Marcos” in the Philippines.38 The KDP’s support for the democratic people’s revolution in the Philippines against Marcos was extensive, consisting of congressional lobbying, awareness and advocacy conferences, demonstrations, historical archiving of resistance movements in the Philippines, and distributing anti-imperialist newsletters.39 While the KDP was considered the most 35. Ibid., 33. 36. Ibid., 32. 37. Ibid., 34. 38. Ibid., 35. 39. Ibid. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 61
powerful force of activism within the Filipino American community, they did receive significant pushback from the conservative side of their community, especially from the Filipino consulates that fought to preserve the support of Filipino Americans for the Marcos regime’s period of martial law beginning in 1972. 40 Eventually, the KDP adopted more revolutionary Maoist thought following the successful establishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines in the 1970s. 41 They looked to Maoism to “[elucidate] the relationship between class oppression at home and imperialist wars abroad, both of which were perpetuated by one and the same enemy, the United States.”42 As a result, the KDP adopted a “dual program” of supporting revolutionary struggles in the Philippines and fighting domestic racism simultaneously. 43 The KDP was one of many Asian American political organizations that drew upon the perceived successes of Marxist-Leninist movements back in Asia. Drawing directly upon the teachings and practice of Mao Zedong, the American Red Guard Party was a prominent San Francisco-based, Chinese American revolutionary organization. 44 Originally started as a youth group known as Legitimate Ways, or Leway, in 1967, the organization formed out of the necessity of “[uniting] and [politicizing] street youth and gangs who were constantly fighting the police, racist tourists, and fighting between themselves.” 40. Ibid., 33. 41. Ibid., 42. 42. Ibid. 43. Ibid., 39. 44. Ho, “Fists for Revolution,” 5. 62 | UNFOUND
Leway evolved into what was known as the Red Guard Party after being the victim of “constant police harassment” due to their open advocacy and teaching of Maoist doctrine in 1969. 46 Primarily made up of young students, the Red Guard Party closely identified with Mao’s philosophy of serving the people; they launched multiple initiatives that provided social services like healthcare and free meals for the elderly in their community. 47 In addition to these community initiatives, the Red Guard Party continued to advocate for armed revolution. 48 An East Coast counterpart to the Red Guard Party founded itself in 1969 under the name of I Wor Kuen (IWK), or the Society of the Harmonious Righteous Fist, as a revolutionary collective of Chinese Americans in New York City. 49 Like the Red Guard Party, the IWK provided basic social services under the same Maoist principle of serving the people. This included health clinics, counseling, language programs through teaching of revolutionary works, child care programs, and educational initiatives focusing on anti-capitalism and Maoist teachings.50 Neither the IWK nor the Red Guard Party accepted or asked for any governmental subsidies or funding as revolutionary organizations.51 Since the Red Guard Party resided on the West Coast of the United States and the IWK on the East Coast, the two organizations 45
45. Ibid. 46. Ibid. 47. Ibid., 6. 48. Ibid. 49. Ibid., 3, 5. 50. Ibid., 6. 51. Ibid.
merged in 1971 to form a “nationwide revolutionary organization.”52 The new IWK incorporated the Red Guard Party and began advocating for a 12-point program of revolutionary Marxism-Leninism with no central leadership from a communist party in the United States.53 The IWK was bold and open in its advancement of MarxismLeninism, showing support for Mao’s China by “organizing film showings and events supporting the PRC, working in broad coalitions for the PRC to take its rightful seat in the United Nations and to force the U.S. government to officially recognize the PRC.”54 In addition to open support for China, the newly powerful IWK focused on building “national consciousness, pride, and identity” through building a foundation of new cultural organizations and programs, as well as supporting small Asian-owned businesses and Chinatowns.55 The activist work of IWK is similar in scope to the work of the anti-imperialist Wei Min She (WMS). WMS, or the Organization for the People, was founded in the early 1970s in the Bay Area of California and was inspired by the revolutionary struggles occurring in Vietnam and other places throughout the world.56 Although WMS did not originally advocate for violent revolution as a means of dismantling the oppressive systems of imperialism and capitalism, the 52. 53. 54. 55.
Ibid., 7. Ibid. Ibid., 8. Ibid., 8, 9.
56. Steve Yip, “Serve the People—Yesterday and Today,” in Legacy to Liberation: Politics & Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America, ed. Fred Ho (Brooklyn, NY: AK Press, 2000), 15-17.
organization supported a reforming of the system under what could be considered a form of revisionist Marxism-Leninism.57 Like many activist organizations active during the 1970s, WMS was composed primarily of students who were intent on popularizing leftist ideology and optimistic in their ability to provide social services for their communities.58 WMS also had a close working relationship with the Revolutionary Union (RU), a “multinational communist organization” that caused a shift in the official ideology of WMS to revolutionary Marxism-Leninism.59 WMS played a key role in well-known activist movements that fought for justice in the I-Hotel low-income housing struggle and the Lee Mah struggle for fair wages and labor rights.60 WMS’s extensive activist work and community building originated with a focus on Chinese American issues but eventually grew to include a more pan-Asian identity and lens with unity under a common antiimperialist struggle in the midst of the growing Asian American Movement.61 In the 1960s and 1970s, the pan-Asian American movement was in full swing, allowing for concerted efforts towards action that would benefit the entirety of the Asian American community. As time passed, the sense of a pan-Asian identity only strengthened with the formation of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance
57. Ibid., 19. 58. Ibid., 18. 59. Ibid., 20, 24. 60. Ibid., 22-23. 61. Ibid., 16. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 63
(APALA) in 1992.62 Labor movements existed in force around the United States, particularly under the banner of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). However, APALA was founded as a response to the exclusionary and discriminatory policies of the AFL-CIO, which was known for “maintaining rigid structure that perpetuated institutional discrimination based on race and gender.”63 Additionally, the AFL-CIO was a vocal supporter of the United States’ interests during the Cold War, openly supporting American aggression in Southeast Asia and “opposing many Third World liberation movements.”64 APALA ultimately abandoned the ideals of revolutionary leftism in favor of more practical goals of organizing for the civil rights of Asian Americans. However, it can still be regarded as a leftist organization for its advancement of workers’ rights.65 In addition to the prominence of labor unions, the work of leftism in the panAsian community heavily infiltrated college campuses in their push for ethnic studies. According to veteran Asian Americanist and leftist Merle Woo of the University of California, Berkeley, universities are “capitalist educational institutions” who “maintain the majority’s conformity” by keeping histories of “resistance, rebellion, and heroism in the face of the strongest international ruling class in history” away from people of color in the United 62. Wong, “Building an Asian Pacific Labor Movement,” 89. 63. Ibid., 92. 64. Ibid., 93. 65. Ibid. 64 | UNFOUND
States.66 This notion, inspired directly by the movements for liberation in the Third World, calls for the study of revolutionary leftist struggles as a starting point for revolution in the United States. Thus, ethnic studies can be regarded as a starting point for many leftist revolutionaries to become radicalized and desire to dismantle capitalism, imperialism, and other oppressive systems. Of interesting note is that the strongest forces of activism within the Asian American communities discussed so far have been revolutionary leftist groups. The KDP, IWK, WMS, APALA, and ethnic studies movements have all called upon the teachings of revolutionary leftists; however, in the Vietnamese American community, the strongest sense of activism comes from anticommunism. As a community made up of political refugees, primarily from a Western-backed, capitalist nation that ceased to exist due to a communistic nationalist movement, the Vietnamese American community’s relationship with communist ideology is best described as polarized. While leftist Vietnamese Americans undoubtedly exist, the community is generally anticommunist, both politically and culturally.67 Scholar of Asian American Studies and expert on Vietnamese American diasporic communities Thuy Vo Dang uses the 66. Merle Woo, “Three Decades of Class Struggle on Campus: A Personal History,” in Legacy to Liberation: Politics & Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America, ed. Fred Ho (Brooklyn, NY: AK Press, 2000), 159. 67. Thuy Vo Dang, “The Cultural Work of Anticommunism in the San Diego Vietnamese American Community,” Amerasia Journal 31, no. 2 (2005): 67.
Vietnamese Federation of San Diego (VFSD) as a case study in examining the radical anticommunism of Vietnamese American communities, noting their purpose as an organization, the origins of the Vietnamese American community, and their actions.68 For Vietnamese Americans, communism and its decisive victory over American and South Vietnamese forces in Black April of 1975 at the conclusion of the Vietnam War marks the loss of everything: the loss of their home country of South Vietnam, their wealth, and their livelihood.69 As a result, the community of Vietnamese established in the United States clings to their lost homeland and denounces all things relating to communism. The VFSD holds annual celebrations of Tet, or Lunar New Year, but with added anticommunist messages, and memorializes the events of Black April every year.70 In addition to these events establishing an anticommunist community, the VFSD has lobbied for the establishment of the South Vietnamese flag as the official flag of their community.71 Less formally, the Vietnamese American community continues to fly the flag of South Vietnam, sing the South Vietnamese national anthem, and even march openly against communist ideology.72 Aside from clinging to what might seem like a lost cause, the VFSD and other Vietnamese American anticommunist organizations continue to criticize communist Vietnam for its 68. Ibid., 65. 69. Ibid. 70. Ibid., 67. 71. Ibid., 68. 72. Ibid.
human rights abuses.73 The anticommunist activism within this community may seem innocuous and nostalgic, but it can often turn into virulent fanaticism as the refugee communities of Vietnamese Americans react harshly to an ideology they believe stole everything from them.74 Revolutionary leftist ideology gained significant traction during the 1960s and 1970s but has since declined due to a combination of strong right-wing leadership under President Reagan, the fall of the Soviet Union, and factionalization and discord within leftist groups.75 Regardless, the revolutionary work of the KDP in the Filipino American community, the IWK, Red Guard Party, and WMS within the Chinese American community, and the Asian-American labor and ethnic studies movements under the banner of panAsian American identity reign as prime examples of leftist ideology in American activist groups. The revolutionary practices of Marxism-Leninism and the examples set by national liberation movements around the globe inspired these domestic Asian American groups while also inflaming the damaged Vietnamese American community and their staunch anticommunist principles. Whether leftist or anti-communist, these Asian American activist organizations provided valuable community building and public services for underserved Asian American communities. Given a history rife with radical 73. Ibid., 79. 74. Ibid., 67. 75. Wong, â€œBuilding an Asian Pacific Labor Movement,â€? 90. Volume 4, Fall 2017 | 65
leftist activity, the rise of more center-left ideologies in contemporary American politics and a shift in the political attitude among youth and young adults of color in the United States towards leftism is of little surprise. Around the world and in the United States, a surge in “alt-right,” white supremacist rhetoric and organizing should act as a call to action for renewed and revitalized Third World solidarity like that practiced by the revolutionary resistance groups within twentieth century Asian America. However, as many of the radical leftist groups presented have faded from prominence or dissolved entirely, the state of leftist activism within the communities of Asian America has become obscured. In order to rebuild solidarity and combat the rise of prejudice, studying the condition of revolutionary political activism within the Asian American community and other communities of color is imperative. Bibliography Colby, Sandra L., and Jennifer M. Ortman. “Projections of the Size and Composition of the US Population: 2014 to 2060.” US Census Bureau, 2015. 9. Dang, Thuy Vo. “The Cultural Work of Anticommunism in the San Diego Vietnamese American Community.” Amerasia Journal 31, no. 2 (2005): 65-86. Desai, Radhika. “The Absent Geopolitics of Pure Capitalism.” World Review of Political Economy 1, no. 3 (2010): 463-84. D’Mello, Bernard. “What Is Maoism?” Economic and Political Weekly 44, no. 47 (2009): 39-48. Ho, Fred. “Fists for Revolution.” In Legacy to Liberation: Politics & Culture of Revolutionary 66 | UNFOUND
Asian Pacific America. Edited by Fred Ho. Brooklyn, NY: AK Press, 2000. Joppke, Christian. “Revisionism, Dissidence, Nationalism: Opposition in Leninist Regimes.” The British Journal of Sociology 45, no. 4 (1994): 543-61. Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. Vol. 1. In Marx/Engels Selected Works. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969. https:// www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/ communist-manifesto/index.htm. Ruccio, David F. “Capitalism.” In Keywords for American Cultural Studies, 2nd Edition. Edited by Burgett Bruce and Hendler Glenn. New York: NYU Press, 2014. Scott, Bruce R. “The Political Economy of Capitalism.” Harvard Business School Working Papers, no. 07-037, 2006. Toribio, Helen. “Dare to Struggle.” In Legacy to Liberation: Politics & Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America. Edited by Fred Ho. Brooklyn, NY: AK Press, 2000. Veale, Dolly. “Mao More Than Ever!” In Legacy to Liberation: Politics & Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America. Edited by Fred Ho. Brooklyn, NY: AK Press, 2000. Yip, Steve. “Serve the People—Yesterday and Today.” In Legacy to Liberation: Politics & Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America. Edited by Fred Ho. Brooklyn, NY: AK Press, 2000. Wong, Kent. “Building an Asian Pacific Labor Movement,” In Legacy to Liberation: Politics & Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America. Edited by Fred Ho. Brooklyn, NY: AK Press, 2000. Woo, Merle. “Three Decades of Class Struggle on Campus: A Personal History.” In Legacy to Liberation: Politics & Culture of Revolutionary
Asian Pacific America. Edited by Fred Ho. Brooklyn, NY: AK Press, 2000.
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Published on Feb 23, 2018