Annotation: Rachel Salazar Parreñas and Loc C. D. Siu’s “Introduction: Asian Diasporas- New Conceptions, New Frameworks” (2007)

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Parreñas, Rachel Salazar and Loc C. D. Siu. “Introduction: Asian Diasporas—New Conceptions, New Frameworks.” Asian Diasporas: New Formations, New Conceptions. Eds. Rhacel S. Parreñas and Lok C. D. Siu. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2007. 1- 28. Print.

Parreñas and Siu begin their essay by offering a three-part definition of diaspora:

(1) displacement from the homeland under the nexus of an unequal global political and economic system; (2) the simultaneous experience of alienation and the maintenance of affiliation to both the country of residence and the homeland; and finally (3) the sense of collective consciousness and connectivity with other people displaced from the homeland across the diasporic terrain. (1-2)

They emphasize that this anthology attempts to shift away from theoretical discussions of diaspora to examine how individuals actually “experience, interpret, and give meaning to diaspora” (2). Parreñas and Siu particularly focus on those works that move beyond the borders of the US nation-state, insisting that these communities and spaces have been problematically overlooked by critics in Asian and Asian American studies. They emphasize that “Asian migration, after all, has always been global” and to simply focus on the United States or Asia in isolation of the rest of the world creates a critical aporia where the experiences of Vietnamese migrants who settle in France, for example, go unexamined. Parreñas and Siu emphasize the need to conduct comparative analyses that operate on two levels, “the place-specific/cross-ethnic” and “ethnic-specific/transnational” (3). They assert that the development of global communication technologies such as the Internet have made it increasingly possible to sustain diasporic communities making the study of diaspora all the more urgent.

At the same time, however, Parreñas and Siu recognize the potential dangers that may emerge as a result of this diasporic focus. They particularly site Sau-ling Wong’s concerns about the “‘denationalization’ of Asian American studies” (4). As a field that historically emerged from the civil rights movement, whose political project was to assert that Asian Americans belong in the US, the shift to diaspora essentially “challeng[s] the United States as the privileged site of analysis,” contradicting the fundamental goals of the movement and potentially endangering the fight for Asian American political rights in the nation-state (5). But Parreñas and Siu accentuate how the Asian American movement was always concerned with transnational politics, struggling to link the acts of racism and injustices within the United States to similar acts across the globe.

They also recognize the problematic label of “Asian” diasporas, which can be overly simplistic and reductive. Yet they assert the productivity of this nominal label because it “call[s] attention to the racializing-gendering process involved in diaspora making” as Asians, no matter where they move, are still classified as Asian (9). Parreñas and Siu further emphasize that Asian diasporas are distinct because Asian governments are actively invested in “producing and sustaining diasporic connections and identifications with their respective homelands,” making them a particularly important subject of study. Parreñas and Siu recognize that these multiple, heterogeneous diasporas operate on many different levels, making an explicit effort to “distinguis[h] those Asians who can move, especially to the West, from Asians who are left immobile by the forces of global capitalism and those who choose not to move because of their privileged access to global capitalism” (11).

In their “Introduction” they emphasize that to be “diasporic requires continual production of certain conditions and identifications” (12). They further note that the experience of diaspora can be incredibly liberating but also painful and marginalizing as diasporic subjects are characterized by their partial belonging in their state of residence and their homeland. Parreñas and Siu additionally assert the need to examine how Asians employ diaspora as a means of resistance to racism and xenophobia. They particularly isolate five major themes that connect the various essays in their anthology:

“the recognition of inter-Asian strife in past and present; the persistence of the nation state; the salience of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality; the forces of labor, colonialism and globalization that maintain relations of inequality within Asia as well as Asia in relation to the West; and the centrality of culture” (16).

Annotation: Josephine Lee’s “Critical Strategies for Reading Asian American Drama” (1997)

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Lee, Josephine. “Critical Strategies for Reading Asian American Drama.” Performing Asian America: Race and Ethnicity on the Contemporary Stage. Philadelphia, Temple UP, 1997. 1-33. Print.

In her essay Lee acknowledges that her focused examination of Asian American theater may contribute to a form of “racial separatism” (4). She notes that this critique has been historically raised against multicultural studies because group specific angles can potentially “promote[e] insiderism and fragmentation” (5). Lee emphasizes, however, that the study of marginalized groups should not be treated as simply “add-ons to an existing canon” just to ensure superficial “political representation” (5). She suggests that this can also force minority subjects to assume the “awkward position of speaking for others” (5). Yet the usage of neutral aesthetics through a complete rejection of the political can no longer suffice in our increasingly diverse, multicultural, transnational world. Lee concedes that Asian America encompasses a very diverse group of peoples that is always changing in light of new waves of immigration and that to presuppose such a thing as “Asian American theatre” suggests a homogeneous coherent whole that can be very reductive of internal differences. Lee maintains, however, that Asian American theatre powerfully “reflect[s], if not an easily understood ‘us’ in terms of a homogenous community of ordinary Asian Americans, then at the very least an intensely imagined communality shared by a number of diverse individuals and social groups” (9-10). She further notes that Asian American theatre was deeply tied to the larger Asian American civil rights movement of the 1960s, which encouraged pan-Asian solidarity over intra-group differences.

Lee ultimately calls for a new discursive theoretical framework that examines race and ethnicity in theatre and dramatic art forms. In her essay she discusses how the Orientalist representation of Asian Americans in theatre have been accepted as true to life. She emtions, for example, the popular practice of “yellow face,” where white actors would consult makeup manuals that offered them step-by-step guidelines as to how to appear and perform as an “authentic Oriental” (12). Instead of viewing drama as an imitation or mirror of reality, Lee accentuates the need to examine how “race is constructed and contested by theatrical presentation” (6). She asserts that as a live art form, theatre wields the remarkable potential to provoke “an immediate visceral response to the physicality of race,” forcing audiences to recognize their own implication in the process of racialization (7).

Lee notes that while some Asian Americans did receive wide critical acclaim for their performances, this success was largely achieved by playing into stereotypes that were especially hard to challenge due to casting discrimination and sheer financial need. In resistance to the Orientalizing practices of mainstream theater companies, however, Asian Americans began to establish their own companies where they featured works of “Asian American playwrights…actors, directors, and designers” (15). Lee notes how these theatrical production worked to especially spread awareness about the “history of Asians in the United States, a history marked distinctively by naturalization policy, land laws, and immigration restrictions” (16). Lee asserts that these companies were deeply attuned to community issues and employed practices such as “Pan-Asian casting” to rework the stereotype of all Asians look the same by promoting a new pan-Asian identity in the spirit of the larger civil rights movement (16).

Lee emphasizes that while the plays she examines in her book differ on many levels, they are all heavily invested in exploring “questions raised about performing race and ethnicity” (20). She also recognizes the flaws of her own study, which mostly examines dramatic works by Chinese and Japanese Americans and are even more limited with her specific reliance on play texts. Lee asserts that the publication process reveals another exclusionary measure in contemporary American theatre. The works generally favored for literary reproduction are those written by authors with a strong command of the English language and rely on language rather than performance such as dance or music in their works. Those theatrical productions that have successfully “gained mainstream recognition” are also more likely to be published (25). Lee concludes her essay by emphasizing that her study attempts to shift critical consideration of what it means to “be” an Asian American to what it means to perform Asian American identity on stage, calling attention to the constructed nature of this label.