Annotation: Lili Kim’s “Doing Korean American History in the 21st Century” (2008)

Peer-Review: 0

Kim, Lili M. “Doing Korean American History in the Twenty-First Century.” Journal of Asian American Studies. 11.2 (2008): 199-209. Print.

Kim argues that despite the blossoming field of Asian American history in the past several decades, there is a considerable dearth of scholarship in Korean American history in comparison to that produced on its East Asian American counterparts.  This dearth, she argues, is perpetuated not only by a lack of interest in grad students to pursue this field, but it also impedes further scholarship due to the difficulty of researching works already produced.  Analyzing several works produced on the history of Koreans in Hawai’i, Kim illustrates that the task still remains one of “filling gaps” (202).  The same is true, she demonstrates, regarding the invisibility of gender in these narratives.  Kim points to the role of literary production, especially memoirs, as an intervention in voicing Korean American women’s experiences.  In further examining root causes of the dearth in scholarship, Kim posits that the dominant transnational approach at times leads scholars to place too much emphasis on Korea while undermining experiences in the U.S.  Nevertheless, Kim argues that transnational analyses are crucial as international politics constituted a significant role in Korean immigration to the U.S.  Due to the significant lack of documentation regarding Korean immigrant experiences, scholars find themselves actually writing in these histories.  She concludes with underscoring the urgency of producing these works and documenting Korean American history, along with the many exciting new areas of study available to historians, such as the role of globalization in the changing Korean American landscape.

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Annotation: JeeYeun Lee’s “Toward a Queer Korean American Diaspora” (1998)

Peer-Review: 0

Lee, JeeYeun. “Toward a Queer Korean American Diaspora.” Q & A: Queer in Asian America. Eds. David L. Eng and Alice Y. Hom. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998. 185-209.

Lee looks to the analytic of diaspora (based on assumptions of a common origin) as a challenge to the previously more dominant lens of immigration with the U.S. as a common destination for Asian immigrants.  In looking to claim a diasporic history, however, Lee appropriates Stuart Hall and echoes Lowe’s claims of culture as a production in order to argue that histories and notions of a ‘homeland’ are narratives that are imagined and constructed in order to frame and understand current identity formations.  Lee explores the historical relations between the U.S. and Korea that shape the phenomenon of Korean migration to the U.S., stating: “We are here because you were–and are still–there, economically, politically, culturally” (187).  Therefore, the myth of pure desire and choice is dispelled.  At the same time that we consider diaspora as a framework, due to complex and heterogeneous history of Korea, Lee points to the dangers of imagining a romanticized ‘homeland.’  Rather, “the contesting and the contested is home” (191).  The author references Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s “Dictee” as a text that illustrates the means through which the sense of national history upon which personhood is claimed must always be negotiated.

In “Queering the Homeland,” Lee argues that non-normative sexualities could play a role in rearticulating history.  Lee does not offer any specific strategy as the best one, but rather points to the possible benefits from this project of queering.  These consequences include the “critique of exclusive ideas about cultural authenticity” (193) that posit queer sexualities as Western constructs.  I interpret it this way: if we ‘queer’ notions of kinship that pose a common motherland nation, then we might examine history in another way.  Lee also notes dangers in our task of queering the homeland, such as (1) setting a false dichotomy between diasporic and queer, which repeats imperialist narrative of White versus ‘Other’; (2) assuming queerness is inherently a critique and therefore not accounting for the reproduction of exclusionary operations; (3) queering homeland must not be done by glossing over historical contexts and particularities; (4) must not impose Western definitions of sexuality.

At the same time, we must remember that history consists of “modes of representation” (200) and is never fixed and knowable.  In writing this history, we must account for our own subject positions and our methodologies.  Furthermore, we must insist that this task of claiming a queer diasporic history be framed within the present.  It must be used to understand our present and show that “We cannot depend solely on histories to justify our existence.  Queer and diasporic, wherever we are and whoever we fuck, the truth is that we always completely belong” (204).