Annotation: Tobias Hübinette’s “Asian Bodies Out of Control” (2007)

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Hübinette, Tobias. “Asian Bodies Out of Control: Examining the Adopted Korean Existence.” Asian Diasporas: New Formations, New Conceptions. Eds. Rhacel S. Parreñas and Lok C. D. Siu. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2007. 177-200. Print.

In his essay Hübinette asserts that the experiences of Koreans adopted by Western countries after the Korean War has been largely overlooked by scholars in academia. He argues that these adoptees can be understood in terms of Gayatri Spivak’s conception of the “subaltern” because “up until recently they could not speak for themselves, represented as they were as mute physical bonds by supplying and receiving governments and as grateful rescue objects by adoption agencies and adoptive parents” (178). The international adoption industry framed Koreans as the “model minority” adoptee success story, declaring that above all other groups, they were the most well-adjusted to their Western lifestyles. It was only by the 1990s that the Korean adoptees began to speak for themselves and break out of their subaltern status. In his essay Hübinette specifically examines autobiographical narratives “taken from journals and magazines, books and anthologies, or from Internet homepages and sites as the adopted Korean movement is very much a virtual community” (178).

He emphasizes that for the most part these Korean adoptees grew up in entirely white families and communities, eventually learning to identify as white and perform whiteness. Hübinette ultimately challenges the popularly celebrated postmodern conceptions of hybridity and cosmopolitanism, suggesting that these Korean adoptees experienced great “psychic violence and physical alienation” as a result of their mixed-race and fragmented identities. Hübinette points to “the high preponderance of suicide rates, mental illnesses, and social problems among international adoptees “ as evidence of some detrimental effects of hybridity (179).

Hübinette begins his essay with some helpful historical background, explaining that international adoption was first configured as a “rescue mission” to “transfer mixed-raced children, who were fathered by American and other U.N. soldiers” during the Korean war “to adoptive homes in [the] United States and Western Europe” (170). He reveals, however, that it was also a highly politicized movement on the part of the Korean government, which was interested in “cleansing the country of mixed-race children,” counteracting the domestic problem of overpopulation and improving the country’s foreign relations with Western nations Korea hoped to be allies with. International adoption eventually grew into a profitable economic enterprise as well. North Korea, however, remained staunchly opposed to the initiative, denouncing the South for “selling Korean children to Westerners” (180).

Hübinette notes that most of these children have been adopted by “middle- and upper-class white couples or singles and have accordingly grown up in white suburban, countryside, or small-town communities and neighborhoods” (182). He emphasizes that “adoption ideology” has long encouraged adoptees to develop a “white subjectivity” because it promotes “racial harmony” and helps them succeed in a world that largely celebrates and rewards whiteness (185). Hübinette argues, however, that this is an extremely destructive ideology because adoptees are driven to disown their Asian heritage and essentially become “strangers to their own bodies” (186). He claims that the adopted Korean experience is particularly distinct because they are more or less entirely severed from Asian peoples and culture. Their exposure to Asian-ness is often Orientalist representations in American popular culture and they unwittingly internalize these stereotypes because that is the only way they can know their Asian heritage.

Hübinette notes that in the early 1990s some Korean adoptees began to publish personal narratives about their adoptive experiences, but “it was not until the mid-1990s with the breakthrough of the Internet that adopted Koreans started to be more visible and make themselves more audible in the public space” (182). He suggests further that this once invisible, highly marginalized group is beginning to organize nationally as well as globally. But beyond the optimism of this emerging politically active and supportive diasporic community, Hübinette reveals that the personal narratives by Korean adoptees are often fraught with pain and confusion. He suggests that the contradiction between their internally white sense of self and their external Korean body reflected in the mirror becomes a source of great psychic violence. Hübinette asserts that Korean adoptees often feel need to “perform whiteness even more intensely and often in combination with an over-exaggerated middle- or upper classness with the hope of being taken for an Asian adoptive child to a white elite family and not mistaken as a working-class Asian immigrant” (191). They also deliberately choose to not associate with other Koreans and more generally, other Asians and people of color out fear of tainting their already unstable white identity.

Unable to find a place where they can truly belong or cultivate a sense of comfort within their own bodies, Hübinette suggests that many Korean adoptees resort to suicide as a means of overcoming their fragmented identities and the painful disjunction between psychic white self-identification and their physical Asian-ness. He concludes his essay, ultimately “regard[ing] this acquiring of a white self-identification by adopted Koreans as a complete subordination to white hegemonic power and as a magnificent symbol of the final triumph of the colonial project” (196).

Annotation: Anne Anlin Cheng’s “The Melancholy of Race’ (2001)

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Cheng, Anne Anlin. “The Melancholy of Race.” The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. 3-29. Print.

In her essay Cheng emphasizes the need to explore the implications of racial grief. She asserts that historically there has been too much reliance on “material or quantifiable terms to articulate that injury,” problematically overlooking its more immaterial, psychic ramifications (6). Cheng suggests that in light of the dominant white ideal that pervades US society, those individuals who cannot fight within that paradigm must undergo a “painful negotiation…at some point if not continually, with the demands of that social ideality” (7). Cheng further articulates the need to explore how people are themselves deeply implicit and invested in maintaining certain racial categories.

Cheng also offers a helpful discussion of Freud’s essay, “Mourning and Melancholia.” She asserts that Freud defines “mourning” as “a healthy response to loss; it is finite in character and accepts substitution” whereas “melancholia” is “pathological; it is interminable in nature and refuses substitution (7, 8). But Cheng emphasizes that even as the melancholic subject is obsessed with what it has lost, it also consumes and obtains nourishment from that loss, which becomes subsumed as a part of its identity. She asserts that “melancholia does not simply denote a condition of grief but is rather, a legislation of grief” (8). Cheng, notes, however, that feeding on this loss is painful, inspiring within the melancholic subject, feelings of “resentment and degradation for the lost object with which he or she is identifying” (9). Cheng goes on to describe the complex psychic dynamics of the melancholic subject: “First, the melancholic must deny loss as loss in order to sustain the fiction of possession. Second, the melancholic would have to make sure that the ‘object’ never returns, for such a return would surely jeopardize the cannibalistic project” (9).

She accentuates that this configuration of melancholia is helpful in understanding “American racial dynamics.” Cheng suggests, for example, that the dominant white ideal of America excludes but simultaneously retains racialized “others” as “lost” to true “American” identity. These racialized others are also “uneasily digested by…American nationality” because they reveal perverse contradiction in the ideas of freedom and democracy the United States was founded on in the first place (10). Cheng ultimately asserts the productivity of melancholia as a theoretical tool because it “accounts for the guilt and denial of guilt, the blending of shame and omnipotence in the racist imaginary” (12). She also critiques reductive declarations of internalized racial, ethnic self-hatred, accentuating that the psychic dynamics of minority figures are much more complex and often fraught with conflicting, contradictory emotions. Cheng particularly turns to literature to conduct her study because as “cultural texts” they are especially helpful in “teas[ing] out the complex social etiology behind the phenomenon of racial grief” (15).

Cheng emphasizes that analysis of melancholia with respect to raced subjects must extend beyond the term’s vernacular association with sadness. She defines “racial melancholia” as “a sign of rejection and as a psychic strategy in response to that rejection” (20). For the purposes of her study, Cheng focuses on the racialization of African Americans in the United States as well as Asian Americans because they occupy an uncanny place in the history of American racial dynamics, falling outside the Manichean black-white politics of race. Cheng further notes that the socio-economic success that Asian Americans have achieved in the US has problematically precluded the study of them as raced subjects, fueling a potentially more insidious form of racism. She asserts that “the racialization of Asian Americans is some ways more apparently melancholic than that of African Americans in American history in the sense that the history of virulent racism directed against Asians and Asian Americans has been at once consistently upheld and denied” through configurations such as the “yellow peril” and “model minority” stereotype (23).

Cheng ultimately claims that viewing race through the framework of melancholia productively reveals its instability “indebtedness to the dis-identity it is also claiming” (24). She emphasizes that an examination of the psychical implications of racial injury will allow for a new politics of loss that moves beyond simple identity politics to also embrace dis-identity politics and eventually open up new pathways to assert individual agency. In this way, Cheng suggests that we can resolve the troubling acceptance of African American or Asian American as identity labels, which simultaneously recalls a history of racialization.

Finally Cheng concludes her essay by asserting the value of psychoanalysis as a theoretical framework of her study, insisting that “the politics of race has always spoken in the language of psychology” (28). She further emphasizes that “the psychoanalytic perspective teaches us to be attentive to the disjunctive and retroactive hauntedness of history,” which can be wielded for political action today” (28).

Annotation: David L. Eng’s “Out Here and Over There” (2001)

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Eng, David L. “Out Here and Over There: Queerness and Diaspora in Asian American Studies (Epilogue).” Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America. Durham: Duke UP, 2001. 204-228. Print.

In his “Epilogue” Eng discusses how Asian Americans have been historically caught between the two paradoxical stereotypes of “model minority” or “yellow peril,” as “perversely assimilated” or “unassimilable aliens” (204). He emphasizes that Asian Americans’ vexed status in the US nation-state compels an examination of how diaspora may be a more productive theoretical framework through which to rework conceptions of kinship, home, and identity. Eng notes that queer studies also face a similar problematic relationship with “home” as queers are sometimes literally exiled from the nation-state or marginalized in the dominant heternormative society. Eng ultimately attempts to employ diaspora and queer theory to revitalize Asian American studies and open new possibilities for cultural and political affiliations. He notes, however, that while diaspora can be viewed as resisting the rigid boundaries of the nation-state, it can also be used to further nationalistic efforts such as in the case of Israel and must be deployed with caution. Eng further highlights the need to examine Asian American and more broadly American studies in a more transnational context especially within our increasingly globalized world.

In his essay Eng also offers a helpful history of the Asian American studies movement. He asserts that historically the movement was predominantly concerned with achieving civil rights and citizenship status within the US nation-state. Spearheaded to a large extent by the editors of Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers, the movement rejected the notion that Asian Americans were too foreign in order to claim their belonging in the United States. Eng emphasizes, however, that in the process these editors also “prescribe[ed] who a recognizable and recognizably legitimate Asian American racial subject should ideally be: male, heterosexual, working class, American born, and English speaking” (209). While they attempted to combat the white hegemonic emasculinization of Asian American men, they problematically perpetuated rampant homophobia and misogyny. Eng asserts that this “forced repression of feminine and homosexual to masculine, and of home to the nation-state, is a formation in need of queering” (210-11).

Eng notes that the cultural nationalism forwarded by the Aiiieeeee! editors worked to eradicate the hyphen, which they believe suggested that Asian-Americans have an irreconcilable split identity. Their project was to urgently demonstrate how Asian American identity is whole and something that is “wholly viable within the nation-state” (211). Eng points out, however, that the frequent reemergence of this repressed hyphen in various circumstances call attention to how Asian Americans continue to be perceived as foreign and not fully belonging in the United States. He asserts that instead of furthering this act of repression, critics should perhaps risk the hyphen.

Eng claims that one potential effect of acknowledging the hyphen is to compel scholars to more vigorously examine the “Asian” aspect of Asian American identity, effectively extending critical parameters beyond the boundaries of the US nation-state. Eng insists that this diasporic turn is particularly important with respect to the post-1965 immigrants hailing from “Vietnam, South Korea, and the Philippines,” whose narratives and experiences do not begin within the nation-state but rather external global locales that were subjected to US imperialism and colonization. He also urges Asian American scholars to examine new emergent identities, particularly the growing group of individuals who do not simply maintain political affiliation with a single nation-state but adhere to a more transnational diasporic existence. Eng offers “satellite people, parachute kids, reverse settlers, and flexible citizenship” as some prominent examples (214). Even in our increasingly globalized world, however, Eng emphasizes the enduring importance of the nation-state because transnational movements and exchanges still have to maneuver through and “within the concrete, localized space of the nation-state” (214).

Eng also asserts the need to expand the critical potential of queer theory beyond its primary association with sexuality, reframing it as a flexible tool “for evaluating Asian American racial formation across multiple axes of difference as well as numerous local and global manifestations” (215). He particularly critiques how gender and sexuality studies have failed to “embrace queerness as a critical methodology for the understanding of sexual identity as it is dynamically formed in and through racial epistemologies” (218). Eng ultimately urges Asian American studies to employ concepts of queerness and diaspora to rework conceptions of identity and home across multiple sexualities and locales.

In his analysis of Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet, Eng celebrates how the film dismantles the popular stereotype of the Asian American male as passive and effeminate through its presentation of Gao Wai-Tung as a “successful, savvy, and handsome Asian male” with US citizenship status (221). Eng notes that Wai-Tung’s queer and diasporic identity becomes sources of power and strength as he is able to help Wei-Wei, a Third World Asian woman to obtain a green card and enter the United States. Yet the film ultimately shows the complexities in negotiating queer diasporic identities because Wai-Tung has to essentially mask his homosexual practices behind the guise of a heterosexual marriage. His eventual queer impregnation of Wai-Wai also problematically demonstrates how “Wai-Tun’s position as enfranchised citizen of the U.S. nation-state…is made possible only through his subordination of the diasporic Third World woman” (223).

While Eng recognizes The Wedding Banquet as a failed deployment of queerness and diaspora as modes of resistance against the hegemonic heteronormativity and patriarchal conceptions of the nation-state, he offers R. Zamora Linmark’s Rolling the R’s as a more productive example. The novel explores the ethnic conflicts and differences between the inhabitants of Hawaii, which Linmark suggests are eventually overcome by “an obsessive queer sexuality…that binds them together as a social group with a common sense of purpose” (225). This, Eng asserts can serve as a viable model for real political activism. He further describes how Limark’s characterization of Orlando as the “model minority” student who overcomes his inferior “minority” status by demonstrating his capabilities in not only math and science but also leadership and representation of his fellow classmates, coupled with his queer sexual identity effectively overturns stereotypes and social expectations of Asian American men.

Annotation: Scott Kurashige’s The Shifting Grounds of Race (2007)

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This annotation was written in reference to my paper on Nina Revoyr’s Southland, as yet, still untitled.

Kurashige, Scott. “Introduction.” The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2007. 1-12. Print.

In the “Introduction” of his book, Kurashige accentuates the need to examine the complex interrelations between Black and Japanese Americans that helped transform Los Angeles into a multicultural “world city” (11). He traces the historical trajectory of these two minority groups, noting that while both experienced similar forms of racial oppression before WWII, they “were subsequently thrust onto different historical paths” in the post war era (4). Kurashige contextualizes this divergence by demonstrating how white hegemonic discourses that classified Japanese and more generally all Asian Americans as the “model minority” was an “ideological construction” used to uphold the success of US liberal democracy and spur divisive antagonism between minority groups. The myth suggests that if Japanese Americans were able to attain a middle class status in the United States, then Blacks should assume responsibility for their own failure to achieve similar socio-economic success. Kurashige emphasizes that the popularization of the “model minority” narrative not only problematically obscures the lingering, haunting effects of internment on the Japanese American community but also perpetuates the erasure of those who were never able to attain upward mobility. In his “Introduction” Kurashige also attempts to expose and recover the largely overlooked” history of Black and Japanese American solidarity in the Westside, ranging from West Jefferson as early as the 1920s to postwar Crenshaw as late as the 1970s and beyond” (10). He powerfully demonstrates the deep interconnections between these two minority groups in his example of “Little Tokyo,” which after the forced evacuation of Japanese Americans, become a predominantly black community that “African American entrepreneurs and community leaders dubbed Bronzeville” (1).

Kurashige emphasizes that while many people predicted that the with the end of internment and the war, the return of Japanese Americans to Los Angeles would spark “violent turf battles,” the two groups completely astonished the public as activists from both sides began to work together to achieve “interethnic political cooperation” and stimulate more interaction between the two communities (2). Kurashige demonstrates how this cultural exchange and syncretism allowed LA to emerge as a multicultural “world city” that can boast of a “Crenshaw institution like the Holiday Bowl,” where people can order from a menu containing both African and Asian cuisine and bowl in this diverse environment (11).

In Southland, Revoyr presents the story of Jackie Ishida, a Japanese American girl, who is initially ignorant and entirely detached from her family’s past and immigrant roots. She is disturbed to see so many black faces at her grandfather’s funeral and only registers how different they are from her own. As the novel progresses, however, Jackie begins to steadily uncover the complex history she shares with members of the black LA community not only in terms of shared experiences of racism and oppression but also intimate family relations. I argue that in this this respect, Revoyr’s Southland does the same work as Kurashige’s book in tracing the connections between Black and Japanese Americans in LA and how specific historical processes compelled a “forgetting” of these ties.

Annotation: Jodi Kim’s “From Mee-gook to Gook” (2009)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper “Re-imagining Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker through the National Politics of Global Capitalism.” See my abstract here.

Kim, Jodi. “From Mee-gook to Gook: The Cold War and Racialized Undocumented Capital in Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker.” MELUS 34.1 (2009): 117-137. Print.

In this essay Kim focuses on the haunting legacies of the Cold War in Native Speaker. She demonstrates how the Manichean logics of the time polarized the world into two opposing camps—“good” capitalism and democracy vs. “evil” communism and totalitarianism. Kim argues that this binary stratification obscures the fundamental antagonisms between capitalism and democracy (124). Whereas democracy (US liberalism) promises equal rights and freedoms, capitalism is necessarily hierarchical, thriving on the oppression and exploitation of certain groups of people. Kim suggests that the “model minority” stereotype is specifically imposed on Asian American subjects to uphold the fiction of US liberal democracy, to emphasize that immigrants and minority figures can all achieve economic success if they just work hard enough. This rhetoric is, however, only meant to divert attention from the deeper structural inequalities within the US political economy. Kim also discusses how the United States secretly thrives on the labor of undocumented workers, allowing these individuals to persist so long as their capital remains in the tightly confined sphere of “ethnic small business capital” (124). Once Kwang attempts to politicize that capital, he is suddenly charged with criminal offenses for handling “racialized undocumented capital” (127). While the capital of non-US citizens is permissible on a purely economic level, the attempt to give these human beings some degree of political influence with the capital they generated within the nation-state is not tolerated because it threatens to overturn the existing capitalist order.

Kim’s discussion of the ironic treatment of capital within the United States is particularly important to my own research. I plan to extend her argument and consider how Kwang’s ggeh is not only radical in enabling non-citizens to influence US politics but how it offers an alternative means of organization and identification outside state-controlled mechanisms such as citizenship and race. As a private, communal banking system, Kwang’s ggeh not only subverts government-policing agencies but also lacks the traditional state-sponsored monetary insurance guarantees. Members are therefore entirely reliant human “bonds” of trust. I also intend to explore the implications of the ggeh as the primary cause for Kwang’s political demise and how that reflects the problematic devaluation of human life in the novel. The fact that Kwang is scandalized for his financial dealings with an “illegal” money club rather than his involvement in the murder of Eduardo and Helda suggests an extreme fetishization of capital.