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).