In the Meiji era, the modernization of Japan was achieved through the process of the westernization of political, military, and educational systems. Accordingly, the Japanese willingly acquired and learned Western thought by translating literary resources for Japanese readers: the works of writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne were frequently translated and introduced at this time. Concurrently, Japanese girls belonging to the urban middle class began to form their own institutionalized culture called shojo, through which they could communicate their interests in literature or art, and/or share aspects of their ordinary school lives. Shojo culture was supported by newly founded magazines targeting schoolgirls with names like Shojo Sekai, Shojo-kai, Shojo-no-tomo, and Jogaku Zasshi. In Japanese shojo, articles on American women and translated literary pieces written by American and European authors, including Frances Hodgson Burnett, were popular. The work of female American writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, and Jean Webster was also translated as juvenile literature for Japanese children. Thus, American culture and literature significantly influenced the Japanese shojo culture. Nobuko Yoshiya, a well-known Japanese author of so-called girls’ novels, stated that she followed Western female writers such as Alcott, Burnett, and George Eliot. The Japanese translations of American literature decreased considerably during World War II. After the war, this literary corpus was rediscovered and was widely translated for Japanese audiences under the supervision of the General Headquarters (GHQ) or the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP). In addition to novels for girls, comics for young female readers (shojo manga) also aroused readers’ interest and became immensely popular. Some manga writers depicted Western settings in their narratives and innumerable “American girls” whose exotic and fashionable aura fascinated Japanese girls. These made-in-Japan “American girls” primarily represented the concept of liberty, autonomy, and abundance: qualities desired by Japanese schoolgirls. At the end of the 20th century, however, the representation of America in the genre of shojo manga gradually became more realistic and less enraptured.
Contemporary Asian American art includes artworks created by artists of Asian heritage in the Americas as well as contemporary works that engage with Asian American or Asian diasporic communities, history, aesthetics, politics, theory, and popular culture. This includes Modern and Postmodern works created in the post-World War II era to the present. Asian American art is closely tied to the birth of the Asian American movement of the 1960s and 70s as well as a wide range of art movements of the same time period from minimalism, to community murals, to the birth of video art, to international conceptual movements such as Fluxus. “Asian American art” is associated with identity based works and began to be institutionalized during the multicultural era of the 1980–1990s. From the early 2000s onwards, Asian American art has shifted to more transnational framework but remains centered on issues of representation, recovery, reclaiming, recuperation, and decolonization of marginalized bodies, histories, and memories. Common themes in Asian American art include narratives of immigration, migration, war, trauma, labor, race and ethnicity, assimilation, dislocation, countering stereotypes, and interrogating histories of colonization and U.S. imperialism.
This article takes a critical and historical look at how South Asian performers and performances circulated in the late 19th and 20th centuries in the United States and Australia. It compares how dance practices, both in the United States and in Australia, are interwoven with 19th- and early 20th-century Orientalism and anti-Asian immigration law in both countries, as primarily white dancers engaged with Indian dance practices to develop intercultural styles of Western contemporary dance. While the comparisons of Indian dance in the United States and Australia highlight the similarities of national policies that curtailed Asian immigration, they also suggest that the patterns of migration and travel, particularly where dance is concerned, are much more complex. Dancers and dance forms moved from India to Australia to the United States in an intricate triangle of exchange and influence.
To the extent North Korea features within Asian American literature and culture, it primarily does so in a body of Korean American cultural production—memoirs, biographies, documentary films, oral histories, fiction, and multi-media political advocacy—that is distinctively post-9/11 but not-yet post-Korean War. The irresolution of the Korean War, a war that has yet to be ended by a peace treaty, serves as defining extraliterary context for representations of North Korea. Not reducible to historical setting, much less an event safely concluded in the past, the Korean War, as a contemporaneous structure of enmity between the United States and North Korea, conditions the significance of this cultural archive—its urgency, politics, and reception. Often markedly instrumental in nature, indeed defined by the antithetical political ends it wishes to foster, Asian (mainly Korean) American cultural production on North Korea falls into two broad camps: on the one hand, “axis of evil” accounts that advocate, at times explicitly, for US intervention against North Korea, and on the other, more emergent cultural expressions that seek to expose the human costs of unending US war with North Korea.
Tzarina T. Prater
Studying Sino Caribbean participation in the two cultural juggernauts of Caribbean cultural production, music and Carnival, reveals the vexed position of these modes of performance in relation to conventional historical narratives of colonialism, as well as struggles related to multiple and resilient essentialist discourses of nationalism and identity formation. The complex diasporic histories of music and Carnival are tied to violent exploitive labor formations at the core of colonial capitalism. Sino Caribbean experiences are marked by marginalization, conflict, and rebellion as well as acclimation, inclusion, and challenge to diasporic theories and critical praxis. This labor history is frequently ignored by cultural chauvinists whose critical lenses do not engage beyond the Anglo-American academic bastions. Outside of music aficionados and Caribbean communities, very few are familiar with the integral role of Sino Caribbean peoples in the production and dissemination of reggae, jazz, and by extension, hip-hop music. This historical and critical lacuna can be addressed by shifting away from Atlantic- and Pacific Rim–bound ideological articulations of diaspora that ignore the contiguities of African, Caribbean, and Asian experiences in the Caribbean, and by focusing on this history as integral to a greater understanding of colonial and neocolonial political and economic formations.
Summer Kim Lee
What is Asian American popular music? How do we identify it, define it, and listen to it? What work is being done by naming a genre as such, and need it even be named? Asian Americanist scholars and music critics have grappled with these questions, articulating the political desires for Asian American representation, recognition, and inclusion, while at the same time remaining wary of how such desires reiterate liberal multiculturalist discourses of assimilation and inclusion. A growing body of interdisciplinary work in American studies, performance studies, critical race and ethnic studies, queer studies, and sound and popular music studies has addressed the historical emergence, visibility, and representation of Asian Americans in popular music. This work has become less concerned with finding out what “Asian American popular music” is and more interested in how Asian Americanist critique can be rooted in minoritarian listening practices so that one might consider the myriad ways Asian Americans—as professional and amateur performers, musicians, virtuosic singers, karaoke goers, YouTube users, listeners, critics, and fans—actively shape and negotiate the soundscapes of US popular music with its visual, sonic, and other sensorial markers of Asian racialization.
Nancy Yunhwa Rao
Chinese opera in America has several intertwined histories that have developed from the mid-19th century onward to inform performances and representations of Asian Americans on the opera stage. These histories include Chinese opera theater in North America from 1852 to 1940, Chinese opera performance in the ubiquitous Chinese villages at various World Fairs in the United States from 1890 to 1915, the famous US tour of Peking opera singer Mei Lanfang from New York to Chicago and San Francisco in 1930, a constellation of imagined “Chinese” opera and yellowface plays from 1880 to 1930, and the more recent history of contemporary opera created by Asian Americans commissioned by major opera houses. Some of these varied histories are closely intertwined, not all are well understood, and some have been simply forgotten. Since the mid-19th century, Chinese opera theater has become part of US urban history and has left a significant imprint on the collective cultural and historical memory of Chinese America. Outside of Chinese American communities arose well-known instances of imagined “Chinese” opera, yellowface works that employ the “Chinese opera trope” as a source of inspiration, or Western-style theatrical works based on Chinese themes or plotlines. These histories are interrelated, and have also significantly shaped the reception and understanding of contemporary operas created by Asian American composers and writers. While these operatic works of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are significantly different from those of earlier moments in history, their production and interpretation cannot escape this influence.
Since the start of the 21st-century, a general consensus has emerged that South Korea is a “global” phenomenon. Growing references to celebrated aspects of Korean culture and society—such as K-pop or Korean food—in literature, television, video, and film index a perceptual shift regarding South Korea. However, Korean American literature has tirelessly interrogated Korea’s place in the world, tracing and exposing often elided links and histories upon which its current prominence depends. Attending to Korean American and a growing spectrum of Asian American literary imaginations of South Korea in the 21st century illustrates the particularity of the nation’s curious global presence. Doing so also allows for an examination of the fissures between the perception and reality of global South Korea, of current assumptions about globalization, and of non-US-centric sites of affiliations notable in Asian American literature. Writers including Jimin Han, Patricia Park, Krys Lee, Jane Jeong Trenka, Maurene Goo, and May Lee-Yang exhibit divergent patterns and approaches and together highlight multiple facets of the structural entanglements that comprise global South Korea. These include changing patterns and motives for migration to and from Korea; redefining “Koreanness”; the complexities of “globalization,” and the oft-celebrated Korean Wave, or hallyu.
Jennifer Ann Ho
Asian American literature was born from two mixed race Eurasian sisters, Edith Maude Eaton and Winnifred Eaton, who wrote in the early 20th century under the pen names Sui Sin Far and Onoto Watanna, respectively. Edith spent her career chronicling, in fiction and non-fiction, the lives of Chinese in North America, and recounted her own multiracial experiences in the autobiographical “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian,” while Winnifred is best known for her popular fiction about the exotica of Japan, novels and stories that include several mixed race protagonists. More than thirty years later, Kathleen Tamagawa penned a mixed race memoir, Holy Prayers in a Horse’s Ear, describing the difficulties of living as a biracial Japanese-white woman trying to assimilate into the white mainstream of US society.
The number of mixed race Asian American authors rose in the mid- to late 20th century due to an increase in mixed race marriages and Asian immigration. The turn of the 21st century saw prominent multiracial Asian American authors writing about Asian American lives, mixed race Asian American authors choosing not to write about multiracial Asian American characters, and monoracial Asian American writers who populate their fiction with multiracial Asian American characters. Among these authors, Ruth Ozeki stands out as someone who has consistently focused her attention on multiracial Asian American characters, illustrating the richness of their mixed race experiences even as her fictional storyworlds shine a light on the environmental issues in a globalized world.
New Orleans has long been a city vital to the American imagination, known for its deep colonial and cultural history while, at the same time, evolving into the post-Katrina “city that care forgot.” Shaped by Spanish, French, and British imperialisms and situated at the edge of the American South, the Gulf Coast, and the Caribbean, New Orleans is a geography distinguished by transnational crosscurrents and intense meteorological activity; an economically and politically strategic port town, it is a below-sea-level city continuously vulnerable to environmental disaster. Typically neglected in dominant mappings of the city, however, are the area’s Pacific ties that have also helped to make New Orleans. Ever since the mid-19th century, various Asian and Asian American groups have populated southern Louisiana as immigrants, workers, traders, and refugees. After the Civil War, thousands of Chinese and Filipinos arrived in the region as a supposed replacement for slave labor. In the mid-20th century, the US government dispersed numerous Japanese Americans to the area after internment, while since the late 20th century, New Orleans has been home to one of the densest populations of Vietnam War refugees in the country. These migrations spurred the creation of ethnic enclaves and cultural practices that have directly and tangentially defined New Orleans, providing significant labor pools and offering illustrative narratives of post-disaster rebuilding. Given the region’s rich Pacific history and daily environmental vulnerability, engaging New Orleanian culture compels an Asian Americanist ecocritical approach, or one that engages the relationship among space, matter, culture, and critique, and attends to regional details as well as Pacific contexts. Some of the more prominent portrayals of Asian Louisiana, such as those by Lafcadio Hearn and Robert Olen Butler, have tended to exoticize their subject. By contrast, examining works by Bao Phi, An-My Lê, and Anna Kazumi Stahl reveals alternative ecologies of Louisiana that contribute to a stronger understanding of racial relations in the region, further specifies the Gulf Coast’s transnational dynamics, and foregrounds the value of Asian American studies for ecocriticism (and vice versa). These artists’ portrayals of disaster-oriented landscapes show how attention to overlooked Asian American ecologies reveals the fundamental spatial, economic, and environmental precariousness of our times for marginalized communities.