At once a process, a condition, and a mode of practice, transnationalism indexes the ways in which Asian American subjects have contended with the legacies of (neo)imperialism, war, militarism, and late capitalist modernity. This culturally manifests in dance club scenes, street festivals, community drumming events, memorials, performance art, theater, and more. A transnational approach counters some of the nation-state frameworks that have traditionally dominated understandings of Asian American culture. Thus, transnationalism provides a rich theoretical and methodological approach that is well suited to apprehending the dynamism, constraints, and potentialities of transnational Asian American social and cultural performances as they have moved and metamorphosed in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.
Elizabeth W. Son
Within the literary connections between Australia and the United States, the more traditional notion of “influence” gained a different kind of intellectual traction after the “transnational turn.” While the question of American influence on Australian literature is a relatively familiar topic, the corresponding question of Australian influence on American literature has been much less widely discussed. This bi-continental interaction can be traced through a variety of canonical writers, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Brockden Brown, through to Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Henry Adams, and Mark Twain. These transnational formations developed in the changed cultural conditions of the 20th and 21st centuries, with reference to poets such as Lola Ridge, Karl Shapiro, Louis Simpson, and Yusef Komunyakaa, along with novelists such as Christina Stead, Peter Carey, and J. M. Coetzee. To adduce alternative genealogies for both American and Australian literature, Australian literature might be seen to function as American literature’s shadow self, the kind of cultural formation it might have become if the American Revolution had never taken place. Similarly, to track Australian literature’s American affiliations is to suggest ways in which transnational connections have always been integral to its constitution. By re-reading both Australian and American literature as immersed within a variety of historical and geographical matrices, from British colonial politics to transpacific space, it becomes easier to understand how both national literatures emerged in dialogue with a variety of wider influences.
Erin Suzuki and Aimee Bahng
The use of the term transpacific in Asian American studies should be reevaluated vis-à-vis Pacific studies, Indigenous studies, and Oceanic studies. In particular, following Lisa Yoneyama’s model for examining “decolonial genealogies of transpacific studies,” such a reevaluation emphasizes interdisciplinarity, intersectionality, and, above all, a reckoning with settler taxonomies of intellectual production as vital to the continued use of the term. Beginning with a review of key scholarly interventions into the “settler colonial grammar of AA/PI,” this article relates the US histories and logics that first produced the categories “Asian American” and “Pacific Islander” and brought them into categorical relation with one another. These historical entanglements between diasporic and Indigenous movements across and through the Pacific, can be understood through cultural analysis of literary works that reconfigure transpacific studies around Oceanic passages and Pacific currents highlighting an Indigenous-centered regional formation. Rather than allowing transpacific discourses to dismiss the Pacific Islands as distant or remote “islands in a far sea,” such an approach recasts the region along the lines of what Tongan scholar Epeli Hau‘ofa formulates as an interconnected “sea of islands.” It concludes by considering the ongoing harm produced by settler epistemologies of possessive liberal humanism and by inviting a decolonial approach to Asian American cultural politics.
(East and Southeast) Asian Canadian literature has consistently been preoccupied with the transpacific: from its lived spaces, its imagined ones, and its hybrid literary constructions. This body of literature includes narratives of arrival, autobiographical texts, historiographic novels, magical realist fiction, and experimental poetry. While these texts have usually been read through historical frameworks, thinking through them spatially enables us to understand and trace the alternate geographies of mobility, belonging, and cultural change beyond the project of the Canadian nation. These texts are predicated on transnational spaces of commerce and labor, trauma and resistance, refuge and liminality, and mobility and materiality. They reflect and produce the complex and overlapping trajectories of communities and individuals from East and Southeast Asia. From fictions of Chinatown to testimonies of racist dispersal and exclusion, refugee narratives to speculative decolonial futures, Asian Canadian literature has shaped both rural and urban Canadian spaces and their transnational and local textures. Thinking through the transpacific spaces in the literature points to the ways in which racist and exclusionary policies have shaped the landscapes and social spaces of the nation whether through immigration laws or forcible dispossession and internment. Yet, it also gives rise to the possibilities of new collectivities and communities within and beyond the nation-state. In the face of unequal globalization and movements of labor and capital, this mode of analysis points to possible indigenous and diasporic solidarities and place-making. Contemporary texts from Asian Canadian writers also evince a consciousness of Canadian bioregions and the confrontation of extraction economics that allows for a discussion of intersectionality in the context of environmental humanities and ecocriticism.
The concept of the “transpacific” has inherent asymmetries that must be explored in order to generate a more nuanced interpretive logic of transpacific possibility. Such epistemic asymmetry should be considered not simply as a description of the massive inequalities undergirding the geopolitical arrangements of the transpacific world, but also as a catalyst through which transpacific knowledge and critical orientations of the transpacific are produced. Scholarship evidences three key turns—through militarization, the ecological, and indigeneity—that collectively work to map the uneven terrain of the transpacific. The poet Lawson Inada’s wry observation about the epistemic, economic, and aesthetic challenges posed by the transpacific—that “the problem . . . is water”—provides a starting point from which to trace a fluid genealogy of transpacific literary and cultural production. This fluid genealogy traces alternative versions of the transpacific as “imaginable ageographies” to counterbalance the existing architectural ideas about security, economics, and militarization that have delimited this arena. Analysis of a wide range of texts demonstrates that transpacific asymmetry and transpacific interconnection can both be usefully leveraged to disrupt hierarchies of knowledge and practice.
Although it may not be a truth universally acknowledged, the pages of Asian American literature are nevertheless filled with complex representations of transpacific women. These constructions of Asian femininity counter the more recognizable versions of Asian women that have circulated from the late 19th century to the present: archetypes of the Asian mother as symbolic of a lost homeland, the exotic and submissive Asian butterfly, or the vilified and dangerous dragon lady. These persistent characterizations of Asian femininity are in one sense no surprise, especially given the longstanding Orientalist binary (Edward Said) that imagined the East as the West’s submissive and feminized other and the frequent connection between women and the land in nationalist fiction. As a critical framework and archival methodology, transpacific femininities reconfigures the centrality of gender, sexuality, and transpacific experience to Asian American literature. Transpacific femininities was originally conceived as a mode of analysis for a specific historical context and literary form: the Philippines in the early to mid-20th century and representations of women in prose. But it is ultimately a more capacious model that (a) recovers a long history of the importance of women to transpacific literature, (b) carefully considers how multiple empires and nations influenced the Pacific, and (c) counters the feminization of Asia by revealing how writers were actively involved in redefining the terms of national identities, communities, and transpacific relations. The plural “femininities” underscores instability and contradictions in texts and authorial strategies, for while transpacific femininities is above all a feminist way of reading, the term also recognizes that these authors and texts do not all advocate feminist practices.
Latina/os and Asian Americans have lived in what is now the United States for hundreds of years, yet they are often considered foreign in the national imaginary. Legally, through acts excluding Latina/os and Asians from citizenship, and socially, through targeted anti-immigration rhetoric, both groups have been racialized in the United States as outsiders. This form of racial discrimination, also called “nativistic racism,” forms the basis of several intersections of Latina/o and Asian American literature. Latina/o and Asian American literary works counter nativistic racism by emphasizing multiracial histories within the United States, by drawing attention to racial injustices, and by employing tropes of loyalty and betrayal to highlight the selective ways that the United States has defined citizenship and belonging along racial lines. Latina/o and Asian American texts may also recognize the US military interventions that brought Asians and Latin Americans to the United States as (post)colonial subjects, Cold War allies, and refugees. Some of these texts counter national narratives such as American exceptionalism and Cold War bilateralism; others protest the erasure of military actions overseas from dominant histories of the United States. In addition to suggesting comparative intersections, Latina/o and Asian American literatures also depict literal interactions when Latina/o characters feature prominently in Asian American texts and vice versa. Literature set in California and other areas with high Asian American and Latina/o populations portrays both the significant contact and common political interests between Latina/os and Asian Americans. This long history of contact appears in early texts that center on Asian American and Latina/o farmworkers; it continues in more recent literature featuring Latina/o and Asian American friendships, partnerships, and rivalries. Some Filipino texts emphasize cultural commonalities with Mexican Americans, including Spanish-language surnames and Catholicism. A final intersection of Latina/o and Asian American literature occurs in texts by authors who are both Asian and Latina/o, including Peruvians, Cubans, Mexicans, and other Latin Americans of Asian descent. Written in both English and Spanish, this literature draws attention to the transpacific connections between Asia and the Americas. While it is crucial to acknowledge the historical particularities of Latina/o and Asian American literature, as well as the diversity within each of these groups, recognizing the ways in which these literatures intersect is important to understanding cross-racial alliances of the past and potential solidarities for the future.