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Article

Comparative African American and Asian American Literary Studies  

Julia H. Lee

Comparative African American and Asian American literary studies traces the diverse (if uneven) ways that African American and Asian American authors have explored the relationship between the two groups and delves into the histories and the politics behind these interracial representations. The literature ranges from the polemical to the fantastic, from the realist to the postmodern, and from the formally innovative to the generically conventional. While some may assume that the politics behind such representations are either coalitional or conflictual in nature, the literature is highly ecumenical, including narratives that engage in Orientalism and/or Negrophobia, Third World rhetoric, postcolonial critique, and political radicalism. African Americans have long been interested in Asia as a potential site for resistance to American racism and empire, while Asian American authors have looked to the experiences of black Americans to understand their own experiences of racism within the United States. Despite the fact that there is a long-established tradition of Afro-Asian literary representation, literary criticism has only taken up a sustained and in-depth study of this topic within the past two decades. Afro-Asian literary studies is part of a late-20th-century “comparative turn” within US-based race studies, which goes along with the increasing transnational/diasporic orientation of formerly nation- or area-based disciplines.

Article

Incarceration in Contemporary Asian American Literature and Culture  

A.J. Yumi Lee

Asian American immigrant communities have been shaped by encounters with state surveillance, policing, detention, and deportation, and contemporary Asian American literature reflects this history. Many foundational Asian American literary texts narrate experiences of policing and incarceration related to immigration, and contemporary Asian American literary works frequently comment and build on these stories. Such works also recall the creative tactics that immigrants have employed to protect each other and elude the state, including adopting or inventing different names, identities, and familial affiliations. Another body of Asian American literature addresses experiences of encampment linked to war, occupation, and militarism that have both preceded and followed Asian American immigration to the United States. In particular, the internment of Japanese Americans in the western United States and Canada during World War II gave rise to numerous creative works, including fiction, poetry, memoir, art, and film by internees and the generations that followed. Asian American literary texts about post–World War II US wars in Asia, including the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the Global War on Terror, depict transnational wartime carceral spaces such as prisoner-of-war camps and refugee camps as sites that have generated Asian diasporic migrations. Post-9/11 Asian American works have responded to the militarized policing and incarceration of Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians, both domestically and globally. Finally, contemporary narratives of Asian American incarceration in the United States frequently address the connections between the policing of immigrants and the larger prison industrial complex, asking readers to situate Asian Americans comparatively in relation to other vulnerable groups, particularly other communities of color who have been targeted for abuse and incarceration by police and the state historically and in the 21st century.

Article

Human Rights and Asian American Literature and Culture  

Crystal Parikh

Asian American literature and art have had an illuminating effect on the significance of human rights in the United States and in national culture. Americans are often assumed to enjoy exceptional liberties and rights, which they seek in turn to deliver to other people, in other parts of the world. However, Asian American cultural critique provides an incisive perspective on the limits of citizenship and national belonging as the basis for the granting of fundamental human freedoms, rights, and protections to all persons. The legal exclusion of Asians from immigration and naturalization, as well as from other forms of social and economic security such as property ownership, has long been justified through the construction of Asian racial difference. Reforms in immigration law after World War II, which did eventually transform Asian American life in the United States, took place in the context of a “global Cold War,” and during the same period that saw the institution of an international human rights regime. “Integration” proved as essential a mandate in US domestic and foreign policy as did “containment” in this global conflict. As a result, not only has the Asian American population grown significantly and become more heterogeneous since the late 20th century, the nation has seen the flourishing of Asian American literary and cultural production. Asian American writers and artists have been especially keen to investigate the political, legal, and ideological tensions and contradictions that pervade the postsocialist world and the war on terror. Their works explore the political precarity faced by those caught between the contradictions of neoliberal multiculturalism, the logics and technologies of state security, and the legal tethering of human rights to citizenship.

Article

Circumventing Racialism through mulataje  

José F. Buscaglia-Salgado

Mulataje is a neologism, reclaimed in 2003 in Undoing Empire: Race and Nation in the Mulatto Caribbean by José F. Buscaglia-Salgado. Prior to this reclamation, the term was used sparingly and in a very limited way to refer to “racial mixing” in societies that were predominantly composed of Afro- and Euro-descendants in the Caribbean and Brazil. As such it was simply an adaptation and a synonym of mestizaje, used in the context of the Afro-diasporic populations of the Atlantic World. Conceptually reformulated, in its current acceptation, mulataje identifies a counterhegemonic culture that, since the earliest times in modernity, has moved against all colonialist calculations aimed at the possibility of moving beyond and leaving behind all things racial. As a most fundamental practice of being and of knowing informing individual self-conception and social action in the modern colonial world, mulataje speaks to the movements, great and small, individual and collective, that have attempted to outmaneuver all racial codes and racialist conventions as they have informed the distribution of labor and the allocation of natural resources and political rights past and present. Ultimately, the movement of mulataje points to the possibility of dethroning race as a valid and privileged category of knowledge.

Article

Tígueres and Tígueras in Dominican National and Diasporic Culture  

Jacob C. Brown

This article explores evolving representations of the Dominican colloquialism and concept tíguere in academic scholarship and Dominican national and diasporic culture. Phonetically, the word tíguere is a “Dominicanized” pronunciation—with one extra syllable added in the middle—of tigre, the Spanish word for tiger. Instead of purporting an exhaustive analysis of every utterance of tíguere in the vast archives of Dominican culture (a Quixotic affair for a single encyclopedia entry), this article observes how scholarship in the last forty years has approached the “tíguere” as a Dominican cultural expression. While academic books and articles on Dominican culture vary insofar as their discussions of the origins of the term and to whom it applies (whether they be men or women; “straight” or queer; black, white, or mixed), they also show continuity in reinforcing the basic characteristics of tigueraje (wit, grit, and resourcefulness; cunning, confidence, and showmanship; stoicism, style, and fierce determination) as expressions of dominicanidad, or Dominican-ness. This article does not pretend to be an exhaustive study but rather shows some of the ways in which authors and academics have spotted and studied tígueres in the milieu of Dominican cultural production. While the growing fields of contemporary Dominican scholarship, media, and literature have gradually deconstructed and adapted the tíguere within critical, queer, gender-inclusive, racially conscious, and transatlantic methodologies, in doing so it has also played a role in reinscribing the tíguere’s place in Dominican culture, both at home on the island and across oceans.

Article

Asian Americans in Pre–World War II Cinema  

Philippa Gates

From the dawn of cinema in 1895 to the coming of World War II, the representation of Asian immigrants on the American screen shifted from unwanted aliens to accepted, if exotic, citizens—in other words, from Asian immigrants to Asian Americans. Since World War II, American race relations have been defined mainly through the comparison of white and black experiences; however, in the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, white American fears about racial and cultural purity focused on Asian immigration. Although there was immigration from other Asian countries, at the time, the vast majority of Asian immigrants were arriving from China. In newspaper articles and popular fiction, writers exploited and extended Yellow Peril fears about Chinese immigration through tales of Chinese immorality and criminality. American filmmakers then capitalized on these familiar stories and repeated the stereotypes of the evil “Oriental villain” such as Dr. Fu Manchu and the benign “model minority” such as detective Charlie Chan. American culture more broadly, and American film more specifically, conflated different Asian peoples and cultures and represented Asian immigration, for the most part, through white American attitudes toward Chinese immigrants. In film, this resulted in Japanese and Korean American actors playing Chinese and Chinese American characters before the war, and Chinese and Korean American actors playing Japanese characters during and after the war. More notoriously, however, American films often cast white actors in Chinese roles, especially when those characters were more prominent in the narrative. This practice of “yellowface” contributed to the continuance of stereotyped representations of Chinese characters in film and exposed the systemic racism of a film industry that rarely allowed Asian Americans to represent themselves. With World War II, the Japanese replaced the Chinese as America’s Yellow Peril villain, and American race relations turned from the question of Asian immigration to that of African American civil rights.

Article

Asian Americans and Digital Games  

Christopher B. Patterson

Asian Americans have frequently been associated with video games. As designers they are considered overrepresented, and specific groups appear to dominate depictions of the game designer, from South Asian and Chinese immigrants working for Microsoft and Silicon Valley to auteur designers from Japan, Taiwan, and Iran, who often find themselves with celebrity status in both America and Asia. As players, Asian Americans have been depicted as e-sports fanatics whose association with video game expertise—particularly in games like Starcraft, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike—is similar to sport-driven associations of racial minorities: African Americans and basketball or Latin Americans and soccer. This immediate association of Asian Americans with gaming cultures breeds a particular form of techno-orientalism, defined by Greta A. Niu, David S. Roh, and Betsy Huang as “the phenomenon of imagining Asia and Asians in hypo- or hypertechnological terms in cultural productions and political discourse.” In sociology, Asian American Studies scholars have considered how these gaming cultures respond to a lack of acceptance in “real sports” and how Asian American youth have fostered alternative communities in PC rooms, arcades, and online forums. For still others, this association also acts as a gateway for non-Asians to enter a “digital Asia,” a space whose aesthetics and forms are firmly intertwined with Japanese gaming industries, thus allowing non-Asian subjects to inhabit “Asianness” as a form of virtual identity tourism. From a game studies point of view, video games as transnational products using game-centered (ludic) forms of expression push scholars to think beyond the limits of Asian American Studies and subjectivity. Unlike films and novels, games do not rely upon representations of minority figures for players to identify with, but instead offer avatars to play with through styles of parody, burlesque, and drag. Games do not communicate through plot and narrative so much as through procedures, rules, and boundaries so that the “open world” of the game expresses political and social attitudes. Games are also not nationalized in the same way as films and literature, making “Asian American” themes nearly indecipherable. Games like Tetris carry no obvious national origins (Russian), while games like Call of Duty and Counter-Strike do not explicitly reveal or rely upon the ethnic identities of their Asian North American designers. Games challenge Asian American Studies as transnational products whose authors do not identify explicitly as Asian American, and as a form of artistic expression that cannot be analyzed with the same reliance on stereotypes, tropes, and narrative. It is difficult to think of “Asian American” in the traditional sense with digital games. Games provide ways of understanding the Asian American experience that challenge traditional meanings of being Asian American, while also offering alternative forms of community through transethnic (not simply Asian) and transnational (not simply American) modes of belonging.

Article

Díaz, Junot  

Yomaira C. Figueroa

Junot Díaz is a Dominican American award-winning fiction writer and essayist. For over twenty years his work has helped to map and remap Latinx, Caribbean, and American literary and cultural studies. Since his collection of short stories, Drown, debuted in 1996, Díaz has become a leading literary figure in Latinx, Afro-Latinx, and diaspora studies. His voice is critically linked to the legacy of Latinx Caribbean literary poetics reaching back to the 1960s (including Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets, 1967). Díaz’s work is likewise transnational and diasporic, often reflecting the lived experiences of working-class immigrant populations of color in northeastern urban centers. Within a broader scope, Díaz’s writing is tied to feminist African American and Chicana literary traditions, with Díaz citing the influence of writers such as Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros in his writing practice. His 2007 award-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, earned him a Pulitzer Prize in fiction and catapulted him into literary superstardom. Díaz followed that success with his 2012 collection of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her, which was a finalist for both the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2013 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. In 2012, Díaz was conferred the MacArthur Fellows Program Award, commonly known as the MacArthur “Genius Grant,” and in 2017, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2019, he was the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the fiction editor at the renowned literary magazine the Boston Review. Over the course of his professional writing career, Díaz has published numerous nonfiction essays and political commentaries, and coauthored opinion editorials on immigration and reflections on Caribbean and US politics. His short story “Monstro,” published in 2012, further rooted Díaz in the genres of science fiction and Afrofuturism. “Monstro” was understood to be a teaser for a now discarded novel of the same name. The simultaneous publication of the English-language Islandborn and Spanish-language Lola in 2018 represented the author’s first foray into the genre of children’s literature. Like much of Díaz’s literary oeuvre, the children’s books chronicle the experiences and memories of Afro-Dominicans in the diaspora through the perspective of a child narrator. Díaz is one of the founders of Voices of Our Nation (VONA), a summer creative writing workshop for writers of color where he helps aspiring writers to workshop their fiction. Díaz’s fiction and nonfiction writings have catalyzed work in literary, Latinx, and Afro-Latinx studies, prompting renewed discourses on literary representations of masculinity, gender, sexuality, intimacy, sexual violence, dictatorship, immigration, disability, Dominican history, race and anti-blackness, anti-Haitianism, decolonization and radical politics, and diaspora and belonging.

Article

Folk and Blues Methods in American Literature and Criticism  

Taylor Black

Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in the fall of 2016. News of this drew predictable reactions from fans and naysayers who, each in their own way, either praised or lamented the judgment of the Nobel Committee’s decision to honor a songwriter and performer for a prize traditionally reserved for novelists, poets, and playwrights. Despite arguments about whether or not Dylan’s work is or is not sufficiently literary, his award confirmed something that, at least for Americans, has always been true: that popular music is as important a part of American literature as anything written in between the covers of a book. The folk and blues traditions from which Dylan emerges as a musical artist are also major sources of mythopoetic cultural production operating at the heart of American culture. These are first and foremost oral traditions, offered up in the form of songs and tales (and everything in between) and passed down from person to person, across regions, and through time. A folk and blues approach to American literature is one that understands there are no originary, primary folk and blues texts. It is also one that necessarily envisions a tradition as belonging to the future rather than the past. The American folk and blues method is, in other words, one of invention and adaptation, and its embedded notion of a tradition is something that is always shifting according to practice. Instead of only searching out primary textual examples of form, a folk and blues–influenced literary critical approach is drawn to figures—like Robert Johnson, Nina Simone, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan—who are practitioners of folk and blues traditions. These performers are also experts in and vectors of folk and blues cultures. A prescriptive notion of an artistic tradition is determined based on what it was. In folk and blues, a tradition is what it does. There are also conventionally literary figures who seem to benefit from and understand the musical roots of American literature. Authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Toni Morrison incorporate musical elements into their plays, novels, stories, and poems in such a way as to make these otherwise written forms sound American. Folk and blues idioms and aesthetics encircle these authors’ literary works and enhance their meanings. A critical approach to such artists is in search of these meanings. This involves listening and developing a feeling for folk and blues traces in song and prose. The historical echoes of the many folk and blues myths, figures, and refrains that float around the nation’s culture are resurrected, from generation to generation, in its art. In the end, a folk and blues method seeks out these originators and reproducers of folk and blues traditions, insisting on an interpretive practice that is closer to hearing than reading.