Hemispheric approaches to Asian American literature disrupt, supplement, and interrogate the cultural nationalist focus of early Asian American studies, transpacific and transnational approaches to Asian American studies that came to prominence in the 1990s, and the overall dominance of the United States in Asian American studies. These approaches have largely been championed by scholars working in Canada or on Canadian material, by feminist and queer scholars, and by those working on interethnic or interracial approaches between “Asian American” and black/African American, Latinx, and/or Native/Indigenous communities. The term “hemispheric” was preceded by Asian North American, which has been employed from fairly early in the maturing of Asian American literary and cultural criticism. Key also is the scholarly history of hemispheric approaches to Asian North American literature and culture (and to a lesser extent Asian Caribbean and Latin American literature and culture), the cross-border relations between artists and activists of Asian descent in North America, and the U.S. cultural imperialism inherent in this approach as well as its potential to diversify and open up the field of Asian American literary and cultural studies. The hemispheric approach also uncovers some of the limitations of the “transnational” and “diaspora” approaches that currently dominate Asian American studies and emphasize an east-west, transpacific spatiality.
Donald C. Goellnicht
Eun Joo Kim
Koreans have been represented in North American film and television for almost a century. However, in the early part of the 20th century most representations took place only through the actual bodies of Korean American actors who were portraying Chinese or Japanese characters in American films. The practice of crossethnic, and even crossracial, casting was common for Asian characters in these earlier productions. It was not until the mid-20th century that Korean American actors began to portray ethnically Korean characters. However, these roles often required them to speak, dress, and act as if they were not assimilated to American culture, contributing to the stereotype of Asians as perpetual foreigners to Western society. Since the turn of the 21st century there have been more opportunities for Korean Americans and Korean Canadians to draw from their own lived experiences in their portrayals of characters who speak unaccented English and whose cultural backgrounds are not necessarily their most distinguishing features. Consciously challenging discriminatory practices and countering stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans led to shifts in media representations and more fully developed portrayals of Korean North American characters.
Martin Joseph Ponce
The materialist methodology known as queer of color critique investigates the ways that racialized subjects are positioned outside the gender and sexual norms of the US nation through the contradictory demands and desires of capitalism, labor, migration, and the state. According to Roderick Ferguson’s influential account in Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique (2004), capital recruits and exploits racialized labor whose surplus urban and agricultural social formations are in turn constituted by state institutions and academic disciplines as aberrant and deviant to ensure national-cultural purity and white dominance. Construing “queer” in this broad sense has proven useful for examining how Asian North American racialization is predicated on ascriptions of gender and sexual nonnormativity—from the Chinese prostitute of the late 19th century, to the hypersexual Filipino menace of the 1920s, to the Asian butterfly/dragon lady dichotomy across the 20th century and into the 21st. When this interdisciplinary approach converges with literary studies, however, it leaves unaddressed the relationships between racialized heterosexual deviancies as inscribed on the one hand, in legal, sociological, and popular culture discourses, and on the other, in literary representations that thematize same-sex desires and gender-nonconforming embodiments produced by Asian North American writers themselves. Queer of color critique’s biopolitical approach to sexuality as organized along lines of valuation and devaluation—the enhancement of life, and the targeting for death—provides a capacious analytic for apprehending these two meanings of “queer” (state-imposed racial otherness and reclaimed cultural representation) within the same frame. To render those comparisons visible for critical analysis requires recovering Asian North American lesbian contributions to women of color feminism of the 1970s and 80s, which scholars have posited as queer of color critique’s theoretical and political precursor, and reading subsequent queer texts in light of those interventions. Poet-activists Kitty Tsui and Merle Woo reconfigure the category of “lesbian” to accommodate Asian American subject positions and kinship relations, construct cross-racial solidarities, and express racialized eroticisms. Shani Mootoo’s novel Cereus Blooms at Night (1996) provides a complex instance in which same-sex female eroticism and trans subjectivities are portrayed but also eclipsed by or made subservient to nonnormative heterosexualities. Kai Cheng Thom’s poetry collection a place called No Homeland (2017) and Elaine Castillo’s novel America Is Not the Heart (2018) center trans and queer women’s experiences, respectively. For queer of color critique to fulfill its cross-racial comparative potential, queer and trans Asian North American women’s literature must be incorporated as a vital part of the conversation.