Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, LITERATURE ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 11 July 2020

Incarceration in Contemporary Asian American Literature and Culture

Summary and Keywords

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.

Keywords: incarceration, Asian American literature, race, immigration

In her study of the history of incarceration in Los Angeles, California, the historian Kelly Lytle Hernández defines incarceration as “a means of purging, removing, caging, containing, erasing, disappearing, and eliminating targeted populations from land, life, and society in the United States.”1 She advances the proposition that “Mass incarceration is mass elimination,” arguing that incarceration must be understood as a key tactic of US settler colonialism.2 As the literary critic Saidiya Hartman observes, incarceration is also a core aspect of the “afterlife of slavery,” which she names as “skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment” for black people in America.3 In her study of the massive growth of California’s state prison system since the 1980s, the scholar and activist Ruth Wilson Gilmore notes that incarceration, or “the practice of putting people in cages for part or all of their lives,” is “a central feature in the development of secular states, participatory democracy, individual rights, and contemporary notions of freedom.”4 Echoing this insight that incarceration is central to, rather than at odds with, the idea of freedom, the cultural critic Lisa Lowe argues that “social relations in the colonized Americas, Asia, and Africa were the condition of possibility for Western liberalism to think the universality of human freedom, however much freedoms for slaves, colonized, and indigenous peoples were precisely exempted by that philosophy.”5 Taken together, these accounts of freedom and unfreedom present a picture of incarceration as a tool of liberal white supremacy, rooted in histories of settler colonialism, slavery, and US imperial violence.

Beginning from this critical framing of incarceration as a white supremacist project of exclusion, removal, and elimination, this article examines incarceration in Asian American literature and culture. Over the past two centuries, Asian Americans have passed through disparate spaces of incarceration, from detention centers on islands to internment camps in deserts. These spaces have variously produced “illegal aliens,” “enemy aliens,” and “enemy combatants”—racialized and criminalized figures that emerge through the intersection of different patterns of migration, labor, and settlement. Understanding these figures and spaces demands an intersectional, comparative, and transnational approach. The prominent forms of incarceration that have shaped Asian American life over the past two centuries, related primarily to war, empire, and militarism on the one hand and immigration policing on the other, developed out of, and in relation to, white supremacist systems of settler colonialism and slavery. In turn, they have contributed to the development of systems of mass incarceration that disproportionately target and harm black, Latinx, and indigenous communities in the United States. The works discussed in this article thus represent just one part of a much larger archive of incarceration as a practice within the white supremacist, settler colonial American racial order.

Incarceration has been central to the formation of Asian American subjectivity. Likewise, the development of distinctive methods of policing, interrogating, and detaining Asian Americans over time has contributed to the contemporary system of incarceration in the United States. Asian American literature prominently includes narratives emerging from and about carceral sites that have functioned as important nodes in Asian American immigrant trajectories, including immigration detention centers, internment camps, and military prisons. Reading these narratives reveals the ways in which, as A. Naomi Paik notes, “the U.S. state has adapted its tactics and maintained its ability” to incarcerate through shifting historical conditions.6 Each of the four sections in this article features a brief engagement with a central text drawn from the archive of Asian American incarceration. The first two sections examine clusters of texts that address the carceral practices that took place at the Angel Island Immigration Station from 1910 to 1940 and in Japanese American internment camps during World War II, two important historic sites of Asian American subject formation. The following two sections turn to contemporary Asian American literary texts that engage with and creatively respond to past and present carceral locations and experiences, including American prisoner-of-war camps overseas and the United States’ military prison at Guantánamo Bay.

“As If We Were Guilty”: Immigrant Detention on Angel Island, 1910–1940

In a poem etched on the wall of the barracks at the Angel Island Immigration Station off the coast of California in the early 1900s, an anonymous Chinese detainee wrote,

  • America has power, but not justice.
  • In prison, we were victimized as if we were guilty.
  • Given no opportunity to explain, it was really brutal.
  • I bow my head in reflection but there is nothing I can do.7

This poem documents the experience of indefinite detention that met Chinese would-be immigrants who sought entry to the United States during the period of Chinese exclusion in the early 20th century. It is one of several hundred poems that have been recovered from the walls of the men’s detention barracks at Angel Island, out of potentially thousands of others that have been lost to time and circumstance. This anonymous archive of poems comprises what is arguably the first collection of Asian American literature, composed and shared by Chinese migrants on American territory, immigrants racialized as a foreign threat critically commenting on the contradictions of power, justice, and freedom in the United States through poetic expression. The experiences of detention, interrogation, and deportation that these poems collectively depict mark the initiation of the United States’ carceral regime of immigration policing.

This poem, written originally in Chinese and translated in a volume collected by Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung in 1980, begins with a recognition of America’s power and ends with the speaker reflecting on his own relative powerlessness. His concluding claim, that “there is nothing I can do,” speaks to both his political situation, as he has no recourse to the justice system, and his personal one, confined as he is to a small wooden building on an island in the Pacific Ocean. Yet the poem’s existence and survival over a century’s time contradict this claim, demonstrating what he was able to accomplish from within the space of his incarceration: he has written this poem, literally etched into the walls of the structure that confines him, testifying to his experience of victimization. And in his poem, rather than giving the explanation that the law both demands and denies, the speaker instead takes the opportunity to pass a judgment of his own: he and his fellow detainees have been treated “as if” guilty, but in this poem, it is America that is guilty of abusing its power and denying justice to the innocent. The poem thus attests to the mass criminalization of migrants arriving to the United States from across the Pacific: under the Chinese Exclusion Acts, they were treated “as if guilty” simply for the act of coming to US shores as people of Asian descent.8

The incarceration of this poem’s author and hundreds of thousands of others on Angel Island over three decades was in keeping with its designated purpose as a site of inspection, interrogation, detention, and deportation. As Erika Lee and Judy Yung argue in their history of Angel Island, unlike Ellis Island, Angel Island “was designed with exclusion, not admission, in mind.”9 The Angel Island Immigration Station was built in 1910 to aid in the enforcement of the Page Law of 1875, which barred Chinese women, categorically considered to be potential sex workers, and Chinese contract “coolie” laborers, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which extended this ban to all Chinese male laborers. These acts “legalized the restriction, exclusion, and deportation of immigrants considered to be threats to the United States for the first time in the country’s history.”10 For the US state, the problem of how to enforce these exclusion acts created the need for new forms of policing. In practical terms, then, the Chinese Exclusion Act “firmly established the need for federal immigration inspection sites and inspection policies, as well as federal documentation such as passports and ‘green cards,’” and placed immigration regulation under its own jurisdiction separate from the courts.11 The Chinese Exclusion Act became the first in a series of immigration acts that targeted undesirable immigrants for exclusion and deportation over the first half of the 20th century, and the early enforcement of exclusion and deportation on Angel Island instituted immigration policing as a carceral regime.

We may now think of detention as part of the “common sense” of immigration policing, but examining the history of Angel Island reveals that incarcerating immigrants was a tactic that the state adapted over time through makeshift practices that only eventually congealed into a full-fledged system of policing and control. The many uses and reuses of Angel Island as a military and carceral site starting in the 19th century reflect these shifting practices. Angel Island, located off the coast of the Bay Area in California, was settled by the Spanish in 1775 and became part of Mexico in 1821. After the United States took possession of the island following the Mexican–American War, it became a strategic American military site, along with its neighbor to the south, Alcatraz Island, which would go on to house a military prison and a notorious federal penitentiary; indeed, viewing the histories of Angel Island and Alcatraz Island together yields a broader comparative understanding of how incarceration resulting from both immigration policing and the criminal justice system is rooted in longer histories of US militarism and settler colonialism. In 1850, Angel Island became a federal military base, serving as a depot for troops deployed to and from Hawaii and the Philippines, and during World War I it held German “enemy aliens” and prisoners of war.

The Angel Island Immigration Station was built on land provided by the War Department and opened in 1910 in an attempt by the state to manage the burgeoning problem of enforcing Chinese exclusion. After the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, immigration officials worked with steamship companies carrying Asian passengers to “piece together a makeshift detention system,” transferring detainees from ship to ship, holding them in local jails or mission homes, and later holding them in a small “detention shed” administered by a steamship company on a pier.12 The Immigration Station, funded by Congress in 1904, replaced these piecemeal efforts, but its own facilities were hastily built and ill-equipped for the task of processing and jailing hundreds of thousands of people over three decades. The immigration station closed in 1940 due to a fire, but almost immediately thereafter, the same barracks that had housed immigrant detainees were used to incarcerate hundreds of Japanese American men from Hawaii after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.13 These Japanese Americans, classified as “enemy aliens” and denied citizenship rights, were held on Angel Island alongside prisoners of war, months before the government would order the incarceration of all Japanese Americans living on the West Coast in February 1942. Some of these Japanese Americans added their own writings to the poems covering the barrack walls. Later, the army abandoned the station, and the island was turned over to the California Department of Parks and Recreation and became a state park in 1963. In 1970, the poems that survived in the deteriorating barracks were discovered by chance by a park ranger shortly before the scheduled destruction of the facility. Through the activism of Asian American groups in the Bay Area, the Angel Island Immigration Station was declared a National Historic Landmark and underwent a process of restoration before opening to visitors in 2009. Over the course of a century, then, from its opening in 1910 to its reopening as a museum in 2009, the US military’s land on Angel Island was used to detain immigrants of Asian descent arriving over the Pacific, hold prisoners of war from the First and Second World Wars, and incarcerate Japanese Americans. It is now a site that generates and preserves American and Asian American historical memory.

The experience of incarceration that generations of Asian immigrants passed through on Angel Island during the period of Chinese exclusion was central to the formation of an emerging Asian American subjectivity. On Angel Island, the US state used incarceration as a method of control, exerting power on Asian bodies racialized and criminalized as “alien enemies” or foreign threats to the nation. First after the Chinese Exclusion Act and then on the cusp of war with Japan, incarcerating Asian immigrants became a key tactic in the state’s response to a national panic over the racial limits of American subjecthood. In both cases, policing, detaining, and deporting Asian Americans became a way to manage a crisis in white supremacy. At the same time, Asian Americans responded to the constraints that were placed on them through these processes of policing, surveillance, detention, and interrogation in creative ways. At Angel Island, for example, interrogations were focused on proving identity and kinship ties that would allow immigrants to legally enter the country. This form of policing led Asian American immigrants to assume new identities, relying on communal ties and building new ones to circumvent the law. Such practices are memorably depicted in Asian American literary texts including Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior (1976), China Men (1980), and Tripmaster Monkey (1989) and Fae Myenne Ng’s Bone (1991). These texts remember not just the state’s tactics but also the ways in which immigrant communities developed their own creative tactics to evade policing, imprisonment, and deportation.

The repeated use of Angel Island as a carceral site over time—its transformation from a military site into an immigration detention center into an internment and prisoner-of-war camp—matches a pattern that persists throughout incarceration’s history, in which the state adapts the spaces and structures of incarceration as it finds new ways to police unruly populations. At the same time, on Angel Island, generations of Asian immigrants who were surveilled, interrogated, and detained were able to repurpose the structure to their own ends by using its walls to record and share their thoughts, emotions, and stories through poetry. Through this writing practice, born of the constraints of incarceration, the detention barracks themselves have become a standing archive of the lives they once confined.

One poem recorded at Angel Island observes, “There are tens of thousands of poems composed on these walls. / They are all cries of complaint and sadness.”14 As this verse suggests, the surviving poems etched on the walls express a range of affective responses to the experience of incarceration, from sadness and regret to rage. One two-line poem translated by Lai, Lim, and Yung reads,

  • If the land of the Flowery Flag is occupied by us in turn,
  • The wooden building will be left for the angel’s revenge.15

These lines reorient from the ills of the present toward an imagined alternative future. Here, the speaker imagines the excluded Chinese occupying the “land of the Flowery Flag,” or the United States, “in turn,” a phrase that anticipates that the unfolding of history will see Asian immigrants take their due turn to settle the United States.16 Beginning with this conditional scenario, the poem moves into the future anterior, predicting what this future will have left behind for us to remember: the detention barracks in which the speaker sits and onto which he inscribes this poem “will be left for the angel’s revenge.” This closing image evokes an unsettling Benjaminian horizon of apocalyptic justice. It also calls the reader’s attention to the place name of Angel Island, which derives from “Isla de los Ángeles,” the name given to the island in 1775 by the Spanish colonialist Juan de Ayala, who was the first European to enter the Bay Area and hence an originary figure of settler colonial violence against Native Americans in California. The poem’s naming of the “angel’s revenge” thus recalls the chain of colonial occupations of the island, even as the poem imagines Asian immigrants one day occupying the mainland United States in turn. In this way, the poem invites readers to imagine contemporary Asian Americans on both sides of the “angel’s revenge,” asking us to remember the suffering that accompanied Asian American settlement in the United States and forcing us to consider the violence that Asian American settlement may yet entail.

“Close to freedom and yet far from it”: Japanese American Internment, 1941–1946

In Lai, Lim, and Yung’s translation, the phrase that ends the poem’s first line also sounds an uncanny echo of the future use of the detention barracks as internment camps for Japanese Americans: “in turn,” intern. Just two years after the closing of Angel Island, a young art student named Miné Okubo, along with 120,000 other Japanese Americans, would be forced to relocate to a series of so-called civil control stations, assembly centers, and internment camps in the southwestern United States that operated for the duration of World War II. In her book Citizen 13660, first published in 1946, Okubo presents a visual narrative that recounts her experience of forced evacuation, relocation, and confinement in this novel carceral setting. Like other literatures of imprisonment, Citizen 13660 inhabits a form dictated in part by the constraints that incarceration placed upon the author and her fellow inmates; as she describes in her preface to the 1983 edition of the text, “Cameras and photographs were not permitted in the camps, so I recorded everything in sketches, drawings, and paintings.”17 In the book’s line drawings, Okubo’s own distinctive self-portrait serves as a guide for the reader. In nearly every panel, the viewer sees Okubo’s figure in profile, observing and recording the events of what she calls “camp life.”

At one point, describing the geographical location of Tanforan Assembly Center, Okubo succinctly states, “We were close to freedom and yet far from it.”18 The accompanying image depicts Okubo sitting up on a roof above a crowd socializing in a rectangular prison yard surrounded by tall barbed-wire fences. At the perimeter of the camp, she notes, “guards were on duty night and day,” but just beyond the barbed wire, “the San Bruno streetcar line bordered the camp on the east and the main state highway on the south. Streams of cars passed by all day.”19 As the paired image and text suggest, Okubo and the other internees can apprehend, but not access, the freedom of movement that lies beyond the fence. On the roof, Okubo’s gaze faces left, away from the guard tower and the open fields and road beyond the fences on the right side of the page. Meanwhile, her back is turned to the reader, so that we view the entire scene from over her shoulder. In this way, she assumes a stance of deliberate distance not only from the freedom that beckons from beyond the fences of the camp, but also from the faraway freedom represented by the book’s readers. Indeed, Citizen 13660 is a text that was always intended to be viewed by outside eyes. In her preface, Okubo shares that the book “began as a special group of drawings . . . for my many friends who faithfully sent letters and packages to let us know we were not forgotten.”20 In the early 1980s, Okubo presented a copy of the book to the US Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians as evidence in the redress hearings that would lead to an official apology and payment of monetary reparations to internees by the government in 1988. It is now widely read and taught as a classic of Japanese American internment literature.

Okubo’s depiction of her circumscribed life at Tanforan aligns with A. Naomi Paik’s characterization of the prison camp as “a modern, militarized institution of intense surveillance and domination . . . a space set apart, marked by its barbed-wire perimeter, its armed guards, and its physical segregation.”21 The mass removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II is perhaps the best known historical case of Asian American incarceration in US culture. In February 1942, two months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which designated large areas of the western United States as “military areas . . . from which any and all persons may be excluded.” The persons who were to be excluded, however, were all ethnically Japanese, though they differed in age, generation, gender, and citizenship status. The land that was allotted and adapted into centers and camps included former fairgrounds and racetracks in which internees were housed in stables that originally held horses and livestock. While incarcerated, internees were interrogated about their beliefs, activities, and loyalties in the form of a “loyalty questionnaire,” and those whose loyalty proved lacking were secondarily removed into a higher security “segregation center.”

The epochal trauma of internment for Japanese Americans led to the creation of a wide-ranging body of literary and cultural texts working through its meaning. Along with Miné Okubo’s Citizen 13660 (1946), one of the earliest published works about internment is John Okada’s novel No-No Boy (1957), which recounts the events following the end of World War II for a Japanese American man who was deemed “disloyal” during the war. The novel depicts the protagonist’s struggles with reentering society not just after internment, but also after being incarcerated in a federal prison for refusing to serve in the US military. Its rediscovery by Asian American poets and writers in the 1970s and republication in 1979 energized an emerging Asian American literary movement. Literary texts written by former internees in the decades following World War II include Joy Kogawa’s novel Obasan (1981), which depicts Japanese Canadian internment, Hisaye Yamamoto’s short story collection Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories (1988), and Lawson Fusao Inada’s poetry collection Legends from Camp (1992). The next generation of Japanese Americans also engaged with internment’s lasting memory and impact on surviving communities through art and literature. For instance, Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine (2002) narrates a fictional family’s internment experience, while the filmmaker Rea Tajiri’s experimental documentary History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige (1991) and feature film Strawberry Fields (1997) recall the memories and silences around internment passed down through her family.

As this literature demonstrates, internment was not a bounded event. Today, Japanese American internment is frequently invoked as a cautionary tale that reminds us to be vigilant against the targeting and scapegoating of ethnic groups coded as enemies to the nation—in today’s political culture, “persons who appear ‘Middle Eastern, Arab, or Muslim,’” as the legal scholar Leti Volpp puts it.22 Rajini Srikanth observes that Japanese American internees during World War II and Muslim detainees in the post-2001 period have been targets of national antipathy, viewed simply within the “reductive categories of ‘enemy’ and ‘terrorist.’”23 Most political commentators now agree that internment was a mistake, and an official presidential apology to former internees in 1988 acknowledged internment as a fundamental injustice and pledged to work to prevent the reoccurrence of any such event in the future. But paying critical attention to the history of incarceration in the United States reminds us that the carceral logic that undergirded internment—the logic of racialized control and confinement—never left us. Rather, its persistence can be felt in the contemporary crisis of mass incarceration that punishes and cages vulnerable racialized populations, in the policing, surveillance, indefinite detention, and deportation of immigrants and in the United States’ detention of racialized “enemy combatants” in military prison sites around the globe.

“Foreign and Familiar”: Transnational Sites of Incarceration in Contemporary Asian American Literature

Remembering the histories of detention on Angel Island in the early 20th century and Japanese American internment during World War II enables us to see how the experience of incarceration has been both formative for generations of Asian Americans and foundational for Asian American cultural narratives over the past century. Adding to these narratives of domestic incarceration, a number of 21st-century Asian American literary texts contend with how transnational experiences of incarceration have contributed to the formation of Asian American communities. While they imagine a variety of historical settings, these texts narrate incarceration in the form of encampment, imprisonment, and detention as a routine feature of war and migration across Asian American immigrant communities. For example, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Sympathizer (2015) rewrites the story of the Vietnam War in the form of a forced confession written by a political prisoner from his prison cell in Vietnam. Ocean Vuong’s poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds (2016) and Thi Bui’s graphic memoir The Best We Could Do (2017) address family histories that include passage through refugee camps and military prisons during the Vietnam War. Recent novels retelling the Korean War and its aftermath, such as Paul Yoon’s The Snow Hunters (2013), Chang-rae Lee’s The Surrendered (2010), Ha Jin’s War Trash (2004), and Susan Choi’s The Foreign Student (1998), include scenes of military detention, interrogation, and torture as part of the long arc and impact of the Korean War for Asian American immigrants. Taken together, these texts allow us to conceptualize transnational experiences of incarceration as an important part of Asian American life and culture. They depict overseas carceral sites—prisoner-of-war camps, refugee camps, military prisons—as nodes in the diasporic migrations that have created Asian American communities.

One of these texts, Paul Yoon’s The Snow Hunters (2013), is particularly instructive for rethinking the boundaries of the domestic and the global, presenting a sedimented transnational history of carceral structures and institutions. The novel follows Ha Jin’s War Trash (2004) in telling the story of a prisoner in the Korean War caught up in new Cold War geopolitical alignments that bring him from communist Asia to the Americas. In Yoon’s novel, set in the 1950s and 1960s, a young Korean man from the north named Yohan is incarcerated in a prisoner-of-war camp administered by the United Nations in the south. While imprisoned there, he declines to repatriate to the newly created North Korea, electing instead to sail to Brazil, where he is granted refuge in an unnamed coastal town after a Japanese immigrant tailor agrees to take him on as an apprentice. Later in the novel, Yohan discovers that the tailor, Kiyoshi, went through his own experience of wartime incarceration when he and other Japanese Brazilian immigrants were forced into a nearby internment camp during World War II. Written by a US-based Korean American writer, The Snow Hunters imagines a postwar trajectory for Asian migration that notably bypasses the United States altogether. It instead builds a narrative around its characters’ parallel experiences of incarceration in Korea and Brazil, insisting upon the connectedness of these transnational carceral practices. In depicting the enduring legacies of the POW camp and the internment camp for these characters, the novel also shows how carceral structures are continually adapted, refashioned, and given new life over time.

In the novel, carceral sites retain memories of their prior institutional functions. When Yohan, coerced into serving in the North Korean army, is captured by United Nations forces, he is sent to a POW camp in the south whose hospital is housed in a former textile mill, complete with tables, looms, and sewing machines sitting in abandoned workspaces.24 Yohan is sent to the former mill to receive medical care and a doctor shows him how to operate a sewing machine to mend clothing.25 The labor he learns to perform as a result of this unplanned repurposing of the building and its contents, from textile mill to prison camp hospital, is what allows him to eventually leave the camp. When he is informed that he will be going to Brazil, Yohan learns that he “would be the tailor’s apprentice because he had mended clothes at the camp. He was good at it, the nurse said.”26 The narrative thus draws a straight line from Yohan’s forced labor as a prisoner in a camp to the skills that will allow him to migrate to a new place and secure a livelihood as a refugee.

This refashioning of an existing structure into a carceral space is repeated later in the novel when Yohan discovers that the tailor Kiyoshi was incarcerated in an internment camp on the edge of town during World War II. One day, taking a walk down the beach at night, he comes across an “old plantation house” in a field beyond a stone wall, with shanties inhabited by a community of drifters.27 As he climbs the wall to enter the plantation house, or “settlement,” as the narrator also calls it, he takes in the crumbling architecture, perceiving the space to be “both familiar and foreign.”28 After Kiyoshi’s death, he happens across a photograph of a group of men, women, and children in front of what he recognizes to be the old plantation house. When he asks about the photograph, the groundskeeper of the nearby church, Peixe, recounts the longer history of the plantation: after the landowner died and the house was abandoned, it first became a hospital for residents and workers and then was used as a “sanatorium for survivors of polio.” After that, he says, the shanties were built when the house “became part of an internment camp during the Second World War.”29 Later in the novel, after a time jump of several years, Yohan finds that the building has been “renovated and turned into a school” and that “most of the people who had once lived in the settlement were gone,” possibly scattered “across this country or even farther, across oceans.”30

After the groundskeeper Peixe details this history to Yohan, he comments, “A single place. One house. One piece of land. All the changes. All the lives it once held, however briefly.”31 The changes he tracks in this conversation with Yohan not only reveal Kiyoshi’s background of internment, but also situate these newer Asian immigrants to Brazil in longer histories of race and migration. The naming of the “old plantation house” indexes centuries of the extraction of wealth from the enslaved labor of people of African descent in Brazil, while Yohan’s interchangeable term for the house, the “settlement,” provokes us to consider the building and its surrounding geography as historic and ongoing sites of settler colonialism. In the novel’s present, the use of the abandoned plantation house and its dilapidated shanties as makeshift housing for a transient population reminds us that the capitalist world system built on settler colonialism and slavery continues to rely on the exploitation and impoverishment of vulnerable populations. The novel builds the idea of the plantation house’s use as an internment camp for Japanese Brazilians during World War II on this foundational remembering of racial, economic, and environmental exploitation. It also remembers the internment camp as simply one institutional use of the space among others over time: a plantation, a hospital, a sanatorium, an internment camp, and, by the novel’s end, a school. In this way, it renders this history of incarceration as both a startling revelation about the hidden past of a quietly heroic character and an unremarkable part of everyday life—or, like the plantation house itself in Yohan’s eyes, something “both familiar and foreign.”32

The Snow Hunters imagines the internment of people of Japanese descent as a part of the particular history of Brazil, but its narrative of unlocking a secret history of internment reaches out to American readers, prompting us to interrogate our own cultural memory of Japanese American internment and its place within both domestic and transnational histories of race, migration, and incarceration. Put otherwise, the novel’s setting of Brazil makes its narrative of internment “both familiar and foreign” to the American reader. In establishing incarceration as a shared, but unspoken, structure of feeling between Yohan and Kiyoshi, the novel also asks us to envision incarceration that happens both before and after immigration—in the novel’s case, in the POW camp in Korea and in the internment camp in Brazil—as experiences that have equally shaped Asian immigrant life. The characters in the novel themselves refuse to explicitly talk or emote about their experiences of imprisonment; early on, the narrator tells us that Yohan wonders how and why Kiyoshi had come to Brazil, but “grew embarrassed because he did not know,” as “they did not speak of such things.” Rather, to Yohan, “It was as though Kiyoshi and the shop had always been here.”33 In contrast to the old plantation house on the coast or the textile mill back in Korea, the tailor’s shop feels like an unchanging institution to Yohan. But when Yohan takes over the business at the end of the novel, the tailor’s shop becomes a new structure where the memory of Kiyoshi’s and Yohan’s experiences of incarceration lives. The labor Yohan performs mending clothes serves as a material trace of his time in the prison camp in Korea. At the same time, his labor as a tailor provides an apt metaphor for the way the novel envisions both the constant refashioning of structures of incarceration and the stitching together of disparate carceral histories across time and space.

“Reaching Guantánamo”: Confronting the Global Prisons of Contemporary US Empire

Reading the Angel Island poems, literature of Japanese American internment, and contemporary Asian American literature that rewrites histories of incarceration allows us to look back at the Asian America past and, to use Kandice Chuh’s phrase, imagine it otherwise. Another set of contemporary Asian American literary texts engages with present-day incarceration and its possible futures. Some of these texts tell fictional stories of incarceration connected to contemporary politics. Sharon Bala’s novel The Boat People (2018), for example, imagines a group of Sri Lankan war refugees who are interrogated and detained as terrorists immediately upon their arrival in Canada. Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (2017) moves into a more speculative realm, inventing special doors that allow the main characters, refugees from an unnamed civil war in the Global South, to travel almost instantaneously between far-flung places, creating conditions for new kinds of refugee camps and the intensified militarized policing of borders. Other works fully embrace the genre conventions of fantasy and science fiction to narrate alternate realities of war and incarceration. For example, writer Marjorie Liu’s and artist Sana Takeda’s graphic novel Monstress (2016) envisions an “alternate matriarchal 1900s Asia” populated by magical creatures that begins with a teenage girl escaping her imprisonment in a refugee camp, while Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea (2014) depicts a future dystopian America in which a laboring class of Chinese descent lives and works in walled labor colonies. Like texts that look back to the historical past of Asian American incarceration, these speculative and futuristic works demand that we continue to situate our understanding of Asian American incarceration in a comparative analysis of US racialization and both domestic and transnational contexts of policing, militarism, and imprisonment.

Other Asian American texts comment explicitly upon the contemporary state of war and, in particular, the impact on Asian diasporas of what Sohail Daulatzai calls the “globalization of imprisonment and the carceral logic of America’s current ‘War on Terror.’”34 He argues that we must examine the “relationships between US prisons and the emergence of imperial imprisonment in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo,” including the historical and political connections between the policing, surveillance, and imprisonment of African Americans (including black Muslims), Muslim immigrants, and Muslims overseas.35 Avery Gordon comments further on such connections in an essay on prisoners detained by the United States in Guantánamo Bay, observing that “for war captives subject to the US prison regime and prisoners held in supermaximum or security housing conditions, it is arguably the case that communication and representation, both aesthetically and politically, are . . . practically speaking, impermissible.”36 Because of the constraints that incarceration places upon prisoners, she argues, “prisoners everywhere have always had to invent creative means to live and act in prison.”37

Like the other carceral sites that this article has examined, the present-day US military prison at Guantánamo Bay carries a sedimented history of settler colonialism, slavery, and US imperial war and occupation. As Amy Kaplan recounts, Guantánamo Bay, located on the southeastern tip of Cuba, has been a “strategic colonial site” since it was occupied by Spanish settlers and used as a port in the transatlantic slave trade.38 In 1898, the United States acquired the land after the Spanish‒American War, and ever since, Kaplan notes, “Guantánamo has played a strategic role in the changing exercise of US power in the region, as a coaling station, a naval base, a cold war outpost, and a detention center for unwanted refugees.”39 In her study of prison camps, testimony, and redress, A. Naomi Paik examines the use of the camp at Guantánamo first as a US detention center for Haitian and Cuban refugees in the 1990s, and the administration of a prison camp within the refugee camp for HIV-positive refugees, and then as a military prison for “enemy combatants” as part of the War on Terror. In the former case, she notes, the US state “imprisoned the Haitian refugees in a space of carceral quarantine to protect the U.S. national body from their infecting presence,” while in the latter, the state “sought out, captured, and imprisoned” so-called enemy combatants.40 Kaplan observes that today’s Guantánamo prisoners “not only first literally inhabited the camps built for the Haitian and Cuban refugees, but they also continue to inhabit the racialized images that accrued over the century in the imperial outpost of Guantánamo.”41 For this reason, she argues, “The use of Guantánamo as a prison camp today demands to be understood in the context of its historical location.”42 As of February 2018, roughly 780 persons from 49 different countries have been held at the US prison camp at Guantánamo Bay since its opening in 2002, and 730 have been transferred out of the prison to 59 countries around the world.43

The emergence of poetry and memoirs written by detainees at Guantánamo reflects the “creative means,” as Avery Gordon put it, that prisoners have had to invent in order to record their existence and survival. Like the poems etched into the walls of the detention barracks on Angel Island and the line drawings that Miné Okubo created in the internment camp during World War II, the forms that this literature has taken reflect the particular constraints of the prison in which it was composed. In his introduction to the volume Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak (2007), Marc Falkoff notes the “profound” obstacles that the Guantánamo poets faced: at first, denied the use of pen and paper, detainees drafted poems on styrofoam cups by inscribing words with pebbles or tracing out letters with toothpaste and passed these “cup poems” from cell to cell.44 As Judith Butler argues, these poems represent “an effort to leave a mark, a trace, of a living being,” their words surviving as acts of resistance “that somehow, incredibly, live through the violence they oppose,” even when the poets who write the words do not survive this violence with their lives intact.45 Put more plainly, as A. Naomi Paik argues, in Guantánamo and other similar spaces, “the state’s legal apparatus renders rightless subjects unworthy of being listened to,” and yet “these subjects speak out and contest their disappearance.”46

On a practical level, as Butler observes, the poems that have been published for the public to read are only those that have “survived the censorship of the US Department of Defense.”47 Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantánamo Diary (2015), a memoir published while the author was still detained, features more than 2,600 “black-box redactions” imposed by the US government. As the volume’s editor Larry Siems notes, these redactions not only “serve as vivid visual reminders of the author’s ongoing situation,” but they also “impede the sense of narrative, blur the contours of characters, and obscure the open, approachable tone of the author’s voice.”48 Such censorship applies as well to written material entering Guantánamo; for example, during his three-year detention, a British Pakistani named Moazzam Begg “received a heavily-censored letter from his seven-year-old daughter; the only legible line was, ‘I love you, Dad.’ Upon his release, his daughter told him the censored lines were a poem she had copied for him: ‘One, two, three, four, five, / Once I caught a fish alive. / Six, seven, eight, nine, ten, / Then I let it go again.’”49 As literary redactions, these interventions remind readers that, as Butler puts it, “poems clearly have political consequences.”50 Commenting on the censorship of poetry leaving Guantánamo, she notes that there is something in “the content and format of poetry” that seems incendiary to the authorities, asking, “what is it about the poetry that seems particularly dangerous?”51

“Reaching Guantánamo,” a poem in the Iranian American poet Solmaz Sharif’s collection Look (2017), takes the form of seven letters written from a wife to her imprisoned husband with certain words and phrases redacted. The first letter begins,

  • Dear Salim,
  • Love, are you well? Do they    you?
  • I worry so much. Lately, my hair    , even
  • my skin      . The doctors tell me it’s    .
  • I believe them. It shouldn’t
  • . Please don’t worry.52

Rather than covering text with black boxes, this poem leaves spaces blank, inviting the reader to intuit or invent missing words to complete the sentences. The omissions and remaining text are all meaningful, but the specific acts of imagined censorship feel irrational and incoherent, as it is virtually impossible to imagine the redacted content being politically dangerous in any way. The other letters in the poem similarly share interrupted stories about the family’s home and neighbors, the weather, and meals eaten: (“have made a nest/under our . And now/the nestlings always.”) and private details of shared memories (“Love, I’m singing that you loved,/remember, the line that went/‘ ’?”) And yet, Sharif’s rendering of these incomplete letters leads us to comprehend that the regime of surveillance, policing, and imprisonment that has placed certain bodies into indefinite detention at Guantánamo has politicized precisely these intimate, mundane details of everyday life. In other words, both the formal redaction of words and the attempted erasure of the content of everyday life in these letters represent the acts of the state that have aimed to physically obliterate the lives of populations targeted for merely existing.

In an essay, Sharif examines erasure both “as an aesthetic tactic” and “as what a state does” and concludes that “Erasure may well be the closest poetry in English has gotten to the role of the state.”53 Given that erasure “means obliteration” and that “the Latin root of obliteration (ob-, against and lit(t)era, letter) means the striking out of text, she writes, “Historically, the striking out of text is the root of obliterating peoples.”54 This insight recalls Kelly Lytle Hernández’s claim that “Mass incarceration is mass elimination.”55 “Reaching Guantánamo,” however, stands as an act of creation rather than obliteration or elimination. If we see the poem as a work that resists rather than replicates state control, as Sharif suggests in her essay, we might then apprehend its omissions of the intimate details of life not as redactions imposed by the state, but as gaps or evasions representing what the state can never fully reach or control.

Each letter in “Reaching Guantánamo” ends with the salutation “Yours,” followed by blank space where the sender’s name would traditionally be. Only the last letter, which concludes as follows, changes this pattern:

  • them. They all say
  • the same    story
  • and none tell ours.56

Replacing the closing “Yours,” of the previous poems with “ours,” this final letter enacts a change that marks an imaginative turn to collaboration and solidarity. Mournful yet defiant, these closing lines also implicate their readers, issuing a simple plea: make space for a different story. Yet they also challenge us to consider the poem’s predicament as one that reaches beyond the space of the prison. Employing the first-person plural, the closing phrase, “and none tell ours,” imagines a shared story, fundamentally rejecting the isolation, removal, and unnarratedness that imprisonment seeks to create. Indeed, the poem’s title, “Reaching Guantánamo,” works against the carceral logic of removal. Imagining our reaching what has been designed to be an unreachable, and unthinkable, space, Sharif’s poem pushes readers to reckon with the realities of incarceration, to interrogate what we accept as given and what we choose to resist.

Discussion of the Literature

One area of scholarship in Asian American studies related to incarceration addresses the criminalization of Asian American immigrants—their policing, surveillance, detention, and deportation—from the era of exclusion in the 19th and early 20th centuries to the present. In particular, scholars have addressed the racialization of Asian American immigrants as a group subject to exclusion, surveillance, and policing. Lisa Lowe’s field-defining Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (1996) theorizes the place of the Asian American immigrant in the national racial imaginary through readings of key Asian American literary and cultural texts, and Mae Ngai’s Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (2004) historicizes the figure of the “illegal alien” across different immigrant groups and eras of legislation and enforcement.57 Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910–1940 (1980), edited by Mark Him Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung, was the first text to reproduce and translate poems written by Asian immigrants on the walls of the detention barracks on Angel Island, California, and provides historical context for understanding their significance, while Erika Lee and Judy Yung’s Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America (2012) offers a comprehensive history of the Angel Island Immigration Station and shows that the policing and detention of a heterogeneous group of immigrants on Angel Island gave rise to the system of immigration enforcement and border patrol that stands in the early 21st century.58 Kelly Lytle Hernández’s City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965 (2018) provides a historically rich, comparative framework for understanding the incarceration of early Asian American immigrants among other vulnerable populations in California.59 Nayan Shah’s Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown (2001) examines the framing of 19th- and early-20th-century Chinese immigrants as a public health threat to be contained, and Chandan Reddy’s “Rights-Based Freedom with Violence: Immigration, Sexuality, and the Subject of Human Rights” (2011) critiques the way the neoliberal state has deployed race, sexuality, and identity in its policing of immigrants in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.60 Lisa Cacho’s Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected (2012) provides a sharp theoretical framework for understanding how the contemporary state targets vulnerable populations to produce criminality.61

Numerous works in Asian American studies address experiences of encampment, including incarceration in internment camps, refugee camps, and wartime prison camps. In literary and cultural studies, significant works on Japanese American internment during World War II include Caroline Chung Simpson’s An Absent Presence: Japanese Americans in Postwar American Culture, 1945–1960 (2002), which examines Japanese American identity after internment and considers the wide-reaching impact of internment on postwar American culture.62 Kandice Chuh’s “Nikkei Internment: Determined Identities/Undecidable Meanings” (2003) offers a transnational critique of Asian American racialization through an analysis of literary works on internment by John Okada and Hisaye Yamamoto.63 Colleen Lye’s chapter on internment in America’s Asia: Racial Form and American Literature, 1893–1945 (2004) considers internment as a liberal New Deal project, while David Eng’s “The Feeling of Kinship: Affect and Language in History and Memory” (2010) offers a reading of Rea Tajiri’s documentary History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige (1991) to show how the legacies of internment continue to underwrite what he calls “queer liberalism” in the 21st century.64 Several works analyze internment in relation to other historical cases. Rajini Srikanth’s Constructing the Enemy: Empathy/Antipathy in U.S. Literature and Law (2012) uses the rubric of empathy to consider the figure of the racialized enemy during World War II and the Global War on Terror, comparing the internment of Japanese Americans to the 21st-century detention of Muslims in the US military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay through readings of literary and legal texts.65 A. Naomi Paik’s Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in U.S. Prison Camps since World War II (2016) demonstrates how US prison camps work to produce rightless subjects, analyzing three historical cases of encampment that include internment and the redress movement by former internees in the 1980s as well as US prison camps at Guantánamo Bay.66 Scholars in the growing field of critical refugee studies have addressed refugees’ experiences of forced confinement, including Yen Le Espiritu in Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refuge(e)s (2014) and Eric Tang in Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the New York City Hyperghetto (2015).67

A final body of literature concerns the incarceration of Asian Americans in the US prison system. Works addressing Arab, Muslim, and South Asian communities’ experiences with and responses to surveillance, policing, detention, and deportation in the post-9/11 United States include Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America (2008) and Sunaina Maira’s Missing: Youth, Citizenship, and Empire After 9/11 (2009).68 In Other: An Asian and Pacific Islander Prisoners’ Anthology, edited by Eddy Zheng and the Asian Prisoner Support Committee (2007), numerous Asian American prisoners and former prisoners discuss their experiences of prison as well as the predicament of being sent directly to immigration detention and targeted for deportation after serving prison sentences for criminal offenses; see also the special issue of Amerasia Journal edited by Bill Ong Hing (2005) for scholarship on this topic.69 Freedom without Justice: The Prison Memoirs of Chol Soo Lee, edited by the historian Richard S. Kim (2017), presents the memoirs of a Korean American immigrant whose wrongful imprisonment in the 1970s and 1980s sparked a grass-roots Asian American activist movement to win his freedom.70 These readings on Asian American incarceration in the United States should be grounded in a critical analysis of racism and the prison industrial complex; see especially, Angela Davis’s Are Prisons Obsolete? (2003), Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, and Opposition in Globalizing California (2007), Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010), and Naomi Murakawa’s The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America (2014).71

Primary Sources

Bala, Sharon. The Boat People. New York: Doubleday, 2018.Find this resource:

Bui, Thi. The Best We Could Do. New York: Abrams, 2017.Find this resource:

Inada, Lawson Fusao. Legends from Camp. Minneapolis, MN: Coffee House Press, 1992.Find this resource:

Jin, Ha. War Trash. New York: Vintage, 2004.Find this resource:

Kogawa, Joy. Obasan. New York: Anchor, 1994.Find this resource:

Lai, Him Mark, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung, ed. Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910–1940. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1980.Find this resource:

Lee, Chol Soo. Freedom without Justice: The Prison Memoirs of Chol Soo Lee. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2017.Find this resource:

Nguyen, Viet Thanh. The Sympathizer. New York: Grove Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Okada, John. No-No Boy. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Okubo, Miné. Citizen 13660. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Otsuko, Julie. When the Emperor Was Divine. New York: Anchor, 2003.Find this resource:

Yamamoto, Hisaye. Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Yoon, Paul. The Snow Hunters. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.Find this resource:

Zheng, Eddy, and Asian Prisoner Support Committee, eds. Other: An Asian and Pacific Islander Prisoners’ Anthology. Oakland, CA: Asian Prisoner Support Committee, 2007.Find this resource:

Further Reading

Bayoumi, Moustafa. How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America. New York: Penguin, 2008.Find this resource:

Cacho, Lisa. Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected. New York: New York University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Davis, Angela. Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. “Asian American Writers and Creativity in Confinement.” In Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee, edited by Shelley Fisher Fishkin, 245–274. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. Oakland: University of California Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Hernández, Kelly Lytle. City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.Find this resource:

Lee, Erika. At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882–1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Lee, Erika, and Judy Yung. Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Maira, Sunaina. Missing: Youth, Citizenship, and Empire After 9/11. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Ngai, Mae. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Paik, A. Naomi. Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in U.S. Prison Camps since World War II. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Rodríguez, Dylan. Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the U.S. Prison Regime. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Srikanth, Rajini. Constructing the Enemy: Empathy/Antipathy in U.S. Literature and Law. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012.Find this resource:


(2.) Hernández, City of Inmates, 1.

(3.) Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007), 6.

(5.) Lisa Lowe, The Intimacies of Four Continents (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 16.

(8.) Lisa Cacho argues that criminalization describes a process distinct from mere stereotyping, as they “have different relationships to U.S. law. To be stereotyped as a criminal is to be misrecognized as someone who committed a crime, but to be criminalized is to be prevented from being law-abiding.” Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 4. Kelly Lytle Hernández shows that the enforcement of Chinese exclusion in the 1892 Geary Act “criminalized unregistered—that is, undocumented—immigrant status by empowering judges to summarily issue prison sentences to immigrants ‘unlawfully residing within the United States.’ Therefore, the Geary Act broadened the basic framework of U.S. immigration control beyond the nation’s borders to include crime and punishment within the United States” (City of Inmates, 72).

(10.) Lee and Yung, Angel Island, 6.

(11.) Lee and Yung, Angel Island, 6.

(12.) Lee and Yung, Angel Island, 10.

(13.) “Japanese American Detainees on Angel Island in World War II,” on the website of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation.

(14.) Lai, Lim, and Yung, Island, 66.

(15.) Lai, Lim, and Yung, Island, 92.

(16.) As Candace Fujikane has noted, historical accounts of Asian Americans often “[erect] a multicultural ethnic studies framework that ends up reproducing the colonial claims made in white settler historiography.” “Introduction,” in Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everday Life in Hawai‘i (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008), 2. Iyko Day addressed the “conundrum of positioning Asian North Americans within settler states,” arguing for an understanding of the “triangulation of Native, alien, and settler populations.” Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonialism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 22–25.

(17.) Miné Okubo, Citizen 13660 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014), xxvi. For a nuanced account of Citizen 13660’s publication and reception history, see Christine Hong’s introduction to this 2014 edition.

(18.) Okubo, Citizen 13660, 81.

(19.) Okubo, Citizen 13660, 81.

(20.) Okubo, Citizen 13660, xxvi.

(21.) Paik, Rightlessness, 6.

(22.) Leti Volpp, “The Citizen and the Terrorist,” UCLA Law Review 49, no. 5 (2002): 1576.

(23.) Rajini Srikanth, Constructing the Enemy: Antipathy/Empathy in U.S. Literature and Law (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012), 16.

(25.) Yoon, The Snow Hunters, 46.

(26.) Yoon, The Snow Hunters, 12.

(27.) Yoon, The Snow Hunters, 76.

(28.) Yoon, The Snow Hunters, 76.

(29.) Yoon, The Snow Hunters, 107.

(30.) Yoon, The Snow Hunters, 169.

(31.) Yoon, The Snow Hunters, 169.

(32.) Yoon, The Snow Hunters, 76.

(33.) Yoon, The Snow Hunters, 31.

(34.) Sohail Daulatzai, “‘Protect Ya Neck: Muslims and the Carceral Imagination in the Age of Guantánamo,” Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society 9, no. 2 (2007): 137.

(35.) Daulatzai, “Protect Ya Neck,” 136.

(36.) Avery Gordon, Toward a Sociology of the Trace (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 20.

(37.) Gordon, Toward a Sociology of the Trace, 20.

(38.) Amy Kaplan, “Where Is Guantánamo?” American Quarterly 57, no. 3 (2005): 834. Text references are to page numbers in this article.

(39.) Kaplan, “Where Is Guantánamo?” 832.

(40.) Paik, Rightlessness, 190.

(41.) Kaplan, “Where Is Guantánamo?” 840.

(42.) Kaplan, “Where Is Guantánamo?” 832.

(43.) “A History of the Detainee Population,” New York Times, last updated May 2, 2018.

(44.) Marc Falkoff, “Introduction,” in Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2007), 3.

(45.) Judith Butler, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (New York: Verso, 2009), 59, 62.

(46.) Paik, Rightlessness, 2.

(47.) Butler, Frames of War, 55.

(48.) Larry Siems, “Introduction,” in Guantánamo Diary (New York: Back Bay Books, 2015), xxiii.

(49.) Falkoff, “Introduction,” 29.

(50.) Butler, Frames of War, 62.

(51.) Butler, Frames of War, 55.

(52.) Solmaz Sharif, Look (Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 2016), 45.

(53.) Solmaz Sharif, “The Near Transitive Properties of the Political and Poetical: Erasure,” Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics, no. 28 (2013).

(54.) Sharif, “Near Transitive Properties.”

(55.) Hernández, City of Inmates, 1.

(56.) Sharif, Look, 51.

(57.) Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996); and Mae Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).

(58.) Lai, Lim, and Yung, Island; and Lee and Yung, Angel Island.

(59.) Hernández, City of Inmates.

(60.) Nayan Shah, Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown (Oakland: University of California Press, 2001); and Chandan Reddy, Freedom with Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the U.S. State (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).

(61.) Cacho, Social Death.

(62.) Caroline Chung Simpson, An Absent Presence: Japanese Americans in Postwar American Culture, 1945–1960 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002).

(63.) Kandice Chuh, Imagine Otherwise: On Asian Americanist Critique (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).

(64.) Colleen Lye, America’s Asia: Racial Form and American Litearture, 1893–1945 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); and David Eng, The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

(65.) Srikanth, Constructing the Enemy.

(66.) Paik, Rightlessness.

(67.) Yen Le Espiritu, Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refuge(e)s (Oakland: University of California Press, 2014); and Eric Tang, Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the New York City Hyperghetto (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2015).

(69.) Eddy Zheng and Asian Prisoner Support Committee, Other: An Asian and Pacific Islander Prisoners’ Anthology (Oakland, CA: Asian Prisoner Support Committee, 2007); and Bill Ong Hing, ed., Deporting Our Souls and Defending Our Immigrants, special issue, Amerasia Journal 31, no. 3 (2005).

(70.) Chol Soo Lee, Freedom without Justice: The Prison Memoirs of Chol Soo Lee, ed. Richard S. Kim (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2017).

(71.) Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003); Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (Oakland: University of California Press, 2007); Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2012); and Naomi Murakawa, The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).