Celebrating Filipino Heritage Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we highlights eight Temple University Press titles that explore the identity, cultural diversity and community formation of Filipino Americans.

Locating Filipino Americans by Rick Bonus

BONUS 1439_regLocating Filipino Americans, an ethnographic study of Filipino American communities in Los Angeles and San Diego, presents a multi-disciplinary cultural analysis of the relationship between ethnic identity and social space. Author Rick Bonus argues that alternative community spaces enable Filipino Americans to respond to and resist the ways in which the larger society has historically and institutionally rendered them invisible, silenced, and racialized. Bonus focuses on the “Oriental” stores, the social halls and community centers, and the community newspapers to demonstrate how ethnic identities are publicly constituted and communities are transformed. Delineating the spaces formed by diasporic consciousness, Bonus shows how community members appropriate elements from their former homeland and from their new settlements in ways defined by their critical stances against racism, homogenization, complete assimilation, and exclusionary citizenship. Locating Filipino Americans is one of the few books that offers a grounded approach to theoretical analyses of ethnicity and contemporary culture in the U.S.

On Becoming Filipino by Carlos Bulosan

Bulosan 1184_regA companion volume to The Cry and the Dedication, this is the first extensive collection of Carlos Bulosan’s short stories, essays, poetry, and correspondence. Bulosan’s writings expound his mission to redefine the Filipino American experience and mark his growth as a writer. The pieces included here reveal how his sensibility, largely shaped by the political circumstances of the 1930s up to the 1950s, articulates the struggles and hopes for equality and justice for Filipinos. He projects a “new world order” liberated from materialist greed, bigoted nativism, racist oppression, and capitalist exploitation. As E. San Juan explains in his Introduction, Bulosan’s writings “help us to understand the powerlessness and invisibility of being labeled a Filipino in post Cold War America.”

Filipino American Lives by Yen Le Espiritu

Espiritu 1157_regMen and women, old and young, middle and working class, first and second generation, all openly discuss their changing sense of identity, the effects of generational and cultural differences on their families, and the role of community involvement in their lives. Pre- and post-1965 immigrants share their experiences, from the working students who came before WWII, to the manongs in the field, to the stewards and officers in the U.S. Navy, to the “brain drain” professionals, to the Filipinos born and raised in the United States.

As Yen Le Espiritu writes in the Introduction, “each of the narratives reveals ways in which Filipino American identity has been and continues to be shaped by a colonial history and a white-dominated culture. It is through recognizing how profoundly race has affected their lives that Filipino Americans forge their ethnic identities—identities that challenge stereotypes and undermine practices of cultural domination.”

The Day the Dancers Stayed by Theo Gonzalves

Gonzalves 1947_regPilipino Cultural Nights at American campuses have been a rite of passage for youth culture and a source of local community pride since the 1980s. Through performances—and parodies of them—these celebrations of national identity through music, dance, and theatrical narratives reemphasize what it means to be Filipino American. In The Day the Dancers Stayed, scholar and performer Theodore Gonzalves uses interviews and participant observer techniques to consider the relationship between the invention of performance repertoire and the development of diasporic identification.

Gonzalves traces a genealogy of performance repertoire from the 1930s to the present. Culture nights serve several functions: as exercises in nostalgia, celebrations of rigid community entertainment, and occasionally forums for political intervention. Taking up more recent parodies of Pilipino Cultural Nights, Gonzalves discusses how the rebellious spirit that enlivened the original seditious performances has been stifled.

San Francisco’s International Hotel by Estella Habal

Habal 1820_regThe struggle to save the International Hotel, in the San Francisco neighborhood known as Manilatown, culminated in 1977 with the eviction of elderly tenant activists. Many of them were Filipino bachelors who had emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s for menial labor. Each evicted tenant was accompanied by at least one young activist who had come to find their roots in the lives of the “manongs” (respected elders).

San Francisco’s International Hotel is part history and part memoir. In telling this compelling story, Estella Habal features her own memories of the Anti-Eviction Movement, focusing on the roles of Filipino Americans and their participation in both the anti-eviction protests and the nascent Asian American movement. She rounds out the narrative with a variety of sources, including interviews with other participants, the notes of insiders, and official reports.

The Philippine Temptation by E. San Juan

San Juan 1193_regIn this incisive and polemical book, E. San Juan, Jr., the leading authority on Philippines-U.S. literary studies, goes beyond fashionable post-colonial theory to bring to our attention the complex history of Philippines-U.S. literary interactions. In sharp contrast to other works on the subject, the author presents Filipino literary production within the context of a long and sustained tradition of anti-imperialist insurgency, and foregrounds the strong presence of oppositional writing in the Philippines.

San Juan goes beyond literary studies and contemporary debates about nationalism and politics to point the way to a new direction in radical transformative writing. He uncovers hidden agendas in many previous accounts of U.S.-Philippine relations, and this book exemplifies how best to combine activist scholarship with historically grounded cultural commentary.

Tiongson 1763_regPositively No Filipinos Allowed edited by Antonio T. Tiongson, Jr., Edgardo V. Gutierrez and Ricardo V. Gutierrez

From the perspectives of ethnic studies, history, literary criticism, and legal studies, the original essays in this volume examine the ways in which the colonial history of the Philippines has shaped Filipino American identity, culture, and community formation. The contributors address the dearth of scholarship in the field as well as show how an understanding of this complex history provides a foundation for new theoretical frameworks for Filipino American studies.

Pinoy Capital by Benito Vergara, Jr.

Vergara 1920_regHome to 33,000 Filipino American residents, Daly City, California, located just outside of San Francisco, has been dubbed “the Pinoy Capital of the United States.” In this fascinating ethnographic study of the lives of Daly City residents, Benito Vergara shows how Daly City has become a magnet for the growing Filipino American community.

Vergara challenges rooted notions of colonialism here, addressing the immigrants’ identities, connections and loyalties. Using the lens of transnationalism, he looks at the “double lives” of both recent and established Filipino Americans. Vergara explores how first-generation Pinoys experience homesickness precisely because Daly City is filled with reminders of their homeland’s culture, like newspapers, shops and festivals. Vergara probes into the complicated, ambivalent feelings these immigrants have—toward the Philippines and the United States—and the conflicting obligations they have presented by belonging to a thriving community and yet possessing nostalgia for the homeland and people they left behind.

Inclusion in the Creative Economy?

This week in North Philly Notes, Tarry Hum , author of Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood, writes about the re-branding of Brooklyn.

New York City Mayor de Blasio was elected with a mandate to address the city’s deepening crisis of income and wealth inequality. Mr. de Blasio’s 2013 victory was echoed across the country as progressive candidates won mayoralties in cities such as Boston and Seattle. In light of federal inertia, the political will to tackle the troubling persistence of poverty and a diminished middle class has shifted to local municipalities. The first six months of Mayor de Blasio’s administration has been defined by important achievements in universal pre-K, paid sick leave, and a municipal ID. Moreover, Mayor de Blasio has stated that his approach to economic development will be premised on creating opportunities for all New Yorkers in the city’s high growth sectors including the technology industry which is essential to NYC’s creative and knowledge economy.

Making a Global Immigrant_smAn example of the events that are taking place to engage in a public dialogue on New York City’s economic future took place last week at a half-day conference titled, Onramps of Opportunity: Building a Creative + Inclusive New York, with NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and NYU-University of Toronto Professor Richard Florida, the “rock star” author of The Rise of the Creative Class. Presenters described how the spatial geography of New York City’s creative economy is increasingly centered in the industrial waterfront neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens where factories and warehouses are retrofitted, wired, and modernized to accommodate tech, media, entertainment, and artisanal manufacturing. Almost a mantra, conference attendees were told repeatedly, “every future job is a tech job”. Tensions between the creative class and neighborhood gentrification were alluded to as several presenters emphasized the need for affordable housing. However, it’s clear that meaningful inclusion extends beyond the provision of affordable housing as evidenced in the Extell Development Company’s project which will have separate entrances for tenants of its luxury and affordable housing units.

IstanbulThe re-branding of Brooklyn as an epicenter of creativity, innovation, and artistic production has achieved international success. On a recent trip to Istanbul, I was astonished by the prevalence of Brooklyn branding in clothing and cafes. Numerous Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Williamsburg, DUMBO, and Fort Greene are exemplars of the clustering of skills and talent and urban amenities such as bike paths, parks, and good coffee shops that support a creative economy and the lifestyle preferences of the creative class. The potential of this economic revival was recently explored in the PBS NewsHour clip “Could Brooklyn hipsters help save the middle class?”

The revitalization of Brooklyn may be the ultimate test for Mayor de Blasio’s vision of an inclusive urbanism. Acknowledging Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood as a nexus of the human and physical infrastructure necessary for equitable economic growth, Mayor de Blasio announced the formation of a Jobs for New Yorkers Task Force in front of the Brooklyn Terminal Army along Sunset Park’s waterfront. Heavily immigrant and working poor, Sunset Park’s Latino and Asian residents are largely concentrated in low paid service jobs. Sunset Park still retains a sizable number of garment factories that continue to rely on immigrant women workers. As Professor Florida described, these are the people that pour our coffee, take care of our kids and elderly parents, clean our homes, and make our food – jobs so essential to a creative city that Professor Florida extolled these workers as the “lifeblood of the city”. As one of New York City’s few remaining industrial neighborhoods, Sunset Park is now facing the challenges posed by a growing artisanal and creative economy. According to a recent New York Times article, the neighborhood’s extensive industrial building stock is being refurbished to accommodate a new Soho. Examples of tech and artisanal firms that now call Sunset Park home include MakerBot which manufactures 3-D printers, the internationally known Jacque Torres chocolatier, and the world’s largest urban rooftop farm on a former federally owned military warehouse. Even the Brooklyn Nets want to be in Sunset Park and are planning a 70,000-square-foot training facility with a rooftop terrace to enjoy the waterfront views.

deBlasioBATThe question of inclusion in New York City’s creative economy is essential to the future of neighborhoods like Sunset Park. Framing the afternoon’s discussion, Professor Florida stated that building an inclusive economy “will require all hands on deck” to formulate a new approach to economic development. Political will is just one of the necessary ingredients – policies that support unionization, affordable housing, living wages, worker cooperatives, workforce development and placement in jobs with avenues for economic mobility, and meaningful engagement in city planning and economic development decision-making are also essential. Working class, immigrant Latino-Asian Sunset Park is ground zero in testing the development and implementation of “onramps” for an inclusive creative city.

Announcing the publication of Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies

Temple University Press is pleased to announce the publication of
Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies

Kalfou

Kalfou is the Haitian Kreyòl word for “crossroads.” It is a scholarly journal focused on social movements, social institutions, and social relations. Editor George Lipsitz explained, “The publication of Kalfou ushers in a new era in engaged scholarship. This first issue blends contributions from the leading scholars in ethnic studies with compelling writings from artists and activists. This journal constitutes a new public square for addressing the most important issues of our time.”

The journal seeks to promote the development of community-based scholarship in ethnic studies among humanists and social scientists and to connect the specialized knowledge produced in academe to the situated knowledge generated in aggrieved communities.

Kalfou is published by Temple University Press on behalf of the Center for Black Studies Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Spring 2014, Volume 1, Issue 1

Introduction: A New Beginning • George Lipsitz

Feature Articles
Martin Luther King Encounters Post-racialism • Kimberlé Crenshaw
Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and the “Illegible” Politics of (Inter)personal Justice • Tricia Rose
The Ideological Alchemy of Contemporary Nativism: Revisiting the Origins of California’s Proposition 187 • Daniel Martinez HoSang
Beyond Conflict and Competition: How Color-Blind Ideology Affects African Americans’ and Latinos’ Understanding of Their Relationships • Chrisshonna Grant Nieva and Laura Pulido, with Nathan J. Sessoms
From College Readiness to Ready for Revolution! Third World Student Activism at a Northern California Community College, 1965–1969 • Jason Ferreira

Talkative Ancestors
Chris Iijima on Asian American Identity

Keywords
Critical Ethnic Studies • Chandan Reddy

La Mesa Popular
The Alchemy of Race and Affect: “White Innocence” and Public Secrets in the Post–Civil Rights Era • Paula Ioanide

Art and Social Action
Music and Mobilization: Kombit Pou Haiti 2010 • Chuck D and Gaye Theresa Johnson

Mobilized 4 Movement
Race, Municipal Underbounding, and Coalitional Politics in Modesto, California, and Moore County, North Carolina • Emily Tumpson Molina

Teaching and Truth
The Bigger Scandal • Pauline Lipman

In Memoriam
Afro-Asian People’s Warrior: Richard Aoki, 1938–2009 • Diane C. Fujino

Book Reviews
The Woman in the Zoot Suit: Gender, Nationalism, and the Cultural Politics of Memory, by Catherine S. Ramírez • Reviewed by María Angela Díaz
From Toussaint to Tupac: The Black International since the Age of Revolution, edited by Michael O. West, William G. Martin, and Fanon Che Wilkins • Reviewed by Michael E. Brandon

 

KALFOU EDITORIAL BOARD

Senior Editor: George Lipsitz, University of California, Santa Barbara

Associate Editors:
Enrique Bonus, University of Washington, Seattle
Maria Herrera-Sobek, University of California, Santa Barbara
Roberta Hill, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Tricia Rose, Brown University

Book Review Editor:
Paul Ortiz, University of Florida, Gainesville

Founding Editors:
Claudine Michel, University of California, Santa Barbara
Melvin Oliver, University of California, Santa Barbara

Managing Editor:
Rose Elfman, University of California, Santa Barbara

 

Two Temple University Press authors acknowledge their recent awards

Adia Harvey Wingfield, author of No More Invisible Man, received the Richard A. Lester Award for the Outstanding Book in Labor Economics and Industrial Relations at Princeton University. The award is presented to the book making the most original and important contribution toward understanding the problems of industrial relations, labor market policies, and the evolution of labor markets.

WingfieldFinal.inddI am very happy to receive the Richard A. Lester Award for the Outstanding Book in Labor Economics and Industrial Relations published in 2013. Given by the Industrial Relations Section at Princeton University, this important award “is presented to the book making the most original and important contribution toward understanding the problems of industrial relations and the evolution of labor markets.” As such, it is my pleasure and my honor to be a recipient.

While I am thrilled to receive this award, more credit and attention should go to the men who were the focus of this project. Part of what inspired me to conduct this study and ultimately write this book was the realization that black middle class professional men are largely absent from the literatures on race, gender, and work. Their unique experiences and the ways they are constructed by intersections of gender, race, and class often go unnoticed, particularly as academics and media instead choose to spotlight economically disadvantaged black men who all too frequently are underserved by existing social institutions. Black professional men’s work lives are frequently lumped into general studies of the black middle class or obscured by the focus on their more visible female counterparts. I thank the men of my study for sharing their lives with me and refusing to be the invisible men of years past.

Bindi Shah’s book Laotian Daughters received the Association for Asian American Studies’ Outstanding Book Award in the category Social Science.

Laotian Daughters sm FINALI am absolutely delighted to accept this book award from the Association for Asian American Studies. The award is not only recognition of my scholarship in the book, but also of the shift in the discursive representations of young Laotian women from the children of Southeast Asian refugees to active citizens and a positive voice for change.

This book would not have been possible without the Asian Pacific Environmental Network’s early vision in building an Asian American face to the environmental justice movement, and without the participation of young Laotian women in APEN’s Asian Youth Advocates program. The teenagers’ spirit, perseverance and commitment to social justice in the face of adversity provided the inspiration to write a book that challenges dominant narratives of assimilation and incorporation.

I also want to thank two people associated with Temple University Press: Linda Võ, who as one of the series editors of Temple University Press’ Asian American History and Culture Series, believed in the book from the beginning, and Janet Francendese, who supported the project through all its stages.

 

Asian American History and Culture series adds a new editor

This week, we welcome Modeling Citizenship author Cathy Schlund-Vials to the Asian American History and Culture series editorial team.

Temple University Press is pleased to announce the addition of Cathy Schlund-Vials, Associate Professor of English and Asian/Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut-Storrs, to the Asian American History and Culture series editorial team. Schlund-Vials, whose book, Modeling Citizenship , was published by Temple University Press in 2011, joins current series editors David Palumbo-Liu, K. Scott Wong, and Linda Trinh Võ.

Modeling Citizenship sm CompVõ, who is the incoming President of the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS), acknowledged, “Cathy Schlund-Vials’ impressive academic accomplishments and publication record will make her an invaluable asset to the Asian American History and Culture  editorial team. The range of her expertise in twentieth-century U.S. literature, multi-ethnic literature, immigrant/refugee narratives, refugee cultural production, critical race theory, human rights, and comparative ethnic studies will be important as we identify emergent research that should be highlighted in the series.”

Võ also spoke about her plans for the AAAS. “Next year as we mark the 50-year anniversary of the 1965 Immigration Act and 40 years since the Vietnam War ended, it is important for the Association for Asian American Studies to reflect how both events transformed the cultural, economic, and political trajectory of this nation and its global connections. I intend to make the association a dynamic and inviting intellectual space that fosters innovative research and reimagines the possibilities for Asian American Studies and that also nurtures scholars and community members who are the foundation of our field.”

Saying she was honored to be affiliated with the Temple University Press series, Schlund-Vials highlighted how the Asian American History and Culture  series has been foundational to the discipline. “Since its inception, the series has in many ways not only been witness to the emergence of Asian American studies as a diverse field; it has been at the forefront of its growth as a provocative and productive site of inquiry.”

She also spoke to her plan to foster books for the cultural studies aspect of the series, “I hope to continue the capacious, constantly innovative vision of its founding editors and the press’s forethought with regard to Asian American studies as a viable, sustainable field.”

Temple University Press published the first two titles in the Asian American History and Culture  series — Entry Denied, by series founder Sucheng Chan and Cane Fires, by Gary Okihiro — in the spring of 1991. There are now 65 titles in the series. Under the guidance of Temple University Press Editor in Chief, Janet Francendese, and series editor Chan, the Asian American History and Culture  series focused on titles grounded in original research. The books in the series changed the notion that Temple’s Asian American titles simply added to its acquisitions in ethnic studies; they represented a commitment to an emerging academic field that has from the start been rooted in communities and unique experiences of race and ethnicity.

About the Series

Founded by Sucheng Chan in 1991, the Asian American History and Culture  series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique. Like the field from which it emerged, the series remains rooted in the social sciences and humanities, encompassing multiple regions, formations, communities, and identities. Extending the vision of founding editor Sucheng Chan and emeritus editor Michael Omi, series editors David Palumbo-Liu, K. Scott Wong, Linda Trinh Võ, and Cathy Schlund-Vials continue to develop a foundational collection that embodies a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to Asian American studies.

Considering the lives of transnational adoptees

This week in North Philly Notes, Kristi Brian, author of Reframing Transracial Adoption, reflects on the assumptions commonly articulated by non-adopted people that rightly infuriate many adult adoptees.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow earlier this month to protest the adoption ban that prevents U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children. Although the turnout was impressive (reported estimates range from 7,000 to 50,000 protesters) I have to wonder what really brought all these people out.  Are the protesters genuinely united for the sake of Russian children as much as they say they are? Do people feel that they honestly need to help preserve the interests of the mostly white, middle-class, U.S. adopters left with pending or halted adoptions? Of course, it’s not too tough to get folks to stand up for the sake of “poor, orphaned children,” but it’s especially easy if a critical mass of people stands practically “at the ready” to yell at the big state machinery that hasn’t done much for them lately. I suspect this was the predominant unifying element of the protesters and I certainly can’t blame dissidents for making the most of a “hot” moment to demonstrate their democratic freedoms. However, when it comes to rallying behind precious, romantic statements about the immensely better life adoptees are destined to have in the U.S., I urge caution.

Reframing Transracial AdoptionsmAs my research on transnational/transracial adoption from South Korea explains (see Reframing Transracial Adoption), “the better life in America” assumptions commonly articulated by non-adopted people rightly infuriate many adult adoptees. Many of the adoptees I spoke with helped me to understand their reality of navigating the imposition of gratitude that surrounds being “rescued” from a nation often implied as inferior.  While it is true that Russian adoptions into white U.S. families are often pursued as a way to avoid the racial component of adoption, questions of belonging, origins, and abandonment are nearly universal to all state-regulated adoptions.

Not only do we have a lot to learn from adult adoptee perspectives, but critically observing the rise and fall of massive adoption projects, such as Korean-American adoption (the first and longest-running form of transnational adoption) should allow nation-states to learn from one another’s mistakes. Korea went from being the world’s top “supplier” of children for adoption in the mid-1980s to a “sending nation” that is, at least to some degree, more conscious of the meaning and impact of that history. This change happened through internal and external criticism, and most notably, in recent years through the dedicated reform work of the Korean adoptees who have returned to Korea to help keep more Korean children in Korea.

While there may be heartache for families with their minds set on a particular child to “bring home,” I feel abundantly confident that criticism and worldwide scrutiny of transnational adoption serves us all. If nothing else, dramatic legislative actions such as the adoption ban should help us to fine tune our understanding of the relationship between family and the state. Perhaps it will make us ask us what the state has done for our family lately. Or what the role of the state should be in helping us form families. I suspect most of us would like to think of the state as an afterthought. It’s there when we need it otherwise we prefer to keep it out of our family matters. Yet for folks fighting like hell to have the state validate their most intimate, loving partnership as legitimate and legal, the family-state question becomes more vivid. Similarly, for those of us unfortunate enough to find ourselves facing the threat of losing our family members, acquiring them, or reuniting with them based on the intervening policies of a state (including policies of the child welfare system, the police force or the prison system) the power struggle can get ugly.

When it comes to your family or your government, who do you expect to win the power struggle? And in the case of transnational adoption, adopters’ vision for family must interface with the power and politics of two nations.  When the fate of our families becomes heavily determined by the “personalities” of two competitive capitalist nation-states (with many skeletons in both closets) both posturing as the top contender in human rights protections, we can only expect a stampede of contradictions to complicate our attempts at creating family intimacy.

My ethnographic research on adoptive families has led me to a position much like the one being voiced by Russia’s Children’s Rights Ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov. Astakhov has stated candidly at human rights hearings on adoption that the “hysterical warnings” about international adoptions being the best viable solution for Russian children only serves those seeking profit from adoption.

The fact of the matter is, as much as we hate to admit it, transnational adoption is a marketplace driven by and reflective of capitalist modes of production. The desires of white Americans and Europeans (predominantly) are the buyers in that marketplace interested in “giving” a better life to a child of their choice. Race does play a big role in which adoption programs adopters choose. Given this fact alone, transnational adoption offers us a chance to follow the advice of philosopher George Yancy as he urges us to shift our gaze (in Look, a White!) to assess the ways of white folks rather than simply accepting them as the way things ought to be done. Look a Whitesm

My book explores the actions of white adopters in Korea’s history with transnational adoption. But more importantly it highlights the work of the Korean adoptees who have critically observed adoptive family life in the U.S. as well as the politics of race, culture and statehood surrounding their adoptions. Although Korea has provided more children for overseas adoption than any other place in the world since 1955, Korea has dramatically reduced its numbers down to 627 adoptions to the U.S. last year. That is still a lot of children being transplanted through the complex bureaucracies of two national-states that cannot begin to attend to the life-long emotional realities of adoption. The more we see those numbers decrease in all “sending” countries, the better I feel about our abilities to create home-grown solutions to globalized problems that often masquerade as new ways to embrace superficial multiculturalism.

Remembering Tiananmen Square and its impact on both personal and political levels on the anniversary of the protests

In this blog entry, Belinda Kong, reflects back on the 1989 massacre and how it inspired her  new book, Tiananmen Fictions Outside the Square.

In many ways, I am an unlikely person to have written a book on Tiananmen fictions.  In 1989, I was a thirteen-year-old kid living in Miami, having moved to the States from Hong Kong just three and a half years earlier.  When the Tiananmen demonstrations erupted that spring, I hardly paid any attention; those students in Beijing seemed so remote to me.  I am sure many people have much more vivid memories of watching the protests on TV that spring than I do. 

My own memory is of hearing the news of the massacre the morning after—it would have been June 4th too on this side of the Pacific—from the son of the owner of the Chinese restaurant where my father was working at the time.  I remember being surprised and confused, by the news itself as much as the sight of this Chinese American college student getting incredibly upset.  I remember feeling how unreal it all seemed, the idea that a whole generation of Chinese students could imagine they possessed the power to change their country’s course, camping out for weeks on end in the nation’s most public political space, successfully mobilizing a million citizens to march in the streets in their support, and even facing down government troops and army tanks.  All this seemed to me like a drama unfolding on another planet.

Then, about a dozen years ago, I was in graduate school at the University of Michigan, working on my dissertation on Chinese diaspora literature.  This would become the genesis of my book, Tiananmen Fictions Outside the Squarethough at the time, it was not focused on Tiananmen, and it could hardly be called even a rough draft of the eventual product.  Instead, I was thinking about Chinese identity more generally, about how many Chinese writers in the West could be seen as sharing overlapping concerns about “Chineseness,” whether they had been born and raised in China and went abroad as adults or been born in America and knew only English.  I was trying to bring together some of the most globally visible Chinese writers known to me at the time under a very broad rubric of “writing Chineseness,” regardless of their biographical trajectory or cultural education. 

In many ways, the dissertation was too abstract and did not explain why I discussed some authors, such as Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan in relation to Ha Jin and Gao Xingjian, but not others.  Meanwhile, without conscious design, I kept getting pulled by the literature on Tiananmen, and it took me several years to realize that these were the works that most clarified my thinking about Chineseness.  Almost by accident, I started to clue in that Tiananmen was one pivotal and defining point for both Chinese and diasporic identity in our time, that I had grown up in the wake of its ripple effects, and that many of the writers I was reading were themselves living out the extended legacy of the movement and the massacre.  It took five years or so for this realization to dawn on me, and another five years for me to reframe my book and coalesce it around Tiananmen fictions.

The insight I ultimately arrived at is that Tiananmen was not just a political event but something that has significantly shaped Chinese literature and cultural identity in the post-1989 world.  When we think of Tiananmen, we usually think history, and above all, we think politics—the politics of mass opposition, of calls for democracy vs. totalitarian state power, etc.  Certainly, with Arab spring, this political understanding of Tiananmen resonates with particular force today.  But what is less recognized is that Tiananmen has had a tremendously powerful, productive, and longterm effect on Chinese literature and cultural identity.  And precisely because the topic remains censored to this day in the PRC, precisely because only those abroad could write about it openly and publicly and without evasion, Tiananmen has come to serve as a key point of self-definition for writers in the diaspora.  Tiananmen is a topic that more and more Chinese authors, especially in the West, have come to address in their writing; it is an event that writers continually imagine and reimagine and thereby keep alive and relevant for our contemporary moment, and also a subject that unifies as well as fractures writers.  Above all, Tiananmen has politicized the Chinese literary diaspora: after the massacre, writers show a much stronger tendency to write political fictions that critique either the PRC regime itself or authoritarian uses of state power more generally.  And most strikingly, these fictions on Tiananmen do not remain static but evolve alongside global concerns, as though Tiananmen already anticipates the theoretical vocabularies with which we continually try to make sense of globalization and global life.

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