Celebrating Pride

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Pride month with a dozen Temple University Press’s LGBTQ titles.

City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972by Marc Stein

Marc Stein’s City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves is refreshing for at least two reasons: it centers on a city that is not generally associated with a vibrant gay and lesbian culture, and it shows that a community was forming long before the Stonewall rebellion. In this lively and well received book, Marc Stein brings to life the neighborhood bars and clubs where people gathered and the political issues that rallied the community. He reminds us that Philadelphians were leaders in the national gay and lesbian movement and, in doing so, suggests that New York and San Francisco have for too long obscured the contributions of other cities to gay culture.

Civic Intimacies: Black Queer Improvisations on Citizenshipby Niels van Doorn

Because members of the Black queer community often exist outside conventional civic institutions, they must explore alternative intimacies to experience a sense of belonging. Civic Intimacies examines how—and to what extent—these different forms of intimacy catalyze the values, aspirations, and collective flourishing of Black queer denizens of Baltimore. Niels van Doorn draws on eighteen months of immersive ethnographic fieldwork for his innovative cross-disciplinary analysis of contemporary debates in political and cultural theory.

Deregulating Desire: Flight Attendant Activism, Family Politics, and Workplace Justice, by Ryan Patrick Murphy

In 1975, National Airlines was shut down for 127 days when flight attendants went on strike to protest long hours and low pay. Activists at National and many other U.S. airlines sought to win political power and material resources for people who live beyond the boundary of the traditional family. In Deregulating Desire, Ryan Patrick Murphy, a former flight attendant himself, chronicles the efforts of single women, unmarried parents, lesbians and gay men, as well as same-sex couples to make the airline industry a crucible for social change in the decades after 1970.

From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian and Gay Movements in the United Statesby Craig A. Rimmerman

Liberal democracy has provided a certain degree of lesbian and gay rights. But those rights, as we now know, are not unlimited, and they continue to be the focus of efforts by lesbian and gay movements in the United States to promote social change. In this compelling critique, Craig Rimmerman looks at the past, present, and future of the movements to analyze whether it is possible for them to link identity concerns with a progressive coalition for political, social, and gender change, one that take into account race, class, and gender inequalities. Enriched by eight years of interviews in Washington, D.C. and New York City, and by the author’s experience as a Capitol Hill staffer, From Identity to Politics will provoke discussion in classrooms and caucus rooms across the United States.

The Hirschfeld Archives: Violence, Death, and Modern Queer Culture, by Heike Bauer

Influential sexologist and activist Magnus Hirschfeld founded Berlin’s Institute of Sexual Sciences in 1919 as a home and workplace to study homosexual rights activism and support transgender people. It was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. This episode in history prompted Heike Bauer to ask, Is violence an intrinsic part of modern queer culture? The Hirschfeld Archives answers this critical question by examining the violence that shaped queer existence in the first part of the twentieth century.

In a Queer Voice: Journeys of Resilience from Adolescence to Adulthood, by Michael Sadowski

Adolescence is a difficult time, but it can be particularly stressful for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identifying youth. In order to avoid harassment and rejection, many LGBTQ teens hide their identities from their families, peers, and even themselves. Educator Michael Sadowski deftly brings the voices of LGBTQ youth out into the open in his poignant and important book, In a Queer Voice. Drawing on two waves of interviews conducted six years apart, Sadowski chronicles how queer youth, who were often “silenced” in school and elsewhere, now can approach adulthood with a strong, queer voice.

Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural Americaby Colin R. Johnson

Most studies of lesbian and gay history focus on urban environments. Yet gender and sexual diversity were anything but rare in nonmetropolitan areas in the first half of the twentieth century. Just Queer Folks explores the seldom-discussed history of same-sex intimacy and gender nonconformity in rural and small-town America during a period when the now familiar concepts of heterosexuality and homosexuality were just beginning to take shape. Eschewing the notion that identity is always the best measure of what can be known about gender and sexuality, Colin R. Johnson argues instead for a queer historicist approach. In so doing, he uncovers a startlingly unruly rural past in which small-town eccentrics, “mannish” farm women, and cross-dressing Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees were often just queer folks so far as their neighbors were concerned. Written with wit and verve, Just Queer Folks upsets a whole host of contemporary commonplaces, including the notion that queer history is always urban history.

Modern American Queer Historyedited by Allida M. Black

In the twentieth century, countless Americans claimed gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender identities, forming a movement to secure social as well as political equality. This collection of essays considers the history as well as the historiography of the queer identities and struggles that developed in the United States in the midst of widespread upheaval and change.

Officially Gay: The Political Construction of Sexuality by the U.S. Militaryby Gary L. Lehring

Officially Gay follows the military’s century-long attempt to identify and exclude gays and lesbians. It traces how the military historically constructed definitions of homosexual identity relying upon religious, medical, and psychological discourses that defined homosexuals as evil, degenerate, and unstable, making their risk to national security obvious, and mandating their exclusion from the Armed Services.

Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer Americaby Miriam Frank

Out in the Union tells the continuous story of queer American workers from the mid-1960s through 2013. Miriam Frank shrewdly chronicles the evolution of labor politics with queer activism and identity formation, showing how unions began affirming the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers in the 1970s and 1980s. She documents coming out on the job and in the union as well as issues of discrimination and harassment, and the creation of alliances between unions and LGBT communities.

Sticky Rice: A Politics of Intraracial Desireby Cynthia Wu

Cynthia Wu’s provocative Sticky Rice examines representations of same-sex desires and intraracial intimacies in some of the most widely read pieces of Asian American literature. Analyzing canonical works such as John Okada’s No-No Boy, Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt, H. T. Tsiang’s And China Has Hands, and Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s Blu’s Hanging, as well as Philip Kan Gotanda’s play, Yankee Dawg You Die, Wu considers how male relationships in these texts blur the boundaries among the homosocial, the homoerotic, and the homosexual in ways that lie beyond our concepts of modern gay identity.

Vulnerable Constitutions: Queerness, Disability, and the Remaking of American Manhood, by Cynthia Barounis

Amputation need not always signify castration; indeed, in Jack London’s fiction, losing a limb becomes part of a process through which queerly gendered men become properly masculinized. In her astute book, Vulnerable Constitutions, Cynthia Barounis explores the way American writers have fashioned alternative—even resistant—epistemologies of queerness, disability, and masculinity. She seeks to understand the way perverse sexuality, physical damage, and bodily contamination have stimulated—rather than created a crisis for—masculine characters in twentieth- and early twenty-first-century literature.

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Announcing Temple University Press’ Fall 2019 Books

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase the titles on Temple University Press’ Fall 2019 catalog.

 

Action=Vie: A History of AIDS Activism and Gay Politics in France, by Christophe Broqua
Chronicling the history and accomplishments of Act Up-Paris

The Battles of Germantown: Effective Public History in America, by David W. Young
Lessons from Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood on how the public engages the past

Campaigns of Knowledge: U.S. Pedagogies of Colonialism and Occupation in the Philippines and Japan, by Malini Johar Schueller
Making visible the afterlives of U.S. colonial and occupation tutelage in the Philippines and Japan

Disabled Futures: A Framework for Radical Inclusion, by Milo W. Obourn
Offering a new avenue for understanding race, gender, and disability as mutually constitutive through an analysis of literature and films

Feminist Post-Liberalism, by Judith A. Baer
Reconciling liberalism and feminist theory

Immigrant Rights in the Nuevo South: Enforcement and Resistance at the Borderlands of Illegalityby Meghan Conley
Examining the connections between repression and resistance for unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. Southeast

Invisible People: Stories of Lives at the MarginsAlex Tizon; Edited by Sam Howe Verhovek; Foreword by Jose Antonio Vargas
Unforgettable profiles of immigrants, natives, loners, villains, eccentrics, and oracles

Japanese American Millennials: Rethinking Generation, Community, and Diversity, Edited by Michael Omi, Dana Y. Nakano, and Jeffrey T. Yamashita
A groundbreaking study of ethnic identity and community in the everyday lives of Japanese American millennials

Protestors and Their Targets, Edited by James M. Jasper and Brayden G King
Examining the dynamics when protesters and their targets interact

Latinx Environmentalisms: Place, Justice, and the DecolonialEdited by Sarah D. Wald, David J. Vazquez, Priscilla Solis Ybarra, and Sarah Jaquette Ray
Putting the environmental humanities into dialogue with Latinx literary and cultural studies

Little Italy in the Great War: Philadelphia’s Italians on the Battlefield and Home Frontby Richard N. Juliani
How Philadelphia’s Italian community responded during World War I

Memory Passages: Holocaust Memorials in the United States and Germanyby Natasha Goldman
Considers Holocaust memorials in the United States and Germany, postwar to the present

Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia, Edited by Paul M. Farber and Ken Lum
A living handbook for vital perspectives on public art and history

Pennsylvania Politics and Policy: A Commonwealth Reader, Volume 2Edited by J. Wesley Leckrone and Michelle J. Atherton
Addressing important issues in Pennsylvania politics and policy in a constructive, nonpartisan manner

Power, Participation, and Protest in Flint, Michigan: Unpacking the Policy Paradox of Municipal Takeovers, by Ashley E. Nickels
The policy history of, implementation of, and reaction to Flint’s municipal takeovers

Public City/Public Sex: Homosexuality, Prostitution, and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Parisby Andrew Israel Ross
How female prostitutes and men who sought sex with other men shaped the history and emergence of modern Paris in the nineteenth century

Reencounters: On the Korean War and Diasporic Memory Critique, by Crystal Mun-hye Baik
Examines the insidious ramifications of the un-ended Korean War through an interdisciplinary archive of diasporic memory works

The Rise and Fall of America’s Concentration Camp Law: Civil Liberties Debates from the Internment to McCarthyism and the Radical 1960sby Masumi Izumi
Dissecting the complex relationship among race, national security, and civil liberties in “the age of American concentration camps”

Rock of Ages: Subcultural Religious Identity and Public Opinion among Young EvangelicalsJeremiah J. Castle
Are young evangelicals becoming more liberal?

Stan Hochman Unfiltered: 50 Years of Wit and Wisdom from the Groundbreaking Sportswriter, Edited by Gloria Hochman, Foreword by Angelo Cataldi, With a Message from Governor Edward G. Rendell
50 years of classic columns from one of Philadelphia’s most beloved sportswriters

Strategizing against Sweatshops: The Global Economy, Student Activism, and Worker Empowerment, by Matthew S. Williams
Explores how U.S. college students engaged in strategically innovative activism to help sweatshop workers across the world

Taking Juvenile Justice Seriously: Developmental Insights and System Challenges, by Christopher J. Sullivan
Comprehensive developmental insights suggest pragmatic changes to the complexity that is the juvenile justice system

The Age of Experiences: Harnessing Happiness to Build a New Economy, by Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt, With a Foreword by B. Joseph Pine II
How the booming experience and transformation economies can generate happiness—and jobs

The Subject(s) of Human Rights: Crises, Violations, and Asian/American Critique, Edited by Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, Guy Beauregard, and Hsiu-chuan Lee, With an Afterword by Madeleine Thien
Considers the ways Asian American studies has engaged with humanitarian crises and large-scale violations

Why Everyday Life Matters

This week in North Philly Notes, Ulka Anjaria, author of Reading India Now, explains the importance of reading literature to understand the Indian present and its political futures.

The Indian general elections are once again upon us. Like the upcoming U.S. election, this one too is fraught with anxiety about whether the country will re-elect the right-wing party of its incumbent prime minister. As part of legitimate fears about a global right-wing turn, this is the brief period when Indian politics becomes global news. But what is happening in India between globally-significant elections? What is the daily life of this fast-changing country beyond institutional politics, what are the stories that might never make global headlines? How are people coming to terms with recent changes – not only at the voting booth, but as they imagine their everyday lives?

When I spent a fellowship year living in Mumbai in 2015-16, one of the many things I was struck by was how distant both scholarship and the news media are from everyday life in India. There were several disturbing and violent, national-level events that occurred that year, such as the assassination of Kannada writer M. M. Kalburgi in August and the Award Wapsi movement that followed, where dozens of writers protested the government’s increasing indifference to mob violence by returning their national literary awards. A beef ban was instituted in Maharashtra, exposing the encroachment of Hindu hegemony on eating practices in the supposedly secular nation. Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student, committed suicide in Hyderabad, revealing the continuing casteism that plagues even university campuses. But in between these events, daily life went along at an everyday rhythm, much as it does around the world. Looking around to see where I could begin to read about this everyday rhythm, I found that it was largely absent in the news media and in scholarly accounts. While the news media, in both India and abroad, focuses mostly on party politics and violent events, scholarship tends to take a longer view, uncovering the influence of historical forces such as colonialism and Partition on the Indian present. While both of these are important tasks, I found that I had to turn to literature, specifically contemporary Indian literature, to begin to understand the contours of the Indian present.

Reading India Now_SMFor in fact, India is experiencing a massive expansion of its publishing industry, with some anticipating that India will be the world’s largest English-language publisher within a decade. This means that whereas in the 1980s and 1990s, many Indian authors had to gain legitimacy by publishing first in the US or UK, now Indian publishers have made it much easier to publish as an Indian writer. This has resulted in an expansion of what genres authors can publish in, such as fantasy fiction, mysteries and detective fiction, romance, chick lit, self-help fiction, graphic novels, and so on. Most of these new works are geared toward Indian readers rather than, as was in the past, international ones. This is coinciding with an expansion of the English-language readership in India beyond those who are western-educated, to first-generation English readers who might otherwise be reading in the bhashas (Indian vernacular languages).

Reading India Now, looks at the implications of this publishing boom for rethinking what is important in the study of India. Much of this new fiction is written for young people trying to make their way in a new India, and are thus local stories for local readers. As such, they do not often engage with historical analysis or with who is in power, but address issues of more local importance: what is the meaning of success, what are the possibilities and limitations of the new capitalist economy, what are the new social and sexual mores of the new India, and so on. If read as complex works rather than just simplistic, market-oriented fictions, these new books tell us a huge amount about the kind of daily life that never makes the headlines.

Celebrating Temple University Press Books at the Association for Asian American Studies conference

This week in North Philly Notes, we spotlight our new Asian American titles, which will be on display at the Association for Asian American Studies conference, April 25-27 in Madison, Wisconsin. Several Temple University Press titles will be celebrated at a reception for new books on Thursday, April 25, at 6:00 pm in the Madison Concourse Hotel.

But wait, there’s more!…

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Temple University Press is hosting a reception at 2:00 pm on Friday, April 26 to celebrate 50 years of publishing. Our Asian American History and Culture series editors are expected to attend.

 

Temple University Press titles in Asian American Studies for 2018-2019

From Confinement to Containment: Japanese/American Arts during the Early Cold Warby Edward Tang, examines the work of four Japanese and Japanese/American artists and writers during this period: the novelist Hanama Tasaki, the actor Yamaguchi Yoshiko, the painter Henry Sugimoto, and the children’s author Yoshiko Uchida. Tang shows how the film, art, and literature made by these artists revealed to the American public the linked processes of U.S. actions at home and abroad. Their work played into—but also challenged—the postwar rehabilitated images of Japan and Japanese Americans as it focused on the history of transpacific relations such as Japanese immigration to the United States, the Asia-Pacific War, U.S. and Japanese imperialism, and the wartime confinement of Japanese Americans.

Anna May Wong: Performing the Modernby Shirley Jennifer Lim, re-evaluates the pioneering Chinese American actress Anna May Wong who made more than sixty films, headlined theater and vaudeville productions, and even starred in her own television show. Her work helped shape racial modernity as she embodied the dominant image of Chinese and, more generally, “Oriental” women between 1925 and 1940. Lim scrutinizes Wong’s cultural production and self-fashioning to provide a new understanding of the actress’s career as an ingenious creative artist.

America’s Vietnam: The Longue Durée of U.S. Literature and Empireby Marguerite Nguyen, challenges the prevailing genealogy of Vietnam’s emergence in the American imagination—one that presupposes the Vietnam War as the starting point of meaningful Vietnamese-U.S. political and cultural involvements. Examining literature from as early as the 1820s, Marguerite Nguyen takes a comparative, long historical approach to interpreting constructions of Vietnam in American literature. She analyzes works in various genres published in English and Vietnamese by Monique Truong and Michael Herr as well as lesser-known writers such as John White, Harry Hervey, and Võ Phiến. America’s Vietnam recounts a mostly unexamined story of Southeast Asia’s lasting and varied influence on U.S. aesthetic and political concerns.

Where I Have Never Been: Migration, Melancholia, and Memory in Asian American Narratives of Return, by Patricia P. Chu. In researching accounts of diasporic Chinese offspring who returned to their parents’ ancestral country, author Patricia Chu learned that she was not alone in the experience of growing up in America with an abstract affinity to an ancestral homeland and community. The bittersweet emotions she had are shared in Asian American literature that depicts migration-related melancholia, contests official histories, and portrays Asian American families as flexible and transpacific. Where I Have Never Been explores the tropes of return, tracing both literal return visits by Asian emigrants and symbolic “returns”: first visits by diasporic offspring. Chu argues that these Asian American narratives seek to remedy widely held anxieties about cultural loss and the erasure of personal and family histories from public memory.

Sticky Rice: A Politics of Intraracial Desire, by Cynthia Wu, examines representations of same-sex desires and intraracial intimacies in some of the most widely read pieces of Asian American literature. Analyzing canonical works such as John Okada’s No-No Boy, Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt, H. T. Tsiang’s And China Has Hands, and Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s Blu’s Hanging, as well as Philip Kan Gotanda’s play, Yankee Dawg You Die, Wu considers how male relationships in these texts blur the boundaries among the homosocial, the homoerotic, and the homosexual in ways that lie beyond our concepts of modern gay identity. Wu lays bare the trope of male same-sex desires that grapple with how Asian America’s internal divides can be resolved in order to resist assimilation.

The Joys and Challenges of Studying Contemporary Protests

This week in North Philly Notes, Ming-sho Ho, author of Challenging Beijing’s Mandate of Heavenwrites about tracing of the long afterlife of the Sunflower Movement and the Umbrella Movement, the subjects of his new book.

Like many book authors, I felt like a weary wayfarer approaching the journey’s destination when my Challenging Beijing’s Mandate of Heaven: Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement and Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement was printed in January 2019. When receiving the package of author copies, it is not so much an occasion for triumphal celebration, but rather a moment of relief for ending the seemingly endless proofreading and copyediting of a manuscript one has grown tired of rereading.

My book investigates two consequential protests in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Both the Sunflower Movement and the Umbrella Movement took place in 2014, and challenged the growing China’s sharp power in these two societies. The pair of protests shared many similarities, such as student leadership, the participation of educated youth, the reliance on digital communication, and the tactic of nonviolence, which amounted to an inviting topic for comparativists. These two movements have garnered scholarly consideration, as witnessed by the mushrooming publication in the forms of journal special issues and edited volumes. To my knowledge, mine will be the first monograph that deals with both cases at the same time.

When I initiated the contact with Temple University Press editors, the book prospectus stated the goal as a “standard reference of the genesis, the process, and the outcome” of the two major movements. While the first two research targets were relatively straightforward, the tracing of the long afterlife of the Sunflower Movement and the Umbrella Movement after their occupy protesters were gone turned out to be more challenging and exciting than expected.

challenging beijings mandate of heaven_smWhen the book manuscript was submitted in spring 2018, there were already signs that the governments of Beijing and Hong Kong have already ratcheted up repression against Umbrella activists. Six newly elected pro-Umbrella legislative councilors were deprived of their membership due to a technical issue of swearing-in. There were more harsh reprisals that I did not have time to put in the book, such as the draconian sentencing of Fishball Revolution participants (up to seven years in prison), the de-facto banning of Joshua Wong’s Demosisto from electoral participation, the disbanding of independence-leaning Hong Kong National Party, and the criminalizing of disrespectful behaviors during national anthem singing. In spite of these political headwinds, younger generation of activists inspired by the Umbrella Movement continued to explore new zones of engagement to promote the unfinished project of democratization.

Post-Sunflower Taiwan did not witness such crackdown; in fact, the subsequent years have largely followed the aspiration of that movement: the pro-China ruling party was voted out of the office, the rise of a progressive party that emerged to be the third largest in the legislature, and the advance of same-sex marriage legalization. However, in the local election and national referendums held in November 2018, Taiwan’s conservatives mounted a successful comeback in the issues of nuclear energy and same-sex marriage. The pro-China opposition party scored a major victory and now poised to win back the national power in the 2020 presidential election. Such drastic reversal highlighted the perils of the low supporting rate that the current presidency chronically faced since taking the office. The silver lining was that more than twenty newly elected local councilors hailed from the Sunflower Movement. Spreading across a number of political parties, these new political faces were in their late twenties and early thirties, and they have the potentials to become Taiwan’s future political leaders for progressive causes.

Studying the contemporary protests incurs the risk of having one’s conclusions “upended” by the latest development. And by the time an academic book has passed the rigorous review and production process, what is painfully described and analyzed has become the history. The Egyptian Tahrir Revolution of 2011 has inspired numerous scholarly works. Yet, the mass euphoria of ending a strongman’s rule and his police state was all too brief; the current situation in Egypt was as repressive as before, and the knowledge that a “successful” revolution has achieved nothing increased the bitterness.

In 1972, China’s Premier Zhou Enlai purported to claim “it is still too early” to speak of the result of the French Revolution of 1789. Such humble acknowledgment of one’s limitation appears to be a necessary reminder for the students of current affairs. The appraisal of the movement results can be different depending on one’s time horizon. A takeaway here is that one should avoiding using the judgmental terms of “success” or “failure” in describing the end of a protest episode. In the case of Taiwan and Hong Kong, it is tempting to jump into this conclusion because the Sunflower Movement and the Umbrella Movement has such contrasting endings (a triumphal farewell party versus a mass arrest).

In addition to allowing more room for subsequent development, scholarly attention is also better devoted to those intermediating processes, rather than the final results. In the field of social movement study, the focus on “mechanism”, understood as a universal casual relationship and hence a building block for those “processes” commonly seen in protests, have gain acceptance among research practitioners. Implicit in this methodological reorientation is an understanding that social scientists better stay away from the risky business of predicting dependent variables (usually the results of social movements). It will be more productive to locate and unravel those multiple mechanisms taking place during social movements.

There are joys and challenges in studying the contemporary social movements; after all they are one of the contending forces that attempt to shape the world we are now living in. With the cautious avoidance on the movement result and more attention to the intermediating processes, I am hoping my new book can contribute to the intellectual project of making sense of current politics.

History Lessons: Henry Sugimoto’s Art on the Japanese American Experience

This week in North Philly Notes, Edward Tang, author of From Confinement to Containment, describes the art and life of Japanese American artist Henry Sugimoto, one of the subjects featured in his new book.

In light of the current debates about immigrants, border walls, detention centers, and travel bans, I often think about the Japanese American artist Henry Sugimoto (1900-1990), one of four cultural figures I examine in From Confinement to Containment: Japanese/American Arts during the Early Cold War. Along with his family, Sugimoto was incarcerated in the camps at Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas, during World War II, solely because of their racial and ethnic background. When the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, many Issei (Japanese immigrants in the United States, including Sugimoto) and their American-born Nisei children were suspected of being loyal to Japan. Pressure from various political and farming interests intensified on the federal government to oust Japanese Americans from the West Coast. As a result, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which mandated the removal of over 110,000 of them to detention facilities located in the most desolate environments in the nation’s interior. That two-thirds of these civilians imprisoned without trial were U.S. citizens (the Nisei) hardly mattered to the rest of the country. Sugimoto painted many heart-rending scenes of what mothers and fathers, the elderly, single folks, and even infants experienced during their removal and confinement, as evidenced in one striking composition, Nisei Babies in Concentration Camp (circa 1943). But the artist also made sure to portray a subordinated community’s endurance, creativity, and love for one another in the midst of such trying conditions.  

fig 1_nisei babies
After the war, Sugimoto continued to paint scenes of the mass confinement and also became interested in the broader history of Japanese Americans in the United States, rendering muralist portrayals of their immigrant past. Some depicted episodes of racism and other obstacles faced, a theme initially explored in his paintings about the wartime incarceration. In an untitled piece featuring the words “STOP PICTURE BRIDE” (circa 1965), Sugimoto takes note of the immigration bans at the turn of the twentieth century. Japanese men first came to America as much-needed agricultural laborers, but white fears of a growing “yellow peril” instigated several legislative acts that restricted their further entry. These included limits on “picture brides” — Japanese women who came to marry those immigrant men and thus establish families and communities in the United States (a development to be averted, in white nativist eyes).
In the image, Sugimoto juxtaposes two symbols of America: Uncle Sam (state power) and Lady Liberty (the ideals of freedom and democracy). The artist transforms Uncle Sam’s “I Want You” finger-pointing, derived from the World War I recruiting poster calling on Americans to make the world safe for democracy, to an “I Don’t Want You” glare and gesture directed at Asian immigrants. Yet the Statue of Liberty, representing the cosmopolitan embrace of the world’s incoming peoples, stands above Uncle Sam and alongside the Japanese picture bride, which reveals how Sugimoto felt about the compatibility between the nation’s principles and the newcomers appearing at its shores.

fig 2_stop picture bride
Sugimoto himself journeyed from Japan to America in 1919. His parents were already in the United States before the 1907 Gentlemen’s Agreement that curbed Japanese entry, so he was able to join them through a chain migration process. His first love was for French Postimpressionism and other European styles of art. He gained an international reputation in the 1930s with his artistic promise and traveled widely. But the wartime imprisonment of Japanese Americans quashed his public visibility and pushed him to a muralist sensibility that conveyed subtle, and often outright, political protest. During the early Cold War era, however, Sugimoto continued to labor in obscurity. Few wanted to address the injustice of confining Japanese Americans, especially when this population was now seen as a new “model minority” to promote a benevolent, multiethnic America and when Japan became a new U.S. ally in the fight against communism and Soviet expansion. With the advent of increased Asian American activism in the late 1960s and the growing movement for reparations for the Japanese American confinement, critics and audiences began to pay more attention to Sugimoto’s efforts. In 2001, the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles hosted the largest retrospective of his work. What is important to remember is that between the 1940s and 1960s, before this renewed public notice emerged, Sugimoto was detailing scenes of war, racism, immigration, and incarceration as intimately entangled issues that still resonate to this day.

Considering gay economies of desire, intraracial romance, and sexual intimacy

This week in North Philly Notes, Cynthia Wu, author of Sticky Rice, writes about issues of race and sexuality, the subjects of her new book, a critical literary study.

Last month, Sinakhone Keodara, a Lao American actor, screenwriter, and entertainment executive, made headlines when he announced on Twitter his plans to file a class-action lawsuit against Grindr, a popular geosocial networking app for men interested in dating other men. The problem? The commonplace declarations that announce “no Asians,” which are allowed by moderators to remain on user profiles. Those who broadcast this restriction are mostly, but not exclusively, white.  Their ubiquity creates a hostile climate for Asian American men.

In a separate statement, Keodara clarified that white men should not “flatter [themselves]” to imagine that Asian American men need to convince them of their appeal. Rather, these outward expressions of racial loathing tap into a larger historical fetch of inequities leveled against people of Asian descent—from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the World War II Japanese American internment, and the Department of Homeland Security’s present-day profiling of Arab and South Asian Americans.

Keodara’s refusal to uphold white men’s primacy in the gay economy of desire resonates with the premises of Sticky Rice: A Politics of Intraracial Desire.  “Sticky rice” is a term coined by gay Asian American men to denote those amongst them who prefer intraracial romantic and sexual intimacies. As the logic goes, Asian American men who stick to themselves—like the types of rice grains favored by many Asian cuisines—disrupt presumptions about their aspirations to both whiteness and heteronormativity.

Sticky Rice_smMy book is not an ethnography of these men, however. It is a literary critical study that borrows from their language of intraracial bonding to revisit some of the most widely read selections in the canon of Asian American literature. In so doing, it revises an origin narrative about this body of work that has taken the heterosexuality of its seminal texts for granted.

John Okada’s 1957 novel, No-No Boy, presents a key example of how returning to old texts with new lenses produces a more nuanced story about the rise of an Asian American arts and culture movement. The novel, ignored upon its publication, was later championed by an all-male vanguard of separatist cultural producers in the early 1970s. These novelists, poets, and playwrights were known for their public condemnation of femininity and queerness. Okada’s work, they asserted, portrayed a shining model of politicized Asian American manhood in line with their stringent ideals.

No-No Boy, set in the period right after World War II, tells the story of an unlikely friendship between two Japanese American men, a disabled veteran and a nondisabled draft resister. The former holds the approval of the United States for his patriotic sacrifice to the nation, while the latter is condemned for his refusal to join the Army from within the confines of an internment camp.

The novel is often read as a treatise on the impossibility of choosing between a violent and—ultimately—fatal assimilation and a resistance that could not be realized in the midst of the Cold War. What has been overlooked in the literary criticism on No-No Boy is the erotic and sexual attraction between the main characters. I argue that the bond between the two men dissipates the either-or dichotomy that divided Japanese Americans during and after the war. Moreover, it calls into question the favorability of proximity to whiteness and heterosexuality alike.

That men of color could afford or would want to turn away from these trappings of legitimacy is often unthinkable. The lawsuit Keodara is threatening against Grindr, after all, is a reaction to the social acceptability of rejecting Asian American men on racially discriminatory grounds. We all know that a common response to rejection is more impassioned efforts at inclusion.

However, rather than compensatorily clinging to mainstream standards, the male characters in Asian American literature’s seminal texts show that we need a wholesale rethinking of love, intimacy, justice, and community. Their bonds with one another and their relentless intent to stick together become the basis on which we can imagine a different order of values.

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