Celebrating Temple University Press Books at the Urban Affairs Association conference

This week in North Philly Notes, we spotlight our new Urban Studies titles, which will be on display at the Urban Affairs Association conference, April 24-27 in Los Angeles, CA.

On April 25, at 3:30 pm, Latino Mayors, edited by Marion Orr and Domingo Morel, will be the subject of a panel discussion.

On April 26, at 2:05 pm, Alan Curtis, co-editor of Healing Our Divided Society, will participate in a presentation entitled, The Kerner Commission 50 Years Later

Temple University Press titles in Urban Studies for 2018-2019

Architectures of Revolt: The Cinematic City circa 1968, edited by Mark Shiel
Coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the worldwide mass protest movements of 1968—against war, imperialism, racism, poverty, misogyny, and homophobia—the exciting anthology Architectures of Revolt explores the degree to which the real events of political revolt in the urban landscape in 1968 drove change in the attitudes and practices of filmmakers and architects alike.

Constructing the Patriarchal City: Gender and the Built Environments of London, Dublin, Toronto, and Chicago, 1870s into the 1940sby Maureen A. Flanagan
Constructing the Patriarchal City compares the ideas and activities of men and women in four English-speaking cities that shared similar ideological, professional, and political contexts. Historian Maureen Flanagan investigates how ideas about gender shaped
the patriarchal city as men used their expertise in architecture, engineering, and planning to fashion a built environment for male economic enterprise and to confine women in the private home. Women consistently challenged men to produce a more
equitable social infrastructure that included housing that would keep people inside the city, public toilets for women as well as men, housing for single, working women, and public spaces that were open and safe for all residents.

Contested Image: Defining Philadelphia for the Twenty-First Century, by Laura M. Holzman
Laura Holzman investigates the negotiations and spirited debates that affected the city of Philadelphia’s identity and its public image. She considers how the region’s cultural resources reshaped the city’s reputation as well as delves into discussions about official efforts to boost local spirit. In tracking these “contested images,” Holzman illuminates the messy process of public envisioning of place and the ways in which public dialogue informs public meaning of both cities themselves and the objects of urban identity.

Courting the Community: Legitimacy and Punishment in a Community Court, by
Christine Zozula
Courting the Community is a fascinating ethnography that goes behind the scenes to explore how quality-of-life discourses are translated into court practices that marry therapeutic and rehabilitative ideas. Christine Zozula shows how residents and businesses participate in meting out justice—such as through community service, treatment, or other sanctions—making it more emotional, less detached, and more legitimate in the eyes of stakeholders. She also examines both “impact panels,” in which offenders, residents, and business owners meet to discuss how quality-of-life crimes negatively impact the neighborhood, as well as strategic neighborhood outreach efforts to update residents on cases and gauge their concerns.

Daily Labors: Marketing Identity and Bodies on a New York City Street Corner, by Carolyn Pinedo-Turnovsky
Daily Labors reveals how ideologies about race, gender, nation, and legal status operate on the corner and the vulnerabilities, discrimination, and exploitation workers face in this labor market. Pinedo-Turnovsky shows how workers market themselves to conform to employers’ preconceptions of a “good worker” and how this performance paradoxically leads to a more precarious workplace experience. Ultimately, she sheds light on belonging, community, and what a “good day laborer” for these workers really is.

Democratizing Urban Development: Community Organizations for Housing across the United States and Brazil, by Maureen M. Donaghy
Rising housing costs put secure and decent housing in central urban neighborhoods in peril. How do civil society organizations (CSOs) effectively demand accountability from the state to address the needs of low-income residents? In her groundbreaking book, Democratizing Urban Development, Maureen Donaghy charts the constraints and potential opportunities facing these community organizations. She assesses the various strategies CSOs engage to influence officials and ensure access to affordable housing through policies, programs, and institutions.

Ecohumanism and the Ecological Culture: The Educational Legacy of Lewis
Mumford and Ian McHarg, by William J. Cohen, With a Foreword by
Frederick R. Steiner
Lewis Mumford, one of the most respected public intellectuals of the twentieth century, speaking at a conference on the future environments of North America, said, “In order to
secure human survival we must transition from a technological culture to an ecological culture.” In Ecohumanism and the Ecological Culture, William Cohen shows how  Mumford’s conception of an educational philosophy was enacted by Mumford’s
mentee, Ian McHarg, the renowned landscape architect and regional planner at the University of Pennsylvania. McHarg advanced a new way to achieve an ecological culture through an educational curriculum based on fusing ecohumanism to the planning and design disciplines.

Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America Fifty Years after the Kerner Report, edited by Fred Harris and Alan Curtis
Outstanding Academic Title, Choice, 2018

In Healing Our Divided Society, Fred Harris, the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission, along with Eisenhower Foundation CEO Alan Curtis, re-examine fifty years later the work still necessary towards the goals set forth in The Kerner Report. This timely volume unites the interests of minorities and white working- and middle-class Americans to propose a strategy to reduce poverty, inequality, and racial injustice. Reflecting on America’s urban climate today, this new report sets forth evidence-based
policies concerning employment, education, housing, neighborhood development, and criminal justice based on what has been proven to work—and not work.

Latino Mayors:  Political Change in the Postindustrial City, edited by Marion Orr and Domingo Morel
As recently as the early 1960s, Latinos were almost totally excluded from city politics. This makes the rise of Latino mayors in the past three decades a remarkable American story—one that explains ethnic succession, changing urban demography, and political contexts. The vibrant collection Latino Mayors features case studies of eleven Latino mayors in six American cities: San Antonio, Los Angeles, Denver, Hartford, Miami, and Providence.

Painting Publics: Transnational Legal Graffiti Scenes as Spaces for Encounter, by
Caitlin Frances Bruce
Public art is a form of communication that enables spaces for encounters across difference. These encounters may be routine, repeated, or rare, but all take place in urban spaces infused with emotion, creativity, and experimentation. In Painting Publics,
Caitlin Bruce explores how various legal graffiti scenes across the United States, Mexico, and Europe provide diverse ways for artists to navigate their changing relationships with publics, institutions, and commercial entities.

Advertisements

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!…

unnamed

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.

Art in the Age of Magnetic Reproduction

This week in North Philly Notes, Laura Holzman, author of Contested Image, appreciates a magnet of Thomas Eakins’s painting The Gross Clinic, one of the artworks featured in her new book.

GrossClinic1-575x715I have a Gross Clinic magnet on my refrigerator. That’s right—a reproduction of Thomas Eakins’s celebrated 1875 painting helps keep coupons, family photos, and wedding invitations in their place. When I reach for the yogurt I see Dr. Samuel Gross leading a surgical procedure to remove infected bone from his patient’s thigh. If I glance up while chopping carrots, I see a body on an operating table. How did an image that was once deemed too gory for display in an art gallery come to be a regular view during meal prep?

My dad gave me the magnet a few years ago. He knew that I had been studying the painting, so when he saw the magnet in the gift shop at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he couldn’t resist. He’d picked out other magnets for me in the past—usually from national parks where he’d gone hiking. But this one surprised me. I did an amused double-take when he put it in my hand. It wasn’t that a famous artwork had been reproduced on an everyday object—anyone who’s been to a museum gift shop has seen the likenesses of notable works of art printed on mugs, t-shirts, umbrellas, and more. I was struck instead by this particular image. In The Gross Clinic, doctors perform an innovative operation while an audience observes from their seats in the surgical theater. Visually, the striking contrast between deep shadows and bright highlights directs a viewer’s attention to the lead surgeon and the patient. A team of doctors hold the patient still, keep him sedated, and probe the incision in his leg. There is blood on Dr. Gross’s hands. A cringing woman averts her eyes. The medical team focuses on their work. This is undeniably an intense scene. It’s apparently also one that makes a good souvenir from a visit to the museum.

The Gross Clinic has taken on different meanings since Eakins completed it. It has been rejected from and embraced in fine-art settings. It has been used to tell stories about the artist, the period when he lived and worked, the history of art, and Philadelphia. Eakins conceived of the painting as a submission to the Centennial Exhibition, the 1876 world’s fair held in Philadelphia. The organizers of the festival, concerned about the raw imagery, decided that it was more appropriate for display in a medical exhibit than in an art gallery. By the time Eakins died in 1916, the painting had been included in prominent art exhibitions, and essays memorializing the artist gave the painting high praise. For more than 120 years the painting was part of the collection of Jefferson University, the medical school where Dr. Gross had been a beloved faculty member. In 2006, when Jefferson University announced plans to sell The Gross Clinic—potentially to an out-of-state collector—the painting acquired yet another layer of meaning. Local audiences who helped the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts jointly purchase the painting embraced it as a city icon that belonged in Philadelphia and nowhere else.

Contested Image_smThe fundraising and public relations campaign to keep The Gross Clinic in Philadelphia is one of the key episodes I examine in Contested Image: Defining Philadelphia for the Twenty-First Century. The book demonstrates how passionate, wide-reaching public conversations about where art belongs in the city were tied to Philadelphia’s changing reputation around the year 2000. By examining the public discourse surrounding The Gross Clinic sale and by looking closely at the painting itself, I show how the identity of the painting and the identity of the city became intertwined.

This important part of the painting’s recent history affects how viewers today encounter The Gross Clinic. In the museum, visitors are invited to connect the story of the sale with their understanding of the artwork because the credit line on the object label acknowledges the thousands of people who contributed to the fundraising campaign. At home, there’s no credit line to provide that context, but the magnet itself reframes the nineteenth-century artwork depicted on its surface. The diminutive scale—just 9 by 6.5 centimeters—and the flatness of the print discourage close looking. When I see the magnet, I recognize the image as The Gross Clinic, but I don’t look carefully the way I would look at the actual painting. Downplaying the artwork as object shifts the emphasis to what it represents: Eakins’s artistry, medical excellence, a trip to the museum, the city of Philadelphia. When I look at the magnet, I don’t see the bloody wound. I see a reminder of a place (Philadelphia) and an activity (visiting the museum, raising money to keep the painting local). In that way it’s not so different from the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone magnets that hang on the door nearby.

Exploring Public Art Worlds

This week in North Philly Notes, Caitlin Frances Bruce, author of Painting Publics, writes about the transnational graffiti art scenes she discovered. 

Those of us who live in the United States are experiencing the daily effects of a media and political sphere that is deeply polarized due to ideological but also algorithmic frameworks that make transformative dialogue difficult, if not impossible. As we are bombarded with images of white supremacist violence, environmental catastrophe, and warnings about social alienation, it is not surprising that many are drawn to histories of political intervention that are spectacular and dramatic. We need such interventions. But, I would argue, and many other public theory scholars have, such a focus on the drama of revolutionary praxis elides the ordinary labor and infrastructure maintenance that often goes on behind the scenes.

Painting Publics_SMWhile Painting Publics is focused on graffiti, a rich and engaging scene for scholarly study and creative practice, its insights go beyond legal graffiti worlds. It emerged out of homesickness. When I moved to Evanston, Illinois for undergraduate studies I was in a new suburban environment and acutely missed the density, heterogeneity, and intensity of New York City. When I went into Chicago it was a surprise to be met by gargantuan blocks and, in the downtown Loop, a distinct lack of the kind of dwelling and use of parks that was common in my native Inwood, Manhattan. I was lucky to take a course on Urban History from Gergeley Baics and Contemporary Art from Hannah Feldman where I learned about different philosophies of urban planning and development that helped to explain how and why cities like New York and Chicago evolved differently, producing different possibilities and models of encounters, and why different frameworks for artmaking and relationships to site and publics shifts the meaning of the work in public space. With some funding from Northwestern I conducted a survey of murals in Puerto Rican, Mexican, and other Latin American neighborhoods in Chicago: Humboldt Park, Logan Square, and Pilsen. This was in 2006 when intense debates about Tax Increment Funding and gentrification were going strong. It was after the displacements caused by UIC’s expansion, but before the creation of the 606 walking trail that seems to have cemented a new kind of dispossession in South and West Chicago. Though graffiti came up in my interview with Jon Pounds of the Chicago Public Art Group who framed it as a kind of evolution of muralism, I was unsure of how to meet or understand an art form that primarily seemed to be based on anonymity and illegality.

In 2009 a colleague in Art History, Angelina Lucento, invited me along for a mural tour led by Kymberly Pinder. On the tour, which largely focused on iconic murals from the Chicago Mural Movement and the Black Arts Movement Pinder mentioned a legal graffiti festival: the Meeting of Styles. I went to the Chicago iteration of the festival in September, 2010, and my whole definition of graffiti, of public art, and of site specificity changed. At the festival, I was met with boisterous publicity, racial heterogeneity, and a kind of deep connection to site by artists who practiced a form of public communication (graffiti writing) that was often condemned as thoughtless vandalism, empty words, visual pollution. After attending my first Meeting of Styles in Chicago, between 2010 to 2017 I attended different iterations of this festival in Mexico City/Ciudad Neza, Mexico, Chicago, Illinois, Perpignan, France, and Wiesbaden, Germany where I met and interviewed about 100 artists.

Through exploring public art worlds in Chicago, and then in Mexico, France, and Germany, I learned about global frameworks for mentorship, friendship, solidarity, and worldmaking. Following scholars like Lauren Berlant, Bonnie Honig, Jessica Greenberg, Éduoard Glissant, Chantal Mouffe, Jacques Rancière and Robert Hariman, this project seeks to explore how public intimacy, public objects, social practice and public visual cultures oriented towards abundance create more mid-level but important scenes of creativity and solidarity. Such spaces are crucial in creating a renewed sense of possibility in the wake of structural violence and the long shadow of the given.

The festival, part of a transnational network, reveals scenes of “spaces for encounter”: “spaces for encounters across difference” that might be “contact, convergence or conflict…routine, repeated, or rare. It is infused with contingency…a physical or virtual locale that is framed in such a way as to encourage transformative engagements, even when its initial purpose may have been very different.” Painting Publics, which explores scenes of publicity and public making through visual culture seeks to expand conversations in visual communication beyond a focus on official/vernacular, resistance/cooption, text/image, and icon/ordinary binaries to attend to the “grey areas” and social processes that are also part of the rhetorical warp and weave of public life. Encounters are crucial if we are to “meaningfully address social and political inequalities and forms of violence, micro and macro, because spaces for encounter function to reactivate the sense of the contingent in social and political space.”

 

 

Meet Temple University Press’s new acquiring editor, Sarah Munroe!

This week in North Philly Notes, a Q&A with our new acquiring editor, Sarah Munroe. 

Sarah Munroe joined Temple University Press’s editorial team this week. She will be acquiring titles in Asian American studies, gender and sexuality studies, disability studies, literary studies, as well as regional interest. She comes to the Press after experience at West Virginia University Press and the Pew Charitable Trusts. She has an MFA in creative writing with a focus in poetry.

SarahMunroe

We asked her about her book and reading habits to get to know her better.

What book(s) are you currently reading?
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (short stories)
The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh (novel)
Indecency by Justin Phillip Reed (poetry)

What’s the last great book you read?
Toddler-Hunting and Other Stories by Taeko Kono – It’s such a deliciously sinister title! The stories were written in the 1960s and set in mid-twentieth century Japan. The restraint and orderliness of the language, setting, and scenarios contrasts surprisingly with the proclivities and obsessions of the characters, yet I found I wanted to recommend each story to a different friend as being somehow meaningful to their own current life situations.

Also, Milkman by Anna Burns—the way its structured is masterful. She tells you up front where it’s going to go, but the back and forth in time and the swelling of nearly overwhelming mundane detail somehow sustains tension and creates suspense leading up to the ending. The images and emotional landscape really stuck with me.

What book made the greatest impression on you?
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Country Music: Selected Early Poems by Charles Wright

Which writers do you love (or hate) the most?
Love: Maggie Nelson, Anne Carson, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Hass, and every now and then I need to read some Margaret Atwood to feel grounded again.

When and how do you read?
I read on the subway to and from work, usually the New Yorker. During my lunch I like to take a walk to clear my mind for half the time and then read a book while I eat (apologies to my new coworkers if I appear antisocial, it’s my introvert). I read before bed every night, usually a novel. I’ll read in the evenings while my husband plays video games, and in a coffee shop on the weekends while he draws, or in bed on the weekends if I wake up before he does. I wake up early one morning a week to go to my favorite coffee shop and read poetry and some kind of writing book—that keeps me sane.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
Ha, I have eclectic interests and buy retired books from the library for a quarter with the intention to read and then donate to Free Little Library, so I have amassed an odd assortment. But Mind Hunter by John Douglas has been sitting by my bed for a long time, and I probably won’t donate it when I’m done. I started reading true crime as “research” for a PhD I thought I might try to get, but now I just need to fess up to the fact that I am among the stereotype who consume it.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine?
Does Anne of Green Gables count? She was so plucky. Or Indiana Jones—the scholar adventurist.

What Temple University Press book has particular meaning to you?
2502_regWho Will Speak for America?edited by Stephanie Feldman and Nathaniel Popkin. I attended a Writers Resist event in Philadelphia in January 2017 that was part of the inspiration for this collection. At the time, I was in my last semester in grad school for an MFA in creative writing in poetry at West Virginia University. The MFA program itself was great, fully funded, and it gave me the opportunity to work at WVU Press for two years, which is how I’m now at TUP, so I’m incredibly grateful. However, the pursuit of poetry sometimes made me want to put my head on a desk for a long time. The Writers Resist event though—local writers reading their works and works of others—and the writing and art that came out in response to it, is a testament to the power of writing and creative expression in how it brings people together and offers a communal and individual forum for mourning, for rage, and for hope.

2453_regWhat Temple University Press book would you recommended to someone?
The Man-Not, by Tommy J. Curry. Actually, I have yet to read it—it’s next on my list—so if you read it, we can discuss it!

What book will you read next?
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World. I got it for Christmas, and it’s since been sitting on the dinosaur bookshelf, time to dust it off.

What three writers would you invite to a dinner party?
I couldn’t. I would be too nervous to meet them and stressed about cooking and what to say and if they like each other and if they mind that one of my dogs just piddled with excitement. I would garden with Louise Glück and possibly discuss murder mysteries, take a walk with Rebecca Solnit, and have whiskey with Margaret Atwood.

Coming Home: Asian American root journey narratives

This week in North Philly Notes, Patricia Chu, author of Where I Have Never Been, writes about developing her interest in narratives of return.

About sixteen years ago, I decided to go to Taiwan to give a paper on stories about Chinese Americans who visited China for the first time. At the time, I was in the same position as the heroine of an Amy Tan novel, for my mother had died just about a year earlier, and I had never seen mainland China or the relatives who lived there. A friend told me I needed to develop an international audience, and I was invited to attend a conference on history and memory in Taiwan. I hadn’t traveled much during my mother’s illness and my probationary, pre-tenure existence, so I threw together a proposal for a paper on Asian American roots journeys—narratives where Asian Americans returned to their parents’ homelands for the first time. Oddly, I felt at home in Taipei, which I had last visited as a child with my immigrant parents and American siblings. Despite my illiteracy in Mandarin and my failure to buy local currency before leaving the airport (not being used to traveling alone outside the U.S.), I felt happy, surrounded for the first time in years by Chinese people, and staying in a hotel that offered noodles and rice porridge for breakfast.

My conference paper began by describing a set of personal essays about the experience of coming to China for the first time. This was Cultural Curiosity: Thirteen Stories about the Search for Chinese Roots, edited by Josephine M. T. Khu. The writers of these essays belonged, as I did, to the generations born abroad by members of the Chinese diaspora.  Like the writers Amy Tan and Gish Jen, the designer and architect Maya Lin, and many others, the writers in this collection were children of emigrants; having grown up outside of China, they had visited China for the first time as adults after it was reopened to the west. In my paper, I talked about the cultural steps taken by these essayists, many of whom were estranged linguistically, culturally, or personally from their family origins. They studied Chinese; they learned about Chinese customs; and they arrived as foreigners in China, often meeting their relatives for the first time, and struggling to understand the complex family histories their relatives related. One contributor, Lily Wu, recounted how, as visiting student at Beijing University in the 1980s, she was welcomed by her Chinese relatives while studying in Beijing, but was embarrassed to see them, because no one had informed them of her mother’s mental illness. When she got to know her mother’s brother, he and his wife took her to see her mother’s favorite sister, who had cared for her mother when they were girls. Tragically, this beautiful aunt, who resembled her mother, had also become mentally ill and been placed in a mental hospital. When Lily met her aunt, she was stricken, not only by the dozens of stories she had heard by that time of her classmates’ trials during the Cultural Revolution; not only by the terrible waste she could see in her aunt’s desolate existence; but also by the realization of her own loss when her own loving mother, due to her mental illness, had psychologically withdrawn. As I recounted Lily’s tale of overwhelming sadness and tears, and her uncle’s kind response, to my scholarly audience, I also felt stricken with sadness and deeply moved by her story. Khu’s collection had confirmed for me the stakes of this literature of migration and return: loss, mourning, reconciliation, and the telling of stories before they vanished.

Where I Have Never Been_smDuring the next fifteen years, I reviewed over 100 Asian American stories in which the theme of return drove the narrative, opened or closed doors, or defined crucial moments in people’s lives. I considered films, plays, novels, some poetry, autobiographies, memoirs, and family histories, including a wider ethnic spectrum than I can describe here. I saw that my own wish to see my parents’ country was reflected in dozens of Asian American texts and is deeply American. Indeed, the trope of return to a parent’s homeland pops up in American texts from Presidential memoirs (President Obama’s Dreams of My Father) to Hollywood films about adoptees in search of their roots (Lion; Kung Fu Panda 2). Clearly, the search for origins theme had a universal aspect. But what elements of these stories were specific to Asian Americans?

In the case of Chinese Americans, I began by believing that the position of being cut off from the ancestral country during the Cold War, and the resulting alienation and sense of personal and cultural recovery, was in itself a story being examined by a generation of writers. I knew, also, that Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Southeast Asian, and South Asian Americans were affected in various ways by the six decades of the Chinese Exclusion laws. Beginning in 1882, Chinese laborers were forbidden to enter the U.S., with exceptions made only for merchants, diplomats, students, those who had previously lived in the U.S. and could claim the right to reenter, and their children. The law excluded those of Chinese descent, whether they entered from China, Hong Kong, Canada, or Cuba. Those of Chinese descent were also barred from applying for U.S. citizenship. And in the decades after 1882, Congress and the courts had extended the exclusion laws to bar most other Asians from entry and citizenship. When I began reading return narratives, I saw how these laws had resulted in many other Asian Americans being separated from their families, even before the Cold War.

In many return narratives, the stories of earlier generations who had come to the U.S. and returned were rendered more vivid in the family histories of present-day authors who returned to Asia to understand, research, and imagine lives and stories that would otherwise be lost. I was fascinated by the stories of Lisa See’s great-grandparents, an immigrant merchant and a runaway American girl who founded an American family despite the laws against their marriage and built family businesses on both sides of the Pacific, and the story of Denise Chong’s grandmother, a young woman brought to Canada to be the concubine of a Cantonese worker; she supported both two families, one in Canada and one in Guangdong province, on the slender wages of a tea waitress. And I was touched by the story of the father-daughter team, Winberg and May-lee Chai, who described the lives of May-lee’s idealistic grandparents, Charles and Ruth Chai, brilliant scholars who studied in America and returned to rebuild China, only to find that all the seeds of the Republican government’s collapse were already in place by the time they returned in the early 1930s. In the course of my research, I had the chance to speak with Denise Chong about what it meant to break her grandparents’ silence and publish their long-held secrets. She responded that she had searched for a way to remember them and their world as they really were, before it was too late. She became my first model for the author who by writing, seeks to repair the past.

At the very beginning of the tradition of Asian American return narratives is the autobiography of Yung Wing, who came to America in the 19th century, graduated from Yale, became a U.S. citizen, returned to China in mid-century to found the first major educational exchange program between China and the U.S., married an American, and published his autobiography in 1909. As an immigrant who worked in both countries but raised his family in America, Yung not only exemplified and anticipated the transpacific travel patterns found in later stories; his book represented the first attempt by a Chinese American writer to present himself both as a global subject (the equal of European globetrotters who documented their encounters with racial others) and as a kindred spirit to the African American authors of slave narratives. At least, that’s how I see it.

Toward the very end of the tradition—the recent past—I turned to the novels of Lydia Minatoya and Ruth Ozeki to answer my own questions about how the task of representing World War Two and the attached historical controversies have been taken up by Japanese North American writers. For many decades, Japanese Canadian and Japanese American writers have written eloquently about the internment of Japanese North Americans, but have been more cautious about addressing questions of Japan’s World War Two history. However, since the resolutions of the redress movements in Canada and the U.S., Minatoya and Ozeki are among the handful of Japanese American authors who have ventured to consider issues of Japan’s wartime past, and public and private memory, while also telling engaging stories about Japanese women who come to America, then return to Japan.

Did I myself ever return to China and find my long lost relatives? Yes, but that is another story.

 

Applying Black Radical Thought to Palestinian film and media

This week in North Philly Notes, Greg Burris, author of The Palestinian Idea, writes about Black-Palestinian solidarity.

When I look at Israel today, I see Jim Crow. But when I look at Palestine, I think of Black liberation. The potential for such comparisons is evident in the words and actions of three figures in the U.S. who have recently come under fire for their support of Palestine: Ilhan Omar, Angela Davis, and Marc Lamont Hill. Omar was accused of being an anti-Semite after she took to Twitter to criticize AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee). Davis had a civil rights award from an institute in her hometown of Birmingham revoked as a result of her long-standing advocacy of Palestinian liberation. Hill was fired from CNN after he called for a free Palestine in a speech before the United Nations. Besides their support for Palestine, however, these three figures also share another important feature. They are all Black.

By vocally championing the Palestinian cause, each of these people is building upon a foundation of Black-Palestinian solidarity first laid over half a century ago by figures and groups like Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and the Black Panther Party. While in the past these radical ties were developed through traditional media and the printed word, today they are more often forged through YouTube videos, Instagram photos, and Facebook friend requests. In the hyper-connected, social media-saturated, wireless-enabled world in which we live, Black-Palestinian solidarity has gained new visibility.

The Palestinian Idea_061818_smIn recent years, this web of transnational solidarity has received growing scholarly attention, resulting in the proliferation of journal essays, conference panels, and even book-length treatments. In my book, The Palestinian Idea: Film, Media, and the Radical Imagination, I seek to contribute to this solidarity network but not in the way one might expect. Only one chapter is specifically about Black-Palestinian solidarity, but this powerful cocktail of radical thought permeates the entire book. Thus, while the subject of The Palestinian Idea is Palestinian film and media, I tackle it through the lens of Black radical thought. Peppered throughout the book are the words and insights of thinkers like James Cone, C.L.R. James, Audre Lorde, and Assata Shakur, and the book’s theoretical foundation is based largely on the work of my late mentor Cedric Robinson, theorist of the Black Radical Tradition. Thus, while other books chronicle Black-Palestinian solidarity empirically, The Palestinian Idea seeks to take our analysis underground. That is, the book asks how these two powerful traditions of insurgency can speak to each other at the subterranean level, the level of theory, ontology, and epistemology. Exciting things can happen when Palestinian liberation rubs shoulders with Black Power.

As a young, white kid growing up in the post-Jim Crow South, I was greatly troubled by the black-and-white pictures I saw of angry white mobs terrorizing righteous Black heroes. Just twenty years before I was born, the white community of my own hometown had viciously tried to prevent Black students from integrating the local high school and college. Those snapshots of white hatred haunted me, and I remember wondering if I would have had the courage to stand up against it had I been alive at the time. Today, Jim Crow speaks Hebrew. Indeed, how else are we to make sense of the growing network of segregated streets and apartheid walls, the destruction of houses and theft of indigenous lands, the language of ethnic supremacy and hierarchical division. The Israelis even have a word for it: hafrada or separation. Just as Jim Crow had its Black resistors, Zionism has its Palestinian freedom fighters. If we can compare one, why not compare the other?

Thus, today’s Black advocates for Palestine—people like Ilhan Omar, Angela Davis, and Marc Lamont Hill—are doing important work. The hyperbolic reaction their words received proves what we all know to be true, that criticizing Israel is still a dangerous endeavor. Indeed, for some, it can even be career-ending. But there is another lesson here as well, and their words also demonstrate that Black-Palestinian solidarity is still going strong. If today’s racists build walls—whether in Palestine or on the U.S.-Mexico border—it is our job to tear them down. Indeed, that is what the Palestinian Idea is all about.

%d bloggers like this: