INTRODUCTION TO ASIAN AMERICAN DIASPORA STUDIES
Treated as “forever foreign,” not quite a minority (a “model”), Asians resurface in U.S. national culture from time to time, remembered anew amid perennial forgetting. What conditions this (dis)appearance and how does it define Asian American identity? When do Asian Americans emerge in the mainstream and to what extent does invisibility betray a constitutive role in U.S. history? This course charts the shifting place of Asians in the modernizing of America—their structural relation to U.S. sovereignty along with the solidarities and fissures, or inclusions and exclusions, within and beyond the America they reclaim. We will begin by reviewing the rise and current state of Asian American studies as a field of study in the context of political struggle and academic change. We will then read literary and cultural texts alongside ethnic historiography and criticism to trace the evolution of America’s relation to an other it cannot see as a part of itself. Through three, double-sided lines of inquiry, we will lay bare the historical conditions of the present as well as the diversity of an ever unseen but by no means vanishing—in fact, the opposite—constituency.
First, we will trace new “developments” in representation to the family’s longstanding construction as a contested medium of immigrant assimilation and the transnational migration of an economically vital yet politically excluded labor force—of coolies, “cheap farmers,” “illegal aliens,” and the colonized. Long before its “pivot to Asia,” the U.S. has imagined the Pacific as an “American lake,” which is littered by eerily reminiscent yet forgotten wars. This making of a “new” empire through wars on magical waters is the second axis we will examine by looking at the “unincorporation,” internment, and proxy wars to which Asians have been subjected and contradictions among Asians due to diasporic nationalism and empire soldiering. Finally, we will (re)turn to the “new” forms of visibility, often couched in capitalist and technological terms, that increasingly characterize Asians in America to discern interracial, indeed interspecies, relations and conflict amid their simultaneous projection to the past and the future. In providing a critical history of Asian America as a cultural and disciplinary formation, this course will expand the field’s foundational concerns toward a transpacific and hemispheric Asia/America and explore minor adoptions and resistances of America, including of its aesthetic trajectory from realism to modernism, postmodernism, and beyond.
Texts may include Crazy Rich Asians, The Year of the Dragon, America is in the Heart, Obasan, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, We Should Never Meet, Tropic of Orange, Philippine–American War editorial cartoons, Homecoming King, Robot Stories, Coolies and Cane, Impossible Subjects, The Quest for
Statehood, Soldiering through Empire, Immigrant Acts, America's Asia, The Oriental Obscene, Alien Capital, Consuming Japan, and Dangerous Crossings. Students will be evaluated based on class participation and presentations, written responses, (con)textual analysis, and comparative analysis or historical synthesis. This course will be taught online. Students will be required to attend the course on Zoom. Additional instruction and participation may take place through Sakai forums, small group sessions, and/or virtual office hours.