Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture by Jennifer Ann Ho (review)

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2016-07-04 18:13Z by Steven

Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture by Jennifer Ann Ho (review)

American Studies
Volume 55, Number 1, 2016
pages 165-166
DOI: 10.1353/ams.2016.006

Jeehyun Lim, Assistant Professor of English
Denison University, Granville, Ohio

Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. By Jennifer Ann Ho. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 2015.

Jennifer Ho’s Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture raises timely questions about the category of Asian American at a time when reexaminations of identity categories are being actively carried out in what the feminist theorist Robyn Wiegman calls fields invested in identity knowledges. As Ho explains in her introduction, questioning the definition of Asian American in and of itself is not a new project. The category of Asian American, while rooted in grassroots social movements of the 1960s and meant to counter the demeaning signification of “Oriental,” has been scrutinized, if not solely then most forcefully, by poststructural critiques such as Kandice Chuh’s Imagine Otherwise. Yet Ho’s project differs from existing critiques in at least two regards. First, it consistently illuminates the concept of racial ambiguity—mostly through mixed-race identities and identifications but also through other norm-defying and transgressive identities and identifications emerging variously from transracial adoptees to the definitions of Asian American texts—as the method of exposing and critiquing the multiple exclusions that arise in the vexed project of Asian American self-determination. Secondly, as much as it is invested in bringing into high relief the impossibility of a rigid and exclusionary definition of Asian American, it is likewise equally invested in reestablishing the category as an important site of knowledge production and of social and cultural engagement…

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Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2015-12-22 04:18Z by Steven

Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture

Rutgers University Press
256 pages
6 x 9
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8135-7070-9
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8135-7069-3
Web PDF ISBN: 978-0-8135-7071-6
epub ISBN: 978-0-8135-7537-7

Jennifer Ann Ho, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The sheer diversity of the Asian American populace makes them an ambiguous racial category. Indeed, the 2010 U.S. Census lists twenty-four Asian-ethnic groups, lumping together under one heading people with dramatically different historical backgrounds and cultures. In Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture, Jennifer Ann Ho shines a light on the hybrid and indeterminate aspects of race, revealing ambiguity to be paramount to a more nuanced understanding both of race and of what it means to be Asian American.

Exploring a variety of subjects and cultural artifacts, Ho reveals how Asian American subjects evince a deep racial ambiguity that unmoors the concept of race from any fixed or finite understanding. For example, the book examines the racial ambiguity of Japanese American Nisei Yoshiko Nakamura deLeon, who during World War II underwent an abrupt transition from being an enemy alien to an assimilating American, via the Mixed Marriage Policy of 1942. It looks at the blogs of Korean, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese Americans who were adopted as children by white American families and have conflicted feelings about their “honorary white” status. And it discusses Tiger Woods, the most famous mixed-race Asian American, whose description of himself as “Cablinasian”—reflecting his background as Black, Asian, Caucasian, and Native American—perfectly captures the ambiguity of racial classifications.

Race is an abstraction that we treat as concrete, a construct that reflects only our desires, fears, and anxieties. Jennifer Ho demonstrates in Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture that seeing race as ambiguous puts us one step closer to a potential antidote to racism.

Table Of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Ambiguous Americans: Race and the State of Asian America
  • 1. From Enemy Alien to Assimilating American: Yoshiko deLeon and the Mixed-Marriage Policy of the Japanese American Incarceration
  • 2. Anti-Sentimental Loss: Stories of Transracial/Transnational Asian American Adult Adoptees in the Blogosphere
  • 3. Cablinasian Dreams, Amerasian Realities: Transcending Race in the Twenty-first Century and Other Myths Broken by Tiger Woods
  • 4. Ambiguous Movements and Mobile Subjectivity: Passing in between Autobiography and Fiction with Paisley Rekdal and Ruth Ozeki
  • 5. Transgressive Texts and Ambiguous Authors: Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Literature
  • Coda: Ending with Origins: My Own Racial Ambiguity
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South (review)

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2012-06-25 21:39Z by Steven

Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South (review)

Journal of Asian American Studies
Volume 15, Number 2, June 2012
pages 225-227
DOI: 10.1353/jaas.2012.0017

Jennifer Ho, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

In her acknowledgements, Leslie Bow admits that she began her research project in order to “explore an omission” (ix)—namely, the underreported stories and history of Asian Americans living in the Jim Crow South. Yet Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South is not merely an attempt to insert Asian Americans into a southern landscape nor is it a catalog of all the areas and arenas in which Asian Americans resided in a segregated south. Instead, Bow’s work articulates a more subtle but no less powerful argument: in thinking of the legacy of southern segregation, racial anomalies—those groups that are neither black nor white—represent a “productive site for understanding the investments that underlie a given system of relations; what is unaccommodated becomes a site of contested interpretation” (4). Partly Colored offers Bow’s interpretation of a selection of these contested sites, predominantly how Asian American subjects become objects of scrutiny and, in Bow’s words, “intermediacy,” but Bow also dedicates a chapter to the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina and their in-between status as neither black nor white. Whether Asian American or American Indian, these racial anomalies of the segregated south are produced through an awareness of their racial difference to both white and black communities. And it is their unique positioning—of being in a state of simultaneous acceptance and abjection—that Bow turns her attention to most forcefully, citing a methodological debt to Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark, since Bow is interested in how an Africanist presence “shadows the admittedly quirky archive of the minor” (Morrison qtd. in Bow 18)—the minor, in this case, being the narratives formed by and about Asian Americans and other racial anomalies in the segregated south.

Framed by an introduction and an afterword, the six substantive chapters of Partly Colored are divided into two parts: Chapters 1 through 3 focus on the ways in which Asian Americans, mestizos, and American Indians distance themselves from African Americans in order to promote their racial identities as more favored and hence less inferior than their black American neighbors. Chapters 4 through 6 look at specific Asian American narratives, created primarily after the contemporary civil rights movement in a post-segregation era, in order to investigate the means by which these Asian American subjects narrate and negotiate their in-between-ness or, in the words of Bow, their “interstitiality.” Indeed, like the term “intermediacy,” “interstitial” is another phrase that Bow uses to theorize her ideas about racial anomalies in segregated southern spaces. Both terms convey the sense of the ambiguous, and in some cases ambivalent, racialized subject—of one who is in-between supposedly fixed racial categories. The former term, “intermediacy,” connotes one who is a stepping-stone on the way to or from a more desired subject position. The latter term, “interstitial,” demonstrates a liminality and porousness that denotes instability and fluctuation. In this sense, both “intermediacy” and “interstitiality” are perfect words to encapsulate the indeterminacy of existing as Asian American amidst a set of racial codes predicated on white supremacy and black oppression; as Bow affirms: “Asian America is a site of multiple ambiguities against which, I would argue, the complexity of black/white relations—often conflated with ‘race relations’—stands out in heightened relief” (225).

In the first three chapters of her work, Bow deftly demonstrates how various communities living in the segregated south—the conjoined twins, Chang and Eng (subjects of Chapter 1), Lumbee Indians (subjects of Chapter 2), and Chinese Americans of the Mississippi Delta (subjects of Chapter 3)—negotiate as intermediate and interstitial bodies within the racially demarcated terrain of the segregated south. Here Bow’s training as a literary critic is in evidence through the skill with which she analyzes the various narratives that these subjects tell about their in-between condition and the ways in which their narratives, in turn, produce a counter-narrative, one that Bow rightly understands as a form of disavowal from African American abjection while…

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