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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David Palumbo-Liu interviews Ruth Ozeki

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Interviews, United States, Women on 2014-09-17 21:51Z by Steven

David Palumbo-Liu interviews Ruth Ozeki

Los Angeles Review of Books

David Palumbo-Liu, Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor; Professor of Comparative Literature and English
Stanford University

Where We Are for the Time Being with Ruth Ozeki

Ruth Ozeki is a novelist, filmmaker, and a Zen Buddhist priest. She is the author of three novels: My Year of Meats (1998), All Over Creation (2003), and A Tale for the Time Being (2013). Her website and other web sources portray a diverse and fascinating set of life experiences and a considerable skill set: she worked on cult SF classic Robot Holocaust and has done straightforward commercial film work, started a language school in Japan, worked as a bar hostess there, made award-winning films herself (Body of Correspondence, Halving the Bones), done extensive study of Zen, and worked as a Zen teacher. Among other things.

In 2013 A Tale for the Time Being was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize as well as for a National Book Critics Award; it won the Kitschies Red Tentacle Award for Best Novel, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. The reviews in the United Kingdom tended to stress that, as The Independent had it, “her novels are witty, intelligent, and passionate.” The reaction of the American press was more boisterous: The Chicago Tribune noted “their shrewd, playful humor, luscious sexiness, and kinetic pizazz.”

Her work is all that, and much more. Her books are deeply involved in issues of science, technology, gender, and attend both to deep history and to the contemporary. They are concerned with our minds and bodies, but even more particularly with our spirit, and with our commitment to the future. I spoke with Ruth Ozeki at Stanford in 2013 and then corresponded with her during the book tour that followed, and am delighted that My Year of Meats was selected as one of the three books all incoming frosh will read at Stanford this autumn. Now in its 11th year, the texts for this year’s Three Books program address the theme of “Science”: Physics for Future Presidents by Richard Muller, My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki, and Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss. I cannot think of a better humanistic author to feature for this series.

DAVID PALUMBO-LIU: Ruth Ozeki — thanks for sitting down with me as you return from doing extensive travel and readings of A Tale for the Time Being. You have given a huge number of interviews, so I’d like to make this relatively targeted. First, in all your work you are especially interested in the complex interweaving of narrative voices. This latest work is the one in which your Buddhism shows up the most explicitly. How does a Buddhist sense of Self (or non-Self) work to help shape this novel, especially in terms of constructing your different narrators? Who are these “people”? What kind of character “development” or “intregity” should we find?

RUTH OZEKI: This notion of self (Self?) is a great place to start, and immediately I find myself resisting the capitalization of the word, which in itself is significant. The capital S seems to imply a fixed and singular entity, a God-like Self, whereas my sense of self is a more shifting (shifty?) and pluralistic entity, an interdependent collectivity of lowercase gods, demigods, and demons…

…Even in My Year of Meats, my first novel, I was playing with fictionalized autobiography. One of the narrators of that book, Jane, is a mixed-race documentary filmmaker who lives in New York. I, too, am a mixed-race documentary filmmaker who lived in New York. I knew readers would assume that Jane equaled Ruth, so I made Jane six feet tall and dyed her hair green, so readers could tell us apart.

I bring this up because I think my mixed-race identity is why I experience myself, and the world, pluralistically. I’m a racially hybridized, genetically pluralistic entity, who has never lived in any one place or culture. As Jane says, “being half, I’m neither here nor there.” Or maybe that was me who said that.

Anyway, I certainly don’t think I’m unique in this regard. All of us are racially, religiously, and/or culturally pluralistic, and increasingly so. As human beings, we’re all trying to integrate and make sense of our pluralistic elements, aren’t we? To find some kind of wholeness?…

Read the entire interview here.

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“A Universe of Many Worlds”: An Interview with Ruth Ozeki

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Interviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2013-08-24 17:49Z by Steven

“A Universe of Many Worlds”: An Interview with Ruth Ozeki

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States
Volume 38, Issue 3 (September 2013)
pages 160-171
DOI: 10.1093/melus/mlt028

Eleanor Ty, Professor of English and Film Studies
Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

That’s what it felt like when I was growing up, like I was a random fruit in a field of genetically identical potatoes.—Ruth Ozeki, All Over Creation (4)

Is death even possible in a universe of many worlds? —Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being (400)

Immigrant and ethnic writing frequently addresses the dilemma of being caught between two worlds. More often than not, the protagonists in these works are torn between the desire to assimilate into American culture while negotiating with the original culture of their parents and the realization that their ethnic, racial, or religious difference is what makes them special as hyphenated subjects. For Ruth Ozeki, filmmaker and internationally acclaimed author of My Year of Meats (1998), being in between two cultures becomes a source of inspiration and strength. As the daughter of a Japanese mother and an American father, she feels that being outside of the mainstream can be an advantage. In an interview with Barbara Palmer, Ozeki said, outside “is the only place for a writer to be. Otherwise, you lose your perspective, your edge. You stop seeing things.”

In both My Year of Meats and her second novel, All Over Creation (2003), the protagonists are mixed-race Japanese Americans who do not quite fit the image of the “attractive, appetizing, and all-American” ideal woman represented in popular media (My 8). Jane Takagi-Little of My Year of Meats tries to explode this nostalgic “illusion of America” (9) by deliberately focusing on nonwhite, non-heterosexual, and nontraditional families when she gets a chance to direct a television show called My American Wife! for a Japanese audience. In All Over Creation, Yummy Fuller, who always had to play “Indian princess” in Liberty Falls Elementary School when she was growing up (7), runs away from her farming family…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Writing Mixed Race Asian Americans into the Nation: Narratives of National Incorporation in the Bildungsroman and the Multiracial Movement

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2013-06-13 01:41Z by Steven

Writing Mixed Race Asian Americans into the Nation: Narratives of National Incorporation in the Bildungsroman and the Multiracial Movement

Wesleyan University
May 2013
80 pages

May Lee Watase

A thesis submitted to the faculty of Wesleyan University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts with Departmental Honors in American Studies


In spring 2011, during my sophomore year at Wesleyan, the student group I was a member of, MIX (an acronym for mixed heritage, interracial, cross-cultural), invited Ken Tanabe, a multiracial graphic designer and social activist to host a Loving Day celebration on Wesleyan’s campus. Tanabe is the founder of Loving Day, an event that celebrates interracial love, multiethnic identity, and marks the 1967 anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia case that legalized interracial marriage. At our own event, Tanabe and a few other representatives of the Loving Day organization gave us Loving Day buttons, showed us a power point presentation, and chatted with us about our mixed race identities. At the end of the hour, Tanabe asked to take a picture of the group, snapping the exact moment the ten of us jumped in the air. About a month ago, two years following our celebration with Tanabe, I opened an email from the Loving Day listserv to find the following:

The Loving Day Project is pleased to announce the launch of Loving Day ON CAMPUS… a resource guide and forum to help students across the country connect, share, and inspire…Students have celebrated this important civil rights milestone in a variety of ways…We want every student and organization to have the best events possible, so we have created the Loving Day ON CAMPUS facebook page.

I clicked the link and found the picture of the Wesleyan MIX group on the Facebook page—there we all were, happy and smiling as the unofficial faces of Loving Day ON CAMPUS. I was slightly surprised to see myself there and began scrolling through the rest of the Loving Day website, becoming increasingly aware of the fact that Loving Day’s marketing strategy relied heavily on a celebratory “mixed-race” look…

In this thesis, I examine the relationship between the multiracial movement, the genre of the bildungsroman, or “coming of age novel,” and mixed race Asian American novels that are contextualized in the decade of the 1990s. The three novels I use in this study are Paper Bullets: a Fictional Autobiography, by Kip Fulbeck (2001); American Son: A Novel, by Brian Ascalon Roley (2001); and My Year of Meats, by Ruth Ozeki (1998). I situate each novel within the rhetoric of the multiracial movement of the 1990s, which forwarded the institutionalization and legitimization of mixed race identity in American society both legally and socially, in the government, in education, and in popular culture. Each novel employs different functions of the bildungsroman, narrating the protagonists’ complex relationships with the boundaries of the nation, grappling with the notion of national belonging and validation. The bildungsroman structure and the multiracial movement both construct a progressive, teleological discourse, narrating a trajectory from exclusion and  marginality to an endpoint of inclusion within the nation as a celebratory affirmation of identity. By focusing on the ways in which these three mixed race Asian American texts subvert, manipulate, or are confined by the form of the bildungsroman and the rhetoric of the multiracial movement, I examine the pathways to inclusion in the American body politic and the positionality of the mixed race Asian American subject within and beyond the boundaries of the America. My studies of each text draw from contentious moments in the United States in the 1990s: the rhetoric of Ethnic Studies and cultural nationalism, the Rodney King beating and L.A. Riots, and the ascendancy of Asian economic power—all discourses that intervene in the narrative progress of the mixed race Asian American subject in American public discourse…

Read the entire thesis here.

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Halving the Bones: A film by Ruth Ozeki

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Autobiography, Media Archive, United States, Videos, Women on 2013-05-22 20:08Z by Steven

Halving the Bones: A film by Ruth Ozeki

Women Make Movies
70 minutes
Color/BW, DVD

Ruth Ozeki, Filmmaker, Novelist, and Zen Buddhist Priest

Skeletons in the closet? Halving the Bones delivers a surprising twist to this tale. This cleverly-constructed film tells the story of Ruth, a half-Japanese filmmaker living in New York, who has inherited a can of bones that she keeps on a shelf in her closet. The bones are half of the remains of her dead Japanese grandmother, which she is supposed to deliver to her estranged mother. A narrative and visual web of family stories, home movies and documentary footage, Halving the Bones provides a spirited exploration of the meaning of family, history and memory, cultural identity and what it means to have been named after Babe Ruth!


  • Sundance Film Festival
  • International Documentary Association Award Nomination
  • Sydney & Melbourne Film Festivals
  • Margaret Mead Film Festival
  • San Francisco Asian American Film Festival
  • Montreal World Film Festival
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The Rise of Ethnic Pride for Multicultural Americans

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2013-05-07 03:00Z by Steven

The Rise of Ethnic Pride for Multicultural Americans


Damien Haynes

In America, race and skin color are some of the most critiqued and analyzed issues within our society. For some people, growing up of mixed race decent can either be a detriment or a blessing. It can separate you from the rest of society or educate you to aspects of society that (for most people of a monoracial background) would go unlearned. People who are of mixed race decent is considered to be the fastest growing populous in the United States with a 32 percent increase as of 2010 on the U.S Census, according a CNN report. Although asking someone “What are you”, or “Where does your family come from,” is not lost in the consciousness of American conversation. The acceptance of persons who are of mixed race decent and those who identify as bi-racial or mixed, is on the rise.

To be of a multiracial background, a person has to be categorized as having the racial makeup of two or more ethnic groups. In a world where checking one box on a job application or census report is all that is offered, some people are caught between choosing one race over the other, not only on paper, but in some cases, all together within society.

The analysis of the United States population shows that multiple race groups such as White and Asian combinations, and White and Black combinations are the highest contribution to the change in the United States Census reporting since 2000…

…According to Andrew Jolivétte, Associate Professor and Chair of the American Indian Studies Department of San Francisco State University, more and more individuals are identifying themselves as multiracial due to an overall sociological acceptance and shift in perception….

Read the entire article here.

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Hybrid Veggies & Mixed Kids: Ecocriticism and Race in Ruth Ozeki’s Pastoral Heartlands

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2012-03-22 23:14Z by Steven

Hybrid Veggies & Mixed Kids: Ecocriticism and Race in Ruth Ozeki’s Pastoral Heartlands

Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies
Volume 2 (2011)
pages 22-29

Melissa Eriko Poulsen
Literature Department
University of California, Santa Cruz

This paper explores the troping of racial categories and mixed race bodies in Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation (2003) and My Year of Meats (1999). Moving through both transnational and local space, Ozeki’s writes an ecocritical pastoral text in order to resist representations of people of mixed race stemming from nineteenth century racial theory. Drawing attention to the consumption of food within and across national borders, whether genetically modified potatoes or hormone-infused beef, Ozeki simultaneously highlights the uncritical consumption of the language of biology around the mixed race body. All Over Creation and My Year of Meats are constructed around the traditions and tensions inherent in the pastoral, using mixed race to counter the silences of ecocritical discourse while problematizing science- and place-based constructions of race.

Read the entire article here.

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English 108: Crossing Racial Boundaries in Post-Civil Rights Fiction and Film: Interracial Encounters

Posted in Course Offerings, Literary/Artistic Criticism, United States on 2012-01-07 02:08Z by Steven

English 108: Crossing Racial Boundaries in Post-Civil Rights Fiction and Film: Interracial Encounters

University of California, Los Angeles
Winter 2012

Caroline Streeter, Associate Professor of English

This course looks at literature and film depicting interracial sexuality and mixed race identities in the post-Civil Rights era. Course materials depict individuals and communities that trouble and challenge conventional ideas about racial categorization and the boundaries between groups. Texts represent a wide variety of ethnic and cultural perspectives. Books include Caucasia (Danzy Senna), A Feather on the Breath of God (Sigrid Nunez), Drown (Junot Diaz) and My Year of Meats (Ruth L. Ozeki). Movies include Diva (Jean-Jacques Beineix), Jungle Fever (Spike Lee) and The Wedding Banquet (Winston Chao).

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Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Media Archive, United States on 2010-03-04 04:38Z by Steven

Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience

W. W. Norton & Company
August 2006
336 pages
5.5 × 8.2 in
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-393-32786-1

Edited by Chandra Prasad

With an Introduction by Rebecca Walker

With a roster of acclaimed fiction writers, Mixed shatters expectations of what it means to be multiracial.

Globally, the number of multiracial people is exploding. In 10 US states, the percentage of multiracial residents who are of school age—between 5 and 17—is at least 25 percent. In California alone, it is estimated that 15 percent of all births are multiracial or multiethnic. Despite these numbers, mixed-race people have long struggled for a distinct place on the identity map. It was only as recently as 2000 that the U.S. Census Bureau began to allow citizens to check off as many racial categories as are applicable-White, African American, Asian, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian, American Indian, and Alaska Native. Previously, Americans were allowed to check off only one, leaving multiracial people invisible and unaccounted for.

Though multiracialism has recently become a popular aspect of many memoirs and novels, Mixed is the first of its kind: a fiction anthology with racial overlap as its compass. With original pieces by both established and emerging writers, Mixed explores the complexities of identity that come with being a multiracial person. Every story, crafted by authors who are themselves mixed-race, broaches multiracialism through character or theme. With contributors such as Cristina Garcia, Danzy Senna, Ruth Ozeki, Mat Johnson, Wayde Compton, Diana Abu-Jaber, Emily Raboteau, Mary Yukari Waters, and Peter Ho Davies, and an illuminating introduction by Rebecca Walker, Mixed gives narrative voice to the multiple identities of the rising generation.

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Feeling Ancestral: The Emotions of Mixed Race and Memory in Asian American Cultural Productions

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2009-08-27 01:07Z by Steven

Feeling Ancestral: The Emotions of Mixed Race and Memory in Asian American Cultural Productions

positions: east asia cultures critique
Volume 16, Number 2, Fall 2008
pages 457-482

Jeffrey Santa Ana, Assistant Professor English Department
Stony Brook University

The current era of war, militarism, and neocolonialism in the Pacific is a time in which capitalist expansion simultaneously generates and conceals the negative human consequences of globalization — for example, the tremendous upheaval and migration of Asian people. Diaspora, dislocation, exile, and immigration born of economic necessity are the depressing contradictions to a capitalist paradise that has been optimistically envisaged as the end of history.   Critics of globalization have theorized the ways in which the commercialization of human feeling conceals the anxieties, fears, and other negative affects that express the harsh underside of transnational capitalism.  Nowhere is this commercialization of emotion more obvious than in the marketing of multiculturalism and racial difference in global commerce. The commercial use of racial mixture is especially provocative in the way it signals, conditions, and manages distressing experiences, while assimilating them symmetrically and seamlessly into the transnational stage of capitalism. Clearly, racial mixture is a hot commodity in today’s global market. Particularly in North America, the fascination with and consumption of multiraciality is evident in the notable increase in scholarship about multiraciality in the academy and the profusion of mixed-race productions in the culture industry, both of which reflect the commercialization of racial mixture in a globalized world.

In the last ten years, there has been an explosion of cultural productions about mixed-race people, and particularly of multiracial Asian Americans. Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats and Halving the Bones, Kip Fulbeck’s Paper Bullets and Part Asian, 100 Percent Hapa, Paisley.

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