I remember being very taken with the idea of how Asian American Studies grew in the USA from the civil rights movement, and how it emerged as a new and dynamic field. Students and academics, many of them Asian American themselves, were discussing Asian American identities, stereotypes and North America’s exclusionary dynamics! There was momentum, courses, majors!
This was the kind of thing I wanted here: articulate Asian communities who knew their rights and would fight for them, groups who understood what it meant to be racially marked and seemed to be so well represented in the public sphere, with enough momentum and investment in Asian Australian cultural pursuits that they could have writing, film and visual arts organisations dedicated to community creative work and advocacy.
The above is from Tseen Khoo’s excellent article on Asian Australian networking for human rights blog Right Now. In that article, she discusses the development of the Asian Australian Studies Research Network and of the field of Asian Australian studies. This excerpt positions Asian American Studies in the US as the center, a source of inspiration for developments in the periphery.
In Asian American spaces in Philadelphia, I’ve seen a similar dynamic. Philadelphia is the periphery, while New York is the local center and California is the supreme center to rule them all. “You’re so lucky to be moving back to LA,” an Asian American college friend from New York City told me. “All the good Asian music is there!” In her mind, Los Angeles was the center of the Asian American entertainment industry, akin to Atlanta for black Americans, and also the center of political organizing and community building. She might be right; a look at Hyphen Magazine’s “Hyphenite’s Social Calendar” blog posts reveals that most of the events that they list are in New York, LA, and the San Francisco Bay Area, with only the occasional gathering in “second-tier” Asian American communities like Philadelphia and Seattle. (We must keep in mind, though, that Hyphen is based in San Francisco.)
In more recent conversations with Asian American students in the rural South, I got the sense that they saw themselves on the periphery as well. I talked to an incoming UCLA graduate student about how hard it is to find South Asian resources in Mississippi, and another graduate student in Virginia about how tough it is to be the only Asian Americanist at his university. My conversation with erin Khue Ninh at the Association for Asian American Studies conference about the state of the Asian American blogosphere got me thinking further about how much the conversations that we have are focused on LA, San Francisco, and New York, to the extent that voices from outside of these three centers are positioned as exotic novelties: “And let’s hear from the only Asian person who lives in Nebraska/Hungary/Mozambique!”
I wonder how we who live in these cultural capitals of Asian diaspora in the West can reach out to those who live further away. How can we support spaces and initiatives that reach out to small populations, such as Irish Born Chinese? In addition to writing blogs, making media, and researching for our own metropolitan audience, how can we make our cultural production accessible to and relevant for others?