A Chinese restaurant in Drogheda, Ireland. Photo: William Murphy (Flickr/Creative Commons)

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?

  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Calvin, and good to hear that you found the article interesting/useful!

    I should probably update discussions on this by saying that, while the vision of Asian American Studies was what many of us may have admired from afar initially, when it came to the nitty-gritty work of establishing and theorising an area that we could call ‘Asian Australian Studies’ there has been resistance to imposing an Asian American template on the Oz context. Or, indeed, using US-generated critique as the basis for our debates.

    Some of this is sketched out in this article by Jacqueline Lo and me: “Disciplining Asian Australian Studies” _Journal of Australian Studies_ Vol 27, Issues 1-2 (2006) –> http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07256860600607488

    No doubt there’s much to learn from comparable situations for diasporic Asian communities, but the most useful versions of these studies are grounded in localised/regional sociopolitical contexts.

    • I totally agree that the best studies are grounded in local contexts. However, as a social scientist I believe that using comparison with similar contexts can flesh out a grounded, local picture. After all, no locality exists in a vacuum!

%d bloggers like this: