[KS] can Asian Americans have a voice in Asian Studies?
Ann Sung-hi Lee
asl at myuw.net
Thu Sep 25 18:28:32 EDT 2003
I have failed in my bid to be a cultural comprador.
Collecting my unemployment checks, I have time to read what I want to read.
I can't help asking myself whether or not Asian Americans can have a voice in Asian Studies.
Orientalists remind us that only a native's "access" to Asian culture could possibly give an Asian any use value in the field. This results in pitting Asian Americans (issei, nisei, 1.5 generations, and in betweens) against each other -- a divisive strategy that succeeds because of the economics of Necessity, in which Asian Americans are only too willing to sell each other out in order to survive. It is a strategy that pre-empts any possible alliances that Asian Americans might try to form, alliances that dominant whites find threatening.
I remember a male WASP professor at Harvard (now at a different school) asking department majors to introduce ourselves and our reasons for majoring in East Asian Studies. One Asian student, recently immigrated, said he wanted to study his culture. I said I had a somewhat academic interest in Asia, rather than studying it as "my culture," since I was born in N.Y.C. and grew up here.
The WASP male professor, perhaps sensing a smugness in my attitude, immediately said, "But isn't that what it is? _Your_ culture?" It was a harsh rebuke of my confidence in my American identity. My skin color meant, to him, that I would never be accepted as an American.
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