- Voices Rising: Asian Canadian Cultural Activism
Voices Rising: Asian Canadian Cultural Activism is an important and accomplished pioneering work on Asian Canadian cultural activism. It covers three decades, from the 1970s to the beginning of the millenium, documenting a period of deep political and social consciousness among Asian Canadians, whose cultural production/expression signifies a coming-of-age of their cultural activism, and representing a key component of the Asian Canadian political and social movement. Relegated to the periphery by the mainstream English-French centrality, these grassroots community artists and activists utilized their creative agency as a liberating tool to engage in the production of new consciousness, and actively sought to intervene and challenge injustices and disrupt the hegemonic social relations and power structures existing in society. Their efforts have contributed to the betterment of racialized communities, but more importantly, they have informed the democratization and transformation of Canadian society itself.
The book is divided into two parts. Part 1, "Mapping Asian Canadian Cultural Activism," is comprised of six chapters, detailing the author's theoretical analysis of the Asian Canadian movement. In these chapters, Li discusses the issues of problematizing culture as a site of struggle, the emergence and fostering of Asian Canadian culture, Asian Canadian identity, history as a source of cultural production, community building, and Asian Canadian women activists. Part 2, "Voices," is divided into three historical stages: "Emergence" covers the foundational period of the Asian Canadian movement between 1970 and the mid-1980s; "Cross the Threshold" covers the late 1980s to the 1990s, a period of identity and cultural politics; and the third stage, "Moving Ahead," heralds the beginning of the new millennium in an era of "diversity" and "inclusion." In each stage, she presents in detail the rich narratives from her interviews with cultural activists to capture and illustrate the critical moments and impulses at a particular historical juncture of the Asian Canadian social and political movement. In the Epilogue, the author highlights the need to establish Asian Canadian Studies as part of a critical, transformative discourse by comparing the current embryonic state of Asian Canadian Studies with the well developed Asian American Studies.
The author's theoretical framework is informed by postmodernist cultural studies, postcolonial theory, writers such as Stuart Hall, Antonio Gramsci, Edward Said, Canadian scholars such as Roy Miki, Diana Brydon, and Himani Bannerji, as well as globalization, transnational/transcultural, and diaspora theories. Using an ethnographic approach, snowball sampling techniques, and semi-structured interviews, Li collected the personal stories of over fifty cultural activists, primarily in Vancouver and Toronto between 1997 and 2004. These activists come from different artistic disciplines: writers, visual artists, filmmakers, performing artists, and scholars, and include such known artists as Terry Aoki, Tamio Wakayama, Keith Lock, Mina [End Page 207] Shum, Kyo Maclear, Alvin Erasga Tolentino, and Jen Lam. Voices Rising presents twenty interviews with cultural activists. Each interview is unique, and tells the stories of each individual's journey—as a member of a racialized community who experiences racism, class discrimination, sexism and/or homophobia—to becoming an Asian Canadian community activist.
The author's decision to publish fewer interviews, but to present them in their entirety, has proven to be a sound one. In this way, she succeeds in allowing the voices of the interviewees to come through without adulterating the narratives with her editing and interpretation. The reader is, therefore, able to be drawn into the activist's stories, and to understand the world from his/her own experiences, personal struggles, trials and tribulations, and social and political awakening.
Embarking on an ambitious project such as this one is not without its challenges. The majority of the voices presented in the book are of Chinese and Japanese background. There is a startling absence of the voices of South Asian cultural activists. Li's decision to not interview South Asian activists, admittedly due to her lack of knowledge about South Asian communities, is regrettable. However, the omission of South Asians in the book would, as...