The essays collected here have two primary purposes. First, the authors set out to destabilize the black-white binary often applied to studies of race and ethnicity in the southern United States. Second, by positioning the region (essentially the Confederate states that seceded from the Union) at the center of dynamic global economic and migration networks that stretch across the Caribbean, Pacific, and Atlantic, this collection challenges contemporary narratives of southern exceptionalism and national myths built around a region perceived as static and unchanging.
Broken into three parts, the collection includes ten essays that highlight the experience of Asian and South Asian Americans past and present. The first section, “Disrupting Race and Place,” examines the racializations of Asian Americans from the nineteenth century to the present. Through ships’ manifests, census records, and vital records, Vivek Bald recounts the economic circuits that shaped the lives of Bengali peddlars in nineteenth-century New Orleans and shows how they negotiated existing racial stereotypes and ideas about “the Orient” to their benefit. Leslie Bow examines the interstitiality of Asian Americans in the Jim Crow South and emphasizes the way economic and social mobility remained intertwined with black-white racial binaries through the 1980s. Expanding on their 2008 essay published in the Journal of Asian American Studies, Amy Brandzel and Jigna Desai compare the vocal protests that emerged among Asian Americans in the aftermath of the 1982 beating death of Vincent Chin with the relative silence that followed the 2007 Virginia Tech campus shooting by Korean American student Seung-Hui Cho. The authors critique media portrayals of Cho and the lack of political mobilization by Asian Americans in the aftermath of the event.
The second section, “Community Formation and Profiles,” includes a comparative analysis of early-nineteenth-century federal and [End Page 152] state laws that had lasting impacts on the settlement and longevity of Chinese communities in Atlanta, Augusta, and Savannah (Daniel Bronstein) and an examination of the shifting sociopolitical and transnational linkages that shaped Vietnamese communities in Houston during the post–Vietnam era (Roy Vu). Through their investigation of current demographics, Arthur Sakamoto, ChangHwan Kim, and Isao Takei contribute greatly to our understanding of the geographic distributions and socioeconomic characteristics that shape Asian America today. Khyati Y. Joshi rounds out this section by exploring the way Hindu Americans in metro Atlanta have challenged inaccurate and disrespectful depictions of Hinduism through community action and engagement.
In the final section, “Performing Race, Region, and Nation,” Jennifer Ho shows how Asian American literature set in the South is reshaping more traditional, East Coast–West Coast narratives, our ideas about “southern literature,” and what it means to be a southerner when told from an Asian American perspective. Jasmine Kar Tang uses the stand-up comedy of Henry Cho to show how individuals find ways to control representations of racial subjectivity and locate articulations of belonging through their public performances. Margarite Nguyen’s essay “‘Like We Lost Our Citizenship,’” uses English and Vietnamese language sources to show how Vietnamese and black New Orleanians overcame a history of sometimes violent ethnic divisions between the two communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Afro-Asian alliances brought attention to the marginalization both communities faced and challenged stereotypes of the Vietnamese refugee as permanent outsider.
As a person who grew up on the Pacific Coast and relocated to a southern city undergoing the very changes discussed in these essays, I was eager to review this title. While academic jargon distracts the impact of some essays, taken as a whole Asian Americans in Dixie succeeds in revealing the complex nature of race, community, and Asian American identity and experience in the South both past and present. [End Page 153]
SARAH GRIFFITH teaches in the History Department at Queens University of Charlotte and recently published her work in the Journal of American History. Her first book, Conflicting Dialogues: The Fight for Japanese American Racial Equality, 1890–1945, will be published by the University of...