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Undercover Asian

Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture

LeiLani Nishime

Publication Year: 2014

In this first book-length study of media images of multiracial Asian Americans, Leilani Nishime traces the codes that alternatively enable and prevent audiences from recognizing the multiracial status of Asian Americans. Nishime's perceptive readings of popular media--movies, television shows, magazine articles, and artwork--indicate how and why the viewing public often fails to identify multiracial Asian Americans. Using actor Keanu Reeves, the Matrix trilogy, and golfer Tiger Woods as examples, Nishime suggests that this failure is tied to gender, sexuality, and post-racial politics. Also considering alternative images such as reality TV star Kimora Lee Simmons, the television show Battlestar Galactica, and the artwork of Kip Fulbeck, this incisive study offers nuanced interpretations that open the door to a new and productive understanding of race in America.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The Asian American Experience


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Title Page, Series Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

So many people have helped make this book possible, but my deepest thanks go to my husband Mark and my boys, Kenzo and Takeo. Mark for giving me the space and time to write, and Kenzo and Takeo for being my first and best inspiration. Thank you also to my family Melanie Nishime; Valerie, Carl, Paloma...

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Preface. Why Are You? Multiracial Asian Americans and the Question of Visibility

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pp. xi-xxii

During a publicity tour for The Replacements (2000), actor Keanu Reeves appeared on The Tonight Show reminiscing about his early days in Hollywood. He explained that his agent had tried to convince him to change his name to K. C. Reeves because, he said, “People won’t know what you are.” Leno responded...

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1. Multiracial Asian Americans and the Myth of the Mulatto Millennium

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pp. 1-18

In tracing the history and continued significance of multiracial representations, this book challenges a dominant U.S. cultural narrative. That narrative imagines multiracial people as symbols of the declining significance of race.1 In order to promise a race-free future, we must perceive multiracial people as...

PART I: Undercover Asians

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2. Queer Keanu: The Politics of Bad Acting in the Era of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

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pp. 21-40

Early in Keanu Reeves’s career, Vanity Fair published an article titled “Kabuki Keanu,” but the short blurb accompanying the image offered little insight or information about either Reeves or his career. The magazine clearly meant to showcase the startling image that covered almost the entire...

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3. Tiger Woods and the Perils of Colorblind Celebrity

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pp. 41-62

For many, Tiger Woods—undoubtedly the single most famous multiracial African/Asian American in the world—symbolizes multiraciality. He is both the singular and prototypical multiracial Asian. The narrative of his celebrity (before the scandal of his extramarital affairs) depended on his difference...

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4. Aliens: The Interracial Family in Battlestar Galactica

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pp. 63-82

As the last two chapters have shown, the spectacle of multiracial celebrity provides a prominent site for audiences to explore and often willfully ignore the histories and meanings of race in the United States. However, fictional narratives focused primarily on multiracial people are few and far between in...

PART II: Asians Uncovered

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5. The Matrix Trilogy and Multiraciality at the End of Time

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pp. 85-106

This book opened with Keanu Reeves as a symbol par excellence of the flexibility of Asian racialization in visual culture, a flexibility that enables mainstream media narratives to represent racial categories as irrelevant while still punishing those who would not adhere to racial hierarchies. The three case studies analyzed...

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6. Camp Kimora

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pp. 107-132

A vivid example of both the appeal and the challenges of multiracial visibility within commercial culture occurred in the first season of Kimora Lee Simmons’s reality television show Life in the Fab Lane. In the words of the promotional ads, Simmons, who is African American and Asian American, is “a model...

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7. Seeing Multiracial

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pp. 133-160

In 2006, Kip Fulbeck published a book of photographs titled Part Asian, 100% Hapa.1 The images were taken from his larger art piece titled The Hapa Project, for which Fulbeck traveled across the country photographing and speaking to people who self-identified as multiracial Asian/Pacific Americans.2 It has since...


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pp. 161-194


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pp. 195-218


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pp. 219-238

About the Author, Series Page, Production Notes

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252095344
E-ISBN-10: 0252095340
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252038075

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: The Asian American Experience
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OCLC Number: 884725709
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Undercover Asian

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Asian Americans in popular culture -- United States.
  • Racially mixed people in popular culture -- United States.
  • Visual culture -- United States.
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