restricted access Preface to the Original Edition
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Preface IN the spring of r992 , I delivered six lectures under the overall title "Margins and Mainstreams: Asians in American History and Culture" at Amherst College during my tenure there as the John J. McCloy 'r6 Professor of American Institutions and International Relations. With slight modification, this book consists of those lectures as I gave them. The writing, accordingly, bears the syncopation-the beat and stresses-of an oral reading. Swirling around me, as I contemplated the theme for the lecture series, was fervent and oftentimes heated debate about the idea of a mainstream, about the core of American history and culture, about intellectual "ghettoization" and ethnic "balkanization." Pluralism and diversity, many argued, only served to divide and fracture the nation. The debate over the nature and primacy of Western civilization and its canon of "great books" on college campuses, they warned, was just the leading edge of a coming chill that threatened the "disuniting" of America. Implicit within the Eurocentric argument was the appeal, intellectual and otherwise , to those on the margins to join and be absorbed by the mainstream. Margins and Mainstreams contends that the core values and ideals of the nation emanate not from the mainstream but from the margins-from among Asian and African Americans, Latinos and American Indians, women, and gays and lesbians. In their struggles for equality, these groups have helped preserve and advance the principles and ideals of democracy and have thereby made America a freer place for all. Herein lies the true significance IX PREFACE of Asians in American history and culture. That is the subject of this book's conclusion, chapter 6, titled "Margin as Mainstream." Chapter I examines the question of the when and where of Asians' entry into the European and American historical consciousness . By beginning with Greek representations of Asia as early as the fifth century B.C.E., I do not mean that Asian American history starts with European constructions of their Other; I understand that to be a profoundly Eurocentric and historically skewed viewpoint. Rather, I am simply exploring the margins of European and American historical consciousness and how Asians have long occupied, and continue to be located by Europeans and Americans within, those fringes. The chapter shows that Asians did not first come to America; Europeans went to Asia. And the engendered and systematic ideology that accompanied European imperialists-Orientalism-informed the colonization of Asians in Asia and America. The argument is provocative but hardly original. Other scholars have described and interpreted the eastward and westward expansion of Europeans, and it is a well-known fact that the scope of America's manifest destiny transformed the Far East into its Far West. The argument, further, is simplistic. Ideologies do not stand apart from their time and place; they are rooted within prevailing social relations, which we know change over time, and representations are struggled over and contested by those who are the objects of hegemony. We cannot, therefore, speak of a uniform and timeless Orientalism transmitted from the fifth-century B.C.E Greeks to late-twentieth-century C.E. European Americans. I understand those limitations to my argument. What I attempt, nonetheless, is to widen considerably the canvas of Asian American history, which hitherto was deemed to have begun in the mid-nineteenth century and in California. Further , I write against a widely held and persistent view that Asians were like European immigrants, as opposed to Africans or Latinos , in that they chose to leave their homelands and sojourn in America for the opportunities of the West. The when and where of Asian American history, I insist, are of an ancient vintage and Xl of a global scale, and they situate Asians with Africans and Latinos along the margins. Chapter 2 attempts to locate Asians within America's racial formation and poses the false problematic: is yellow black or white? Asians have been marginalized to the periphery of race relations in America because of its conceptualization as a black and white issue-with Asians, Latinos, and American Indians falling between the cracks of that divide. Thus, to many, Asians are either "just like blacks" or "almost whites." I test that proposition and show the closer affinity of Asian Americans with African, as opposed to European, Americans, through evidence drawn mainly from the American South, in contrast to the dominant historical discourse, which focuses on the Pacific Coast. The lecture was written and delivered months before the April and May I992 violence in Los Angeles...