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107 4 • Globalization and Military Violence in the LatinAsian Contact Zone When I visit Los Angeles or San Francisco, I am at the same time in Latin America and Asia. Los Angeles, like Mexico City, Tijuana, Miami, Chicago, and New York, is practically a hybrid nation/city in itself. Mysterious underground railroads connect all these places—syncretic art forms, polyglot poetry and music, and transnational pop cultures function as meridians of thought and axes of communication. Here/there, the indigenous and the immigrant share the same space but are foreigners to each other. Here/there we are all potential border-­crossers and cultural exiles. . . . Here/there, homelessness, border culture, and deterritorialization are the dominant experience, not just fancy academic theories. —Guillermo Gómez-­Peña, The New World Border Exactly halfway through Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange (1997), one of the novel’s seven main characters loudly proclaims, “Cultural diversity is bullshit.”1 The speaker, Japanese American Emi, is sitting at a sushi bar in Los Angeles with her Chicano boyfriend Gabriel, and her statement seems to jar with the fact that she is part of a markedly diverse cast of characters. From­ Rafaela, an indigenous Mexican immigrant, to Manzanar Murakami, a homeless Japanese American man, and from Buzzworm, an African American self-­ styled social worker, to Bobby Ngu, who is “Chinese from Singapore with a Vietnam name speaking like a Mexican living in Koreatown,”2 the novel’s seven protagonists reflect much of the ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic diversity of the late twentieth-­ century United States. Indeed, the only racial category that 108 LatinAsian Cartographies is conspicuously absent from the group is the dominant one; none of the main characters is white. Why, then, is Emi so insistent that “it’s all bullshit” and that she “hate[s] being multicultural?”3 Yamashita’s point becomes clear as Emi’s provocative statements on cultural diversity escalate into a confrontation with the white woman sitting next to her, an unnamed character wearing chopsticks in her hair. Turning not to Emi, who has just offended her, but to the chef, whom she pointedly addresses as “Hiro-­ san,” the white woman voices her own ideas about multiculturalism: I happen to adore the Japanese culture. What can I say? I adore different cultures. I’ve traveled all over the world. I love living in L.A. because I can find anything in the world to eat, right here. It’s such a meeting place for all sorts of people. A true celebration of an international world.4 For this woman, “cultural diversity” is about consumption and more particularly about food; she considers ethnicity, race, and culture primarily in terms of a variety of restaurants that she can enjoy. Indeed, her self-­ professed adoration of Japanese culture seems to rely entirely on a decontextualized consumption of Japanese cultural markers, symbolized by her love of sushi and the chopsticks in her hair (a fashion choice that provokes Emi into threatening to stick forks into her own hair). Emi summarizes the ways in which such consumption is tied to the commodification of ethnicity when she addresses the chef herself: “See what I mean, Hiro? You’re invisible. I’m invisible. We’re all invisible. It’s just tea, ginger , raw fish, and a credit card.”5 One pressing concern of contemporary Asian American and Latina/o studies is to address precisely this invisibility, along with the “tea, ginger, raw fish, and a credit card” version of ethnicity that critical race theorists call the liberal discourse of multiculturalism. The unnamed woman in the story voices a late twentieth-­and twenty-­ first century trend that links ethnicity with domestic consumption of difference and the commodification of culture for white tourists .6 The liberal discourse of multiculturalism, prevalent not only in popular and public spheres, but also in academic arenas, is essentially a celebratory rhetoric that flattens race and ethnicity into a horizontal field of equal nodes of difference without drawing attention to asymmetries of power. While a celebration of diversity may be more progressive than ideologies of white supremacy, such a discourse can also function to contain politicized debate about inequalities of race, gender, and class in First World societies by unmooring “culture” from its historical and political context. According to the discourse of multiculturalism, culture must be appreciated in terms of cooperation, coexistence, and equality, regardless of whether those aims have actually been achieved. The unnamed woman in Yamashita’s novel does not know (and might...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813589886
Related ISBN
9780813589855
MARC Record
OCLC
993033138
Pages
216
Launched on MUSE
2018-03-06
Language
English
Open Access
No
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