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Arriving on a Different Shore: US Empire at Its Horizons

From: College Literature
Volume 41, Number 1, Winter 2014
pp. 174-181 | 10.1353/lit.2014.0007

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

As settler-colonial studies makes inroads into the methodologies shaping the evolving field of global Indigenous studies, a curious thing has happened. Where once the local and the discrete marked the singularity of disciplined studies, there are now calls for trans- and inter-cultural, indigenous, minoritarian, and disciplinary analyses to account for the differences that subjectivities and subject positions make within the violences of racialization and colonization. In the context of the United States, the nation-state formation that makes the comparative scope of the essays gathered here cohere, histories of racialization and colonization have often been assumed to signify the same thing. Regardless of the specific label used to describe historical oppression, both are assumed to be the same systematic process of othering that leads to incarceration, dispossession, disenfranchisement, and alienation within and away from the larger sociopolitical communities reserved for only a select few.

Certainly, as the authors within this special issue can attest, what unifies the transoceanic and transcontinental scope of the United States’ fifty states is the violence through which those lands, along with the people who have inhabited them, have been captured within the larger political, economic, and cultural nomos of continental governmentality that has been under development since the discovery of the New World. Within these circuits of comparative logics that these essays have charted, then, are a number of embedded assumptions. First, that settler colonialism provides the conditions of possibility for encounters and that those encounters have the potential to be resistant. Second, that histories of militarism and incarceration in the United States build affective relationships across those experiences, especially through the horizontal vectors that operate outside and beside the machinations of state-sponsored land grabs. Third, that multiculturalism collapses difference into smooth trajectories of inclusion and asylum that have depended upon narratives of “vanishing natives” and indigenous dispossession. And finally, that the quotidian experiences of exclusion have intimate implications that structure and suture desire, identification, and relationship with and across the divisions and fractures created through discrete and local experiences of oppressions.

By prioritizing sites of alternative contact between Asian Americans and the indigenous peoples whose lands now comprise the United States, including Hawai‘i and Alaska, the authors here seek to theorize those moments of convergence where specific histories of internment, labor, and dispossession collide with the realities of an ongoing colonialism. In the introduction, the editors of this special issue suggest that the methodological questions shaping their call for interrogating the “contrapuntal” (after Edward Said and Mary Louise Pratt) “contact zones” (14) of United States empire center upon “the move beyond the settler-indigenous binary to a more fruitful consideration of other forms of contact” (9). Proposing juxtaposition as “a hermeneutic of alternative contact,” Carpenter and Yoon demonstrate that such a methodology “allows us to arrange and test different meanings that occur when put side by side and to clear the space for subaltern voices perceived to be silent or foreclosed to peek through the cracks, between the lines of reportage and representation” (10). Such cacophonous simultaneity, one might be tempted to observe, helps scholars consider how the colonization of indigenous lands and peoples by the United States functions not so much as a binary between settlers and natives but through a series of recognitions and misrecognitions that coerce settlers, arrivants, and natives into service as proxies, agents, and at times beneficiaries, however undesired and unwanted, of the processes that have stripped land, lives, and nations away from the indigenous peoples who have always been here.

This imperative to juxtapose Asian Americans and Indigenous peoples in what is now the United States (and, though awkward and clumsy, this phrasing marks an important distinction) has antecedents, most notably in the rise of US-based ethnic studies that followed on the heels of the activism of the 1960s and 1970s. Self-determination, while providing the necessary rubrics for political action and activism focused on communities, for communities, and by communities, cohered minority groups into their discrete enclaves. Coalitional politics emerged to foster political alliances among and between struggles and many of the leaders of the American Indian Movement, the Black Panthers, Yellow Power, and La Raza, to name a few, saw in...


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