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Journal of Asian American Studies 3.2 (2000) 127-137
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The Role of Race and its Articulations for Asian Pacific Americans
Yen Le Espiritu, Dorothy Fujita Rony, Nazli Kibria, and George Lipsitz
"It is axiomatic that no social movement is as incoherent as it appears from within, nor as coherent as it appears from without."
Troy Duster 1
"You know, the hardest thing about pan-Asian solidarity is the 'pan' part. It forces us outside of our comfort zones, whether they are constructed by ethnicity, class, home city, identity, whatever."
Naomi Iwasaki 2
The articles in this issue were submitted in response to a call for papers on the role of race and its articulations for Asian Pacific Americans today. As guest editors, we posed a series of questions that we hoped would generate a productive dialogue. How does the lived experience of Asian Pacific Americans today confound the ways we have been taught to think about race? In what ways are long established racial categories currently being contested and transformed? How are Asian Pacific American communities addressing the rapidly changing racial realities in our separate and shared communities, both in the United States and around the world? [End Page 127]
Racialized thinking and racial categories are biological and anthropological fictions, but they have taken on lives of their own as social "facts." When social facts about race are widely believed, they can fill foundational roles in structuring assaults on human dignity and ensuring differential access to opportunities and life chances for aggrieved racialized populations. Yet racism is fluid as well as fixed; it is recreated and reconfigured every day just as much as it is a residual inheritance of past injustices and inequalities. Malcolm X used to say that racism is like a Cadillac; they make a new model every year. Just as an owner's manual for a 1965 Cadillac cannot tell you how to repair a 1999 model, an understanding of race rooted in twentieth century categories will not suffice to meet the challenges we are sure to face in the twenty-first century.
The authors featured in this issue report on some of the rapidly changing realities about race within, among, and between contemporary Asian Pacific American communities. Dorothy Fujita Rony helps arbitrate the competing claims and clashing interpretations that structure responses to the autobiography of Philip Vera Cruz, a Filipino American union organizer, who worked with the primarily Mexican American United Farm Workers union. Scott Kurashige explores how Asian Americans United in Philadelphia learned how to make productive use of potentially divisive tensions between generations, social classes, and national identities in the course of organizing against anti-Asian violence and discriminatory actions by both police officers and prosecutors. Rebecca Chiyoko King delineates tensions between the politics of rights and the politics of recognition among activists advocating a "mixed race" census designation, especially in respect to the difficulties their campaigns pose for Asian Pacific American organizations. Steven Masami Ropp asks how the presence of more than 12,000 Asian Latinos in Los Angeles might help us see how the social identities most salient to us in national terms might be quite inadequate for capturing the complexity of identities and identifications that people have to embrace in an increasingly transnational world. Alice Hom, Carolyn Leung, and Eric Reyes contribute review essays on the changing nature of race within struggles over women's issues, immigration, and AIDS advocacy, respectively.
As reports from the "front lines," these articles and reviews reverberate with the peril and promise of the present moment. As such, they are [End Page 128] probably more of a weather vane than a compass, a calculation of weight, mass, and movement from inside the avalanche, rather than a fully realized vision of where we need to go in the future. As a collection of articles derived from a call for papers, they are representative of the ongoing struggles for social change in Asian Pacific America today. We hope that the dialogue engendered by these...