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Journal of Asian American Studies 3.2 (2000) 241-250

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Review Essay

Profiles of API HIV/AIDS Community-Based Organizations

HIV/AIDS demands the daily resources, time, and work of committed individuals and groups. 1 In this short essay, I will try to complete two specific goals. First, I will highlight some contradictions that HIV/AIDS poses for Asian America and Asian American studies. And second, I'll profile Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS community-based organizations to suggest that many of the problematics we debate in the university are actively being challenged and transformed in the everyday practices of API communities impacted by HIV/AIDS.

A recent AsianWeek headline proclaims, "AIDS Swell Continues Among Gay Minorities: Incidence Among APIs Still Low, But May Be Rising." In the accompanying article, Janet Dang reports that "The number of newly diagnosed AIDS cases among minority gay men surpassed that of gay white men for the first time in 1998, according to a new report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. But Asian Pacific Islander gay men remain the group with the lowest rate--making up only 1 percent of all cases." However, in the article John [End Page 241] Manzon-Santos, executive director of the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center in San Francisco responds "I'm glad that it's that low. But just because it's 1 percent, we shouldn't think that HIV isn't a serious reality in our communities." 2 Manzon-Santos goes on to explain that the reluctance of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) individuals regardless of sexual orientation to admit that they have the disease distorts these statistics. Furthermore, he notes that in San Francisco, like most API communities, the diversity within API communities poses unique challenges such as the linguistic and cultural barriers associated with the experiences of marginalization and immigration to the U.S. He also notes that the relatively low rate of full-blown AIDS diagnoses belies a large number of HIV-infection cases. Manzon-Santos simultaneously critiques the reported level of AIDS diagnoses as inaccurate, and the use of that measure as the basis for our understanding and evaluation of HIV/AIDS' importance in API communities. This passage, while ostensibly debating the statistical representation of HIV incidence and AIDS diagnoses also reveals that race and HIV/AIDS are intricately related in a particular way for APIs. While race as a general factor relates directly to HIV/AIDS as Dang's headline suggests, race and other social forces affect various marginalized groups such as API communities impacted with HIV/AIDS differently.

To ignore this critical difference is to elide the underlying and powerful forces at work that form one of the central contradictions that API Americans, Asian American studies, and the everyday work in API American communities challenge and seek to transform. In a recent lecture, Nayan Shah traces one of the earliest instances of this contradiction in his discussion of how U.S. immigration officials at Angel Island directly produced categories of "Oriental diseases." 3 Under the extreme scrutiny of medical staff from the U.S. immigration system, a positive diagnosis of "Oriental diseases" for these Chinese detainees meant deportation and denial of release from Angel Island and the subsequent loss of putative entry into America proper. These potential U.S. residents-citizens from Asia were deemed threats to U.S. public health and became indicators of individual and ethnicized difference and weakness. Shah's argument highlights the ways American nationalism through immigration policies and the essentializing racialization of public health practices actively produced the "diseased" and thus undesirable racialized body in relation to the unexamined and assumed "healthy" body of an idealized American. The result was to inflict state violence upon Asian immigrants in the form of perceived and actual threats of exclusion let alone the subjugating experience of intensive medical examinations. While Angel Island is no longer a site of such intensified violence, this collusion of social and state power with its threat and violence remain. [End Page 242]

In a related argument, Rod...


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pp. 241-250
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