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Journal of Asian American Studies 5.1 (2002) 86-88
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Reimagining the American Pacific:
From South Pacific to Bamboo Ridge and Beyond
Reimagining the American Pacific: From South Pacific to Bamboo Ridge and Beyond. By Rob Wilson. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.
A few years ago, as I was sitting in the Honolulu International Airport waiting for my flight back to Michigan, I heard another person—clearly a tourist—make the following comment: "Honolulu is like New York City in the middle of the ocean. If you want to see the real Hawai'i you need to go to the neighbor islands." As someone born and raised in Honolulu, I was slightly put off by the remark and even contemplated a response: "What do you mean the real Hawai'i?" Of course it became clear that what this person imagined as Hawai'i and what I did were competing ideological expressions of what we understood the function of Hawai'i to be: for him it needed to fulfill a "Mainland" American expectation of idyllic paradise ostensibly free from the ever-increasing forces of global capitalism (as represented by New York City); for me Hawai'i has been a place that has always had to grapple with complicated global and local pressures, trying to manage a fragile economy (once built on plantations; now dependent on tourism and the U.S. military) while also contending with issues of identity for its diverse residents as well as for the state (or Nation for Native Hawaiians) in its relations with the rest of the U.S. and the world. A type of schizophrenia, perhaps ambivalence and/or anxiety, becomes the state of things as a place like Hawai'i must deal with the rest of the world.
Rob Wilson's Reimagining the American Pacific takes on this complicated task of unpacking the many ideological projects that construct Hawai'i and the Pacific, from nineteenth century and early twentieth century American literary tourism to late twentieth century transnational multimedia to the specific local literary and cultural movements in Hawai'i represented by Bamboo Ridge Press and a variety of local writers. In the Preface, Wilson defines his study as "an attempt to understand these localist drives and place-based orientations as part of a complex Pacific and American affiliation that does not fully fit the Eurocentric and/or 'exceptional' model of American studies as it is now obligated and (as 'field imaginary') installed" (ix). This strikes me as analogous to the place of Hawai'i in Asian Pacific American Studies where it serves as a "model" for [End Page 86] successful APA cultural and political work, but also exists as a separate and unique situation that is not easily "transferable" to Asian Pacific America as a whole.
In the Introduction and first three chapters, Wilson sets up a larger theoretical framework for his more specific literary and cultural examples in the remaining chapters. In particular, he painstakingly works through the genealogy of "Asia/Pacific," focusing his attention on twentieth century discourse that constructed the Pacific Rim and looked toward Asia/Pacific as the next new global market location. However, as Wilson points out so well, this discourse often ignored the center of the Pacific and turned its attention on the U.S. West and Northwest and its links to Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia/New Zealand, creating a "utopic discourse of the liberal market, an emerging signifier of transnational aspirations for some higher, supra-national unity in which global/local will meet in some kind of win-win situation and the opened market will absorb culture and politics into its borderless affirmative flow" (31-32).
When Wilson turns to the "center" of the Pacific and examines the specific cultural work taking place in Hawai'i and by other Pacific writers, he does his most compelling analysis. In Chapter 4 ("Blue Hawai'i") and Chapter 5 ("Bloody Mary Meets Lois-Ann Yamanaka"), Wilson provides both informative history and trenchant cultural analysis of the counter-narratives developed by...