- “To ‘P’ or Not to ‘P’?”:Marking the Territory Between Pacific Islander and Asian American Studies
I stole this title from a great Pinoy joke told to me by Gus Espiritu. Its humor comes from the particularities of Filipino rearticulation of Shakespeare's famous question (the joke also resonates among Carolinian speakers from Micronesia, and perhaps among many other Austronesian-based Pacific Island language speakers), but I also want to suggest that its stronger force likewise comes from a kind of lightness of being that self-mockery can make of ontological fundamentalism.
Self-mockery is a serious weapon of cultural resilience and resistance—and as someone waiting in line, somewhat impatiently, I want to re-aim the line of "P's" trajectory in the direction of another culturally and historically specific mode of becoming. The converted question, "To P or not to P?" becomes, then, my way of marking the present territory, a slippery, even sticky sea of historical, political, and cultural determinations that exists between Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in a more turbulent ocean of United States imperialism and colonialism. Choppy too, of course, is the no less innocent world of institutionalized study of these struggles, no matter how noble the motives may be.
In this essay, I want to address the tensions raised by the "P Question" in relation to Asian American Studies from the vantage point of one who has been located in Pacific Studies as viewed from the Islands, particularly from Guam in Micronesia, where I was born and raised, and where I taught in the 1990s. But, I was also trained at the University of [End Page 183] Hawai'i, and though I did my doctorate in California, Hawai'i—through tremors that rocked the field of Pacific Studies as it intersected and was led by scholars housed at the UH Center for Pacific Islands Studies (CPIS), the East West Center, and especially Kanaka Maoli scholars at the Center for Hawaiian Studies—continues to be generative in and of my own intellectual, political, and scholarly development. A robust and busy crossroad as well as homeland, Hawai'i draws up and projects out theoretical, cultural, and political movements from across the Pacific Island region and beyond the seas to make it a particularly fruitful location for intellectual and political production, especially for the kind that pays specific attention to the nuances of travel and mobility in relation to the staunch determinations over land that anchor Indigenous struggles.2 But lest my attempts at nuance fail, let me make one thing absolutely clear: for whatever productive dialogues there may be between Pacific Islander Studies and Asian American Studies, under no circumstance should Pacific Islanders, or Pacific Islands Studies, be subsumed under the institutional framework of Asian American history and experiences. Though I'm sure nobody wishes this to be the case, the question of just how Pacific Islander and Asian American Studies are articulated together will always raise the specter of unequal power relations.
At the same time, however, I think it is vital, in order to maintain the integrity of our respective struggles and projects, that our resolve to keep the differences clear and equal not reify in any way any of the categories in question. To avert this unwanted outcome, I want to highlight the various sites or locales from which we practice our respective crafts. These different, differential, and differentiating sites of and for the situatedness of knowledge and politics, I believe, not only make a world of difference in our work, but are also themselves as much constituted by as they help constitute that work. Thus, I want to emphasize at the outset that the critiques of Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies look very different from within the shores of the various Pacific Islands. But, I also want to assert that an Asian American inquiry must strive to comprehend the kinds of historical and political struggles that Native Pacific Scholars are trying to articulate, just as Native Pacific Scholars need to understand the specificities of Asian histories as they are bound up with the American [End Page 184] imperial project among and amidst Native Pacific Islanders in...