- Teaching TextsInstitution and Discipline, Part 2
In the last issue of JAAS, we began a discussion about the institutional place of Asian American Studies (AAS). A group of Asian Americanists from universities with limited resources and few Asian Americans on campus and in the local communities talked about the challenges, new and familiar, in establishing AAS as more than a multicultural ornament. For the second part of this series, we have gathered Asian Americanists from campuses where AAS is well-acknowledged and well-established, to address the different challenges that they confront. As Crystal Parikh discusses in more detail below, does the access to established resources in AAS and the visibility and vocality of Asian American students "evidence the fait accompli of equitable representation?" How might bodily representation in classrooms and textual representation in curricula fail to achieve and even defuse the goals of AAS, particularly its longstanding attempt to create knowledge and practices that can contribute to social justice? How might the ready acceptance and comfortable integration of AAS by and within the university cloud the need for continued innovation and reinvention of the field and its practices?
We address these questions by linking pedagogical insights to questions of research, looking at how challenges experienced in the classroom [End Page 301] productively unsettle the accepted wisdoms that frame the directions of AAS scholarship. Parikh urges us to look at AAS pedagogy and research as a process of "making" and "unmaking." She asks us to approach AAS in the "present progressive tense," as a field constituted by subjects and experiences that in their constant reinventions cannot be captured by a singular racial identity or by AAS programs alone. Jane Iwamura asks if we have become too comfortable in our achievements and programmatic in our methodologies. Drawing from her insights in teaching religion, she argues that AAS has raised up its own orthodoxies, favoring an ethos of protest and opposition that cannot account for what Viet Nguyen has described as Asian Americans' "ideological heterogeneity."1 Iwamura specifically discusses how the paradoxical ethos of simultaneous love and condemnation ("love the sinner not the sin") held by Asian American evangelical Christians can help us trace the unevenness and fault lines of our own "sacralized" practices. Kent Ono offers his insights into the overall project of connecting teaching and scholarship that this two-part forum takes as its focus. As the Director of the AAS Program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, a program that has expansive resources in AAS but is located in a region more akin to the "unlikely" sites of AAS discussed in part one of this series, Ono reflects on the range of innovative, even daring, practices of AAS pedagogy and scholarship that continually press upon the confines of academia's institutional imagination.
The Making of Asian American(ist)s: Being a History of a Subject's Progress
What are the implications of thinking of AAS's pedagogical task not as teaching students who they "(already) are" and what their history "is"? I suggest that new directions for the field's intellectual development emerge from a pedagogy that alternatively approaches AAS as the "making" of Asian Americans and that this project, with deference to Gertrude Stein, is "a history of a subject's progress." Like Stein's representational approach to history and identity in The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress, AAS might continually imagine itself in a present progressive [End Page 302] tense, tracking its subject as a "being" that always exceeds our disciplinary languages, methods, and assumptions and that demands ceaseless critical innovation. The "making of Asian Americans" allows AAS to continue to link its own production of knowledge to the questions of equity and justice with which the field has been long concerned.
This pedagogy is crucial, perhaps especially so, at an institution with a substantial population of Asian American students and a relatively strong AAS program (such as where I work now). Certainly, undertaking AAS in such a site is a less lonely endeavor than working at an institution that...