- Model-Minority Imperialism
In her recent introduction to the collection of essays on empire's imprints as seen through the lens of North American history, Ann Laura Stoler notes the ways in which the present moment is and always has been "haunted by empire," if to be haunted is to be "frequented by and possessed by a force that not always bares a proper name."1 If such an elusive yet pervasive force of empire coincided with the elusive naming of it as such, and if the effectiveness of empire has depended on its evasion from being known, the current direction in academic fields—most notably Asian American studies, American studies, and postcolonial studies—suggests an epistemological shift in the history and modality of how empire is recognized and how it operates. Empire, once seemingly invisible and occluded, now seems almost ubiquitous.
Situated at the intersection of the three academic fields, and as part of the scholarship such as Stoler's that seeks to, to use Walter Benjamin's words, "blast open the continuum of history" lest this ubiquity slip comfortably into a mode of invisibility under another name (as was the case during much of the twentieth century under "American exceptionalism"), Victor Bascara's succinctly titled Model-Minority Imperialism proposes to "outlin[e] a methodology for apprehending empire" (xix). In identifying U.S. imperialism with a name that immediately calls to mind one of the most recognizable discourses on the formation of the Asian American category in the latter half of the twentieth century and beyond, Bascara does not simply argue that Asian American studies is useful for understanding empire; rather, he intimates that the cultural politics of the discipline is the methodology for understanding empire's shifting iterations, as the "return of empire is recognizable through Asian American cultural politics," which "set the conditions for the critical return of empire as an explanatory model for understanding the American century" (135, ix). [End Page 235]
This shrewd connection that Model-Minority Imperialism draws between Asian American cultural politics and the epistemology of empire serves as the book's central argument and is buttressed by Bascara's explanation of Asian American cultural politics as one that is "both symptomatic and determining of relations of production," which "references and remobilizes" the racist history and culture of U.S. capitalism in order to "critically rearticulate them" (xxviii). Emphatic in its insistence that U.S. imperialism is "always an economic system" (13), Model-Minority Imperialism argues that Asian American cultural politics reveals the contradictions in the construction and management of Asian difference that have been indispensable to this system—through commodification, reification, and abstraction vis-à-vis money—which currently functions under the names of globalization and multiculturalism. At the core of Asian American cultural politics, then, is a critique of assimilation and inclusion as desirable and viable endpoints, which offsets the aims of globalization and multiculturalism that attempt to resolve ongoing contradictions in the global division of labor and material inequalities under capital by purporting to raze differences in promotion of universal equality and a free market.
Although not explicitly defined, the meaning of "model-minority imperialism," especially as it relates to Asian American cultural politics, is made clear in the book's first two chapters. In chapter one, Bascara argues that the model-minority myth and its incorporation of Asian difference have been deployed to serve as evidence for progressive historical change in the United States, which not only de-emphasizes the racist and imperial violence of the nation-state but also renders it as benevolent (xxii). As such, a critique of the model-minority myth at the center of Asian American cultural politics insists that the violent practices of U.S. imperialism/capitalism are ongoing. Key to this chapter—and indeed the overall book—is that this violence is often epistemic. The ethos of the revisionist history within Asian Americanist critique, therefore, does not constitute an excavation of a forgotten past but calls for a critical examination of the conditions that make visible the return of a repressed knowledge formation (25). If the...