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  • Feeling Ancestral: The Emotions of Mixed Race and Memory in Asian American Cultural Productions
  • Jeffrey Santa Ana (bio)

The current era of war, militarism, and neocolonialism in the Pacific is a time in which capitalist expansion simultaneously generates and conceals the negative human consequences of globalization — for example, the tremendous upheaval and migration of Asian people. Diaspora, dislocation, exile, and immigration born of economic necessity are the depressing contradictions to a capitalist paradise that has been optimistically envisaged as the end of history.1 Critics of globalization have theorized the ways in which the commercialization of human feeling conceals the anxieties, fears, and other negative affects that express the harsh underside of transnational capitalism.2 Nowhere is this commercialization of emotion more obvious than in the marketing of multiculturalism and racial difference in global commerce. The commercial use of racial mixture is especially provocative in the way it signals, conditions, and manages distressing experiences, while [End Page 457] assimilating them symmetrically and seamlessly into the transnational stage of capitalism. Clearly, racial mixture is a hot commodity in today’s global market. Particularly in North America, the fascination with and consumption of multiraciality is evident in the notable increase in scholarship about multiraciality in the academy and the profusion of mixed-race productions in the culture industry, both of which reflect the commercialization of racial mixture in a globalized world.

In the last ten years, there has been an explosion of cultural productions about mixed-race people, and particularly of multiracial Asian Americans. Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats and Halving the Bones, Kip Fulbeck’s Paper Bullets and Part Asian, 100 Percent Hapa, Paisley Rekdal’s The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee, Kien Nguyen’s The Unwanted, Deann Borshay Liem’s First Person Plural, Brian Ascalon Roley’s American Son, and Don Lee’s Country of Origin are just some of many contemporary novels and films that feature the experiences of multiracial Asian Americans.3 Such productions are especially compelling in the ways they ascribe a consciousness about mixed race to their characters that articulates the harshness of human life in our modern global era. The very concept of multiraciality — in representations of interracial relations and characterizations of mixed-race people — expresses anxieties about life in the aftermath of war, colonialism, and empire. These anxieties express, in turn, a particular structure of feeling that utterly contradicts the capitalist paradise of globalization, as seen in the many images of diversity in multinational commerce.4 The negative affects that express the multiracial consciousness of Asian Americans, I argue, deny the global subjectivity that is reified in the stylized images of racial mixture in contemporary commercial culture.

This refutation of commercialized global subjectivity is apparent in the expression of negative emotions (shame, melancholia, and anger) by multiracial subjects in Asian American cultural productions. These emotions are negative precisely in the way they affirm the social relevance of race in an era of transnational capital — an era in which race supposedly no longer matters, according to the neoliberal logic of personal responsibility and privatization.5 Asian American cultural productions thus show how racially mixed people mediate the emotions of multiracial consciousness to affirm [End Page 458] and identify with disparaged ancestral origins. Race matters in today’s Asian American cultural productions. It matters through the emotions of mixed race, which express the experience of history and cultural memory and articulate ties to immigrant ancestors and ethnic forebears. I call this experiential process “feeling ancestral.”6 To be mixed race and Asian American is to experience feeling ancestral amid the political, social, and economic upheavals that the Pacific region experiences under globalization. Feeling ancestral describes the dialectic between the celebratory color blindness of racial mixture in global commerce, on the one hand, and cultural memory in the empathic and often painful identification with heritage and genealogy, on the other.

Global Capital’s Euphoria: Multiracial Asians in the Commercialization of Human Feeling

It is no exaggeration to suggest that the multiracial face has become an icon for America’s global economy and its corporate social order. Its use is particularly obvious as a lucrative commodity in multinational apparel and beauty industries. As recent provocative...


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pp. 457-482
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