- Asian American Studies Now: A Critical Reader
In the July 4, 2010, edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Gary Y. Okihiro responded to the Arizona State Legislature's passage of HB 2281, which prohibited teaching ethnically specific courses in secondary education classrooms. Taking a broad historical and political perspective, Okihiro contemplates the past and present state of ethnic studies affairs and concludes that ethnic studies are at risk due to institutional defunding, obfuscated multicultural politics, and academic complicity, evident in status quo politics and research. Further, Okihiro maintains that Arizona's educational politics reveal a systemic problem, redolent of nativism, racism, compromised pedagogies, and field illegibility. Finally, he criticizes practitioners who are unable to communicate the importance of ethnic studies. These failures (and potential routes to success) evocatively foreground Asian American Studies Now: A Critical Reader, edited by Jean Yu-wen Shen Wu and Thomas C. Chen.
Mindful of the histories, movements, migrations, and politics that shape Asian America, Wu and Chen answer Okihiro's call for legibility and relevance, manifest in the accessible and well-organized nature of this thirty-one-essay collection. The book is divided into four sections that reflect principal keywords in the field: "Situating Asian America," "History and Memory," "Culture, Politics, and Society," and "Pedagogies and Possibilities." Politically and academically grounded, the collection's title carries a double meaning: "(1) the current state of what is in many respects a thriving academic field, and (2) the political impetus behind the field, which Movement activists expressed in their demand for 'Asian American Studies Now!'" (xvi). Published some thirty years after the founding of the Association of Asian American Studies and almost forty years after the 1967-1969 San Francisco State College student strikes, the anthology addresses the urgency of civil rights activism "then" and the need for such work "now."
Indeed, Asian American Studies Now makes good on the claim that it reflects the "latest work in the field" that emerges from "worldwide shifts that make the present moment very different from that of the end of the last century" (xiii). Not only does the collection reflect shifts in the field; [End Page 222] it does so in critical, reflexive fashion, evident in essays such as David L. Eng and Shinee Han's "A Dialogue on Racial Melancholia," Michael Omi and Dana Takagi's "Situating Asian Americans in the Political Discourse on Affirmative Action," Sucheng Chan's "Whither Asian American Studies," Glenn Omatsu's "Freedom Schooling: Reconceptualizing Asian American Studies for Our Communities," and Wu's "Race Matters in Civic Engagement Work." These pieces highlight debates, shifts, and trends within Asian American studies rooted in formations of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexuality.
Like its predecessor (Asian American Studies: A Reader , edited by Wu and Min Song), Asian American Studies Now commences with Okihiro's "When and Where I Enter," which establishes the intersectional stakes that are part and parcel of Asian American Studies. Analogously, Elaine Kim's "Home is Where the Han Is: A Korean American Perspective on the Los Angeles Upheavals" (which also appears in the previous reader) and Howard Winant's "Racism: From Domination to Hegemony" complicate notions of belonging and identity via transnationalism and multiculturalism. The revised reader is much more focused on scholarly assessments of common themes in Asian American studies: immigration exclusion, senses of belonging, citizenship, and model minoritization. Primary documents such as the Munson Report (which highlights the non-threat posed by Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II) and the U.S. News and World Report's "Success Story of One Minority Group in U.S." (which delineates the tenets of the "model minority myth") have been eschewed in the sequel in favor of Michi Nishiura Weglyn's historicization of the former ("The Secret Munson Report") and Robert G. Lee's "The Cold War Origins of the Model Minority Myth." Such revisions bring to light the growth of Asian American studies beyond model-minority identification, and the analytical excerpts...