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  • Guåhan (Guam), Literary Emergence, and the American Pacific in Homebase and from unincorporated territory1
  • Hsuan L. Hsu (bio)

In 2004, the Association for Asian American Studies indefinitely tabled a ballot regarding a proposed name change to "the Association for Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies" (Kauanui 131). The proposal to "include" Pacific Islanders sparked a lively debate about what anthropologist J. Kehaulani Kauanui calls the "Pacific Question"—the danger that "under the mantle of the AAAS . . . Pacific Islanders and Pacific Islander studies will both be made more invisible than ever" (125). Kauanui opposes this conflation because of the two groups' disparate histories of pan-ethnic racial formation, explaining that "Pacific Islanders have had to contend more with persistent primitivist discourses describing us, not orientalist ones" (130). While he shares some of Kauanui's reservations, Vicente M. Diaz—director of the University of Michigan's Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies program (and the scholar who originally proposed a discussion of a possible name change for AAAS in 2002)—points out "the entangled histories of Asians and Pacific Islanders and versions of America as played out in the islands" and expresses an "interest in comparative work between Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies [that] stems from a hope that their conjunction could very well help dislodge the spatial and discursive orientations that continue to restrict, in my view, current institutional arrangements of [both fields]" (199). [End Page 281]

While language, culture, discourses of racialization, and histories of colonization clearly distinguish the subject matter of Pacific Islander studies and Asian American studies, these fields are linked by their mutual imbrication in the history of US neocolonialism in East Asia. As Colleen Lye has argued, starting in the late nineteenth century, US "geostrategic necessity" led to the "install[ation] of the East as a Western proxy rather than antipode" (Lye 10). Thus, US support for a modernized Japan in the late nineteenth century and for China's independence in the twentieth century "indicated the ongoing intimacy between Asiatic racial form and the contradictions of U.S. globalism . . . ." Arif Dirlik has also conceptualized racialization in geographical terms, noting that the "Asian-American experience . . . shares certain common features with the experiences of Asian and Pacific peoples moving in alternative directions across the Pacific, for all these motions shared a common context in an Asian-Pacific regional formation, of which they were at once a product and an integrative ingredient" (Dirlik 285). Logistically, US economic and military endeavors across the Pacific Ocean—as well as the subsequent discursive production of the "Asian-Pacific" region through capitalist "Rimspeak"—have been supported by US bases on Pacific Islands such as American Samoa, Guam, the Marshall Islands, and Hawai'i.2 These bases—along with similar installments on islands seized by European powers—have required the displacement and subjection of indigenous peoples. Thus, the history of Pacific Island colonization is inextricable from the history of US neocolonialism in Asia, and the differential racializations of "Asiatics" and "Pacific Islanders" within the US cultural imaginary emerge from the consolidation of US hegemony throughout the "Asia-Pacific" region.3

This essay responds to both Diaz's and Kauanui's calls for "scholars to engage areas of inquiry concerning Pacific Islanders on a comparative basis in relation to Asian Americans"4 (Kauanui 125) by considering how two texts that thematize the emergence of a marginalized literary tradition—Shawn Wong's Homebase (1979) and Craig Santos Perez's multibook poem, from unincorporated territory (2008, 2010)—represent the island of Guam and, by extension, the spatial dynamics of the "American Pacific."5 After presenting an overview of Guam's geographical role as a militarized "unincorporated territory" underpinning US military dominance across the Pacific Ocean, I will consider Homebase's critical depiction of its protagonist's blindness to the island's history and indigenous inhabitants, as well as Perez's poetic attempts to redress such erasures. By comparing these texts' approaches to the problems of literary emergence, this essay [End Page 282] historicizes the tensions between Asian American and Pacific Islander racial identity and attends to how US-controlled capital circulation and military dominance across the Asia-Pacific region have disparately influenced the racialization, spatial access...


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