- Editor’s Preface
At oak creek, wisconsin on august 5, 2012, Wade Michael Page entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin during Sunday service and opened fired, killing six and wounding several others, before turning his gun on himself. Page is a veteran of the army and was being tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center for his involvement with Neo-Nazi groups, including membership in a rock band named End Apathy. The local police initial described this crime as an act of domestic terrorism, but quickly backed away from this term to insist that no motivation could yet be determined. The FBI has since been called to investigate as I write this.
Tragedies such as these, when they directly affect Asian American communities, give urgent occasion to those of us who work in Asian American studies to consider the purposes our research, teaching, and outreach serve. I believe fervently that academic work should not be about the accumulation of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Such work is, rather, primarily valuable when situated within a social context that it responds to, usually by trying to make sense of this context from multiple, systemic, and creative perspectives and just a little less frequently by seeking to contribute to this context’s continual dynamism in deliberate and ethical ways. The latter is especially true for Asian American studies, which was founded on a focus on a specific racially marginalized population that, in being so object-centered, necessarily challenged prevailing disciplinary norms. Over the more than thirty years of institutional growth that [End Page v] this field has experienced, the participants in this growth have sought to remain anchored to this founding principle. And while our successes have been many, including an expansive network of programs and course offerings and scholarly works that illuminate nearly every corner of Asian American experiences, they have also been confined to the institutions that have fostered the development of this field as an academic endeavor.
So what kind of difference can we make when an Asian American community like the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin is targeted for such brutal violence? How do we as scholars best intervene in a social context that has acted as a kind of condition of possibility for this kind of violence, from the widespread attitudes toward firearms that allowed Wade to purchase his weapons legally to the anti-Muslim, and anti-foreign, sentiments that have metastasized in the United States since 9/11? Are there limits to our collective endeavors as academics that we must humbly accept?
The articles in this issue address such questions in their unique ways, and in doing so demonstrate how research in Asian American studies remains a self-reflexive and heterogeneous enterprise held together by a commitment to a political goal as much as to an academic one. Lan Duong and Isabelle Pelaud, for instance, provide an important reflection on how public art addresses a Vietnamese diaspora still struggling with the very lived legacies of the American War in Vietnam. By doing so, they also offer an admirably lucid discussion about how they as “female Vietnamese American scholars” position themselves, and are positioned by, the community they explicitly seek to serve. Emma Teng offers a historical account of how another kind of public once imagined the “Eurasian” as a threat to its cohesiveness, conjuring for us in the process the ways in which understandings of the US as a nation are fraught with contradictions and ambivalences that have enduring consequences. Glenn Tsunoki, et al. work within a sociological framework to highlight disparities in HIV awareness among foreign-born and US-born Asian American youths, and the implications for their health such disparities entail.
Finally, this issue contains an experiment I am conducting while editor of this journal: a forum where several notable and active scholars in the field are asked to respond in a succinct way to a single question with a large significance for Asian American studies as a whole. The first question [End Page vi] I decided to pose was one that Timothy Yu first iterated on his blog, “Has Asian American Studies failed?” Responding to two articles that appeared in major national newspapers, one...