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  • L.A. East: A Photographic Journey through Asian Los Angeles1
  • Giorgio Hadi Curti (bio), Zia Salim (bio), and Vienne Vu (bio)

We began this epigrammatic visual journey of Asian Los Angeles with the simple intention of providing photographic moments of some of the often overlooked, everyday expressions of the heterotopic Angelino landscape. It was not part of our early intentions to saturate this piece with critical contestations, post-structuralist peregrinations, playful postmodernisms, or other thick theoretical musings. We immediately came to realize, however, that our topic of exploration—“Asian Los Angeles”—and our mechanical medium of engagement—photography—demand this, at least to some small degree. As journeys through L.A.’s avenues and alleys unfold, open questions entangled in geographical and political realities command attention. Amin and Thrift (2002, p. 8) explain that the contemporary city “is an amalgam of often disjointed processes and social heterogeneity, a place of near and far connections, a concatenation of rhythms, always edging in new directions.” Given this, how does one enter into and then corral the topographically sprawling sulci, gyri, and circuits that compose the megalopolis brain-center and “heteropolis” (Jencks 1993) nervous system that is the City of Angels? Where does one draw borders around the fuzzy existences and boundaries surrounding its diffuse assemblagescapes? How does one choose in southern California what does and does not count as (some sort of interrelated part of) L.A.? As we well knew beforehand: arbitrarily.2

This journey also demands that we confront similar, if not complementary, questions of who, what, and where—and what geographies of where—compose “Asian” identities; questions that cannot be simply settled with arbitrary solutions. It is in this context that our topic of exploration calls for a moment of self-reflection. Our journey through Asian Los Angeles is, in many ways, a personal one: all three of us have direct familial [End Page 28] and ethnic ties to both the greater Los Angeles area and the nebulous “continent” of Asia—one of us to Lebanon in Southwest Asia (or “Asia Minor”); another to Afghanistan in Central Asia; and the third to Vietnam in Southeast Asia. But do these distinct and direct connections of ethnicity and heritage lend to each of us an identity of “Asian”? Although perhaps not in the mind of many in the United States—who tie such identificational terms into problematic and essentializing physiological markers and notions of “race”— one of our anecdotal stories is very telling here. While living in China, it was revealed that my mother was Lebanese, and upon this realization a Chinese host excitedly declared, with a determined and aggressive certainty that left no room for disagreement or argument, that—even with my being born and raised in Los Angeles, my remaining language fluency only in English, and half of my ethnic heritage originating from Italy—“You are Asian.”

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Of course, any geographer worth his or her wits already knows that geographically derived identifiers are as contingent as they are constructed. They also recognize that within these contingencies and constructions lie relations of inclusion and exclusion entangled in vast notional and practiced webs of identity, race, citizenship, gender, class, and power (see Lewis and Wigen 1997; Bozorgmehr 1997, p. 388; Said 1978). With these recognitions, our grouping of different ethnicities into “Asian Los Angeles” is then as much an attempt to visually capture and (re)present an often overlooked, expressive yet mundane landscape mosaic of Los Angeles as it is to confront the nonhomogenizable kaleidoscopic flux of what and who (often simultaneously) has and has not been identified as “Asia” or “Asian.” In this, we provide conceptual shreds of and visual glimpses into a “[d]iasporic imagination [that] recognizes the diversity of diasporas and honors the different histories and [End Page 29] memories” (Kwok 2005, p. 49) while also acknowledging opportunities for an affirmative and collective politics of identity across and between difference.

It was decided at the beginning of our journey that the best (i.e., most practical and a/effective) filter of choice in navigating, confronting, and (re)presenting this diasporic and heterogeneous urban flux would be the photograph (see...


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pp. 28-68
Launched on MUSE
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