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  • Toward a Queer Afro-Asian Anti-ImperialismBlack Amerasians and U.S. Empire in Asian American Literature
  • Martin Joseph Ponce (bio)

This brief essay sketches the outlines of a research project instigated in part by #BlackLivesMatter's call to affirm all black lives subjected to state violence. I had been teaching Jessica Hagedorn's Dogeaters (1990), Chang-rae Lee's A Gesture Life (1999), Nora Okja Keller's Fox Girl (2002), and Aimee Phan's We Should Never Meet (2004) for years, but it wasn't until the inescapable centering of black lives—on the streets, on social media, in the classroom, in academic programming—that I began to think seriously about the presence of black Amerasian characters in these narratives: the queer hustler and deejay Joey Sands, the transnational adoptee Sunny Hata, the second-generation sex worker Sookie and pimp Lobetto, and the Operation Babylift transracial adoptee Huan.1 Locating additional literary texts that portray such characters (Heinz Insu Fenkl's Memories of My Ghost Brother [1996], Don Lee's Country of Origin [2004], Velina Hasu Houston's dramatic trilogy Asa Ga Kimashita [Morning Has Broken], American Dreams, and Tea [ca. 1984–91]) led me toward researching lines of inquiry that may contribute not only to Asian American studies' turns to U.S. empire and militarism but also to Afro-Asian studies' intermittent engagements with gender and sexuality.2

What I refer to as queer Afro-Asian anti-imperialist critique is a methodology that stems from the Afro-Amerasian's complex conditions of possibility: the U.S. wars across the twentieth century in the Philippines, Japan, the Pacific Islands, Korea, and Viet Nam, and the subsequent (neo)colonial [End Page 283] occupations and ongoing maintenance of military bases throughout the region; the historical circumstances of militarization that transport African Americans to Asian locations; the sexual economies that flourish around U.S. military bases; the presumptive heteropatriarchy that governs policies regulating Asian women's sexual and social interactions with American GIs; the informal practices of racial segregation in "R&R" spaces and the devaluation of Asian women who connect with black men; the politics of patrilineality and the contentious issue of paternal "abandonment" as mediated through racial frames; and the dynamics of racial preference and compulsory nuclear familyhood that shape transnational adoption practices between Asia and the United States.3 The sociohistorical and geopolitical forces that give rise to and inform the Afro-Amerasian's existence and narrative arc call for robust queer, feminist, anti-imperialist frameworks that can challenge ideologies of militarization, heteromasculinism, and familial domesticity as self-evident practices and values to be upheld and reinforced.4

Although the literary texts I consider do not narrate this entire trajectory, each provides significant—and often damning—insight into the ways that black Amerasians have been figured and treated in various social imaginaries and locations. For example, Hagedorn's Dogeaters, Fenkl's Memories of My Ghost Brother, Keller's Fox Girl, and Lee's Country of Origin elaborate the ways that Afro-Amerasians are stigmatized and ostracized in the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan due to their mixed-race identity, presumed illegitimacy as offspring of unmarried parents, fatherlessness, embodied reminder of imperial war and compromised national sovereignty, and "visibly" darker skin (sometimes linked to lower social classes and indigenous minorities). In so doing, they demonstrate the proximities and associations between blackness and premature death (e.g., successful and attempted infanticide in Memories of My Ghost Brother and Fox Girl) and blackness and social death (e.g., the would-be statelessness of Lisa Countryman in Country of Origin if she had not been adopted by an African American navy couple). They also show how legal and social forms of discrimination and paternal abandonment produce patterns of poverty and precarious sex work across generations (e.g., Joey Sands caustically self-identifying as "a whore and the son of a whore" in Dogeaters; Sookie becoming a prostitute like her mother, Duk Hee, in Fox Girl), even as they highlight the street-wise survival strategies of their protagonists.5

Texts like Fox Girl, Phan's We Should Never Meet, and Lee's A Gesture Life further debunk the myth of a better life in...


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pp. 283-287
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