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  • Bilingual Brokers: Race, Literature, and Language as Human Capital by Jeehyun Lim
  • Andrea Fedi (bio)
Bilingual Brokers: Race, Literature, and Language as Human Capital. By Jeehyun Lim. New York: Fordham University Press, 2017. 270 pp. Paperback $25.

During the last two decades, various models of cultural brokerage have been deployed across different areas of postcolonial studies. In Bilingual Brokers: Race, Literature, and Language as Human Capital, Jeehyun Lim applies brokerage to the construction of bilingual personhood in Asian American and Latino writers, developing and expanding the intellectual frameworks that she had partially explored in some of her previous articles, particularly “Cutting the Tongue: Language and the Body in Kingston’s The Woman Warrior” (Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the United States, 31, no. 3, Fall 2006: 49–65), and “‘I Was Never at War With My Tongue’: The Third Language and the Performance of Bilingualism in Richard Rodriguez” (Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, 33, no. 3, Summer 2010: 518–42).

The book’s long introduction describes the new multilingual landscape of American society and postulates a strong correlation with “changes in demographics due to the liberalization of immigration” going back to the Hart–Celler Act of 1965, which lifted the restrictions previously imposed on immigration on the basis of national origin and resulted in “the rise of immigration from Asia and Latin America” (2). Lim provides the cultural and social foundations for identifying the English-only movement of the 1990s as a “watershed moment in the affirmation and cultivation of language difference” (3), and traces the roots of the duality of bilingualism, [End Page 648] seen as asset (“human capital”) and, at the same time, as a kind of liability, linked to a variety of social manifestations of racialization. Looking at the narratives of assimilation of Asian Americans and Latinos into American society, Lim argues that language can also be viewed as symbolic racialized capital, referring specifically to Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of cultural capital (see, e.g., Language and Symbolic Power, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), and, more generally, to “recent discussions of neoliberalism in political philosophy” (13).

Chapter 1, “Cultural Brokers in Interwar Orientalism,” examines two writers from the “era of Asian exclusion” (1882–1952), Younghill Kang and Carlos Bulosan, and the effects of that exclusion (consistent with Fredric Jameson’s category of “semantic precondition”) on the public imaginary. Orientalist tropes, appropriately revisited and adapted, become instrumental to the analysis of the representation of the Philippines in Bulosan, and to the understanding of Kang’s publicly established role of “native informant during a time of growing desire to know the exotic East” (38).

Chapter 2, “Bilingual Personhood and the American Dream,” focuses on English as the “colorblind language of the American dream,” with references to past educational practices and to the representation of language minorities inside the institutional culture of traditional liberalism. A historical perspective on bilingualism is offered here from the point of view of civil rights jurisprudence. The core of this chapter is a close examination of the Language Resources Project (1961–1964), funded by the U.S. Office of Education and directed by sociolinguist Joshua Fishman, who believed that “bilingualism could be a valuable component of human capital,” and advocated for “stronger forms of ethnic expression” inside the curriculum (74).

Chapter 3, “Schooling Bilinguals In and Against Multiculturalism,” takes its start from ideas on bilingualism, identity, and recognition found in the essay, “Sounds from a Street Kid,” included in the appendix to the testimony given by Piri Thomas during the 1967 Congressional Hearings on the Bilingual Education Act. Similar ideas are traced inside two bicultural coming-of-age narratives, Américo Parede’s novel George Washington Gómez (published in 1990, but written between 1935 and 1940), and Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoir, The Woman Warrior (1976). The “bilingual subjectivization” of the Mexico-Texan namesake protagonist in Parede’s novel is also read through Lewis Althusser’s essay on “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” modulating the concept of interpellation through the nuances of linguistic dissonance and cultural divergence. The character’s surprising final transformation into an Army intelligence officer, sent back to spy on the Mexican American Seditionists harbored in his own community, [End Page...


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