Xiaoping Li. Voices Rising: Asian Canadian Cultural Activism

Article excerpt

Xiaoping Li. Voices Rising: Asian Canadian Cultural Activism. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2007. viii + 307 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Illustr. $85.00 hc. $29.95 sc.

The title of a book can illuminate its thesis or mislead the reader as to content; Voices Rising: Asian Canadian Cultural Activism does both. It is, indeed, the stories of "voices rising" but, with the exception of one Filipino and one native of Singapore, all the voices are those of artists of Chinese or Japanese descent. The author specifically regrets the absence of South Asians.

Who then are these Asian Canadians? They are, Li explains, not all Canadians of Asian descent, but only those individuals and groups who took it as a "name/identity" after they became "conscious of their status as the 'other' in Canadian society, chose [it] for themselves [,] and brought [it] into being through discursive practice and socio-political actions" (24). Their activism began at a grass-roots level in the early 1970s and took such forms as making films, composing and performing music and plays, publishing magazines and books, creating and curating exhibits of art and photographs, and organizing community events such as Vancouver's Powell Street Festival. Their goal, according to Li, was "to foster a collective Asian Canadian identity, and to intervene in nation-building by pushing for both structural and discursive changes in the cultural sphere in order to realize the ultimate goal of racial equality and social justice" (11).

All the interviewees in the "emerging" generation of the 1970s were Canadian-born; indeed, some had parents and grandparents born in this country; the interviewees in the "threshold" generation were active in the 1980s and early 1990s; the "Moving Ahead" generation, in the late 1990s and beyond. The latter two sections include both natives of Canada and immigrants. Approximately three-quarters of the book consists of transcripts, of about ten pages each, of interviews with twenty interviewees. The analytical introductory chapters and the conclusion also draw on interviews conducted with another thirty or so other cultural activists in Vancouver or Toronto and telephone or e-mail communications with individuals living elsewhere. The analysis is informed by post-colonial theories and cultural studies, but not overwhelmed by them.

Although Li rightly notes the diversity of opinions among her informants, certain themes recur. Among the most striking are the influence of the American civil rights movement and the development of Asian American studies, the informants' searches for their identities as Asian Canadians, and the persistence of racism.

The interviews illustrate, for example, how the children of Chinese and Japanese immigrants sought to identify themselves, not as Asians, but as Canadians. …