Drawing Dividing Lines: An Analysis of Discursive Representations of Amerasian "Occupation Babies"

Article excerpt

My initial interest in examining the issues presented in this article began in the spring of 1993, when I first learned of an unprecedented $69 million class action suit filed against the U.S. government on behalf of the 8,600 Filipino Amerasian children left without adequate child support and compensation when the Subic Naval Base was closed in November 1992. As I followed the progress of the lawsuit (noting the dearth of media coverage), it struck me that much of the information North Americans receive about "Amerasians" has relied on imperialist rhetoric and certain patterned representation. The trope of the "marginal" and "tragic" Amerasian, recently showcased in the musical Miss Saigon, appeared as a consistent feature in many of the texts I began to review. As a "mixed-race(d)" woman, I became interested in the impact of these constructions from my own social location. (What does the presence of an Amerasian child do to narratives of "East/West" romance? How were boundaries between "races" and "nations" being naturalized on the site of the Amerasian body so as to re-consolidate white domination and U.S. hegemony?) I became concerned with identifying the weave of stories and images that were constituting Amerasians in such ways as to block other narratives from forming -- narratives that might script new hybrid ways of writing against "race," racism and narrow nationalisms.

Any attempt to articulate an oppositional discourse must perforce interrogate the processes of boundary-making that have sustained such interlocking and overlapping relations of domination as imperialism, militarism, prostitution, racism, and sexism. If, for example, we accept Cynthia Enloe's characterization of military bases as "artificial societies created out of unequal relations between men and women of different races and classes" (1989, p. 2, my emphasis), then I believe it is imperative that we (as North Americans) mount our challenge by investigating the diffuse strategies and discourses that have produced and guarded concepts of immutable "difference." In simpler terms, we must look at how hierarchical "difference" is made so that we can begin to unmake it.

My main objective in this article is to argue that representational practices have been crucial in mediating and naturalizing historically constructed "dividing lines." Colonialism's dividing lines have been perpetuated through media discourse and popular culture. Our task is to understand how common-sense coheres around these normalizing social scripts.

North American narratives of "East-West" romance, remain, for the most part, white and male-dominated imperial fictions. The continent of Asia itself (or herself, since the "East" is often feminized), reduced in its vastness and heterogeneity, provides an oppositional frame of reference for the working out of symbolic dramas of white, male selfhood. The self-edifying discourse of imperialism's triumph over the "Oriental" female is an integral part of the structuring metaphors in these texts. (1)

Yet while sex between "races" is often seen as a necessary extension of conquest, sex between "races," and more specifically, sex between people of two "different" and ostensibly unequal "nations," is never depicted as a good thing. (2) When it takes place, it is almost without exception seen as an unhealthy relationship with dire consequences. Whether it is the portrayal of two "star-crossed lovers" as in the musical Miss Saigon, or the monolithic (and often dehistoricized) depictions of Amerasian children in North American mainstream media as tragic victims of circumstance, the message is clear: unions between "races" are doomed. When racialized boundaries are blurred, biological freaks and psychologically maladjusted social misfits are conceived. Historically, the Amerasian figure has been pitched as a subtle warning of the perils involved in "race"-crossing. The paucity of other story lines makes it all the more important to understand how the one story functions to hold the existing racialized social order in place. …