RAW: "Raunchy Asian Women" and Resistance to Queer Studies in the Asian Pacific American Studies Classroom

Article excerpt

What to tell your students in your Asian American literature/studies/ topics courses:

Racial, sexual and class formation are not discrete categories for analysis but come into existence only through one another.

We are never purely or merely racialized subjects. We are, as Norma Alarcon puts it, multiply interpellated.

Asian American scholars have not adequately considered the ways in which sexuality and, in particular, queerness has underpinned the formation of (multiply interpellated) present and past Asian American subjectivities.

--David Eng (1)

Currently I teach Asian Pacific American (APA) literature and culture at Arizona State University (ASU), a public, metropolitan university of over 50,000 students located in the Southwest. My students are largely from the Midwest; most are white and many are Mormon. Having taught Asian American Studies previously to mostly Asian immigrant students at San Francisco State, I had to completely revamp my pedagogy to meet this new student population. Thus ASU offers unique challenges related to the teaching of Asian Pacific American Studies--particularly my understanding of this discipline which emphasizes the inter-related, competing and complex intersections of race, gender, class, and sexuality in Asian Pacific America. (2)

In "Pedagogical Considerations in Asian American Studies," Keith Osajima writes, "The successful development of Asian American studies 'east of California' and the institution of 'multicultural' or 'ethnic studies'. requirements in colleges further diversifies the student composition in our classes, giving rise to new teaching challenges." (271) In short, APAS teachers struggle with maintaining the political/intellectual/activist ideals of APAS while making programs viable in locales across the country where student enrollment will most likely not be APA. For example, in California, where I taught for over nine years, APA classes were filled with Asian American students who were invested in learning more about their history and heritage; they had a significant personal interest in the topic. At ASU, however, I teach Asian Pacific American studies to mostly white, middle-class, conservative students who were not expecting an APA curriculum, who have problems differentiating between "Asians" and "Asian Americans," and who are very reluctant to discuss race in general. When pressed on this issue, they respond, "I never see race or color," or chide me: "Focusing on racial differences only reinforces them." If it were only that simple.

As an ethnic studies professor teaching on a white majority campus, I've become familiar with the vocal and defensive white male student who feels picked on when I lecture about institutional racism and white privilege. He usually complains loudly about "having to deal with race all the time." "I mean we get it: racism is bad, it's stupid--can't we just move on? Is that all there is to Asian America? Isn't there anything more? I thought this was a class about art and culture." Over all I find that my white students alternately personalize any discussion of institutional racism as "white bashing" or invoke the personal to dismiss it. "White guilt" often shuts down students, too, as some fed alternately implicated in or blamed for racist acts perpetrated before they were born. Furthermore, because APAS seeks to center the voices and experiences of APA students, some Euroamerican students, accustomed to their world view being privileged, are overly aware of their sense of discomfort and decenteredness: in an anonymous course check-in, a number of students wrote, "It isn't fair that the Asian students have 'insider information.'" Or, they completely miss the point of APAS altogether; for example, a white female student recently suggested to me that the best way to improve my class would be to "focus more on how whites have not been racist and have helped Asian Americans. …