Representations: Doing Asian American Rhetoric

Representations: Doing Asian American Rhetoric

Representations: Doing Asian American Rhetoric

Representations: Doing Asian American Rhetoric

Excerpt

LuMing Mao and Morris Young

In the fall of 2001, Morris Young was preparing a grant proposal for the National Endowment of the Humanities Summer Stipend competition. The project, “'A Ready Tongue Is an Evil': The Possibility and Predicament of Asian American Rhetoric,” looked to examine how Asian Americans use language as a resource to address their conditions in America, to understand why a “ready tongue” (a Chinese expression appropriated by Maxine Hong Kingston) becomes a necessity as they seek a way to respond to American culture. After the proposal was submitted for review at the university level and selected as the “junior faculty” nomination, Morris was provided with the reviewers' comments. Aside from the expected questions asking for clarification about specific concepts and details of the argument, one reviewer expressed a clear skepticism about the value of examining rhetoric and about why rhetoric mattered to Asian Americans. And there was even some confusion about whether this was a project more suited to funding in the social sciences or education if the focus was on language usage by Asians.

In the summer of 2004, LuMing Mao, together with two other colleagues at Miami University, took a group of students, both graduate and undergraduate, to China. For three weeks they visited four universities in four different cities and had numerous conversations with students and faculty. During one conversation with a group of English majors at Beijing Jiaotong University about life in the United States, one of the students asked LuMing, “How do you negotiate speaking English and Chinese both in the U.S. and in China? Which of the two languages do you feel more comfortable speaking? Do you feel conflicted at all— linguistically and/or emotionally—when you speak one or the other language?” What ensued was one of the liveliest, most contested, discussions, conducted in both English and Chinese, on language and identity that LuMing had participated in for a long while.

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