Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

Crossing the Planes: Gathering, Grafting, and Second Sight in the Hong Kong China International District

Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

Crossing the Planes: Gathering, Grafting, and Second Sight in the Hong Kong China International District

Article excerpt

Hong Kong, Dan Rather declared as he began his television coverage of the 1997 "handover" from British to Chinese sovereignty, "is Asia for beginners." That is what it was for me, although it has been my home now for more than twenty years. In all of that time and in all of my work on American culture in transnational contexts, considering how people are changed by their cross-cultural encounters, I have never written about Mor monism and its various crossings in Asia. Although I have no doubt that my beliefs infuse my professional work, as I thought about Asia in my Mormonism, trying to parse influences and see where the academic training and the Mormon upbringing inform one another became impossible. So I have given in to the blurring of boundaries and I embrace the amorphousness of what follows, but I warn the reader that it is a bit of pastiche: somewhere between an academic treatise, a class lecture, and a sacrament meeting talk. Fortunately, Hong Kong is and always has been, as historian Elizabeth Sinn notes, a "between place."2 As a twenty-first century Latter-day Saint woman living in Asia, I am constantly reminded of the ways in which the crossings that take place today are in planes rather than across plains as they were in the nineteenth century.

My thoughts here are informed by my work in transnational American studies, which consider how " America" looks from the outside in, with a particular emphasis on the intersectionality of gender, national identity, and generation/history in Hong Kong as it is observed in women's narratives of their crosscultural encounters. Although I am partial to a post-national/ transnational view of the world (national identity is but one of many identifying threads in a particular individual or community in globality), clearly, notions of nationhood and national exceptionalism (particularly American and Chinese) still matter a great deal in Hong Kong and, I would argue, in much of Asia as well as elsewhere in the world.

Additionally, because national myths and values, particularly processes of Americanization, are, at times, still powerful influences shaping cross-cultural interactions in Hong Kong, within LDS congregations individual Church members often draw upon what they believe to be true about a particular nation or culture to affirm personal decisions or worldviews, including doctrinal opinions and/or spiritual core values. To use the nomenclature of gathering and grafting as it is deployed in the parable of the olive tree in the fifth chapter of Jacob in the Book of Mormon, each of us grafts our experiences onto our beliefs as we gather together in the larger communities in which we worship. Macro and micro histories are in constant tension and our pasts shape our present in profound but subtle ways. As borderlands studies scholar Gloria Anzaldua reminds us above, strength comes in "seeing through" the past, "looking at our shadows and dealing with them." Only when we understand what has been is it possible to truly shift our perspectives and change in ways that strengthen in the long term.

In Hong Kong, I have witnessed a number of Latter-day Saints in various stages of "seeing through" their pasts, grafting experiences onto belief (or vice versa) as they transit back and forth across the Pacific, gathering in various LDS congregations and imbibing elements of a host/national culture that often grafts onto a home/national culture. Their stories shed light on changes that have occurred over the past decades in both Hong Kong and North America, particularly in terms of post-1965 immigration to the US and the "brain drain" from Hong Kong/greater China between the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in the PRC and the 1997 resumption of Chinese sovereignty marking the end of British colonialism in Hong Kong. Latter-day Saints in Hong Kong include members of the Asian diaspora who were born and raised in North America or in other western countries as well as children of the brain drain, which is now reversing as opportunities in Asia are on the rise. …

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