Academic journal article American Studies

Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture

Academic journal article American Studies

Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture

Article excerpt

RACIAL AMBIGUITY IN ASIAN AMERICAN CULTURE. By Jennifer Ann Ho. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 2015.

Jennifer Ho's Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture raises timely questions about the category of Asian American at a time when reexaminations of identity categories are being actively carried out in what the feminist theorist Robyn Wiegman calls fields invested in identity knowledges. As Ho explains in her introduction, questioning the definition of Asian American in and of itself is not a new project. The category of Asian American, while rooted in grassroots social movements of the 1960s and meant to counter the demeaning signification of "Oriental," has been scrutinized, if not solely then most forcefully, by poststructural critiques such as Kandice Chuh's Imagine Otherwise. Yet Ho's project differs from existing critiques in at least two regards. First, it consistently illuminates the concept of racial ambiguity-mostly through mixed-race identities and identifications but also through other norm-defying and transgressive identities and identifications emerging variously from transracial adoptees to the definitions of Asian American texts-as the method of exposing and critiquing the multiple exclusions that arise in the vexed project of Asian American self-determination. Secondly, as much as it is invested in bringing into high relief the impossibility of a rigid and exclusionary defi- nition of Asian American, it is likewise equally invested in reestablishing the category as an important site of knowledge production and of social and cultural engagement.

All the chapters in Ho's book reflect this dual imperative of dismantling received ideas about the boundaries of race and reassembling the category of Asian American to speak to Lisa Lowe's much cited call for "heterogeneity, hybridity, and multiplicity." The first chapter, which is on a little known government policy during the Japanese American incarceration-the Mixed-Marriage Policy of 1942-shows how the lived reality of mixed-marriages evaded the rigid notions of American identity assumed by the policy. Yoshiko deLeon, a second-generation Japanese Amerian woman was able to avoid the incarceration camps through the Mixed-Marriage Policy, but instead of assimilating into white American norms and values, she embraced the Filipino culture of her husband, Gabriel deLeon. …

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