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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Issue Editors' Note

Introduction: Transnational American Studies as Transdisciplinary Collaboration

Understanding that the transnational frame of twenty-first century scholarship in Transnational American Studies leaves behind the “national” origin of reference as an analytical tool and thus...


Collecting Native America: John Lloyd Stephens and the Rhetorics of Archaeological Value

This article focuses on the representations of Maya statues made by archaeologist–explorer John Lloyd Stephens and his artistic collaborator Frederick Catherwood in the 1840s. While Stephens’s and Catherwood’s trips to Central America, Mexico, and the Yucatán were meant to provide material objects for a Pan-American museum of Native American “antiquities,” the statues themselves were never exhibited to the public. Nonetheless, the visual and literary representations of the Maya “idols” circulating across North and Central America as well as Europe incited international interest and dramatically increased similar statues’ monetary value. Stephens’s valuation of Indigenous objects as possessable historical relics rested on the transformation of Indigenous bodies into laborers and Indigenous homelands into saleable property; their representation as mystical “idols” merely concealed this transformation. What is more, the historical and monetary value of the relics collected by Stephens was eventually surpassed by their textual reproductions. These representations—rather than the artifacts or communities behind them—set a persistent pattern for the study and evaluation of Native American “culture” as demonstrated by the textual afterlives of Stephens’s work.


'to transplant in alien soil': Race, Nation, Citizenship, and the Idea of Emigration in the Revolutionary Atlantic

The emigration of African Americans to Haiti throughout the nineteenth century was influenced by the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804). Looking beyond this influence as mere legacy, this article proposes that scholars begin to interrogate the relationship that developed between African American Black Nationalists and Haitian allies. The article explores whether the emigration by African Americans to postrevolutionary Haiti during the nineteenth century was a political rejection of the US. Or was it an opportunity to explore the possibilities of democratic citizenship—the right to have rights—that only Haiti had to offer, in the hope of promoting genuine democracy in the United States, as well? Why, in spite of their insistence that they, too, were Americans, did some African Americans accept the invitation by Haitian revolutionaries to board a ship to the island republic? Black emigration, I argue, was not born of racial solidarity. Rather, it was the political consequence of racial exclusion.

Anticolonial Anti-Intervention: Puerto Rican Independentismo and the US ‘Anti-Intervention’ Left in Reagan-era Boston

Scholars of the post-1968 transnational left have increasingly criticized liberal frameworks that suggest that transnational politics fundamentally revolve around solidarity relationships between full citizens of distinct nation-states. The literature on the movements that opposed US military and political intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean in the 1970s and 1980s has also shifted to better illuminate the fundamental roles migrants, refugees, politically targeted activists, and minoritized groups have played in contesting US intervention, particularly in Central America. This article adds a layer to that discussion by examining how diasporic Puerto Rican activists helped galvanize anti-intervention movements in Boston in the 1980s. It shows how El Colectivo Puertorriqueño de Boston (the Puerto Rican Collective of Boston) developed what I call a politics of “anticolonial anti-intervention” that directly related empire “over there” to racialized colonialism in the urban US. They grappled with what it meant to live in a colonial diaspora as they helped build anti-intervention organizing in Boston. They centered the demand for Puerto Rican independence yet linked it to their resistance to US intervention elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean. They recalibrated independentista visions of self-rule, including through an updated version of community control, in the Reagan era. In doing so they challenged the implicitly white politics of rescue, aid, and deracialized Marxism that prevailed in much of Boston’s anti-intervention movement.

'Agrarians or anarchists?' The Venceremos Brigades to Cuba, State Surveillance, and the FBI as Biographer and Archivist

In the late 1960s, as thousands of Americans traveled to Cuba to evaluate the nation’s evolving revolutionary process, the FBI launched a surveillance campaign designed to prove that travel to the communist island by US citizens represented a threat to national security. Focusing on the FBI’s investigation of the Venceremos Brigade, a radical humanitarian organization that sent delegations of Americans to Cuba as volunteers for agricultural and construction projects, this article evaluates the FBI’s claims that Cuba was indoctrinating leftwing Americans with revolutionary theory and training them in guerrilla warfare. But while state surveillance was intended to criminalize the Venceremos Brigade in legal terms and demonize it within the popular imaginary, it failed to reveal any prosecutable evidence of criminality. Instead, the FBI’s efforts inadvertently transformed it into the group’s clandestine biographer, as agents produced a substantial archive of print material on the group. Amassing thousands of pages of surveillance, including rare pamphlets and ephemera, the FBI’s unofficial archive unexpectedly confirmed the liberatory and humanist aspirations of the Brigade. Although there is a dearth of scholarship on the Venceremos Brigade, the longest-lived Cuba solidarity organization in the world, the FBI’s files remain the most extensive archive on the group ever produced, surpassing any university’s holdings. Files on the Venceremos Brigade illustrate the manner in which counter-narratives can surface even within the body of the state’s archives on grassroots political movements, narratives that are potent enough to challenge the power of the state’s evidence deployed against them.


Foreign Means to Local Ends: Bialik, Emerson, and the Uses of America in 1920s Palestine

In 1926, Haim Nachman Bialik, the premier poet and leading intellectual light of the Zionist movement, sailed for New York on a five-month-long fundraising mission on behalf of the yishuv, the pre-statehood Jewish settlement in Palestine. After his return, the poet gave a long speech in Tel Aviv, recounting his impressions of the United States before an audience of thousands. The America that Bialik presented to his listeners, this essay begins by arguing, should be read as tissue of widely circulating tropes and mythemes, which the poet had absorbed during his formative years in Europe as well as in the course of his 1926 tour. The essay then proceeds to discuss the uses to which the poet puts this (largely borrowed) narrative of American difference, focusing in particular on Bialik’s ambivalent response to the futural (largely Emersonian) ethos to which he returns time and again in his speech, and which he seems to simultaneously endorse and reject. The main part of the essay’s argument is devoted to making sense of this ambivalence, which I attribute to the diverging “temporal imaginaries” that underwrite Zionist and American exceptionalisms.


Reprise Editor's Note

Commentary on Reprise selection.

SPECIAL FORUM: Globalization and American Literature

Translational Form in Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being

Through a close reading of the tropes of interlingual and historical translation in Ruth Ozeki’s 2013 novel, A Tale for the Time Being, this essay argues that an attention to forms of translational work has important implications for transnational American studies, particularly in reorienting the field beyond its continental US and anglocentric bounds. Taking as its primary object of inquiry the “voluminous influx” of national, racial, and linguistic ‘otherness’ that David Palumbo-Liu describes as “a distinct feature of late twentieth century and early twenty first century age of globalization,” A Tale for the Time Being highlights translation’s central (and often acknowledged) role in shaping the ways in which that otherness is negotiated across geographical and temporal meridians. My reading of the novel’s translational form is twofold. I begin by considering the import of this intervention to the field of Asian American literary studies, focusing on how Ozeki mobilizes the formal elements of interlingual translation to push back against naturalizing conceptions of Asian / American identity. I then apply this translational framework to the divergent accounts of history in the novel, and argue that—by calling attention to the fissures and gaps in these narratives—Ozeki offers a new model of empathic reading, one that draws herself and her readers together through a logic of “not knowing.”


Anthologizing “Little Calibans”: Surplus in Junot Díaz’s Linked Stories

Anthologizing stories from linked short story collections gives rise to a troubling tension. To select and curate a story in an anthology elevates it to paradigmatic status. Yet, linked collections are anti-paradigmatic: interweaving fragments, rejecting representative conventions and monolithic narratives, and producing a surplus of feeling and knowledge beyond individual stories. These qualities become obscure when reading a single story contextualized in an anthology. This tension is particularly evident with anthologization of authors like Junot Díaz, whose works are suspicious of neoliberal multiculturalism’s totalizing embrace, but whose inclusion as an ethnic, national, or world writer in different anthologies results in varied thematic framings specific to each. Juxtaposing the linked story in two settings, anthology and linked collection, expands scholarly conversations around emergent forms of transnational American literature. This article argues that linked collections preempt, primarily through formal means, the flattening and functionalizing of their stories into unified exemplars of multicultural diversity or universal experience. Examining stories from Díaz’s Drown and This is How You Lose Her alongside these same tales as framed in three Norton anthologies illustrates this possibility. Díaz develops a paradigm of surplus through stories connected by a sense of displacement. This surplus is a literary strategy that anticipates and addresses anthology curation’s effects and expectations. Rather than recuperating identity or loss to construct more unified notions of ethnicity, nation, or world, linked stories give shape to assembled fragments. They point toward a transnationalism invested in how narrative fragments of displacement and diaspora constitute an irreducible surplus.



Mapping the Transnational in Contemporary Native American Fiction: Silko and Welch

Revisiting the terrain of the 2012 JTAS Special Forum, “Charting Transnational Native American Studies,” this essay argues both that the transnational is a valuable, productive lens for understanding Native American literature, and that a consideration of Native American texts is indispensable to the “transnational turn” in Americanist literary scholarship. The essay argues that Native American literary texts engage the transnational in three ways: affirming “America” as transnational cultural space from its inception by staging ways Native cultures “dis-identif[y] with the nation”; affirming the transnational complexity of Native cultures; and registering Pan-Indian and indigenous transnationalisms vitally alive in the present. The essay advances these claims through readings of two recent historical novels by major Native American authors: Leslie Marmon Silko’s Gardens of the Dunes (2000), and James Welch’s The Heartsong of Charging Elk (2001).  Both novels are set in the late nineteenth century, a critical period in Native American history, especially in the American West; and both novels map complex itineraries for Native American characters who travel abroad, scripting transnationalism in diasporic terms. The essay argues that Silko’s novel portrays transnational encounter as global transindigeneity, casting the transnational as a vehicle to awaken and activate feminist and especially ecofeminist transindigenous solidarities, while Welch employs the form of the transnational bildungsroman to make visible tribal processes of cultural adaptation and transnational dimensions of tribal cultures at “home.”

Exotic Arabs and American Anxiety: Representations of Culinary Tourism in Diana Abu-Jaber's Crescent

In this essay, I examine the way in which Diana Abu-Jaber's novel, Crescent, presents an exoticised Arabic culture and the relationship of this to a post-9/11 American culture eclipsed by anxieties about terrorism. I am primarily concerned with the text’s representation of what I call “culinary tourism”—its characters’ attempts to access culture (and Arabic culture in particular)—through eating. Food becomes a vehicle through which the text critically explores the dialectics of a post-9/11 American exoticism: the fear of a vaguely defined Arabic or Islamic culture, on the one hand, and the potential for its strangeness to be seen as fascinating on the other. I argue that Crescent is a conflicted novel that presents an exoticised representation of culture through its depiction of food, and yet cannot seem to wholly abandon itself to its own systems of exoticism. On the one hand, as I discuss in the first half of this essay, the novel’s representations of food are a vehicle through which it critiques its characters’ engagement with stereotypes, a mode of cultural interaction which Homi Bhabha argues is always afflicted by anxiety. However, on the other hand, as I discuss in the second half of this essay, the florid language and imagery it uses in its representations of food reveal its reliance upon the same discourses of exoticism it critiques, and possession by the same kinds of anxieties about Arabic culture that afflict its characters.

Postethnicity and Antiglobalization in Chicana/o Science Fiction: Ernest Hogan’s Smoking Mirror Blues, and Rosaura Sáncez and Beatrice Pita’s Lunar Braceros 2125-2148

During the past decades, science fiction has evidenced an often-unacknowledged problematic brought to the forefront by advocates of alter-globalization: the future is (still) predominantly white, masculine, and globally built on indigenous exploitation. In the era of multinational capitalism, the trend towards an apparent postnationalism paradoxically risks leading towards what Lysa Rivera has described as a “Fourth World [which] promotes the ‘multiplication of frontiers and the smashing apart of nations’ and indigenous communities.”Simultaneously, the increase of ethnic transnational conflicts in a globalized world has prompted the pursuit of a utopian postethnic future that seeks social harmony but seems to be spiraling into the erosion of the American ethnic paradigm through the configuration of nonspecific and inconsistent ethnic categories, derived from the “lumping of all indigenous people into one category,” as Linda Alcoff claims.

This paper aims at exploring the Chicana/o cultural and ethnic identity in the context of multinational capitalism through its articulation and dissolution in the realm of science fiction, where issues such as postethnicity and its intricate connection with corporate globalization are discussed. The study will focus on the analysis of two novels: Smoking Mirror Blues (2001), by Ernest Hogan, and one instance of what Catherine Ramírez has termed ‘Chicanafuturism,’ Lunar Braceros 2125-2148 (2009), by Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita.

Being True to the Trans-: The Transglobal Science Fiction of Samuel R. Delany

This essay begins with the recognition that science fiction, classic as well as contemporary, has always possessed a global, postnationalist imaginary, shying away from if also secretly conditioned by contemporary nationalist and imperialist scenarios. In recent critical work on SF, critics such as Fredric Jameson have persuasively argued that contemporary SF is a privileged literary mode of “cognitive mapping” of the inherently unrepresentable, technologically conditioned global economy. Samuel R. Delany’s 1984 novel, Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand, dramatizes such an insight via a literally “transglobal” extrapolation of our current transnational dynamics. In the process, I suggest, the transglobal fictional world of Delany’s novel counters totalizing notions of the global and of the literal globe which is a planetary world by exposing the “plural singularity” of any and all worlds. Drawn from the work of Jean-Luc Nancy, the phrase points to the novel’s and the essay’s exploration of the juxtaposition between the notion of world and the global in order to pinpoint the paradoxical tendencies of globalization, its simultaneous opening up of the singular differences of world(s) and its homogenizing curtailment of such diversity within the enclosure of globality. Delany’s tale of desire, sexual and political, becomes a demonstration of science fiction’s straining at the boundaries of the global by tracing the postnational utopian impulse inherent to the very idea of the transnational.



Excerpt from The Long Afterlife of Nikkei Wartime Incarceration

The Long Afterlife of Nikkei Wartime Incarceration reexamines the history of imprisonment of U.S. and Canadian citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. Karen M. Inouye explores how historical events can linger in individual and collective memory and then crystallize in powerful moments of political engagement.

Excerpt from Becoming Refugee American: The Politics of Rescue in Little Saigon

Vietnamese refugees fleeing the fall of South Vietnam faced a paradox. The same guilt-ridden America that only reluctantly accepted them expected, and rewarded, expressions of gratitude for their rescue. Meanwhile, their status as refugees—as opposed to willing immigrants—profoundly influenced their cultural identity.

Phuong Tran Nguyen examines the phenomenon of refugee nationalism among Vietnamese Americans in Southern California. Here, the residents of Little Saigon keep alive nostalgia for the old regime and, by extension, their claim to a lost statehood. Their refugee nationalism is less a refusal to assimilate than a mode of becoming, in essence, a distinct group of refugee Americans. Nguyen examines the factors that encouraged them to adopt this identity. His analysis also moves beyond the familiar rescue narrative to chart the intimate yet contentious relationship these Vietnamese Americans have with their adopted homeland. Nguyen sets their plight within the context of the Cold War, an era when Americans sought to atone for broken promises but also saw themselves as providing a sanctuary for people everywhere fleeing communism.

Publisher web page:

Excerpt from Internment During the Second World War

Preview of new work in Transnational American Studies.

Excerpt from The New Immigrant Whiteness: Race, Neoliberalism, and Post-Soviet Migration to the United States

Mapping representations of post-1980s immigration from the former Soviet Union to the United States in interviews, reality TV shows, fiction, and memoirs, Claudia Sadowski-Smith shows how this nationally and ethnically diverse group is associated with idealized accounts of the assimilation and upward mobility of early twentieth-century arrivals from Europe. As it traces the contributions of historical Eastern European migration to the emergence of a white racial identity that continues to provide privileges to many post-Soviet migrants, the book places the post-USSR diaspora into larger discussions about the racialization of contemporary US immigrants under neoliberal conditions. "The New Immigrant Whiteness" argues that legal status on arrival — as participants in refugee, marriage, labor, and adoptive migration — impacts post-Soviet immigrants’ encounters with growing socioeconomic inequalities and tightened immigration restrictions, as well as their attempts to construct transnational identities. The book examines how their perceived whiteness exposes post-Soviet family migrants to heightened expectations of assimilation, explores undocumented migration from the former Soviet Union, analyzes post-USSR immigrants’ attitudes toward anti-immigration laws that target Latina/os, and considers similarities between post-Soviet and Asian immigrants in their association with notions of upward immigrant mobility. A compelling and timely volume, "The New Immigrant Whiteness" offers a fresh perspective on race and immigration in the United States today.

Eleanor Roosevelt in Montreal

This article discusses First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s international travels during the Second World War. Mrs. Roosevelt achieved her greatest renown in the postwar period as a champion of international human rights, notably in her role as chair of the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947–48, and later as leader in the struggle to ratify the Human Rights covenants that enforced the provisions of the Declaration. Yet ER’s later concentration on international affairs was prefigured in her experience as semiofficial diplomat in a series of wartime travels across the globe, undertaken at the request of her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and in coordination with the chiefs of the host governments. It is useful to investigate how these travels provided her with an important apprenticeship in diplomacy. At the same time, her speeches and activities on these wartime trips helped shape her later support for peace and justice on an international scale.

Excerpt from India in the American Imaginary, 1780s–1880s

This book seeks to frame the “the idea of India” in the American imaginary within a transnational lens that is attentive to global flows of goods, people, and ideas within the circuits of imperial and maritime economies in nineteenth century America (roughly 1780s-1880s). This diverse and interdisciplinary volume – with essays by upcoming as well as established scholars – aims to add to an understanding of the fast changing terrain of economic, political, and cultural life in the US as it emerged from being a British colony to having imperial ambitions of its own on the global stage. The essays trace, variously, the evolution of the changing self-image of a nation embodying a surprisingly cosmopolitan sensibility, open to different cultural values and customs in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century to one that slowly adopted rigid and discriminatory racial and cultural attitudes spawned by the widespread missionary activities of the ABCFM and the fierce economic pulls and pushes of American mercantilism by the end of the nineteenth century. The different uses of India become a way of refining an American national identity.