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The politics of AIDS advocacy for Asian Americans

Abstract

This thesis looks at professional AIDS advocacy and the politics of community representation. Whereas such politics typically operates from an "insider" verses "outsider" paradigm, with emphasis on "authenticity," contemporary social service providers are blurring the boundaries of who can serve as representative members of particular ethnic communities. Indeed, while governmental bureaucratization and co-optation of the "AIDS problem" stages group conflict among marginalized populations over scarce institutional resources, organizations such as the Asian Pacific Islander AIDS Coalition Project (APICAP) respond by moving towards more inclusive though ambivalent model of community work. As an agency designed to target Asian Pacific Islanders living with HIV/AIDS in San Diego, through ethnographic work, I trace its evolution from a panethnic organization requiring API representatives to an all-inclusive one comprised mostly of non-Asians even though the necessity of Asian American representation remains paramount. I highlight APICAP as one example of a community-based organization struggling to move beyond essentialist and identity-based frameworks scholars while trying to forge cross-cultural alliances; this social service organization I believe epitomizes a new kind of politics of representation emerging from the post-Civil Rights AIDS era. My case study illustrates why community activism no longer signifies a politics produced through essentializing constructions of "communities of difference" and instead personal networks assembled around intersectional understandings of difference as well as critiques of social disenfranchisement. Lastly, it demonstrates how grassroots activism has changed conventional ideas about "the community" for the political demands of contemporary times

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