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Imagined Islands: American Empire and Identity in the Postcolonial Pacific

  • Author(s): Solar, Valerie Chihiro
  • Advisor(s): Yamamoto, Traise
  • et al.

In this dissertation, I analyze literature from Hawai'i, the Philippines, Guam and Samoa, in order to examine some of the individualized effects of American empire in the Pacific on identity. I choose works from these areas because they each represent a variation of legal entanglement with the United States: a former sovereign nation incorporated as a state, a colony that is now an independent nation, an unincorporated territory, and a nation split into two because of U.S. claims to half of it. I primarily utilize the lens of Asian American studies but also employ feminist and postcolonial theory in order to study some of the linkages between self and nation, subjectivity and migration, place and personhood.

I analyze the novels of Nora Okja Keller from Hawai'i to examine the entanglements between Asia, the U.S. and the Pacific in the theater of war. Jessica Hagedorn's novels afford a glimpse into the after-life of colonialism in the Philippines, the Chamoru poetry of Craig Santos Perez and Chris Perez Howard's biography of his mother demonstrate differing perspectives on the continuing American occupation of Guam, and the narratives of Sia Figiel and Albert Wendt of Samoa display some of the layered effects of multiple colonizations upon the disenfranchised of the islands.

A secondary goal of this project is to push the boundaries of Asian American studies to see if and how Pacific Islander studies can be fruitfully combined with the discipline. Although Asian American studies has primarily been focused on citizenship within the United States, Pacific Islander studies also concentrates on issues surrounding indigeneity and sovereignty struggles in locales outside of the mainland U.S. By broadening the focus of Asian American studies, it is possible to point the way for further, nuanced studies of the relationships between U.S. and non-U.S. imperialisms and the "minor transnationalisms" that surpass the binaries of cultural formation that dominate discussions of postcolonialism and nationalism.

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