Of Being In-Between: Reconfiguring the Asian American Body as Site/Sight of (In)Difference
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Of Being In-Between: Reconfiguring the Asian American Body as Site/Sight of (In)Difference


Racial discourse in the United States has arguably been defined by the prevailing racial binary of Black and white. As Claire Jean Kim insightfully argues in her 1999 article, “The Racial Triangulation of Asian Americans,” Asians in the United States occupy the in-between, cast as perpetual foreigners and excluded from the belonging offered by citizenship. Since its inception in 1968, one of the major political and pedagogical interventions in Asian American and Ethnic Studies is fighting for inclusion, citizenship, and belonging. In the subsequent decades after the passage of the Hart-Cellar Act of 1965, Asian immigrants poured into the country. Importantly, the international 1967 Protocol protected the waves of Southeast Asian refugees entering the United States. The changing demographic complicated the racial identity of Asian Americans, a point made in Sau-Ling Wong’s 1995 article, “Denationalization Reconsidered: Asian American Cultural Criticism at a Theoretical Crossroads.” Still, the difference that defines Asian American ethnic identity and cultural experiences in the post-1965 era has rarely been critically considered as holding potential for a radical ethnic coalition. My dissertation, Of Being In-Between: Reconfiguring the Asian American Body as Site/Sight of (In)Difference, considers the contradictions of Asian American racial identity by looking closely at art projects created by contemporary Asian American artists whose connection to a singular ethnic identity is nebulous at best. By investigating the works of established multi-disciplinary artists Allan deSouza, Binh Danh, Laurel Nakadate, Ali Wong, Hasan Minhaj, and Christine Sun Kim, this dissertation considers how they challenge stereotypes of their respective racially-marked bodies as sights/sites of resistance, subversion, and contestation. Yet, their works do not exhibit a crisis of belonging and citizenship. Instead, their bodies reconfigure identity politics by navigating the racial ideology that structures their lived experiences. Through the interdisciplinary lens of what cultural studies scholar Ien Ang calls “togetherness-in-difference,” I argue that the works of these artists offer a window into how the Asian American body, in its varying phenotypes, negotiate the politics of race and representation within the ideological spaces that their bodies occupy. The disidentification of Asian American bodies from a uniform Asian American identity reveal the mutability of their attendant stereotypes. The artists considered in this dissertation work toward the de-normalization of Asian Americanness, a disruption that paradoxically insists on an Asian American identity, but in difference.

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