Guest Editor's Introduction: What is Transnational Asian American History?: Recent Trends and Challenges

Guest Editor's Introduction: What is Transnational Asian American History?: Recent Trends and Challenges
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  Guest Editor's Introduction: What is Transnational Asian AmericanHistory?: Recent Trends and Challenges Erika Lee, Naoko Shibusawa Journal of Asian American Studies, Volume 8, Number 3, October 2005,pp. vii-xvii (Article) Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/jaas.2005.0050  For additional information about this article Access provided by Brown University (9 Oct 2013 08:02 GMT)    viiGUEST EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION   • LEE AND SHIBUSAWA • GUEST EDITORS’ INTRODUCTION What is Transnational Asian American History? Recent Trends and Challenges  erika lee and naoko shibusawa JAAS   OCTOBER   2005   •   VII – XVII © THE   JOHNS   HOPKINS   UNIVERSITY   PRESS B EGINNING   IN   THE   1990 S , THE   TERM “globalization” became a catchallphrase to explain a multitude of economic, cultural, and politicaltransformations taking place around the world in everything from financemarkets and technologies to fast food and popular culture. Pundits andlaypeople alike asserted that internet technology, cell phones, and fasterand more frequent air travel made the world a smaller place. People wereon the move, too, migrating not only along the older patterns of south tonorth and east to west, but also in newer and unpredictable patterns of remigration and secondary migration. Scholars generally recognized glo-balization as an intensification and acceleration of centuries-old patternsof trade and migration, and nearly everyone—regardless of whether they decried or celebrated globalization—saw it as a process that denied thecentrality of the nation-state. In the age of globalization, consumer prod-ucts, capital, and people supposedly traveled, or should be able to travel,across national boundaries “freely,” without undue state hindrance. 1 Within academia, the call came loud and clear from many differentfronts that it was time to examine and explain these changes by wideningthe traditional focus on the nation-state to a transnational framework. Inthe field of U.S. history, the Organization of American Historians spon-sored a working group devoted to “rethinking American history in a glo-bal age.” In 2000, the resulting LaPietra Report to the profession urgedscholars to “extend our analysis of [national histories] to incorporate an  viii• JAAS •   8:3 awareness of larger, transnational contexts, processes, and identities.” 2 The  Journal of American History  encouraged the field to consider transnationalU.S. history with its special issue in 1999. 3   Similarly, the American StudiesAssociation sponsored conferences with themes emphasizing crossingborders and national, transnational, and postnational issues. 4 In 2004,Shelly Fisher Fishkin noted the “transnational turn” in American Studies,explaining that the field was an “increasingly important site of knowledge. . . a place where borders both within and outside the nation are interrogatedand studied, rather than reified and reinforced.” 5 And as a sign of thegrowing scholarship on transnationalism within the field of Asian Studies,the  Journal of Asian Studies  also began to include a section on “Compara-tive and Transnational” work in its book review section beginning in 2001. 6 The term “transnational” has admittedly now become an academicbuzzword. Scholars in different disciplines and areas of studies have usedthe term so loosely that its very meaning is in danger of being diluted.This special issue, born of a plenary session organized by Lon Kurashigeand Naoko Shibusawa at the 2005 Association for Asian American Stud-ies annual meeting in Los Angeles, is an attempt to define what we meanby “transnational Asian American history,” to give recent examples, andto start exploring its possibilities and challenges.First, it is useful to think about the terminology more carefully.   Theterms “transnational,” “global,” “international,” and “diaspora” are alsooften used interchangeably and often complement each other. But, they are best understood as describing distinct, though often related, processesand phenomena. As Nina Glick-Schiller explains, “global” refers to pro-cesses, such as the development of capitalism, that are “not located in asingle state but happen throughout the entire globe.” “Transnational,” onthe other hand, refers to “political, economic, social and cultural pro-cesses that extend beyond the borders of a particular state, include actorsthat are not states, but are shaped by the policies and institutional prac-tices of states.” 7 David Thelen, editor of a special issue on transnationalU.S. history in the  Journal of American History, offers an even broaderdefinition of “transnational” that would “interrogate, and not assume thecentrality of the nation-state as an organizing theme in American his-tory.” Scholarship would explore how “people and ideas and institutions    ixGUEST EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION   • LEE AND SHIBUSAWA • and cultures moved above, below, through, and around, as well as within,the nation-state.” 8 “Transnational” processes should also be understoodas related to, but distinct from, “international” and “diasporic” ones. DanielMato defines “international” as referring to “those relations maintainedbetween governments (or their agencies) which invoke the nation-statesthey are supposed to represent in the mutually supportive so-called in-ternational system.” 9 The term “diaspora,” as it has been commonly usedin recent academic writings, is less tied to the biblical, Jewish model of forced exile from a homeland and instead places emphasis on what JignaDesai has explained as the “heterogeneous connections to both the home-land and to other diasporic locations through such forms as political com-mitment, imagination, memory, travel and cultural production.” 10 Situated at the intersections of U.S. history, American Studies, andAsian Studies, Asian American historians have arguably always beentransnational in outlook by integrating transnational, diasporic, and glo-bal perspectives into analyses of the Asian American past. Initially foregrounded in social history, Asian American histories have primarily focused on non-state actors—the Asian migrants and their descendants—as well as on transnational networks in which they participated, demon-strating that such processes are not only a product of our contemporary,globalized world, but in fact have deep historical roots. But during thefirst decades of Asian American Studies as a formal field of study, AsianAmericanist historians emphasized the U.S. side of their narratives. Thiswas an understandable strategy at a time when our professors and col-leagues routinely confused Asian American Studies with Asian Studies.Although this problem has not entirely disappeared, the marked increaseof campuses offering courses and even degrees in Asian American sub- jects and, quite significantly, the number of tenure-track and tenured AsianAmericanist positions attest to its establishment as a legitimate and dis-tinct field of study. We should thus consider this greater academic accep-tance of Asian American Studies, as well as the larger trend of examiningthe rapid changes in our world, to account for the recent “transnationalturn” in Asian American historiography.Transnational Asian American history can and has taken many dif-ferent forms, encompassing a huge variety of projects, ethnic groups, na-  x• JAAS •   8:3 tions, questions, and methodologies, but we believe it would be useful tobegin specifying and identifying the hallmarks of transnational AsianAmerican history. These are works that incorporate some or all of thefollowing characteristics: •Relate histories about Asians in the Americas and their ongoingeconomic, cultural, ethnic, and political networks and relationships withthose in Asia.•Provide substantial focus on the stories and historical contexts in Asiaas well as in the Americas. This characteristic presumes non-Englishlanguage training and multinational archival research.•Examine Asian migration to the Americas and its impact on Asia andon U.S.-Asia relations.•De-center the state, but do so without ignoring state power.•Investigate migratory circuits and border crossings—not only acrossthe Pacific but also across the Atlantic and within the Westernhemisphere.•Emphasize the mutual, interactive nature of cultural, institutional, andeconomic flows. In this respect, transnational histories are not merely comparative, looking at parallel developments across national borders.They seek as well to illuminate the connections that bind people andplaces to each other. Within the field of Asian American history, scholars have employedtransnational frameworks to re-examine a multitude of issues. First, thereis work that is explicitly and traditionally transnational in scope and meth-odology, meaning that it focuses on migrant social, economic, cultural,and political networks, processes, or institutions that transcend nationalborders. 11 These works, researched in multiple locations and sometimesmultiple languages, pay close attention to one immigrant group’s ongo-ing negotiation between the U.S. and their homeland—or the ways inwhich developments in one nation are inextricably linked to migrant livesin another. One good recent example is Madeline Hsu’s Dreaming of Gold,Dreaming of Home, which illustrates how Chinese immigrants lived in-terconnected lives between the United States and China, made possiblethrough remittances and transnational communication and transporta-tion systems. Hsu’s work explicitly draws our attention to one of the key aspects of transnationalism: the migrants’ simultaneous incorporation
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