“Immigration, Citizenship, Racialization: Asian American Critique”

Maya Lin with her design for the Vietnam Memorial, May 6, 1981. Photo Credit: Academy of Achievement

Maya Lin with her design for the Vietnam Memorial, May 6, 1981. Photo Credit: Academy of Achievement

“Immigration, Citizenship, Racialization: Asian American Critique” from Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics by Lisa Lowe

Lisa Lowe also writes of cultural citizenship in Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. She opens with the example of Jeannie Barroga’s play “Walls,” about the controversy over the Vietnam Memorial designed by young Chinese American architect Maya Lin. Lowe asserts, “Although the law is perhaps the discourse that most literally governs citizenship, U.S. national culture–the collectively forged images, histories, and narratives that place, displace, and replace individuals in relation to the national polity–powerfully shapes who the citizenry is, where they dwell, what they remember, and what they forget” (2, emphasis mine). She argues that in the U.S. not only class but also “historically sedimented particularities of race, national origin, locality, and embodiment remain largely invisible within the political sphere” (2). In this way, her argument aligns well with Rosaldo’s. She continues, “In this sense, the legal and political forms of the nation have required a national culture in the integration of the differentiated people and social spaces that make up ‘America,’ a national culture, broadly cast yet singularly engaging, that can inspire diverse individuals to identify with the national project” (2).

She puts citizenship and the mythology of the nation in tension with one another, arguing that the ethos of America immerses the subject in both the memories and narratives of the nation and the is articulated in language, social hierarchy, and political representation. “In being represented as citizen within the political sphere, however, the subject is ‘split off’ from the unrepresentable histories of situated embodiment that contradict the abstract form of citizenship. Culture is the medium of the present--the imagined equivalences and identifications through which the individual invents lived relationship with the national collective–but it is simultaneously the site that mediates the past, through which history is grasped as difference,, as fragments, as shocks, and flashes of disjunction. It is through culture that the subject becomes, acts, and speaks itself as ‘American.’ It is likewise in culture that individuals and collectivities struggle and remember and, in that difficult remembering, imagine and practice both subject and community differently.” (2-3)

Like del Castillo, Lowe also looks at how the citizen is defined against the (Asian) immigrant, “legally, economically, and culturally.” She asserts that these discourses look at the Asian immigrant as a population/person to be integrated and as “contradictory, confusing, unintelligible elements to be marginalized and returned to their alien origins” (4). This assertion fits really well with the arguments made in America’s Asia and American Narratives which look at how American discourses portrayed the immigrant is needing to assimilate and being unassimilable. According to Lowe, “if the law is the apparatus that binds and seals the universality of the political body of the nation, then the ‘immigrant,’ produced by the law as margin and threat to that symbolic whole, is precisely a generative site for the critique of that universality” (8-9).

Lowe includes a long and critical history of the legal definitions of citizenship and the exclusions of Asian immigrants that will be important to revisit as I get more into the Asian American literature on my list.

Then, in response to cultural cites and processes that reconcile the “non-American” with the “American” through multiculturalism, she argues that “cultural productions emerging out of the contradictions of immigrant marginality displace the fiction of reconciliation, disrupt the myth of national identity by revealing its gaps and fissures, and intervene in the narrative of national development that would illegitimately locate the ‘immigrant’ before history and exempt the ‘immigrant’ from history” (9).

Lowe continues to formulate a definition of Asian American Critique and its relationship to the nation: “Asian American culture is the site of more than critical negation of the U.S. nation; it is a site that shifts and marks alternatives to the national terrain by occupying other spaces, imagining different narratives and critical historiographies, and enacting practices that give rise to new forms of subjectivity and new ways of questioning the government of human life by the national state” (29).

Lowe, Lisa. “Immigration, Citizenship, Racialization.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Duke UP: New York, 1996.

One thought on ““Immigration, Citizenship, Racialization: Asian American Critique”

  1. Pingback: Comps Notes: Theories of Citizenship & Nation | Ph.D.s and Pigtails

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