Alien Encounters showcases innovative directions in Asian American cultural studies. In essays exploring topics ranging from pulp fiction to multimedia art to import-car subcultures, contributors analyze Asian Americans’ interactions with popular culture as both creators and consumers. Written by a new generation of cultural critics, these essays reflect post-1965 Asian America; the contributors pay nuanced attention to issues of gender, sexuality, transnationality, and citizenship, and they unabashedly take pleasure in pop culture.
This interdisciplinary collection brings together contributors working in Asian American studies, English, anthropology, sociology, and art history. They consider issues of cultural authenticity raised by Asian American participation in hip hop and jazz, the emergence of an orientalist “Indo-chic” in U.S. youth culture, and the circulation of Vietnamese music variety shows. They examine the relationship between Chinese restaurants and American culture, issues of sexuality and race brought to the fore in the video performance art of a Bruce Lee–channeling drag king, and immigrant television viewers’ dismayed reactions to a Chinese American chef who is “not Chinese enough.” The essays in Alien Encounters demonstrate the importance of scholarly engagement with popular culture. Taking popular culture seriously reveals how people imagine and express their affective relationships to history, identity, and belonging.
Contributors. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Kevin Fellezs, Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez, Joan Kee, Nhi T. Lieu, Sunaina Maira, Martin F. Manalansan IV, Mimi Thi Nguyen, Robyn Magalit Rodriguez, Sukhdev Sandhu, Christopher A. Shinn, Indigo Som, Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu, Oliver Wang
In The Gift of Freedom, Mimi Thi Nguyen develops a new understanding of contemporary United States empire and its self-interested claims to provide for others the advantage of human freedom. Bringing together critiques of liberalism with postcolonial approaches to the modern cartography of progress, Nguyen proposes "the gift of freedom" as the name for those forces that avow to reverence aliveness and beauty, and to govern an enlightened humanity, while producing new subjects and actions—such as a grateful refugee, or enduring war—in an age of liberal empire. From the Cold War to the global war on terror, the United States simultaneously promises the gift of freedom through war and violence and administers the debt that follows. Focusing here on the figure of the Vietnamese refugee as the twice-over target of the gift of freedom—first through war, second through refuge—Nguyen suggests that the imposition of debt precludes the subjects of freedom from escaping those colonial histories that deemed them "unfree." To receive the gift of freedom then is to be indebted to empire, perhaps without end.
This special issue claims Southeast Asian/American studies as a unique site for scholarly engagements with US empire and its professions of liberal humanism as well as its practices of neoliberal violence. Dissolving the disciplinary distinctions between Southeast Asia area studies and Asian American studies, the authors construct transnational analytic methods to examine new assemblages of nations and states, refugees and residents, migrations and returns.
The contributors represent a new generation of scholars, some of whom are themselves migrants and refugees, who seek to reinvent the study of displaced populations and their diasporas. One essay considers the historical production of the refugee soldier during the “secret wars” of Laos. An ethnography of Southeast Asian American youth protests post-9/11 reveals how neoliberal rationalization of “personal responsibility” created a context for both deportation and the youth movement against it. Several contributions explore concepts of exile, belonging, and the nation-state via media representations of masculinity and the erotic, including the Hmong actors who appear in Clint Eastwood’s film Gran Torino, campy pan-Asian boy bands, and Vietnam Idol, a reality show that, like its British and American counterparts, illustrates specific cultural imagination and national ambitions.
Fiona I.B. Ngô and Mimi Thi Nguyen are both assistant professors of gender and women’s studies and Asian American studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Nguyen is the author of The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages and a co-editor of Alien Encounters: Popular Culture in Asian America, both also published by Duke University Press.
Contributors: Diem-My T. Bui, Long Bui, Thang Dao, Ly Chong Thong Jalao, Soo Ah Kwon, Mariam B. Lam, Viet Le, Fiona I.B. Ngô, Mimi Thi Nguyen, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Louisa Schein, Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, Va-Megn Thoj, Khatharya Um, Julie Thi Underhill, Bee Vang, Ma Vang