Minor Transpacific
Triangulating American, Japanese, and Korean Fictions
David S. Roh



Triangulating Fictions

WALK BY THE Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, and one might notice a striking display. A statue of a young woman wearing a traditional Korean dress (Korean: chŏgori) faces the embassy, expressionless, hands in her lap, and feet bare (figure 1). Erected in 2011, the statue has become a flash point of controversy over the issue of comfort women (K: wianbu; J: ianfu), who were forcibly conscripted by the Japanese Empire during World War II to serve as sex slaves for soldiers on military bases. For many Koreans, the Japanese government’s slow response and reluctance to acknowledge its crimes has been a sore point; clearly, the statue was installed to provoke a response. Predictably, Korean-Japanese relations soured considerably afterwards, with nationalists on both sides of the Yellow Sea expressing outrage.

It is less clear why comfort women monuments have appeared in the United States—Palisades Park, New Jersey; Westbury, New York; Glendale, California; Southfield, Michigan; Fairfax, Virginia; Atlanta, Georgia; and most recently, San Francisco, California.1 In contrast to the statue in Seoul, her sisters in America are usually located in less prominent arenas. The Glendale statue is nestled behind a senior community center building and a public park, within walking distance to the Glendale Galleria shopping mall (figure 2); the Southfield statue stands guard outside the Korean Cultural Center; and the Fairfax memorial is rather remote—as well as being more abstract—seated behind a large federal building, hundreds of yards away from public view on a grassy slope (figure 3). While the reaction has not been nearly as vociferous as it was in Japan, the statues have caused some first-generation Japanese Americans to lodge complaints and file a lawsuit demanding their removal.2

The odds of a comfort woman statue appearing in Japan are slim; in 2012, a small-scale version of the statue was displayed at an art exhibit at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum but was quickly taken down because of complaints.3 However, should one walk around the antiwar memorial Peace Park in Hiroshima, Japan, one might stumble upon a shaded, discreet area devoted to the Korean victims of the atomic bomb (figure 4), which has its own tortured and complicated history.4

How do we read the statues’ placements?5 Memorials installed in Hiroshima and Seoul make some intuitive sense; California, Michigan, and Virginia are less intelligible. A Japan-Korea national binary offers the easiest path for reading these memorials. It is not difficult to understand the transpacific travels of the comfort women memorial as an extension of grievances against Japan by South Korea—first the provocative installation of the statue in front of the Japanese Embassy, and then efforts calling attention to the issue abroad in partner nations through similar pieces.6 Likewise, the Hiroshima memorial to the Korean victims could be understood as part of the antiwar, universalist message undergirding the broader mission of the Peace Park.

But scratch the surface and questions begin to arise. For instance, understanding the role of the Korean memorial at Hiroshima in Japanese history is anything but simple. As Lisa Yoneyama notes in her seminal Hiroshima Traces, the Peace Park is evidence a collective and discursive “memory work”—in this case serving as a vehicle for Japan’s national consciousness to come to terms with the war. Of significance is the Korean memorial’s placement beyond the main section of the park and behind a small river, which some read as a sign of continued Korean marginalization.7 Yet one could instead read the memorial, as Yoneyama does, as a mobilization of Korean bodies for a postwar reconstruction of national Japaneseness,8 just as Korean bodies were once exploited for Japan’s imperial project.9 Similarly, the memorial in Fairfax, Virginia, is not only a diasporic Korean effort to author international history but also an attempt to galvanize Asian American politics. Why, for example, did the Korean American community appeal to Congressperson Mike Honda, a sansei (third-generation Japanese American) representing Silicon Valley’s Fifteenth District, to sponsor a resolution explicitly condemning Japan’s exploitation of comfort women?10 Did they calculate that Representative Honda would sympathize with this abject alterity created by the state because of the time he spent in the Japanese internment camps? Or was there some other obscured factor at play?11

FIGURE 1 Comfort woman statue in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea. Photograph by author.

FIGURE 2 Comfort woman statue, Glendale, California, USA. Photograph by author.

FIGURE 3 Comfort woman memorial, Fairfax, Virginia, USA. Photograph by author.

FIGURE 4 Memorial to Korean victims of the atomic bomb, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Japan. Note that the inscription specifies only kankokujin (South Korean). Photograph by author.

If we expand our framing to include tertiary sites, a more comprehensive picture may come into view. In a Korea-Japan narrative, the sizable Korean American community leverages political capital to install comfort women statues to pressure Japan on behalf of South Korea, but there is little room, say, to consider the United States’ function as a third national space, or to understand an Asian American domestic agenda in ways that account for internal tensions and disparate histories. In a similar vein, according to Yoneyama, the Hiroshima memorial to the Korean victims was a gross miscalculation relying on the same Korea-Japan binary;12 it acknowledged only South Korean victims with its memorialization and failed to account for how that would be received by its domestic Korean population who might have defined themselves in relation to many other dimensions, including North Korean and burgeoning Zainichi (Resident Korean in Japan) identities.13 In a way, the memorial continues colonial-era policies that mobilized Korean bodies for the Japanese national project, now as part of a postwar reconstruction of yamato damashii (Japanese spirit) that is oblivious to the emergence of a Zainichi body politic.

Given a binaristic paradigm, these memorials are syllepsistically read “past” each other; but a solution may lie in building a transpacific framework flexible enough to account for expanded readings. Yet disciplinary boundaries have few accommodations for an Asian and Asian American studies dialogue. The comfort woman statues in Glendale are unreadable (or incompletely read) in an Asian American context; and the national narrative of the Hiroshima memorial is illegible to the Zainichi, who have no place in a monoethnic national identity. How are we to account for these transpacific exchanges across multiple sites that do not neatly conform to well-worn disciplinary grooves?

Minor Transpacific interrogates how minority literary traditions engage with each other through intermediary national sites, on two intersecting lines.14 First, working within transpacific studies, this book acknowledges shortcomings in existing frameworks of empire, race, and minor diasporic literatures and asks how Asian American studies can incorporate a “minor transnationalism” that accounts for tertiary national sites.15 Korean American literature in particular is a rich site for the study of imperial Japan’s legacy in Asian America, which, for historical and political reasons, has been verboten; this book expressly exposes and complicates those disincentives. Similarly, while Japanese fiction falls under the purview of Asian studies, neglecting American racial discourse results in an incomplete and two-dimensional picture. Second, comparing Zainichi and Korean American fiction requires scholars to challenge axioms in both Asian and Asian American studies and to build a model that avoids both an essentialist ethno-nationalism and domestic pan-Asian Americanism. For example, a Zainichi literary tradition accounting for American political and cultural interventions must extend beyond a Korea-Japan dualism; and Korean American literature grappling with the legacy of Japanese imperialism has to negotiate tensions within a pan-Asian American political alliance.16 A transpacific interminority study, then, resolves how Asian American scholars looking beyond domestic literature might detect American racial and cultural discourse in diasporic communities abroad; and conversely, how Asian studies scholars might uncover connections to minority fictions in the United States. In both cases, this book challenges inconvenient historical and disciplinary barriers in the service of building a more expansive—and interesting—critical discourse.

Mediated, Minor, and Transpacific

What is the intellectual justification for a comparative study of Korean diasporic literatures? After all, Koreans’ respective traditions in the United States and Japan are quite dissimilar, as are their present legal and cultural conditions. Put another way, what connects the two bodies of literature other than a shared (and essentialist) ethnic heritage and history? As a possible answer, my study extends beyond shared and divergent ethnic histories to the tensions that these diasporic literatures reflect. Zainichi Korean and Korean American fiction are the end points; this project works backwards to uncover how they reflect and refract a triangulation of multiple national actors, transits, and sites, thereby revealing previously neglected questions and highlighting new critical directions. The ties between these literatures are the myriad imperial forms that have appeared in both and persist even into the present.

A structured approach connecting seemingly disparate bodies of culture and discourse requires some refinement—a mediated minor transpacific. The “mediated minor” modifier widens the transpacific lens to shift focus from binary to ternary relationships. More importantly, “mediated” requires recognizing that a subject’s passage through one or more sites leaves that subject indelibly marked—and that this transitional period demands a full accounting. And “minor” requires recognizing the marginalization and objectification of the subject and at the same time reorients the frame to displace the major. Collectively, this theoretical triptych allows consideration of—to borrow from Lisa Lowe—the intimacies of imperial ambitions and capital modernity.17

To ground my articulation of a mediated minor transpacific—that is, the interweaving of Korean, Japanese, and American politico-cultural discourse in minor literatures—we must first understand the critical shift toward an interdisciplinary transnational and transpacific dialogue. The tension between the fields of Asian American and Asian (and area) studies is well documented, and their reluctance to engage one another is perhaps a legacy of their historic alignments—area studies with national intelligence, and ethnic studies with 1960s student activism.18 Consequently, write Janet Hoskins and Viet Thanh Nguyen, there is a structural disincentive for Asian American studies to turn eastward: “The Asian American movement was a reaction against the political order that had given birth to area studies and American studies, and while Asian American studies has sought to be included in American studies, it has had a tense relationship with area studies, particularly Asian studies. This reflects Asian American studies’ hesitation in turning toward and across the Pacific.”19 The cumulative effect was that much early Asian American literary criticism tended to focus on the United States as the main site of cultural and political formation—particularly with respect to social justice and racial inclusion—and to gloss over intermediary Asian spaces.

Calls for a corrective engagement, as mentioned above, began to grow louder in the 1990s.20 A desire to “claim America” and to legitimate and self-define “Asian American” as a racial identity with the attendant rights and privileges of citizenship had led to a strongly binarized dynamic in which Asia was perceived as the distant homeland, while America was destination and destiny.21 Now Asian American studies began to shift away from domestic-oriented criticism, and critics including Lisa Lowe, Susan Koshy, Kandice Chuh, and Laura Hyun Yi Kang broadened its scope to investigate Asian American literature as a site of theoretical discourse.22

Part of that theoretical turn has been a transnational and transpacific shift in Asian American studies, in tandem with a parallel trend in Asian studies, which I categorize as occurring in three areas. The first is a recognition of economic and migratory flows as a starting point for expanding our theory of Asian American studies. It begins with Lisa Lowe and Elaine Kim’s critical intervention in a special issue of positions. According to the authors, “Both the racialized, gendered character of Asian immigrant labor within the emergence of U.S. capitalism and the U.S. colonial modes of development and exploitation in Asia indicate that U.S. capital has historically accumulated and profited through the differentiation of labor, rather than through its homogenization; in the global expansion of the capitalist mode, the racial and gendered character of labor has been further exaggerated, refined, and built into the regime itself.”23

If labor and its attendant structures constitute one of the primary engines driving racialization of Asian Americans, we should recognize and acknowledge that theory must account for an influx of new immigrants who face very different historical, cultural, and legal contexts and that that makeup will inexorably alter projected and self-determined forms of race. Part of the solution, Lowe and Kim contend, is to open channels between Asian and Asian American studies.24 Their argument is an extension of Lowe’s Immigrant Acts, which posits that Asian American studies needs to avoid reifying metanarratives of intergenerational conflict and filial relations because such practices can mask issues of class, gender, and national diversities.25 Instead, Asian American studies must be reconfigured to account for heterogeneity, hybridity, and multiplicity.26 At the root of her thesis is the recognition that migration patterns driven by labor and capital require an epistemological awareness that can account for the contesting of racialization.

The second trend of transpacific studies is a focus on an aesthetic argument for the intertextual and discursive relationship between Asia and America through generative literatures. In Transpacific Displacement, Yunte Huang traces how American modernists such as Herman Melville, Ezra Pound, and Ernest Fenollosa imagined (or imaged) Asia as the site of their literary travels, arguing that their translation of Asia belies a bidirectional relationship. That is, in constructing Asia as the Other, writers such as Pound simultaneously destabilize and refract American literature.27 Similarly, Josephine Park explores that refraction in a narrower context; she notes that Asian American writers used American Orientalism to “write back” against the political alliances that structured it and to contest its restrictive characterization of Asian Americans: “To return to Orientalist literature as an instigator for Asian American literature is to examine anew a political and aesthetic response—one which has long been deemed a case of simple rejection—as a crucial point of contact which defined a literary movement.”28 Park likewise draws upon modernists such as Fenollosa, Pound, and Whitman to highlight how American Orientalism had a hand in constructing Asian American poetics; it is a theory of Asian American literature that shows the ties between modernist American and Asia American poetry, even if they are politically antithetical. In other words, American Orientalism was integral to the construction of Asian American literature, and this means the critic must pay attention to the American formation (or deformation) of Asia as aesthetic method.

The third trend—and the most germane to this study—explicitly decenters the state and the colonizer-colonized binary. Such an enterprise requires critical commentary on the state of the disciplines.29 There is wide recognition of the inherent instability and fluidity of Asian American racial identity, and the need for a framework that can adequately account for globalization, multiplicity, hybridity, and the decline of the nation-state. Yet at the same time, transpacific studies has arrived at a point when the rising economic threat of Asia is having the countereffect of hardening national boundaries. It is important, therefore, for those working in Asian or Asian American studies to acknowledge that they cannot help but be influenced by institutional networks of power that define the parameters of their work.30 Kandice Chuh and Karen Shimakawa offer a countermeasure in Orientations—a decentralized approach to transpacific studies that revels in multiplicity and a recognition of the shaping structures of power: “This volume does not finally focus on disciplinarity itself, but instead maps multiple iterations of Asianness as epistemological objects in their relationships to specific disciplinary and institutional areas and practices.”31 That is, cognizance of how “Asian” and “Asian American” are constructs of various institutions, practices, and discourses that are historically and regionally specific foregrounds the scaffold rather than the object.32 While today this may appear self-evident—obvious, even—one has to recall the previous iteration of Asian American studies (resisting structural racism and claiming America) to completely appreciate the turn. Becoming defined by a discourse of powerlessness, writes Chuh, can have deleterious effects; the strongly political origins of Asian American studies as a field heralded its institutionalization, but for Asian American studies as a methodology and theory, defining the field solely along these parameters is severely limiting.33

This work follows in the steps of recent scholarship in both Asian and Asian American studies. In the field of Asian studies, scholars have made an impression in their respective subfields with multilingual studies traversing multiple national sites.34 Of particular interest to my study is the integration of critical race theory in Japanese imperial studies to articulate how race and racialization were used within a unique historical, material, and political context, in what Christopher Hanscom and Dennis Washburn call the “affect of race” and Takashi Fujitani terms “polite racism.”35 However, I am sensitive to the stumbling block of blithely projecting a largely Americanized theorization of race onto Asian studies without qualification. For example, working within the Japanese language reveals that there is no one-to-one correlation between relevant Japanese and English terms. In Japanese, “race” could roughly be translated as minzoku (民族) or jinshu (人種), but these could also mean “ethnicity” or a “people,” depending on the context. There is less of a sharp delineation between definitions, which is reflective of the overlapping histories of race, ethnicity, and nationality in an East Asian setting. Instead of attempting to reconcile or “translate” the difference, it may be more productive to frame these nuances of race as a point of negotiation, reflective of the gap between disciplines.

In Asian American studies, transpacific work has reached critical mass, with several scholars explicitly writing against the grain of convention by integrating Asian texts or situating minority gender formation in transnational contexts. In Chinese Literature without Borders, King-Kok Cheung adopts an “interlingual and bidirectional interpretive strategy” to amplify “voices muffled on either shore.”36 Her “extending Asian Americanist critique to Asia,” she writes, “would have been unthinkable, if not roundly censured, in Asian American literary circles in the 1970s and 1980s, when American nativity and Anglophone writing were key to the formation of the field.”37 Likewise, Denise Cruz’s Transpacific Femininities triangulates multiple sites informing the constitution of a writing and racialized Filipina body, since the “transpacific femininities,” she argues, “are influenced by the contact between the Philippines and the United States, Spain, and Japan. . . . They draw from a long history of colonial contact in the Philippines.”38 Focusing on South America, Ana Paulina Lee’s study of Chinese-Brazilian material culture puts forward a theory of “circumoceanic memory” to capture the complex networks of trade, human trafficking, and labor that define Chinese racialization in Brazilian and Portuguese contexts. That is not to say they worked seamlessly in concert to produce the “coolie.” Rather, “Brazilian cultural production as well as Qing diplomatic writings contradictorily produced ideas about Chinese laborers as both the colonizing settler and the newly enslaved population; the figure of the Chinese migrant laborer would both fulfill the dreams of expansionism via immigration/colonization and serve as the necessarily disposable collateral for nation building.”39 Lee’s study follows how the coolie as cultural construct would eventually enter the American lexicon, where it would continue to evolve. All three examples of transpacific scholarship pull from multiple sites and discourses to make connections across disciplinary boundaries to illuminate new critical terrains and create new bodies of knowledge. Collectively, they make a strong argument for a longitudinal approach to Asian American studies that includes international sources and contexts.

Let us return to Korean diasporic literatures—the subject of this study. As I have written, the scholarly precedents for multilingual, transpacific literary study have been advanced by pioneers in the field, who, according to Cheung, recognize Asian American literature as social text, “a textual world contiguous with the one we inhabit”; moreover, the transnational turn is the logical result of that social text only being “fully legible in both national and transnational contexts.”40 That is, widen our focus, and rich sites of critical inquiry come into view. Writing specifically about the potential for Asian American studies to engage with Japanese studies, Rika Nakamura detects immense potential but stresses the need for a robust theoretical framework that would avoid replicating old world paradigms: “To facilitate such a comparative study scheme . . . what is also called for, I believe, is the conversation between Asian American studies in Japan and Japan-based Asian and Japanese studies. After all, they are the experts in the areas of Japanese colonial and ethno-racial minority studies. . . . In so doing, Asian American studies in Japan can assemble a comparative framework for looking at issues such as Japan-based ethno-racial minority experiences constructed within the discursive contexts of Japan and Asian America.”41 In short, a comprehensive understanding of both Asian and Asian American texts occurs only through a comparative, discursive engagement activating historical, cultural, and political knowledge. Writing from the other side, Ueki Teruyo of the Japan-based Asian American Literature Association likewise notes that Japanese scholars’ intersecting with Asian American studies can be “liberating” and generative; by shifting away from an “Euro-centric or Anglo-centric vision” they can both “[relocate] the image of America in a multi-ethnic, multicultural perspective” and address their neglected “relationships with Asia, which has been so near to Japan in geography but so far in recognition.”42 That is to say, not only do efforts to bridge fields stem from a sincere intellectual interest, but with respect to race and ethnic studies, it would be politically irresponsible not to engage in them. To return to the question posed at the beginning of this section, my comparative study of Korean American and Zainichi fiction stems not from an ethnic essentialism but from the premise that it is only through their literary conversation that both can be completely understood.

If there is a single organizing principle in this study, it is a discursive triangulation of texts, nations, and empire. A mediated minor transpacific is, admittedly, this critic’s construct for comprehending a body of work that fails to neatly conform to existing disciplinary and national traditions. However, triangulation is also the result of minor literatures that emerge in the gaps, the inchoate and nebulous spaces between defined forms of national identity and empire—an emergent third space.43 Moreover, there may be a multiplicity of triangulations, overlapping or intersecting only at specific points.44 Minor Transpacific articulates a theory of minor texts, pulling from the three modes of transpacific studies enumerated above—the juridical and cultural constructions of race; the intertextual flows of the Pacific in multiple languages; and a decentering of the colonial metropole through an emphasis on sites, transits, and discourse.45 First, I examine the cultural interventions in forming Korean American and Zainichi minorities and interrogate the role of Japanese imperialism in the formation of an Asian American political identity to complicate the narrative of a pan-Asian America. At the same time, I reveal how American military legal infrastructure, racial discourse, and Asian American culture shape the Zainichi. Second, a multilingual and multidisciplinary exploration of minor literatures (English, Japanese, and some Korean) brings together disparate histories and revisits disciplinary axioms in Asian and Asian American studies. That is, I read Zainichi and Korean American fiction as both object and site of disciplinary and linguistic syllepsis to reveal critical gaps. Third, I decenter the West as the primary lens through which to view the East;46 instead, I focus on minor traditions engaging with one another through their respective imperial sites.47 While the tendency is for critics to focus on the primary site’s relationship with the minority body (the United States and Asian Americans, or Japan and the Zainichi), what is needed instead is an articulation of gradations and temporalities of mediating empires in minor transpacific texts. As I will show, the specter of the Japanese Empire haunts Korean American fiction, and so does the specter of America’s external and internal imperial ambitions haunt Zainichi literature.


1. This list is by no means exhaustive. Comfort women memorials exist in Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, and Germany, with more planned.

2. A. Nguyen, “Supreme Court Declines Case.”

3. A prototype of the statue was displayed in an exhibit, Hyogen no fujiyu ten (Exhibition of unfreedom of expression) at Gallery Furuto, which was designed to test freedom of speech. All pieces in the exhibit had been previously removed or censored. See Yoshida and Nagata, “Self-Censorship Is Biggest Threat.”

4. In Hiroshima Traces, Lisa Yoneyama performs an incisive reading of the memorial’s politics and history as a discursive national site interpolating national, international, ethnic and racial tensions.

5. Numerous scholars and writers have tackled the subject of comfort women at length, including Nora Okja Keller, Chang-rae Lee, Kandice Chuh, and Lisa Yoneyama. My discussion of the memorials concentrates on their straddling multiple lines of political tension in locations that are geographically illegible.

6. For a more expansive political and performative reading of comfort women statues, see chapter 4, “Performances of Care,” in Son, Embodied Reckonings, 147–75.

7. Yoneyama, Hiroshima Traces, 153.

8. Yoneyama, Hiroshima Traces, 158.

9. The site is not without its contradictions. Yoneyama writes,

Yet at the same time these narratives and practices of memorialization constitute contradictory elements in the production of subjectivities, thereby making distinctions within the group as well as within each individual. On the one hand, the Korean memorial and its discursive processes differentiate nationally and ethnically those who claim ownership to the memories specific to this icon and those who feel a sense of belonging to the mnemonic community built around the history shared specifically as Koreans. On the other hand, the narratives and practices of memorialization inevitably shape diverse zainichi consciousness about history, ethnicity, and nationality—in other words, about those elements that cannot be entirely subsumed by the totality of collective identity or by what are imagined to be shared communal experiences. (Hiroshima Traces, 154)

10. Authored by Rep. Honda, House Resolution 121 explicitly calls for the Government of Japan to take action on four points: it

(1) should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as comfort women, during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II;

(2) would help to resolve recurring questions about the sincerity and status of prior statements if the Prime Minister of Japan were to make such an apology as a public statement in his official capacity;

(3) should clearly and publicly refute any claims that the sexual enslavement and trafficking of the comfort women for the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces never occurred; and

(4) should educate current and future generations about this horrible crime while following the recommendations of the international community with respect to the comfort women. (Honda, “H.Res. 121”)

11. While in interviews Representative Honda explicitly has drawn parallels between the abuses of state-sanctioned violence and involuntary confinement to his experience in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, Lisa Yoneyama critiques his disavowal of Japan as a performance of White orthodoxy: “Similarly, to publicly disavow suspect Asian origins through the reiteration of the nation’s orthodox Cold War American war memories—of not only the war against imperial Japan but the hot wars the United States has waged in and against different Asian countries—has been one intelligible gesture available to anyone in this precarious position to effectively prove Asian ‘assimilability’ to America. In this regard, Mike Honda’s initiatives for California’s Joint Resolution and related bills in the Congress pertaining to Japanese war crimes can be read superficially as yet another rehearsal of a very familiar performance.” Yoneyama, Cold War Ruins, 164. See also Honda, “Time for Abe to Apologize.”

12. Yoneyama, Hiroshima Traces, 163.

13. Zainichi is shorthand for “Resident Korean in Japan,” or “Korean Living in Japan.” The complete term is zainichi chōsenjin or zainichi kankokujin, depending on citizenship (North or South Korean).

14. This study is by no means novel in that regard. King-Kok Cheung’s Chinese American Literature without Borders takes a similar approach, which she herself explicitly characterizes as an answer to Ali Behdad’s critical call: “In bridging the two disciplines through an inter-cultural and bilingual approach to Chinese American writing, this book follows Behdad’s recommendation (in “What Can American Studies and Comparative Literature Learn”) and answers the call for American studies to become newly transnational. It looks to and from both the United States and China to reveal the multiple engagements of American-born and Sinophone writers.” Cheung, Chinese American Literature, 1.

15. I borrow “minor transnationalism” from Françoise Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih’s book with that title. Moreover, this is an extension of a turn in Asian American literary studies that has been under way since the 1990s. Specifically, critics recognized the importance of Asia in Asian American literature to circumvent scholarly provincialism. Kandice Chuh writes: “Critically acknowledging the material effectivity of multiply located histories and chronologies . . . means recognizing the limitations of knowledge produced by distancing ‘America’ from ‘Asia’ as limitations that do ideological work.” Chuh, Imagine Otherwise, 111.

16. In Cold War Ruins, Lisa Yoneyama notes that the construction of a monolithic Asian America serves a broader, conventionally nationalist narrative about “modernity, liberalism, colonialism, and postcoloniality that are embedded in Cold War epistemologies.” However, if we were to resist and disaggregate Asian America, we might find the space for “Asian/Americans as new subjects of justice animated by the power invested in them as American citizen-subjects” to “illuminate contradictions of transnationality within the American civic sphere in such a way that they hold out the possibility of a radical politicization of justice and a critique of Americanization.” Yoneyama, Cold War Ruins, 152. Similarly, I argue that articulating an Asian America that can account for internal tensions can help in producing a more comprehensive picture.

17. The Intimacies of Four Continents, Lisa Lowe’s ambitious and far-ranging study, similarly recognizes the disciplinary traditions that have occluded the potential for interesting work recuperating neglected connections: “What we know of these links and intimacies is shaped by existing fields and by our methods of disciplinary study. Europe is rarely studied in relation to the Caribbean or Latin America, and U.S. history is more often separated from studies of the larger Americas. Work on comparative U.S. racial formation is still at odds with American history, which disconnects the study of slavery from immigration studies of Asians and Latinos; the histories of gender, sexuality, and women [are] often separated from the study of race.” Lowe, Intimacies of Four Continents, 37. In answer, she is chiefly concerned with tracing, through archival study, the formation of liberal humanism and the various forms of cultural and political imperialism that carried ideas through different geographic sites and their people in Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Americas. A mediated minor transpacific, while specific to the histories and artifacts in the US, Japan, and Korea, is broadly allied with her formulation of “intimacy.”

18. Numerous scholars have noted the structural tensions between Asian and Asian American studies. Asian American studies emerged largely from student activism and inclusionary social justice movements (Chuh, Imagine Otherwise, 5), whereas Asian and area studies were a Cold War response by the state; and increasingly, both disciplines are being funded by corporate interests. Benitez and Sears, “Passionate Attachments,” 153; Chuh and Shimakawa, introduction to Orientations, 7–9.

19. V. Nguyen and Hoskins, introduction to Hoskins and Nguyen, Transpacific Studies, 19.

20. Asian American literary scholars Elaine Kim and Lisa Lowe call for dialogue, writing that they “believe there will need to be a variety of connections between Asian studies and Asian American studies.” Elaine Kim and Lowe, Positions, viii. In a similar vein, Asian studies scholar Leo Ching argues that area studies suffers from rigid disciplinary boundaries, occluding meaningful dialogue, as “specialists in each field barricade themselves with venerable national languages and literature, paying scant attention to each other and their works.” Ching, Becoming Japanese, 30. He writes of the dearth of scholarship crossing national borders and traditions (e.g., multilingual studies of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese literatures), but that observation likewise applies to the critical gap between Asian studies and Asian American studies. Recent work, such as Fujitani’s Race for Empire, Bascara’s Model-Minority Imperialism, and Cruz’s Transpacific Femininities, as well as journals such as positions and Verge, consciously engages both fields.

21. In their introduction to Transpacific Studies, V. Nguyen and Hoskins point to the early binary that took hold of Asian American studies:

Asian American studies’ historical focus on immigration, with the United States as the destination, meant that Asian American studies was generally reluctant to consider the importance of Asia or countries of origin. Throughout the end of the twentieth century, Asian American studies was focused mostly on issues within American borders. But its concern with immigration meant that it was at least conscious of the role of the United States overseas in the Asian wars that created the conditions of immigration for many populations. Transpacific history was already a structuring factor in the constitution of Asian American populations, but Asian American studies neglected the transpacific nature of these populations because of its imperative to “claim America,” in Maxine Hong Kingston’s words. (V. Nguyen and Hoskins, introduction to Hoskins and Nguyen, Transpacific Studies, 19)

22. Implicit in the transnational turn in Asian American studies is a repudiation of critics and activists such as Frank Chin, Jeffery Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong, who organized Asian American literature in their groundbreaking Aiiieeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writing (1974) and its follow-up, The Big Aiiieeee! (1991) but have since been critiqued for a hypermasculine and US-centric bent.

23. Elaine Kim and Lowe, Positions, vi–vii.

24. They write: “To account for the historical pasts and presents of these new immigrants, we believe there will need to be a variety of connections between Asian studies and Asian American studies, though these encounters will surely have to take account of the long history of dissymmetry between the two fields, the differences in their disciplinary imperatives and in the privileges of their institutional locations, and the large gaps between the subjects and knowledges posited by each field.” Elaine Kim and Lowe, Positions, viii.

25. Lowe, Immigrant Acts, 63.

26. Lowe, Immigrant Acts, 67.

27. Huang writes: “On the other hand, the history of transpacific displacement, especially the history of textual migration, which involves not just exercising Orientalist fantasies but also acquiring actual knowledge of the Other, including appropriating or mimicking the Other’s way of speaking, writing, seeing, and knowing, will provide the most meaningful background for the deepening and expansion of Asian American literature.” Huang, Transpacific Displacement, 6.

28. J. Park, Apparitions of Asia, 19.

29. Working on a parallel track in comparative literary and postcolonial studies, Françoise Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih’s Minor Transnationalism extends the decentering project in bypassing the colonial metropole; they critique a tendency in transnational and postcolonial studies to revolve around imperial, usually Western, powers. This, they lament, has the unfortunate effect of creating a structural barrier to interdisciplinary work: “Scholars in ethnic studies very rarely communicate or collaborate with scholars in francophone studies, although there are many geographical and cultural points of convergences between the two. Likewise, ethnic studies and area studies continue to be caught in a fraught relationship. . . . Ethnic studies remain an American domestic paradigm, while area studies continue to subscribe to an outmoded view of continental territories. National-language departments rarely question the metonymical relationship between language and nation.” Lionnet and Shih, introduction to Minor Transnationalism, 4.

Disciplinary silos, stubbornly rooted in institutional legacies, preclude meaningful exchange; moreover, the constructed nature of their boundaries is rarely challenged. That, they assert, leads to an uncritical acceptance of domestically framed minority politics blithely projecting racial theory outward with little consideration of nuanced differences and complex histories.

The formulation of “minority discourse” emerged within American studies as a way of theorizing diversity. But this approach to diversity remains largely monolingual, even though multilinguality is a given within minority communities. When non-U.S. forms of transnationalism and transcolonialism are brought into play, the “minority discourse” model is helpful only to a limited extent. Not all minorities are minoritized by the same mechanisms in different places; there is no universal minority position as such. By looking at the way minority issues have been formulated in other national and regional contexts, it is possible to show that all expressive discourses (such as music, cinema, autobiography, and other literary genres) are inflected by transnational and transcolonial processes. (Lionnet and Shih, Minor Transnationalism, 11)

In other words, Lionnet and Shih stress the importance of comparative studies of minor literatures in a context that gives the scholar pause and prevents her from uncritically and indiscriminately replicating domestic ontologies of power. A minor transnationalism, then, is multilingual and rejects monolingualism as the primary mode of inquiry; it is built on the premise of hybridity and exchange; and it is decoupled from the colonial center and outside the colonizer-colonized binary: “Most importantly, postcolonial studies fails to foreground the productive cultural work of minorities resulting from their transcolonial and transnational experiences. Postcolonial cultural studies has been overly concerned with a vertical analysis confined to one nation-state, such as the effect of British colonialism in India, where the vertical power relationship between the colonizer and the colonized is the main object of analysis. Finally, it reinforces the hegemony of English as the language of discourse and communication.” Shih and Lionnet, Minor Transnationalism, 11.

30. Hoskins and Nguyen’s Transpacific Studies attempts to coalesce some of the discussion that has been moving in this direction for some time. In their view, it is necessary to acknowledge (and theorize) the cross-pollination that occurs in Asian and Western constructions of the Pacific: “In the context of the ‘politics of imagining Asia,’ as a parallel example, Wang Hui argues that Asian intellectuals cannot (re) imagine Asia without taking into account the history of European intervention in, and construction of, Asia, which has shaped the Asian nationalisms, internationalisms, and revolutions that have produced contemporary Asian nation-states and intellectual formations. Likewise, considering the Pacific, or transpacific relations, without grappling with the way those have been shaped by European and American interventions and intellectual traditions that have influenced Asian thinking and responses would be a mistake.” V. Nguyen and Hoskins, introduction to Hoskins and Nguyen, Transpacific Studies, 4.

31. Chuh and Shimakawa, introduction to Orientations, 7.

32. In a subsequent chapter, Chuh describes her method in more detail: “This is a transnationalism that refutes any notions of a natural and wholly bounded national identity while simultaneously iterating the historic and material power of the nation-state. Transnationalism in this sense is a critical methodology that mediates interpretation, counseling deliberate disruption of normative understandings of nationhood and social subjectivity, and that insists on recognizing the ideologies conditioning national identity formation.” Chuh, “Imaginary Borders,” 280.

What is important to note is that Chuh advocates a critical self-awareness that highlights the ideological formation of nationhood both as an object of study and as a market of self-identification and a scholarly vantage point. With that in mind, a transnationalist approach can avoid a hegemonic projection of the Western subject onto any given site of inquiry.

33. Chuh expands upon this in “Imaginary Borders.” I should also stress that Chuh does not advocate ignoring social justice in Asian American studies but pushes for acknowledging it as one of multiple lines in the field:

Discourses like Asian American studies that are engaged in and indeed motivated by social justice, by the desire to correct inequities in the distribution of power and resources, cannot but unfold in the context of the unavoidable problematics that inhere in epistemological objectification. A certain watchfulness is necessary to avoid the pitfalls of what Rey Chow has called “self-subalternization,” a process by which the critic identifies with a position of powerlessness in order, paradoxically, to claim a certain kind of academic power. Like minoritized discourses generally, Asian American studies’ genealogy includes the language of powerlessness and victimization, a rhetoric that has participated in the institutional growth of Asian American studies and the establishment of its practitioners. (Chuh, “Discomforting Knowledge,” 8)

34. For example, Leo Ching (Becoming Japanese) investigates colonial Taiwanese discourses of Japanese citizenship, and Nayoung Aimee Kwon (Intimate Empire) recovers Korean authors writing in Japanese during the occupation, largely ignored by Korean studies because of their being impugned as collaborators.

35. Hanscom, Washburn, and Fujitani apply racial formation theory according to the particular and unique circumstances of Japanese imperialism, which was built in part on the basis of its studies of other colonial models, including the United States. Fujitani’s Race for Empire draws from both Asian and Asian American studies to reconstruct parallel racial projects in Japan’s exploitation of Koreans and the United States’ exploitation of Japanese Americans. Part of the project of incorporating Korean subjects into the colonial body was to construct an ideology of inclusion that simultaneously enforced exclusion—a move from “vulgar” to “polite” racism, one that “insisted upon the illegitimacy of formal racial discrimination, even as it reproduced a racist logic through a discourse of differential histories, lagging development, and culture.” Fujitani, Race for Empire, 60. Hanscom and Washburn’s Affect of Difference explores how affect actualizes race and racialization ideology in materiality—permeating the porous banal and mundane.

An affect is something that must be present for one to invest in ideology—that is, ideology has to be affectively charged for it to constitute individual experience. Affect exists at the intersection of ideology and the experience of social, political, and everyday realities; it is through the production of affect that an easy division between the material and discursive is complicated. To put it differently, affect makes matter (or matters) matter—it sentimentalizes the material but also makes that matter count for something. Neither mere ’feelings’ nor the product of ideological machinations, affect mediates the subjective experience of the social and provides fruitful and complex category by which to approach studies of race under empire. (Hanscom and Washburn, introduction to Affect of Difference, 6)

36. Cheung, Chinese American Literature, 4.

37. Cheung, Chinese American Literature, 1.

38. Cruz, Transpacific Femininities, 6.

39. A. Lee, Mandarin Brazil, 37.

40. Cheung, Chinese American Literature, 8–9.

41. Nakamura, “What Asian American Studies Can Learn,” 263.

42. Ueki, “Past, Present, and Future,” 57.

43. My approach, in a manner, expands upon Claire Jean Kim’s notion of racial triangulation. In her seminal paper, she posits that “Asian Americans have not been racialized in a vacuum, isolated from other groups; to the contrary, Asian Americans have been racialized relative to and through interaction with Whites and Blacks. As such, the respective racialization trajectories of these groups are profoundly interrelated.” C. Kim, “Racial Triangulation,” 106. However, whereas Kim focuses on domestic racial politics, my study widens the scope to include multiple national and international sites of racialization.

44. Yoneyama effectively triangulates Asian America in her reading of American legal and cultural discourse of redress for Japanese war crimes in Cold War Ruins: “At the same time, it [the Americanization of justice] consists of multifold dimensions of transnational and national processes that involve actors and institutions at multiple levels both within and outside U.S. state interests and interpellations. By deploying the analytic of Asian/Americanization, this chapter hopes to capture the multivalent meanings of seeking truth and justice for Japanese war crimes in the United States. The contradictory effects the Asian/American critique may bring to that process raise a number of key issues regarding violence and historical justice.” Yoneyama, Cold War Ruins, 152–53.

45. In an early issue of Verge: Studies in Global Asias, Andrew Way Leong welcomes the disciplinary move toward a broader scope but cautions against replicating an imperialist mode of inquiry—what he calls the “possessive individualist” approach to criticism, in which a scholar gathers artifacts in a “collection” to be harvested and, ultimately, claimed. “In the context of these reflections, the recent emergence of this journal—Verge: Studies in Global Asias—can be read as a move beyond the mere collections and local horizons of Asian and Asian American studies toward a global plurality. As well intentioned as this expansion to ‘global Asias’ might be, to the extent that it proceeds in a possessive individualist mode that goes beyond the merely collective, the shift to ‘global Asias’ risks becoming yet another vehicle for extending disciplinary authority over ever-larger domains.” Leong, “Pocket and the Watch,” 77.

Instead, he posits a “collective individualist” mode that distinguishes between collection and possession, to circumvent creating a “a fixed group that is inherently opposed to the individual” (76). This study sympathizes with Leong’s construct for decidedly banal reasons—in addition to a decentered mode of inquiry, venturing into a well-established discipline, Asian studies, requires recognizing an inherently limited mastery.

46. V. Nguyen and Hoskins call for a decentralized framework that acknowledges its artificiality, one made up of linkages and connections rather than naturalized sites of power: “In the twenty-first century we may be moving to a period that will emphasize other linkages, connections, and transnational processes. We see the transpacific as one of those ‘spaces of interaction,’ which is not itself a ‘region’ . . . but which does define flows of culture and capital across the ocean.” V. Nguyen and Hoskins, introduction to Hoskins and Nguyen, Transpacific Studies, 7.

47. A few necessary caveats. I write from a Western intellectual tradition whose structural influence on attendant politics cannot be denied. Indeed, I recognize that the critical framework I employ has its own assumptions and preconceptions that are inexorably US-centric, as Hoskins and Nguyen have noted: “Asian scholars in Asia who also study Asia reasonably look with suspicion on both the western area studies tradition and its debates about the complications of area studies, as well as the nationalist assumptions of U.S.-based Asian American and American studies. But the field questions and methodological problems that U.S.-based scholars have been discussing also have relevance for Asian-based scholars because the academic industrial complex within which U.S. scholars work has trained many Asian scholars and is also being adopted by Asian countries.” V. Nguyen and Hoskins, introduction to Hoskins and Nguyen, Transpacific Studies, 17.

Moreover, I do not pretend that I am fluent in the Asian studies tradition; I write from a distinctly Asian American disciplinary vantage. Moreover, my limited Japanese-and Korean-language abilities have considerably slowed down access to primary and secondary materials; all translations and mistakes are of my own making.