Alumni Dissertation Abstracts of American Studies and Ethnicity Alumni.
Worthy of Care? Medical Inclusion from the Watts Riots to the Building of King-Drew, Prisons, and Skid Row, 1965-1986
Using historical and spatial methods to analyze a model academic medical center built after the 1965 Watts Riots—King-Drew Medical Center—in South Los Angeles, Worthy of Care? argues that multiculturalism was productive in dividing society between a multicultural mainstream and a “permanent underclass.” Shaped by new possibilities for citizen inclusion, greater participation in mainstream society, and access to healthcare under President Johnson’s landmark health and antipoverty laws, black medical professionals pioneered the design of the first federally-funded and black-led urban academic medical center attached to new cutting-edge health infrastructure—comprehensive health clinics, community mental health centers, and modern emergency rooms. It was important to black medical and political leaders that this new health system not only produce individual bodily health in black citizens but also fight the racial stigma of biological inferiority, poverty, and mental illness in black communities by producing heterosexuality, able-bodiedness, and employment as normal and natural to black health.
By the time King-Drew opened in 1972, however, medical and political leaders had to contend with the changing landscape of Los Angeles’ globalizing economy. Sizable numbers of immigrants from Asia and Latin America and new social movements associated with welfare, disability, women’s, and gay rights constitutive of these economic changes also began to impact the mission and function of the medical center. Faced with new phenomena such as “new homelessness,” undocumented immigration, “working poverty,” and gang and drug violence, the dissertation illustrates how medical infrastructure stigmatized urban residents of color for the ways they countered normative expectations of race and sexuality. The dissertation ultimately contends that, rather than eradicate poverty, the publicly funded medical center became productive for its capacity to contain and manage it by making working motherhood, racialized violence, and homeless health and mental health services profitable for a new enlarged free market healthcare and social service industry.
Reorienting Asian America: Racial Feeling in a Multicultural Era
Reorienting Asian America: Racial Feeling in a Multicultural Era argues that the cultural contradictions of multiculturalism, colorblindness, and global capitalism have caused an unprecedented shift in the distribution of gendered racial privilege in the U.S. This shift has revealed the need for scholars to adapt how we conceptualize race and racial categories, which are always dynamic and in flux. I develop “racial feeling” as an affective method through which to read structures of racial formation emergent in the cultural productions of the present alongside those structures that have already crystallized into acknowledged fact. In particular, I argue that the core tropes and definitions of Asian American culture cohered by Asian American Studies only partially capture—and sometimes actively obscure—the complex meaning and meaning-making capacities of Asian America, both historically and in the present.
Reading this diverse archive of Asian American cultural production—including drama, literature, and legal discourse—I argue that these cultural productions should not be disavowed; instead, they should be read as part of, or even central to, Asian American culture. Racial feeling, as a method, is one way that is one way Asian American Studies can reorient in order to better account for the meaning and function of Asian American culture as it transforms in the shadow of global capital and neoliberal multiculturalism. More broadly, racial feeling allows scholars to unearth the embryonic social cleavages and procedures we do not yet—but might soon—call “race” as it unfolds throughout the 21st century.
To Tell What the Eye Beholds: A Post 1945 Transnational History of Afro-Arab “Solidarity Politics”
To Tell What the Eye Beholds: A Post-1945 Transnational History of Afro-Arab “Solidarity Politics” explores the transnational intersections between Black American internationalism and Arab diaspora, a convergence of “Afro” and “Arab” insurgencies towards freedom and justice. As a historical-anthropological project employing the assemblage of a multilingual archive, translation, oral history interviews and participatory action research; the manuscript begins in the post-WWII moment, tracking the legatos of the Black freedom movement alongside decolonizing, pan-Arab nationalist movements. It ends with encounters between the Black radical tradition (Movement for Black Lives) and social justice movements in the mashriq/maghreb—namely Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS). The project culminates with a study on a Black social justice activists (from Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter, and Hands Up United (Ferguson/St. Louis)) delegation to Palestine, #DDPalestine, I co-organized as part of assessing the impact of delegations on political theorizing and organizing work. In probing sustained and contingent solidarities of “South-South dialogue” between Black internationalism and the Arab diaspora, my work also takes note of tensions and failures that emancipatory projects and solidarity grapple through.
Through the organizing principle of the “delegate” theorized as an “engaged witness,” we see both moments of connection and dissonance in the messy, uneven work of transnational solidarity building. “Engaged witness” draws from shahādah, which in Arabic is the act of bearing witness, a witness that is bound to testify to what the “eye beholds.” Conjoined with scriptural context, this witness is explicitly tasked to bear witness and testify for justice. The “with-ness” of this kind of “witnessing” is further underscored by putting shah¯dah in conversation with the Arabic concept of takāful (duty of social solidarity), and thus is constitutive of what it means to practice “engaged witness.” Centralizing the figure of the engaged witness opens a window into the convergences between the Black radical tradition and mashriq/maghreb (the people and geographic imaginaries), convergences that while challenging the logic of US imperialism, are at times facilitated by the practices and apparatuses of empire. I examine the role of race, Islam, gender, aesthetics/art, travel and friendship-making in generating artifacts of critical analysis as a basis for forging transnational and local solidarities. To study the political role of friendship-making to transnational organizing work, I draw from Islamic studies and Feminist/womanist literature, highlighting the foundational role dignity and love play in inspiring global friendship and freedom struggles (“movementships”).
Sensing Fascism in America Thomas Mann in Los Angeles
In 1952, Thomas Mann, the man widely rumored to be Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s candidate to be president of Germany after Second World War, fled the United States for a second exile in Switzerland. The HUAC hearings and black lists as well as the ascent of Senator Joseph McCarthy reminded him of the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. He sensed America was on the verge of becoming a fascist state. Mann was not, by any means, the only one feeling the country was veering dangerously close to embracing fascism, in his last State of the Union in 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt expressed a similar feeling, and twenty years prior, Adolf Hitler praised America’s use of racist laws and scientific experiments as a model for pure nations to follow.
In Sensing Fascism in America Thomas Mann in Los Angeles, I argue that beyond Mann’s personal feelings, an un-debatable issue as it was a personal feeling, and not withstanding the fact that the United States did not become a fascist state like Germany or Italy, his insight into the political realities of America at the dawn of the Cold War was accurate. Sans one dominant charismatic figure like Hitler, the U.S. political climate at the time with HUAC, McCarthy, Charles Lindbergh and others was in many ways similar to the rise of Hitler in Germany. I describe the stages of Mann’s political development from a conservative writer to a sui generis-self-described socialist, and the role exile played in his evolution. I also take issue with scholars who have questioned his commitment to the political demands of his time and document how his reactions to political events were driven by a moral obligation to denounce what he believed was abusive, outrageous and indecent behavior in Germany and in the United States. Throughout his life Mann often became a reluctant warrior and a grudging and sharp dissenter of official ”truths.”
Borderland Visualities: Technologies of Sight and the Production of the Nineteenth-Century U.S.-Mexico Borderlands
Borderland Visualities explores the production of the U.S. southwest borderlands across the second-half of the nineteenth-century, particularly through the lenses of science, technology, and vision. I investigate the operation of four different visually affixing regimes across four chapters: boundary surveyors’ mechanical sight, naturalist and ethnographic eye-witnessing of the 1850s southwestern military expeditions, indigenous and environmental challenges to boundary optics, and border surveillance of Mexican female border crossers. In “Borderland Visualities,” I use technologies of sight as a lens to ask what role did science and technology play in the cultural production of the Southwest borderlands? How are racial, gendered, and class hierarchies sustained or dismantled through visual technologies and acts of observation? And, how do borderland inhabitants push against or support the imposition of scientific and bureaucratic regimes? I argue that state officials and scientists used scientific, visual, and bureaucratic methods to manufacture a border into a space where objects were rendered intelligible, therefore, presumed knowable and, consequently, manageable. In turn, their spatial construction was met with challenges from borderland inhabitants who envisioned a different landscape. Southwestern landscapes of power played out among a culture of numbers, tables, eye-witnessing, and gendered performances of crossing. While the scientific spatialization of the nation brought the management of nature and people under the purview of the state, naturalists and ethnographers, borderland inhabitants and border crossers reveal the complexities involved in westward expansion and settler colonialism of the American southwest borderlands in the nineteenth-century. The operation of American power—the territorizalization and temporalization of the southwest borderlands—was not always deliberate and comprehensive during the mid-nineteenth century, especially at a time where limited government withheld direct support to scholarly pursuits. On the surface, American empire presents itself as a carefully orchestrated endeavor. However, state agents, acting out their own agendas, demonstrate an orderly disorder to the enactments of empire.
Fostering Control examines how the child welfare system systematically surveils, regulates, and criminalizes the young people it purportedly seeks to protect. Combining qualitative interviews that centralize the voices of foster youth with participant observation, archival investigation, and multimedia analysis, this dissertation documents how the child welfare system violently restricts the lives and life chances of youth of color. More specifically, it traces how under neoliberalism child welfare programs—including group homes, youth shelters, transitional housing facilities, family courts, and child welfare archives—foster social control through an interlocking and updated combination of coercive measures, discursive tropes, and the widespread promotion of self-regulation. To make this argument Fostering Control leverages a Foucauldian framework and critical youth studies lens to position the child welfare system as a material-discursive formation that is violent and powerful but never uncontested. Exploring how social control tactics within the child welfare system lead to incarceration and dispossession outside the system, this study underscores the ways in which the child welfare system produces, participates in, and legitimizes a larger carceral logic that violently targets youth of color in the United States. At the same time, by tracing the myriad ways young people resist this violence—challenging its discursive frameworks and criminalizing impulses while creating collective identities and community formations in the process—this study is rooted in a critical belief that no system of control is totalizing. The visions these young people have for the future of the system are numerous, profound, and radically different from the present, and collectively, they point to a transformative vision of what is possible.
The Revolution Will Come Home: Gendered Violence and Transformative Organizing from the Philippines to the U.S.
The Revolution Will Come Home explores how urban poor women in Metro Manila are challenging interpersonal gendered violence—such as domestic abuse or sexual assault—within the communities they organize, while building a broader movement against neoliberal capitalism and U.S. empire. GABRIELA, the largest women’s federation in the Philippines, fights for ‘home’ on multiple scales—offering a case study of a ‘social movements approach’ to gendered violence that draws on and adapts grassroots traditions, local and transnational feminisms, as well as Third World nationalist and Marxist-Leninist-Maoist organizing legacies. As U.S. empire and neoliberal restructuring enact gendered violence, often under the guise of ‘humanitarian aid’ and ‘gender-responsive’ development, GABRIELA challenges a ‘neoliberal imperial’ feminist order, reconfiguring its logics.
Using oral history, survey, and archival methods, this dissertation considers how addressing interpersonal gendered violence can support, rather than hinder, movement-building, grassroots leadership, and the transformation of participants. Instead of writing off trauma as drama, local organizers treat processes of interpersonal and societal change as interdependent. Collectives offer spaces of healing and constrained accountability for intimate partner and sexual violence, while organizers adapt an ethic of ‘serving the people’ to provide survivor-centered support that tides over cycles of violence. A ‘social movements approach’ towards interpersonal gendered violence and trauma not only can provide more accessible and transformative assistance to those affected—but moreover, has societal transformation as its goal, treating survivors as potential organizers in a movement for collective change, rather than as passive service recipients. I place strategies of this Third World women’s organization in conversation with U.S. women of color feminist critiques of carceral responses to gendered violence—and with their calls for ‘transformative organizing,’ ‘community accountability’ tactics that do not rely on state structures, and decolonization, as alternatives.
Radical Crossings: From Peasant Rebellions to Internationalist Multiracial Labor Organizing among Japanese Immigrant Communities in Hawaii and California, 1885-1935
This dissertation excavated the buried strands and the longstanding patterns of transnational activism, resistance, and thoughts in the history of Japanese immigrants in Hawaii and California. It revealed the tradition of peasant rebellions that Japanese immigrants brought to Hawaii’s sugar plantations, the pre-migration struggle of colonized Okinawans for their common land that seeped into their immigrant life, and the presence of early Japanese socialists in the San Francisco Bay Area and their trans-Pacific network that critiqued Japanese exclusion by white-supremacist labor unions and the immigration policies of the government. By examining these struggles of the first generation Japanese immigrants, for economic and racial justice in Hawaii and California between 1885 and 1935, through the lenses of transnationalism and internationalism, this dissertation helped us to better understand the emergence of Communist-led labor organizing, where many of the abovementioned trajectories of Issei and Kibei-Nisei conflated.
This convergence, feeding off of the accumulation of historical experience of racial exclusion and exploitation and also the anti-imperial struggles between the empires of Japan and the United States, nurtured the triangular vibrancy of resistance and labor movements between Japan, Hawaii, and California. This historical experience of Issei and Kibei leftists was not simply peripheral, but integral to the narratives of Asian American Studies and the U.S. Left. By retroactively extending the genealogical investigation of resistance and labor movements and critically analyzing the continuity and rupture in it, this dissertation offered a larger, panoramic view of the width and depth of early Japanese immigrants’ world of struggle, which has been invisible in previous scholarship.
Contested Commemorations: Violence and Memory in Cambodia
Contested Commemorations examines representations of the Cambodian genocide in photography, journalism, film, and law. I particularly highlight commemorations that I believe authorize the heightened killing power seen during the current US War on Terror. This dissertation argues that memorialization of the Cambodian genocide has often resulted in both the forgetting of the US-sponsored destruction of Southeast Asia, and the pacification of the political lives of Cambodian genocide survivors. I place this research in dialog with the ongoing UN/Cambodian tribunal against the Khmer Rouge, and caution against equating legal adjudication with narrative closure.
Stadium Struggles: The Cultural Politics of Difference and Civic Identity in Postwar Urban Imaginaries approaches stadiums as political, economic, and cultural infrastructure that shape ideas about place, conditioning who belongs and what spaces are desirable. As sites of immense ideological and financial investment, stadiums provide a generative site for exploring the unresolved relationship between race and power in the postwar period. Foregrounding a racial politics in an analysis of stadiums, this dissertation charts competing claims to space, the racial politics of development and anxieties about the future of urban landscapes. This dissertation argues that the stadium’s transformation from a site of athletic prowess to a symbol of progress serves as a critical window into racialized and gendered struggles for civic identity and alternate urban future over time. It offers Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Houston as important metropolitan spaces that chart architectural, technological, and ideological stadium transformations amidst rapidly changing demographic landscapes. In focusing on cities with majority-minority populations, the dissertation contends that communities of color have capitalized, and continue to capitalize, on the importance of the stadium to make claims on the city that exceed the institutional languages of civic participation and multiracial harmony. Without such an understanding of multiracial urban landscapes and their role in forming civic identity, we are left with an inadequate analysis that creates the conditions for ill-informed planning decisions and only a partial understanding of the relationship between the built environment and the lived experience of the city.
Who Cares for Detroit? Urban Agriculture, Black Self Determination, and Struggles over Urban Space
Drawing on interviews and ethnography, this dissertation examines development in Detroit through the analyses of farmers who view urban agriculture as a strategy for Black freedom and self-determination. Black-led urban agriculture projects in Detroit respond to local conditions—few available jobs, a dire need for healthy food, and the availability of vacant land. Yet in addition to focusing on survival, the projects draw on rich histories of Black organizing in the city and use farming to develop community and relationships, a sense of spiritual and historical connection, collective and individual self-improvement, and to build Black economic and political power in the city. Black-led agriculture in the city centers the idea of care—how one cares for people, for neighborhoods, for nature—as a primary measure of what is appropriate use of urban space. The issue of care in this context is both a question of responsibility—attending to, maintaining, and managing space—and affect—emotional and historical connection to place, and the people that inhabit it. In framing legitimate use of land and space as hinging on how one cares, for it, Black farmers in the city emphasize use-values of land over exchange-values and prioritize affective relationality as the basis of their vision of urban development—building strong, caring relationships between people and land, the city, their food, nature, and each other.
Fearing Inflation, Inflating fears: The End of Full Employment and the Rise of the Carceral
Stein, David P.
Fearing Inflation is about the politics and economics of unemployment from the 1930s-1970s. It blends social, political, labor, and economic history with the interdisciplinary fields of feminist economic theory, radical criminology, and African American Studies in order to reveal the centrality of full employment demands to Black freedom politics. This study investigates racial justice movements that sought to eradicate structural unemployment and examines contests over governmental responses to people who were disemployed due to automation and globalization. Drawing upon archives of activists, politicians, economists, and the Federal Reserve, I uncover the relationship between the rise and decline of the political program for governmental guarantees to jobs or income, and the increased federal governmental focus on criminalization.
Fearing Inflation highlights how Jim Crow political power, organized business interests, and the Federal Reserve helped prevent the success of civil rights struggles for full employment. In so doing, my project shows that unemployment after the 1940s was not a technical problem of market inefficiencies, but a political problem of vying social forces. Postwar unemployment was more than a personal affliction; it was an essential component of public policy that emphasized a low inflation rate. With currencies tied to the U.S. dollar after the1944 Bretton Woods Agreement, inflation of the dollar imperiled this entire arrangement. This resulted in the maintenance of a surplus labor force to temper the power of workers to increase their wages (and inflate prices). By highlighting these relations, my study locates unemployed people (and movements on their behalf) as a central force in the history of twentieth-century capitalism and social policy.
Fearing Inflation investigates the social movements and government actors of the 1930s-40s that established an ethos that it was the federal government’s responsibility to provide jobs or income for those whom the private market abandoned. I emphasize how—due to fear on behalf of capital of wage-push inflation—government and the Federal Reserve participated in actions to inhibit working-class power from the 1950s-70s, and unmade a consensus about the need for full employment planning. In the midst of these contests, I describe the evolution of two key efforts to win legislation for guaranteed jobs: the Bayard Rustin-designed “Freedom Budget for All Americans,” of the 1960s, and the subsequent efforts led by Coretta Scott King of the Full Employment Action Council in the 1970s. In so doing, I argue that the history of wealth and power is shaped by both the “failure” of campaigns like the Freedom Budget, and the “success” of those that preceded it like the March on Washington. As such, I suggest that one can see the making of neoliberalism in Keynesianism’s uneven development (through which Keynesianism harmonized with existent white supremacist and patriarchal practices). And since many of these problems of structural unemployment and economic precarity have deepened with the rise of neoliberalism, I follow E.P. Thompson’s argument that by looking at “lost causes” of prior organizers and activists “we may discover insights into social evils we have yet to cure.”
Colonial brews: Cafè and power in the Amèricas
Serrano, Orlando R.
Colonial Brews: Café and Power in the Américas examines coffee trade in the Américas generally, and between the U.S. and Nicaragua specifically, to see how unequal and colonial power is produced and maintained in a region. It is a geo-historical study that combines archival research, policy analysis, and ethnographic fieldwork methods with critical spatial and critical ethnic studies theories. Primary sources include nineteenth century U.S. canal project papers, coffee trade journals and agreements, GATT and WTO agreements, and fair trade materials. I also analyze the accounting archives of La Hammonia coffee plantation in Nicaragua in addition to conducting interviews and completing participant observation on-site. Colonial Brews combines these sources to answer key research questions. How do the production, retail, and consumption of coffee broadly and between the U.S. and Nicaragua specifically reveal the persistence of colonial power? What shapes do the control over the economic, political, civic, and epistemic take in a particular global commodity chain? Who are the actors involved in delineating the contours of—whether in a dominant or marginal role—production, retail, and consumption in a coffee commodity chain between the U.S. and Nicaragua? How are different crises—of surplus, of price drops, of infrastructure, of war—resolved? How do the resolutions inhibit or engender alternative forms of interdependence? Over the course of the dissertation it becomes evident that tracing the history of a coffee commodity chain between the U.S. and Nicaragua reveals colonial power at work that is structured by what Walter Mignolo calls the logic of coloniality (2005). In each instance, the resolutions to crises work to reproduce colonial power and extend the reach of coloniality. In the end, the colonial interdependence made between people and places across space in this context can only be undone through anti-colonial practices that form a diverse assault across the spectrum of political, economic, and social life in the service of refashioning global connection. This is all the more urgent at a moment in which political, economic, and social acts are binding people and places together with increasing intimacy. We must join in the work of many who are trying to make another kind of interdependence that is more equitable and life-sustaining. To make it based on mutuality.
Colonial Brews contributes to scholarship on processes of globalization and transnationalism in Critical Geography, (Transnational) American Studies, Transnational Sociology and Latino Studies. It builds on the work of geographers, sociologists, and anthropologists who use political economy and commodity chains to study the production of power at a regional or global scale by approaching them from the anti-colonial perspective of critical ethnic studies. In so doing it presents an analysis that is not couched solely in class terms, but one that sees class, ethnicity, race, and gender differences as mutually constituted and made simultaneously through the logic of coloniality. It challenges the modern conception of history as linear and the effects this has on economic and social policy by positing a nested notion of history that enables new beginnings and not simply points of departure. Lastly, the mixed methods research design combines the social sciences and humanities by bringing critical ethnic studies and critical spatial theories to bear on the practices of ethnography, policy analysis, and archival research.
Profiting from Disparity: Marketing to the Poor across the United States and South Asia
Market saturation and growth in inequality has created a crisis in consumer capitalism that has presented particular challenges to the personal care industry. In this dissertation, I look at how multinational corporations like Colgate-Palmolive, P&G, and Unilever seek to address these challenges by turning to three low-income markets: poor people in the United States; middle-class consumers in the global south; and very poor people in developing countries also referred to as the `bottom-of-the-pyramid.’ Analysis of documents from market research and management consulting firms and field work in US Dollar Stores and retail sites in Kathmandu, Nepal indicate that in low-income markets, multinational firms and retailers extend modern market systems and consumer practices among marginalized consumers by adapting to and standardizing local retail practices, personal habits, and social norms. In the process, American ideologies of upward mobility and personal responsibility that have disparaged the poor are becoming globalized in the name of expanding consumer choice. Thus, under neoliberal consumer capitalism, `choice’ becomes a disciplinary mechanism that justifies and ameliorates the anxieties of growing economic disparity and uncertainty.
How Evangelicals are Born-Again and Again: Race, Ethnicity, Religion and Politics in American Culture
Perez, Haven Abraham
Since 1976, there has been a deluge of research on Evangelicals. This group has been conceptualized in various ways. In fact, a multitude of portraits create this American religious identity (Hackett and Lindsay, 2008). Despite lack of consensus over the meaning and definition associated with the term Evangelical, the Evangelical label is powerful. The term is evoked frequently in political discourse and public policy, and often yields a strong emotional and intellectual response. And yet the term Evangelical has proven difficult to pin down. As a result, the demographic and religious characteristics of Evangelicals in the United States are frequently inconsistent and contradictory. For example, studies have estimated that the adult evangelical population in the United States is as small as 7 percent and as large as 47 percent (Gallup and Lindsay, 1999). This dissertation will demonstrate how and why there are such vast inconsistencies in the way Evangelicals are conceptualized, focusing on a synthesis of academic historical narratives of Anglo-Protestant ethnic identity in the United States and the historical narratives of modern Evangelicals in the pews. In addition, I reflect on the meaning of the term Evangelical by drawing on my own personal history and experience.
To understand the term Evangelical in the United States requires a review of the history of Protestantism in this country. A study of Protestantism must also engage with White Anglo-Saxon Protestant identity. In this dissertation I argue that the meaning of the term Evangelical is contingent on historical trends and socio-political events within Anglo-Protestant identity, including conflicts concerning how to interpret these historical narratives.
The Breaking and Remaking of Everyday Life: Illegality, Maternity and Displacement in the Americas
Vera-Rosas, Gretel H.
The Breaking and Remaking of Everyday Life: Illegality, Maternity & Displacement in the Americas is a hemispheric feminist study that examines political and cultural representations of mothers who exist outside the boundaries of legality. Legality in the dissertation is defined by the legal structures that subjectify immigrant women and their reproductive lives, situating them within lifelong networks of surveillance and disciplinary relations. My inquiry specifically focuses on contemporary independent films that evoke the experience of Latin/a American transnational single motherhood in relationship to sex work, drug trafficking, and undocumented migration. By focusing on the complex terrain of cultural representation, I discuss the ways in which liberal models of citizenship and agency have historically policed, repressed and extracted surplus from feminized bodies. I additionally delve into the ways in which these visual texts represent forms of female intimacy and social space that mitigate coercive conditions of labor and social abjection.
The Breaking and Remaking of Everyday Life is animated, on the one hand, by my personal quest to make sense of my experiences as the daughter of a transnational mother. On the other, it is driven by my questions regarding the political dimensions of cultural production in the lives of women whose happiness and survival, as Argentinean philosopher Enrique Dussel asserts, often times necessitates the breaking of the law. Incorporating film critique and interpretative, textual, and discursive analysis, my dissertation demonstrates how these films are visual registers of forms of cultural memory and daily struggle that stretch beyond certain kinds of sociological work about illegality and raced motherhood and what is available within mainstream media. These cinematic texts, though often in contradictory ways, operate as important sites for narrating the social, political and cultural obstacles to fulfilling daily life. I argue that illegality produces extreme vulnerability for mothers who are outside of the possibility of familial normalcy, a precondition to achieving full citizenship standing. I further contend that the body of the transnational Latin/a American mother becomes a historical archive for both modernity’s violence and hope as an affective state that propels these mothers forward in daily life.
This dissertation moves towards a critical frame that centers on female displacement and immigrant maternity in the post 1990s era of immigration and state security policies, exclusions and proliferation of political discourses regarding maternal representation. I theorize motherhood and illegality as contradictory sites of subjection and possibility, contributing to transnational feminist work that challenges normative depictions of “unfit mothers” as “irresponsible subjects” whom are always already in need of regulation. This project also adds to the breadth of scholarship that posits popular culture as an important site for the enactment of identity, belonging, and cultural and political contestations.
Rendered Visualities: Representation and Detention in the War on Terror
Rendered Visualities: Representation and Detention in the War on Terror examines how representations of detention in documentary, Hollywood cinema, art installations, and US government documents reproduce modern racialized and gendered logics of American Empire. Since 9/11, there has been a paucity of `visible evidence’ available about the thousands of people from countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan who have been detained without charge in transnational military prisons and black sites. With the exception of the leaked images from the Abu Ghraib prison, military detention remains largely unseen within the public sphere. By classifying information about military detention programs as secret, the state can work outside the scrutiny of human rights organizations. This renders detainees barely visible as legal subjects and as spectral figures within public discourse; this lack of `visible evidence’ of rendition, interrogation, and imprisonment underscores ways in which visual culture serves as a site of knowledge-production. Detainees thus exist at the intersection of dual meanings of the verb “to render”: extraordinarily rendered within the military prison system and visually rendered within cinema, art and media. Challenges to militarized imprisonment attempt to make unseen carceral practices publicly visible, whether through documentary films, art installations, or through the online torture archives. Even though the invisibility of detainees facilitates the conditions of their abuse, this dissertation argues that rendering visible does not necessarily transform the detainee’s visual subjectivity.
From Chicano Therapy to Globarriology: Chican@ Popular Culture and Identity in Late 20th and Early 21st Century Los Angeles
Rodriguez, Luis Carlos
This dissertation argues that for some Chicano and Chicana artists and activists living and working in Los Angeles during the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, what it meant to “be” Chicano or Chicana was increasingly mediated by a globalized and more inclusive conception of cultural identity that actively challenged and deliberately moved away from previous and oftentimes nationalistic models. As such, some examples of the cultural work produced by Chicanos and Chicanas, some of the Chicano discourse surrounding their cultural productions, and Chicano politics in general suggests that Chicano and Chicana artists and activists began to openly express a more inclusive and globally mediated concept of cultural identity. As in the past, Chicano cultural productions both responded to and were reflections of Chicano and Chicana perceptions of themselves at home while simultaneously finding solidarity and influence from populations abroad. This dissertation illustrate some novel approaches and examples Chicanos and Chicanas were invested in projecting a revamped globalized Chicanismo outside the context of the United States in an attempt to locate, reconcile, and assess what I see as instances of Chicano globalizations. I examine the production and dissemination of films such as Boulevard Nights (Warner Bros. 1979), Real Women Have Curves (HBO-Newmarket, 2002), the politics of the artist and activist collective “The Eastside Café,” and the music of underground Los Angeles rock bands such as Aztlán Underground, Rage Against the Machine, Quetzal, Slowrider, and the spoken word of Rocco from Mexico City’s Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio. I put these texts in conversation with the work of scholars such as Gloria Anzaldúa, the satiric work of the Theatre Troup Culture Clash, the prose of Rubén Martinez, and the visual art of fine artists such as Mario Ibarra Jr., and graffiti artists such as Nuke. This dissertation shows how Chicanos have been actively engaging and collaborating with other groups outside the US through the production and reception of popular culture. The circumstances surrounding these works also provides examples of what I find to be, to borrow from George Lipsitz, “Chicano Moments of Danger” that challenge both essentialized notions of Chicana and Chicano identity and state-centered narratives of identity formation.
The Color Line and the Class Struggle: The Mexican Revolution and Convergences of Radical Internationalism, 1910–1946
Heatherton, Christina L.
The Color Line and the Class Struggle: The Mexican Revolution and Convergences of Radical Internationalism, 1910-1946 seeks to resituate the Mexican Revolution as a center of twentieth-century global radicalism. While much has been made of the influences of the Russian Revolution and Chinese Revolution on radical struggles, this work examines the less well-studied influence of the Mexican Revolution, as the event that inaugurated an alternate anti-racist and anti-imperialist revolutionary trajectory in the twentieth century. The project illuminates the ways in which revolutionaries, particularly those from the world’s “darker nations,” drew on the history and memory of the Mexican Revolution to produce a form of anti-racist internationalism. It explores how artists, military prisoners, and workers, among others, theorized, dramatized, and challenged racist and gendered social relations under capitalist imperialism and consequently developed new articulations of struggle. Toward this goal it examines what I term convergence spaces, sites where disparate radical traditions were forged into alliances, leading to unique modes of political mobilization and the subsequent creation of new political theory. The project draws on a wide array of materials from national and international archives including prisoner records, oral histories, political tracts, private correspondence, and popular art. By tracing the movement and interaction of social actors through convergence spaces, The Color Line and the Class Struggle offers a historical and spatial analysis of racial capitalism’s global development and contestation in the early twentieth century.
Conditions of Belonging: Life, Historical Preservation and Tourism Development in the Making of Pelourinho-Maciel, Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, 1965–1985
Smith, Micaela Alicia
Conditions of Belonging focuses on the development of Pelourinho-Maciel from 1965-1985. It argues that the making of Pelourinho-Maciel, and the particular rationale market development discourse produced by the city, state, and international elite, relied on the symbolic presence of the longtime residents in the beginning just as much as it required their structured absence in the end.
Pelourinho-Maciel is the colonial center of the old city of Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, and consists of the largest and most important collection of baroque and rococo architecture in the Americas. As the oldest Brazilian city, and one that for two hundred and fourteen years was the seat of the Portuguese empire (1549-1763), Pelourinho-Maciel is synonymous with times of colonial splendor and the labor of enslaved Africans. The campaign to restore Pelourinho-Maciel for tourism development began in earnest during the late 1960s, as local urban developers and state managers began the extensive process of petitioning the United Nations Educational, Science, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to make Pelourinho-Maciel an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Yet setting the conditions and priorities for how Pelourinho-Maciel should be restored was no easy task. While UNESCO recommendations mandated that the original community benefit from tourism development, the local elite contested these recommendations within the press, describing UNESCO officials as foreigners intervening with no sense of the local issues. The “local issues,” decried the critics, were the increasing numbers of Black prostitutes and thieves living within the abandoned colonial mansions. Yet as many sociological surveys contested, prostitution was already in decline, based on a policy of residents moving out “of their own accord”.
As a result of the elite moving out of Pelourinho-Maciel since the 1930s, coupled with the abandonment by the state, a growing number of poor Afro-Brazilians had taken up residence, subdividing the colonial mansions into small partitioned rooms. Local residents worked in the city center as well as in the nearby areas as shoemakers, book-binders, laundry washers, street vendors, domestics, laundresses, seamstresses, hair stylists (Espinheira 1971, 57). Thirteen percent of the Maciel population had lived in the area for more than twenty years and in the same building. 27.5% in the same category had lived there for eight to twenty years (Espinheira 1988, 9). These numbers demonstrate the sense of permanency residents felt living in their homes and of the duration of their relationship as renters to their landlords. Throughout the 1970s, a debate ensued among journalists, UNESCO officials and sociologists as to whether, and if so, how, living and working conditions should be improved for the local poor as a result of the restoration process.
The recent history of Pelourinho-Maciel as a history of the neighborhood’s long-time residents provides us a rich site to explore the ideology of development as its practices and logics were being imagined and implemented across and within multiple scales throughout the 1970s. The constantly shifting relationships between local, state, and international technicians demonstrates that the development of Pelourinho-Maciel was a multiscalar project with a particular focus on fixing one place: to make a colonial “living museum” and produce both the material and symbolic narratives to define Pelourinho-Maciel as a “living” historical monument (Azevedo 1994; Romo 2010). A focus on the residents, and how they were described and discussed in the debates surrounding their status as valid residents of Pelourinho-Maciel, brings to the fore issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality in the history of Pelourinho-Maciel’s urban renewal and state development strategies. Yet the logic of development in the making of Pelourinho-Maciel does not follow one continuous single narrative. Rather, the logic of development, as employed by the various city, state, and international actors, relied on multiple narratives, sometimes overlapping and sometimes contradictory.
Image Breakers, Image Makers: Producing Race, America, and Television
Image Breakers, Image Makers: Producing Race, America, and Television foregrounds my positionalities as a scholar and as a creative artist/practitioner to conduct an unprecedented, ethnographic, and longitudinal cultural study about television and the select few writers and producers who actually “make” television. I examine the spaces and processes of cultural production in order to investigate the hidden relationship between racial formation, Black representation, and television production. More specifically, I focus on the veiled process of script creation and its culture of production as a performative space with national and global implications for the images that can make, break, construct, and/or disrupt our racialized common sense. Employing an interdisciplinary framework that combines critical ethnography, cultural analysis, and performance theory my dissertation posits television production as a crucial “pre-performance” space and process where racial meaning enters into filmed texts, gains a visual and discursive materiality, and becomes a contested but indelible part of what we then call Black representation. Thus, I make a decisive shift in the scholarship on media and Black representation that moves the critique from the hypervisible “artifact” of popular culture to the difficult to access and often invisible “creation” of popular culture. In so doing I also make an argument for the critical necessity of the scholar-artist and artist-scholar to the project of knowledge production.
Taking the NAACP’s historical focus on Black representation in film and television as a crucial but under examined prompt, Image Breakers, Image Makers begins by situating the political ramifications of African-American television writer hiring practices within the larger labor practices of the entertainment industry. It then analyzes the elements of production that regulate if, when, how, and what writers are allowed to create and how those elements combine to become a process of racialization. Engaging with a diverse array of scholars in media studies, performance studies, and African-American studies, Image Breakers, Image Makers complicates what I call the frustration of Black representation and centers the day to day struggle for what I call a non-comic Blackness. I discuss the visibility of the performer’s agency, but privilege the invisibility of television writer-producers and their role in creating and resisting the materiality of racial performativity. Ultimately, this project reveals how Blackness is contested by television practitioners, and suggests how audiences are primed to ignore race yet make racial sense of images that have, to a large degree, already been constructed and decoded for them.
Bastard Diasporas: Illegitimacy, Exile, and U.S. Cuban Cultural Politics
Hernandez, Jesus J.
Bastard Diasporas: Illegitimacy, Exile, and U.S. Cuban Cultural Politics mines a broad range of cultural productions for insights into how U.S. Cubans conceptualize and relate to the nation-state. Analyzing contemporary literature, film, radio, performance art, and law from the mid-1990s to the present, my project evidences the variegated ways that U.S. Cuban cultural productions allow us to theorize the diaspora, family, nation, and illegitimacy. Diasporas, I argue, are the bastards of the nation-state. Foregrounding the articulations of family and nation, my project shows how diasporic communities are figured as the illegitimate kin of the proper citizen subject; they are simultaneously part of the national family yet outside the purview of full belonging and heritage or inheritance. The errant seeds of the nation-state, dispersed and disintegrated, the diasporan longs for the fictitious sense of wholeness or incorporation that is attributed to the modern subject of/ through the family and the nation.
Moving Parts: Reconfiguring Corporeal Difference and the Human through Organ Transplant Narratives
Organ transplantation materially reconfigures the biological boundaries between bodies, but it also reshapes the social and ethical possibilities of using certain bodies as resources for the lives of others. In its physical reorganizing of the fleshy material of bodies, it conjures up vivid associations and rearticulations of the relationship between self and other, of the individualist Enlightenment subject, and of what it even means to be and have a human body. Moving Parts examines how associations and rearticulations like these are represented in literature, television, theater, and film. In examining the stories that circulate around the most fundamental questions about the organ transplant’s possibility, I argue that we can see how narrative constructs the body as knowable subject. Moving Parts contends that these modes of narrativizing the act of organ transfer are indicative of a pervasive preoccupation not simply with a technology that drastically reorganizes how bodies relate to one another in the materiality of their flesh, but also with the very strategies these stories deploy in order to narratologically negotiate this radical corporeal reconfiguration. I argue that the organ transplant should be understood as a discourse, a profound transformation of bodies where the objectified other is the very thing that allows for the continued life of the self. It is a discourse through which we may understand the self to always have been a precarious construct teetering between healthy and individual and ailing and contingent. In the face of a technology that demands a radical understanding of the borders of between self and other, the stories I examine in Moving Parts allow us to think a human subject that must begin beyond where the body ends in order to resist the liberal humanist discourses that produce debased others premised on corporeal difference.
Writing Exile: Vietnamese Literature in the Diaspora
Dao, Anh Thang
In Writing Exile I re-conceptualize the notion exile as a framework to discuss the limitations and potential of diasporic cultural and literary productions. Departing from a traditional understanding of exile as being cast out from a nation-state or native country, the project highlights a concept of exile as a process that encompasses multiple moments of geographical and ideological displacement. This process starts in the homeland and continues beyond its borders, linking histories of colonialism and imperialism with current power regimes governing relationships of race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality in the diaspora. Within this framework, the project examines the multilingual literary and cultural productions of Vietnamese diasporic communities in the United States, France, and Germany, which are informed by histories of ethnic conflicts, French colonization, American military intervention, and global Cold War politics. Locating this literature at the intersection of many national, imperial, and colonial aspirations, I suggest that a reconceptualization of exile is helpful in understanding how the multiple histories and social conditions leading to exile continue to characterize the lived experience of diasporic subjects. At the same time, this notion of exile questions claims of origin and authenticity to present a series of choices and opportunities for diasporic cultural productions to challenge the constraints of the diaspora, which cannot be contained within the trajectory of the homeland and the diaspora as respective openings and endpoints. Within this struggle, which reveals rather than conceals the multiplicities and conflicts shaping diasporic communities, our understanding of diaspora is constantly questioned and remade at the same time.
The Life of Paper: A Poetics
The Life of Paper: A Poetics explores the role of letter correspondence in practices of social reproduction, specifically within histories of genocidal racism, mass incarceration, and human resilience in California and the West. I trace this life by fleshing out the labors that comprise letter correspondence in three case studies: “Detained” focuses on migrants from Southern China during the early period of U.S. Chinese exclusion (1880s–1920s); “Interned” focuses on people identified with Japan during the World War II period (1930s–1940s); and “Imprisoned” focuses on diasporas of Blackness in the post-Civil Rights period (1960s–present).
Using a range of methods to analyze previously unstudied archives of letters, this project explores how targeted diasporas—facing conditions of radical alienation and confinement—engaged in practices of reading, writing, and circulating letters to sustain communal life. I study a number of these inventive practices by thematically framing each chapter. First, I historicize “detained” letters in relation to emerging technological, epistemological, and social infrastructures. Second, I analyze “interned” letters through dialectics of censorship and aesthetic production. Third, I clarify how “imprisoned” letters have transformed practices of collectively re-embodying the human.
Situating letters within the political violence that qualifies them, I define letter correspondence in these contexts as a social response to coercion, ritually distinct from more commonly-studied epistolary social practices. I argue that such conditions radically alter how and what letters mean, and how we might better understand them. Thus, in this cultural studies project I interrogate the processes that connect paper objects to historical human identity and being. I also examine how these forms of connection—internalized in the letter—create alternative conditions of existence that both ground and animate struggles against premature death. As such, I methodologically elaborate the life of paper to re-create an “abolitionist” epistemology of race, space, gender, and labor. Finally then, I call the life of paper a “poetics”: a process of both literary and social reproduction that revolves around maintaining the dynamics of creative essence.
This interdisciplinary project contributes to critical thought and methodology in History, Media/Literary Studies, Cultural Studies, Geography, and Political Theory by addressing gaps in each field. Typically, historians’ uses of letters as evidence overlook the humanistic aspects of letters as literary works and media forms. Inversely, literary and media analyses commonly neglect the historically material contexts in which letters were written. Dominant geographic research likewise remains under-attentive to disenfranchised epistemologies, as manifest in and through “the life of paper,” and the ways they radically transform knowledge about space and place. Lastly, both critical race scholars and political theorists take for granted categories of analysis—such as race, ethnicity, space, gender, and labor—which my sustained cultural study of letter correspondence ruptures and re-defines. By combining the strengths of each discipline, I present letters in their deeper dimensions: simultaneously as forms of historical evidence, as literary works of art, and as acts of communication that mediate power to be and become in real space-time. Hence, my project bridges discourses often viewed as separate to provide fresh insights about the human experience.
This is my Country: The Use of blackness in Discourses of Racial Nativism Towards Latino Immigrants
Nieva, Chrisshonna Grant
This is My Country: The Use of Blackness in Discourses of Racial Nativism Towards Latino Immigrants interrogates the use of blackness in anti-immigrant discourses in Los Angeles, California. Through content analysis of various media (including newspapers, television news, radio shows, blogs, and more) this dissertation examines three different Los Angeles Black public figures to illustrate how blackness is used within arguments about how Latino immigration allegedly negatively impacts Blacks. In these arguments I trace how particular emotions are attached to different claims about immigration which consequently create an increased gap between the emotional response (towards immigration) and the reality behind the arguments made about the impact of immigration (on Blacks and America). The goal of the project is to illustrate how blackness and emotion work together to widen the gap between fiction and reality regarding the impact of Latino immigration. In this dissertation I argue that the political move—in which blackness is/becomes an important component in anti-Latino discourses and agendas—is 1) on the one hand an extension of a white hegemonic order in which racialized others are argued to be the cause of social problems while 2) at the same time a new creative turn in whiteness where blackness becomes an important visible instrument in promoting racial nativism. In addition, I argue that emotion plays a central role in promoting racialized nativism.
Return Engagement: Contemporary Art’s Traumas of Modernity and History in Diasporic Sài Gòn and Phnom Penh
Le, Viet Ho
The dissertation examines modernity, popular culture and trauma in contemporary art in Asian America and Southeast Asia, with a focus on Vieˆt Nam and Cambodia—two countries linked historically and regionally with each other and the United States. In addressing the dearth of art criticism on artists from the region, I argue that traumas such as military engagement and modernization return as thematic objects of desire and desired art objects on international art markets, however contested. I highlight artists tied to Phnom Penh and Sài Gòn, and challenge “diasporic” and “local” categorizations. Asian American artists living in Southeast Asia may be marketed—and identify—as “local.” Seasoned “local” Southeast Asian artists may have “diasporic” outlooks and practice flexible citizenship through their social networks, overseas residencies and exhibitions. In a competitive international art market, I assert that these artists strategically position themselves as both insiders and outsiders. For example, Sài Gòn returnees Tiffany Chung (Vietnamese American) and Sandrine Llouquet (Vietnamese French) embody and contest the gendered divides within “local/ non-local” communities. Meanwhile, Phnom Penh-based, U.S.-educated sculptor Sopheap Pich and Sài Gòn-based conceptual artist Phan Quang deal with urban-rural developments through different visual codes. For these artists, “translations” of local issues are (self-) exploitative gestures.
Besides considering how artists deal with issues of marketing and location, I also question how artists of Southeast Asian descent are often expected to address the twin traumas of history and modernity. The breadth of visual culture in Asian America and Southeast Asia is explored through a range of visual art as well as documentary and experimental films. Return is a key theme across these media. For instance, the documentary films S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine and Refugee both feature protagonists returning to traumatic sites to confront figures from their pasts. The former film is directed by French Khmer Rithy Pahn whereas the latter is a collaborative project by Bay-area Japanese American filmmaker Spencer Nakasako and Cambodian American Mike Siv. Artistic framing, critical reception and varying audiences and contexts are analyzed in my project. Returning to historical archives, Cambodian collagist Leang Seckon and Vietnamese American experimental filmmaker Hô`ng-An Truong both use fragmentary approaches. They critique the spatial and temporal contradictions of modernizing projects. All of these cultural producers ambivalently grapple with violent pasts and the painful present
Thais that Bind: U.S. Empire, Food, and Community in Los Angeles, 1945–2008
Padoongpatt, Tanachai Mark
This dissertation explores the history of Thai American community and identity formation in Los Angeles within the context of the rise of U.S. global power and the boom in U.S. leisure culture after World War II. I use foodways—the production, representation, and consumption of a food—as a window to show that these two transformations became inextricably linked, maturing most decidedly during the Cold War in Asia and the Pacific. Though Thais constitute the main subject of this study, I put Thais’ encounter and negotiation (in Thailand and Los Angeles) of racial, gender, and class structures through what I call “leisure culture imperialism” at the center of my analysis.
The study builds on the body of literature on post-World War II U.S. history, Asian American studies, and urban/suburban studies to illustrate that leisure culture imperialism reached its most compelling expression in Thailand where it produced transnational networks through Thai migration and tourism, played itself out in foodways, and readapted itself in Los Angeles’ multiracial/ethnic suburban and urban spaces. I argue that foodways hardened racial and ethnic boundaries for Thais as well as exacerbated gender and class divisions within the Thai American community. Thai food operated as a site for the sensory construction of race where taste, smell, and sight worked in concert to construct Thai Americans as an exotic, non-white other. This racial formation process occurred in Thailand and in the United States. Yet, Thais found pleasure in preparing, serving, and consuming Thai cuisine as they provided the labor for U.S. leisure culture. Moreover, Thai Americans considered food to be an avenue for not only economic mobility or a way to preserve cultural heritage, but also collective mobilization, political visibility, and belonging. The power of leisure consumption, however, imposed barriers and inscribed an identity that “binded” Thais to foodways, which made it extremely difficult for Thais Americans to move beyond food in struggles for social, political, and economic rights.
As the first historical investigation of a Thai American community, the interdisciplinary and pioneering nature of my dissertation has required the examination, and the collection of wide range of materials. I rely on a combination of oral histories and the historical analysis of archival materials as well as original sources including cookbooks, menus, travel guides, memoirs, literature, and magazines. Metropolitan Los Angeles is a perfect site to investigate Thai American community and identity formation because it is home to the largest Thai population outside of Thailand as a hub of the Pacific Rim. This project challenges the dominance of “sight” in studies of racial formation by offering a glimpse of the way other human senses sustained racial thinking and practice in the U.S. Moreover, the study can be used as a model to examine the complexities, contradictions, and possibilities of racial and ethnic identity formation within conditions of increased privatization of society under free-market capitalism.
Marks of the Fetish: Twenty-First Century (Mis)Performances of the Black Female Body
Williamson, Terrion L.
Marks of the Fetish: Twenty-First Century (Mis)Performances of the Black Female Body considers the discursive formulations and cultural histories of contemporary narratives of black women that coalesce within popular media texts under the following five typologies: the “angry black woman,” the “nappy-headed ho,” the “good Christian girl,” the “strong black woman,” and the “baby mama.” I contend that each of these typologies is a particularized ideation of the black female body that is invested with, to invoke Hortense Spillers, “semiological and ideological values whose origins are concealed by the image itself.” That is, these typologies mark a fetish object—the black female body–whose history has been transformed into pathology via the very same productive logics that serve to make it articulable within the cultural marketplace.
Marks of the Fetish departs from foregoing conversations about “stereotypes,” or what I refer to as “stereotype discourse,” that seek to locate pathology in certain material bodies and/or attempt to position black female iconography along a continuum of negative or positive representations. Instead, I suggest that the typologies I name are not embodied by any particular person or person, but are overlapping narratives for which particular persons stand in. As such, the operative questions I want to engage concern not whether these ideations of black female identity are “good” or “bad,” but rather, how the originary impulses that produce them continue to deceptively foreclose alternative forms of black sociality.
Using theories of performative raciality in conjunction with feminist work on the performativity of the gendered body as a starting point, I propose a theoretical methodology for analyzing the constitutive contingencies of race and gender that has the potential to profoundly affect traditional understandings of the representative black body. Ultimately, I argue that the racialized gender performances, and attendant misperformances (that is, performances that deviate from hegemonic norms), of black women within public culture, including within film, television, music, the blogsphere, public and legal policies, and political and social commentary, evidence the fraught terrain of black female subjectivity while simultaneously revealing the radical potentialities of difference.
Challenging the White Supremacist System: Antiracist Organizing and Multiracial Alliance in the United States
Middlebrook, Jeb Aram
Challenging the White Supremacist System: Antiracist Organizing and Multiracial Alliance in the United States, is an interdisciplinary, ethnic studies project that traces a genealogy of white people and people of color using race to organize and mobilize allied grassroots resistance against white supremacist capitalism and imperialism. Unique among projects on social movements, this study examines cases of white people and people of color organizing in allied, but racially separate, community formations—or what the author terms “autonomous-affiliate organizing”—in an effort to support self-determination in communities of color side-by-side with white responsibility for institutional racism and white supremacy. The study analyzes, in particular, the political and strategic uses of race by community organizers to build antiracist power to challenge the white supremacist system.
Employing historical, textual, and ethnographic research methods, the project places community organizing at the center of antiracist theory and practice, and considers the implications of organizing for identity, agency, and power within and beyond both white and people of color communities. In order to make its case, the study mines organizational records, news articles, government documents, memoirs, manifestos, letters, films, photographs, and interviews representing the social, political, and historical context of five multiracial alliances against the white supremacist system from the dawn of the civil rights movement to the current “post-racial” era.
The project analyzes these multiracial alliances through individual case studies, which include: 1) Southern Conference Education Fund and the Southern Student Organizing Committee in alliance with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the South from 1960–1969, 2) Young Patriots in alliance with the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords Organization, the American Indian Movement and the Red Guard in Chicago and New York from 1969–1970, 3) Motor City Labor League in alliance with the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit from 1969–1970, 4) Weather Underground and Prairie Fire Organizing Committee in a national alliance with the American Indian Movement, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, and the Palestine Liberation Organization from 1971–1976, and 5) Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere–Los Angeles in alliance with the Labor/Strategy Community Center, South Asian Network, and Community Coalition in Los Angeles from 2006–2008. At a time when organizing across race succeeded in electing the first black president of the United States, but fails to resolve continuing racial and economic inequalities, this project offers an analysis of the possibilities and limitations of antiracist organizing and multiracial alliance for building mass-based social justice movements.
Domestic Containment: Japanese Americans, Native Americans, and the Cultural Politics of Relocation
Fugikawa, Laura Sachiko
Domestic Containment: Japanese Americans, Native Americans and the Cultural Politics of Relocation, is a comparative ethnic and cultural studies project that examines narratives of government-sponsored relocation programs. Domestic Containment expands the limited comparative ethnic studies work that makes connections between Asian American and Native American Studies with a discursive analysis of the pamphlets, manuals and reports of two government agencies: the War Relocation Authority (WRA), which was created in 1943 to encourage and assist residents to move out of Japanese internment camps, and the Voluntary Relocation Program, an agency modeled after the WRA and created in 1956 in order to encourage Native Americans on and near reservations to move to distant cities. While much scholarship that addresses mid-century U.S. race relations has focused on civil rights and integration, little attention has been paid to the U.S. government’s attempts to change its method of control from physical containment to policies of containment through ideology, as well as these policies’ long-term effects.
Domestic Containment interrogates the government agencies’ creative retellings of historical events that sought to prove the state’s benevolent role in the displacement of Japanese Americans and Native Americans. An analysis of government agency training manuals and relocation propaganda illuminates how specific racial and gender formations were endorsed during the post war era of nation building, and became central tenets in the state’s attempted integration of both groups into mainstream American culture. I then turn to Julie Otsuka’s novel When The Emperor was Divine and Kent Mackenzie’s docudrama The Exiles to consider the lingering effects of dispossession and dispersal felt by those pushed into a diasporic space within a nation state. Reading these three forms of narratives—government agency documents, fiction and film—alongside one another provides insight into the psychic costs of belonging amidst mid-twentieth century understandings of citizenship.
On the Move and in the Moment: Community Formation, Identity, and Opportunity in South Central Los Angeles, 1945–2008
On the Move and in the Moment examines the relational community formation of ethnic Mexicans and African American residents in South Central Los Angeles from the post World War II period to 2008. I historicize the complexity of South Central Los Angeles African American and ethnic Mexican residents’ racial attitudes, activism, and cooperation, as their lives are constantly challenged by diminishing government services, economic disinvestment, and immigration reform. I argue that a binary understanding of tension and cooperation does not adequately define their interaction, but rather closer inspection of their nuanced and complex daily and neighborly acts best captures the generative power of their community formation. I investigate understudied community sectors like minority owned banking institutions and War on Poverty initiatives in the form of community and government operated health clinics and Head Start programs to demonstrate how a strong African American historical legacy of settlement intersects with a growing Mexican immigrant population.
Using archival research, newspapers, and oral life histories, I reveal the fragile state of family health, business, and education among impoverished African Americans and ethnic Mexican South Central Los Angeles residents. My approach to the investigation of the lives of South Central Los Angeles residents does not underestimate how changes in this region’s economy, local, national, and transnational interpretations of immigration policy, and disinvestment in the accessibility and quality of U.S. government services have transformed the social, cultural, institutional, and political climate and interactions shaping these residents’ interconnected struggles for community and U.S. government services. Their actions serve to re-conceptualize South Central Los Angeles as a globalized city rife with generative race relations where working-class people’s decisions are made on the move and in the moment.
Cartographies of Skin: Asian American Adornment and the Aesthetics of Race
Cartographies of Skin: Asian American Adornment and the Aesthetics of Race examines the construction and performance of tattooed bodies as sites of circulating materialities: where art, labor, culture, and ideology converge to “color” our understanding of race and the politics of visuality. Focusing on Asian and Asian American tattoo practices in California and their relationship to the larger Asia-Pacific region, I incorporate interdisciplinary research methods, including archival research, ethnographic field work, visual and discursive analysis, and critical theory, to investigate three case studies: the transnational movement of labor and aesthetics between tattoo shops in San Francisco and Japan; the meanings of diaspora, temporality, masculinity, and post-coloniality within the context of tribal tattooing among Filipinos in the suburbs of Orange County; and the embodied ontologies and performative epistemologies of a Korean American tattooed drag queen and her queer aesthetics of adornment. Some of the key questions that my research addresses include: What are the intersections and transnational dimensions of race and tattooing, particularly when complicated by issues of class, gender, sexuality, and nationality? What type of (real or imagined) cultural heritage do Americans of Asian ancestry try to reclaim through the modification of the body? How do these meanings and symbols transform through the geographic, cultural, technological, and temporal displacement of these customs? By analyzing the body in relation to convergent ideologies and aesthetics of race, space, and place, I locate skin as the site in which to rethink how knowledge of the racial is constructed and transformed through corporeal perception. Ultimately, my project asks us to consider how all bodies are modified in some form or another, thereby destabilizing normativized notions of what is considered “natural” and “normal” forms of cultural and national belonging.
Multiracial Politics or the Politics of being Multiracial?: Racial Theory, Civic Engagement, and Socio-political Participation in a Contemporary Society
Bullock, Jungmiwha Suk
This dissertation examines the impacts of historical and contemporary racial theories, socio-political movements, and grassroots mobilization efforts of community-based organizations in transforming the politics to define multiracial identity and the “two or more races” population in the United States. Using an interdisciplinary and mixed methods research approach, I investigate the shifting and contested ways the multiracial population is defined in public and private discourses, paying particular attention to the complexities this community raises within and among monoracial identified communities. Examining the multiracial population in the U.S. has a significant and critical place in the larger trajectory of social scientific scholarship on race, gender, class, and other intersecting identities. This body of research counters the argument that multiple identity formation is inconsequential to theory, civic engagement, and socio-political participation in a contemporary society. This study urges scholars to (re)examine how race and ethnicity continues to be framed, analyzed, interrogated, and understood in ways that are restricted by historically racist/racialized moments that still linger today. These moments, I argue, are sharpened and more pronounced when centering the politics of what it means to claim a multiracial identity in America in the twenty-first century.
The theoretical model for this study was Grounded Theory. Principle data collection methods were the “insider-outsider” and case study research approaches using extensive face-to-face audio and/or photographed interviews; participant and field observations of key local, state, and national events, including U.S. Census proceedings and California Senate Judiciary hearings; and content analysis of primary and secondary documents, including media coverage and organizational archives. Data was collected between 2004 and 2009 in Los Angeles, Washington DC, Chicago, New York, and Sacramento. These cities exhibited the most heightened multiracial activity across the country in this timeframe. I also investigated exclusive, never before documented, behind the scenes initiatives to recognize the unmet needs of this emerging population through an in-depth case study of the Association of MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA)—one of the oldest leading national advocacy organizations for multiracial, multiethnic, and transracially adopted individuals, families, organizations, and allies.
Impacting Arkansas: Vietnamese and Cuban Refugees and Latina/o Immigrants, 1975–2005
Guerrero, Perla M.
Impacting Arkansas: Vietnamese and Cuban Refugees and Latina/o Immigrants, 1975-2005, considers the effects of the arrival of refugees from Vietnam and Cuba and Latina/o immigrants (mainly ethnic Mexicans) to the U.S. South. I use newspaper articles and state and federal archives to analyze how refugees and immigrants were racialized in the state. I examine each group’s racialization with attention to the historical moment in which they entered homogenously White, Protestant, and Republican northwest Arkansas and I find that contextual forces such as local history, U.S. foreign policy, national political context, social class status, and dominant racial discourses articulated in ways that drew on long-standing ideologies.
The racialization of Vietnamese refugees in 1975 was affected by their placement in Arkansas at the end of the Vietnam War, in a moment when the nation was dealing with having lost an exceptionally contentious episode within the ongoing Cold War. Vietnamese were cautiously welcomed with a rhetoric of American values which opposed communism and had to make good on promises to help the United States’ former allies. Their reception was further shaped by their status as largely professionals, college-educated, and English-proficient, nonetheless, fear of “yellow peril” promulgated.
In contrast to the Vietnamese, Cuban refugees arrived in 1980 amidst national and international accusations that Fidel Castro’s government had unleashed criminals, prostitutes, and the mentally ill. Given these circumstances, and that this cohort of Cuban refugees was largely working-class, gay, and of African descent, they were constructed as criminal and deviant and Arkansans and their politicians mobilized to remove them from the state. Latinas/os (immigrants and U.S.-born), particularly ethnic Mexicans, began arriving in the early 1990s during a significant economic regional reorganization which provided many of them with low-wage work. They were all quickly constructed as “illegal aliens,” with their behaviors in public and private spaces severely condemned and policed. The history and relationship between the State of Arkansas and the federal government also shaped the reception of the groups in important ways as local (city and state) versus extra-local (federal agencies) control became central to the debates over the changes occurring in northwest Arkansas. Generally, there were hostile reactions toward Vietnamese, Cubans, and ethnic Mexicans because Arkansans deemed the new groups a threat to their community, their way of life, and their country.
Sensing the Sonic and Mnemonic: Digging through Grooves, Afro-feelings and Black Markets in Ghana, 1966–present
Neely, Sionne Rameah
This study considers how the burgeoning popular music industry of Ghana becomes particularly vulnerable after Kwame Nkrumah’s administration is deposed in 1966. Situated in the breach between the succeeding military regimes’ occlusion of western businesses and tourists and the post-Rawlings civil governments’ appeal to transnational financiers to invest in “modern” nation building, this project interrogates how Ghanaian musicians acquire pursuits of happiness outside the state, particularly in encounters with African American tourists for widespread distribution of music, tour bookings and access to sophisticated sound technologies. Throughout these political shifts, the lives and work of highlife and hiplife artists remain fraught with unstable wages, payola to radio DJs and conflicts with the Copyright Office over music piracy. Alliances between African American tourists and Ghanaian musicians are persistently negotiated through the transfer of a desirable “home”—in Ghana through a reclamation of racial and cultural identity in heritage performance events, sites and objects and in the U.S. and U.K. with sustainable wages through entry in the international music market.
From 2009–2010, I conducted over seven months of field research including more than 70 audio- and video-taped interviews with musicians, music producers, radio and television deejays, music union representatives, tour operators and government officials. I consider how the compelling and elusive quality of Black sound and music performance is imprinted with the peculiar and enduring mechanisms of slavery and colonization, dispossession and disfranchisement, myth and mayhem. I interweave the concepts of grooves, Afro-feelings and Black markets through the wounded natal condition of African diasporic being and the spectacular production of music in the capture/the captives/the captivating: (1) capture, a persistent historical force that dispossesses Black subjects by turning them into (2) captives, confined or restrained persons, enslaved by another against their will and the (3) captivating , how the enchanting and compelling properties of Black music and racial kinship have been used to resist and reinterpret such repressive agencies while remarkably sustaining life in the midst of it all.
Carrying the Fire Home: Performing Nation, Identity, Indigenous Diaspora and Home in the Poems, Songs, and Performances of Arigon Starr, Joy Harjo and Gayle Ross
Dunn, Carolyn Marie
This project addresses the cultural work of nation building (political, spiritual, social) performed by narrative practices in diasporic Cherokee and Muskogee Creek communities. The overarching question of the project is: how has the concept of “home” in American Indian writing (“home” meaning a physical geography, a narrative history, and a social identity) been reconceptualized by artists in the face of widespread diasporization? I am interested in how work by Cherokee and Creek women writers, specifically Joy Harjo, Arigon Starr, and Gayle Ross, has recreated the concept of “home” as a decolonizing project of nation building within the Cherokee and Creek diasporas. The interdisciplinary fields of performance studies, literary history, American Indian Studies, gender studies, and landscape studies guide this project and its examination of poetry, storytelling, fiction, plays, and performance of the writers/artists.
I am interested in how these writers utilize indigenous epistemologies and bicultural competence in their work, and how they reinvent, re-imagine, and reconceptualize the concepts of “home” apart from the physical landscape but within the body as well. I suggest that these writers—Harjo’s How We Became Human, Ross’ How Rabbit Tricked Otter and Other Stories, and Starr’s The Red Road—write against the romanticized trope of “American Indian identity” and call into question stories and performance of identity that not only rewrites non-Indian invented histories but is at the same time, self-critical. Historical writers, such as Alexander Posey, John Ross and John Rollin Ridge each contribute to national narrative in historical moments of crisis in Creek and Cherokee history—Removal and the Trail of Tears; Oklahoma statehood and the destruction of tribal governments. How do Posey, Ridge and Ross’ literal and literary descendants address these same issues under the rubric of nationalism? How does each contemporary writer define herself by her identity categories: woman, native, tribal, Creek, Cherokee, citizen, writer, actor, musician, storyteller? How do all of these identities form a decolonizing project for each writer? How are these writers writing against stereotypes of American Indians that have been and still are perpetuated by media images of “the” Native American? How are these writers influenced by the American Indian societies in which they live, work, and write? How do these writers reconcile political citizenship and cultural citizenship within their respective nations? How has their writing/performance/cultural critique addressed nation building in crucial periods of American Indian history: during; and in the era of pan-Indian tribalism and the survival of native nations and how these nations re-imagine themselves in the 21st century? What are the larger political and cultural issues: sovereignty, land struggles, gaming, gender issues, native wellness, language survival, ceremony, dance, that the writers are addressing in their work?
Representational Conquest: Tourism, Display, and Public Memory in “America’s Finest City”
Salazar, Margaret Nicole
Representational Conquest: Tourism, Display, and Public Memory in “America’s Finest City” examines the centrality of representation in the formation of Southern California during the twentieth century. Popularly defined, conquest refers to the defeat, mastery or subjugation of peoples and territory through war, violence, and military force. While multiple historians signal the end of U.S. conquest with the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, I argue that conquest has not ended—it has merely changed shape. Twentieth-century tourism in San Diego features a new form of conquest that extends the legacy of military conquest. This dissertation develops an alternative way of understanding conquest that not only considers the terror of psychic and physical violence, but also charts how visual and material symbols and images in San Diego’s tourist economy operate as ongoing, continual processes of representational conquest. These discursive formations both continue and are mutually constitutive of earlier projects of domination and control—i.e., military invasion and the mission system.
As the first contemporary investigation of representational conquest in Southern California, my project is driven by the following questions: What is the relationship between tourism and conquest in a particular region? How do processes of conquest change over time? How do these processes influence the racial and political landscape of Southern California and more particularly the global city in the twentieth century? I investigate these crucial inquiries by focusing on a geopolitical area where conquest is arguably most concentrated: the bordered space between nations. Specifically, I look to the San Diego, California border region as a case study. Self-proclaimed as “America’s Finest City,” San Diego has established global economic prominence through its large military complex, free-trade manufacturing, and international tourism industries. As a global city, San Diego provides compelling examples of military, territorial, racial, and discursive conflicts, which continually work to define U.S. national identity in a turbulent, bordered space.
The abundant array of tourist representations mythologizing the Western U.S. borderland region have functioned as conquest. I have chosen four different examples that provide productive lenses through which to understand representational conquest—namely: “Ramonamania” in early twentieth-century Old Town State Historic Park, which established public memory and a patriotic Anglo version of San Diego’s past; post-War architecture in the city’s Shelter Island, where physical structures do the work of conquest; the city’s 200th birthday flop, which became a financial disaster in 1969’s tense political and racial climate; and the installation of giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo following U.S.-China rapprochement, where East meets West by way of internationally sanctioned biopower in the 1980s and 1990s.
Solidarity, Violence, and the Political Imagination: Chicana Literary Imaginings of the Central American Civil Wars, 1981–2005
In Solidarity, Violence, and the Political Imagination: Chicana Literary Imaginings of the Central American Civil Wars, 1981-2005, I examine Chicana literary representations of political violence in the United States and Central America. I draw on literary works by Helena María Viramontes, Cherríe Moraga, Graciela Limón, and Ana Castillo as well as their personal papers in order to ask and answer the question: how and for what purposes did Chicana creative writers imagine the Central American civil wars? In answering this question, I trace these authors’ changing imaginaries of hemispheric solidarity in the context of political violence. Taking an international and transnational focus allows me to mark the multiple shifts in Chicana feminist epistemology through the complex solidarities represented in my primary texts. Contrary to readings that find that Chicana creative writing forges transnational solidarity and Latina/o community, I argue that while my primary texts underscore these authors’ commitments to working for social justice they do so without guaranteeing unity or mutual recognition between Chicanas and Central Americans. My project contributes to interventions that focus on literature and culture as central to theory making, political protest, and solidarity building within several interdisciplinary frameworks, including Chicana/o studies, Latin/a American studies, hemispheric American studies, feminist theory, and literary theory. I draw on and contribute to these fields by focusing on the themes of solidarity, disappearance, motherhood, and torture.
Flights of the Imagination: Black American Travelers Journey toward Africa in Ghana and Bahia, Brazil
Commander, Michelle Denise
This dissertation is a study of travel accounts produced by Black Americans as they journey toward imagined “Africas” to satiate a longing for origins through cultural roots tourism in and emigration to Ghana, West Africa, and Bahia, Brazil. The examination poses significant questions about Black American travel: Where is Africa? Is return feasible? What transpires when diasporans make identifications with and craft new lives in what they feel are authentic African homelands? Along the coastlines of Ghana and Bahia sit physical remnants of major embarkation points from which human cargo were distributed during the transatlantic slavetrade; these artifacts, coupled with myriad cultural elements throughout each region, have become prominent tourist attractions, drawing thousands of Black American travelers each year. While it is clear that there are historical reasons for these flows, little attention has been placed on why Black Americans in the post-civil rights era view these particular sites as ones of unusual promise and what larger forces—social, economic, and/or imagined—compel them to move toward Africa.
Utilizing the narrative arc of travel, a central trope of Black American existence, I examine the ways in which they practice identification in order to realize their desire for home. I employ a multi-method approach for this project—one that is grounded in years of interviews and participant-observation of events including tour groups and expatriate organization meetings, and also relies on textual analyses of literary and historical material to understand the imaginary that underwrites these circuits. By exploring the under-studied narrative progression from tourist to expatriate—that is, how Black Americans grapple with what they presume they have lost and believe is recoverable through flight to Ghana and Bahia, I locate what lingers in roots tourists’ imaginations that induces repeat travel and permanent relocation.
With and without the White Coat: The Racialization of Southern California’s Indian Physicians
This study examines the role of occupational status in the racialization of Indian physicians in Southern California. Since the liberalization of U.S. immigration policy in 1965, the number of first and second-generation Indian doctors in the U.S. has grown to nearly seven percent of the nation’s physician workforce; however, Indians constitute less than one percent of the total U.S. population. Overrepresented in one of America’s most prestigious professions, Indians are more visible in U.S. medicine than in the U.S. at large. Previous scholarship in immigration research, Asian American Studies, and the sociology of occupations has paid little attention to these professional non-white immigrants and their racial experience in the U.S. Asian American Studies in particular has focused primarily on the racial-ethnic identity formation of economically disadvantaged non-white groups, under the assumption that professional Asian Americans’ class status and occupations in the sciences effectively shield them from racist harm and preclude their engagement in racial politics.
This research shows that Indian doctors’ high occupational status and class privilege provide them only partial, situational protection from racism. They have what I call occupational citizenship—access to most of the same rights and privileges as whites only when perceived as being both professionally successful and economically beneficial to the U.S. They are clearly marked as occupational citizens during clinical interactions with patients, when they are in the white coat. But outside of this context, they are subject to racist treatment from colleagues, staff, health care institutions, and the general public. The particular forms of racism these doctors face, as well as how they interpret this racism, have as much to do with their gender, immigrant generation, and perception of others’ race and class, as with their own professional class status.
These findings are based on fifty-two interviews with first and second generation Indian doctors in Southern California as well as participant observation at the monthly meetings of two regional Indian medical associations. I also observed seven Indian doctors at work, noting their interactions with patients, staff, and colleagues. Southern California represents an ideal case for understanding the racial formation of Indian physicians in the U.S. because of its large but dispersed population of established Indian physicians, and its overall diversity of race, ethnicity, and class.
Stepping out on faith: Representing Spirituality in African American Literature from the Harlem Renaissance to the Civil Rights Movement
Smith, Anton Lowell
This dissertation examines how African American writers experience faith in a society that has historically devalued their humanity and intellectual abilities. It calls for a new understanding of the unique obstacles blacks face in expressing their spirituality in America and points to a variety of secular and sacred practices that can mitigate those challenges and promote creativity. Working within the interpretive lens of African American literary criticism and African American religious studies, the central question of my dissertation asks, what were the forces that shaped African American religiosity in the interwar period and beyond?
I argue that phenomena such as ecstasy and charisma not only enable African Americans to express themselves as spiritual beings outside of the church but also provide them a space to assert their humanity and affirm their existence. This study traces the literary representation of spirituality in African American communities through the modernist works of Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin. I show how black women in Hurston’s Mules and Men and Their Eyes Were Watching God use spaces such as the porch and the courtroom to fashion new spiritual constructs and alternative understandings of self and community through storytelling. I continue to explore ecstasy and charisma by arguing that the protagonists of Ellison’s Invisible Man and Juneteenth forged a reality and spiritual life that was not solely predicated on the existence of God. I argue that black oral traditions such as preaching and testifying contributed to charismatic fervor and ecstatic tendencies found among African Americans during the post-World War II period. From there, I position Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain and The Fire Next Time as texts that utilize the interiority of the storefront church and the chaos of the city streets and the built environment to highlight the dynamics of charismatic behavior and ecstatic expression. I conclude my study with a brief reflection about what African American spirituality means in the Age of Obama, examining how the literature of Hurston, Ellison and Baldwin may be read in the context 21st century popular culture.
Regarding Vietnam: Affects in Vietnamese and Vietnamese Diasporic Literature and Film
Vu, Cam Nhung
The aftermath of the Vietnam War/American War (post-1975) not only resulted in the largest moment of Vietnamese bodily dispersal around the world, but also figured a crisis in the affective management of the newly minted unified Vietnamese nation, simultaneously forcing exiled refugees to configure new relations to nation and state, notions of the future, and their own selves as bodies in a new world. My dissertation explores how the cultural production of this era — from artists in the postwar Vietnamese nation and diaspora — uses the grammar of affect to indict, excoriate, impugn, lament, remember and reconcile the effects of war.
Because of the profoundly specular nature of the Vietnam War, images of loss, grief, and terror continue to circumscribe representations of Vietnam and its postwar subjects in Western cultural representation. Postwar subjects, construed as the “Other,” then, are burdened with the responsibility to provide closure to the unmitigated traumas of the Vietnam War. I argue that the cultural production of Vietnam’s dispersed postwar subjects continues to be looked to, by a global viewing and reading audience, for signs of ‘reconciliation’ and ‘forgiveness’ so that the history of Vietnamese turmoil can be made coherent and therefore more amenable to market-friendly narratives. In my dissertation I examine how the Vietnamese and Vietnamese diasporic cultural producers under consideration turn to an economy of affects to torque the narrative on forgiveness and healing as particularly vexing and difficult postwar ethical imperatives. The texts I examine include diasporic renderings of Vietnam’s epic poem, The Tale of Kieu, by the diasporic variety show Paris by Night and by the scholar and filmmaker Trinh T. Minh Ha, the contemporary literature of Vietnamese Australian writer Nam Le and Vietnamese American writer le thi diem thuy whose stories detail the difficult reckoning of children to their fathers’ failures, two films by two prominent postwar directors – Tran Anh Hung and Ðaˇng Nhaˇt Minh – in which vision and nostalgia act as concomitant and paradoxical processes at work in remembering and honoring Vietnam, and finally the popular-fiction of the Vietnamese-language writer Nguyê˜n Ngoc Ngan, a popular personality of the Vietnamese diaspora. Through an analysis of select works in his corpus, I examine how Nguyê˜n Ngoc Ngan identifies sadness and sorrow as burdens of Vietnamese postwar masculinity. His depictions call upon the sympathies and empathies of available “affective communities” in the diaspora but they do so in complex ways that acknowledge other feelings and emotions that emerge for his readers as they consider Vietnamese postwar men and manhood.
My dissertation follows the traces of affect in postwar transnational and diasporic Vietnamese cultural representation and shows that an attention to affects does more than give a glimpse into internal subjectivity; such an attention can offer Critical Studies complex and varied language to assess how deeply it is that cultural texts are underwritten by appeals for connection and understanding.
Imagining Alliance: Queer Anti-Imperialism and Race in California, 1966–1990
Hobson, Emily K.
Imagining Alliance considers the meanings that radical critiques of empire carried for queer activism in California from the high Sixties through the Reagan Era. A social movement history, the dissertation draws on organizational archives, periodicals, memoirs and collected oral histories, and ephemera to closely consider queer radicals’ political language, ideological debates, and activist work. Moving across an era marked at its outset by the founding of the Black Panther Party (1966) and at its end by the defeat of the Nicaraguan Revolution (1990), the study reveals the transformative meanings that racial militancy, national liberation, and international solidarity held for radical sexual politics in the latter half of the Cold War.
Queer radicals drew ideas and inspiration from sources including the Third World Left and Marxist-Leninism, socialist feminism and women of color feminism, and the Latin American left. They used anti-imperialism to define sexual liberation, build activist coalition, and remake local queer community. More broadly, they used anti-imperialism to construct a politics of alliance and a discourse of lesbian and gay space. But queer anti-imperialism also held contradictions. Claims on space carried implicit ties to white and U.S. privilege; calls for alliance rested on solidarity with national liberation projects that often rejected queer identities.
Imagining Alliance details how activists understood and sought to resolve these contradictions within the local landscapes of California and during three successive phases of queer politics: the gay liberation era (1966-1973); the gay and lesbian left (1973-1980); and lesbian and gay solidarity with Central America (1979-1990). Queer of color activists, especially lesbians of color, became central actors in critiquing both gay and straight nationalisms and in analyzing the intersections of sexuality and race in structures of global capital and U.S. power. Imagining Alliance identifies the story of queer anti-imperialism as central in narrating a more multiracial and transnational queer history, as well as for fully integrating questions of sexuality into analyses of the “long 1960s” and their legacies through the 1980s and today.
Sacred Changes: Multiracial Alliances & Community Transformation among Asian American Churches in the U.S.
Yonemoto, Karen L.
The United States has remained fragmented across racial lines for over two centuries and religious institutions have offered little progress in bridging this racial divide. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted this concern observing that “eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.” At the dawn of the 21st century however, a growing number of multiracial congregations are emerging and Asian American evangelicals are among those leading the movement. This phenomenon is surprising given that Asian Americans have been typically characterized as politically conservative (often apolitical) and culturally insular, primarily interested in the immediate concerns of their ethnic communities. American Evangelicals on the other hand have been associated with political and theological conservatism as well as racial homogeneity. Yet, a growing number of Asian American evangelical churches across the country are expanding their racial boundaries to transition their panethnic congregations into multiracial ones and mobilize their congregants into social action.
This project asks why, how and for what purpose racial and political change occurs within ethnically and religiously conservative organizations, and how these changes impact American civil society. Based on five years of ethnographic research conducted at three Multiracial Asian American Churches (MAACs) in Los Angeles, the project investigates processes of multiracial formation by analyzing the ways in which the unique racial identity and racial positioning of Asian Americans in conjunction with the social, economic and spiritual capital of their churches, inform particular practices of multiracial coalition building and social justice advocacy in the local and global community.
Findings reveal that post-immigrant Asian Americans utilize flexible racial identities to build multiracial alliances with African Americans, Latinos and Whites in the U.S. MAACs promote rhetoric of “progressive” social politics in the church, yet in practice participate in moderate democratic forms of civic engagement. While their mobilization efforts are not radical, they are still significant as MAACs use their institutional structures to rapidly organize Asian Americans efficiently, en mass, and on a consistent and long-term basis–more so than any other Asian American community activist group. Moreover, the findings suggest that MAACs are “the” primary space through which upwardly mobile second-through-fourth generation Asian Americans are politically mobilized. The project contends that the mobilization of Asian Americans through multiracial congregations represents the start of new broad-based social movement–one that is shifting the religio-political landscape of the United States.
Sampling Blackness: Performing African Americanness in Hip-hop Theater and Performance
Sampling Blackness: Performing African Americanness in Hip-hop Theater and Performance uses a comparative approach to ethnic studies to examine the impact of African American articulations of blackness in Hip-hop music on the performance practices of non-African American artists. Sampling Blackness envisions sampling as a theatrical improvisational process of knowledge production and identity negotiation that has the capacity to challenge dominant narratives about racial difference. Hip-hop DJs improvise connections between disparate tracks of music to create a new piece of music. The artists in this study use their voices and bodies to sample performative codes of African American identity to create and authenticate their Hip-hop performances. Offering a broad examination of Hip-hop theater and performance practices in American popular culture, this is the first study to engage the impact of Hip-hop on the artistic practices of non-African American performers in theater, conceptual art and dance.
Sampling Blackness contains five chapters that address Hip-hop music’s often contradictory relationship to blackness, African American culture and multiculturalism. Using the performances of Jewish American theater artist Danny Hoch, Korean conceptual artist Nikki S. Lee and Afro-British dancer/choreographer Jonzi D, I analyze the ways these artists deploy performative codes associated with African American identity in Hip-hop. These codes are identified as: language (vernacular, stereotype, oral narratives); styles of self-adornment (dress, hairstyles, and makeup) and embodied gesture (dance moves, walks, attitudes, etc.). These codes, identified as African Americanness, are read as “tracks” of identity that are sampled and remixed to create new identifications that incorporate and disavow blackness. I compare the work of each artist with African American artists whose works either inspires the artistic practices of these artists or who creates similar types of performance. These comparisons enable opportunities to explore the conflation of Hip-hop music with African American identity that create a false binary between “authentic” and “inauthentic” Hip-hop performance. My findings reveal while many of these artists reinscribe existing racial, ethnic and gender stereotypes of African Americans in their performances, the artists also have the potential to enable cross-racial and ethnic coalitions.
The People of the Fall: Refugee Nationalism in Little Saigon, 1975–2005
Nguyen, Phuong Tran
Throughout history refugees have formed their own communities in new lands while holding on to memories of exile and harboring aspirations for reclaiming their lost nations. These memories and aspirations are part of a process I call “refugee nationalism,” and this dissertation studies its origins, development, and persistence within Southern California’s Little Saigon, the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam. Most studies of Vietnamese Americans have marginalized the refugees’ attachment to the fallen country of South Vietnam, focusing instead on their transformation from refugees to immigrants in the process of shedding their old-world identities and adapting to their American surroundings. This perspective fails to appreciate the fact that refugee nationalism has flourished in conjunction with becoming American. Like prior generations of stateless people, the former South Vietnamese had to come to terms with a refugee cultural identity without precedent in their own cultural history. Only later would they come to embrace refugee nationalism.
Episodes in the Life of a Place: Regional Racial Formation in Los Angeles’s San Gabriel Valley
Cheng, Wendy Hsin
Episodes in the Life of a Place develops a theory of regional racial formation through examining the everyday experiences of residents of four cities in the West San Gabriel Valley (SGV), an area which became known in the 1980s and 1990s as a “suburban Chinatown,” but which is in fact a multiethnic, majority-Asian American and Latina/o space. Drawing from episodic case studies, cognitive maps, and in-depth interviews with diverse Asian American and Latina/o residents, I examine how hierarchies of race, ethnicity, and class are shaped by racialized relationships to property, neighborhood-based social formations, and key institutions of civil society such as high school and the Boy Scouts of America. How have Asian American and Latinas/os’ movements into the West SGV been shaped by, and subsequently productive of, differentially racialized relationships to property? What kind of “world(s) of their own” (to paraphrase Matt Garcia) have they made collectively, in what have become largely non-White, suburban, middle-income neighborhoods? What affective and political possibilities do such spaces allow or foreclose, which are distinct from those articulated in majority-White settings? Finally, how are ideological linkages between notions of race and space formative of local civic landscapes? In my analysis, three important themes emerge: the intertwined relationship of race, property, homeownership, and privilege; the essential role of institutions of civil society in reconciling regional epistemes and practices with national ideologies; and the development of an emergent ‘non-White’ identity rooted in middle-class and suburban contexts. I find that people’s experiences and everyday landscapes in the West SGV are simultaneously saturated with dominant racial ideologies and their attendant material outcomes, and rich with alternative narratives of pasts, presents, and futures. These contradictions and possibilities illustrate the importance of considering neighborhoods and regions as units of analysis in order to understand processes of racial formation.
Dark Matter in B-boying Cyphers: Race and Global Connection in Hip Hop
Johnson, Imani Kai
This multi-sited, inter-disciplinary project analyzes the ubiquitous practice within breaking (or b-boying) culture of cyphering—improvisational and competitive dance circles. Through oral histories, participant observation, and live performance and archival analysis across the U.S. and parts of Europe from 2005 to 2009, this work focuses on the unseen elements of cyphers, sometimes manifesting as cultural knowledge, the import of history, or cypher “energy”. In exchanges between dancers and in relationship to the surrounding spectators, cyphers cultivate a force that becomes their defining characteristic. While described in a number of ways—such as highs, spiritual connection, or energy—the physics concept of dark matter acts as an umbrella for its unseen, multi-dimensional, and material influences. Dark matter is the non-luminous material glue that holds together galaxies and “appears” only by way of its gravitational influence on surrounding visible matter. This project considers the multiple dimensions of competitive collaborations in relation to other collectivities, including diaspora and notions of the global. As cyphers perform multi-racial and transnational connection though movement, they act as resources to consider ideas of the whole that are attuned to internal differentiation and conflicting interests, particularly with respect to race and national difference.
Chapter One examines the brief history, and the layers of meaning apparent in the unseen qualities of a single cypher. Chapter Two explores the changing cultural context of b-boying such that past historicizations of movement become a part of current struggles over cultural meaning. Battles remind us that the whole of b-boying is constituted through difference, akin to “rhizomatic” relations. Chapter Three compares the multiple depictions of the cypher’s dark matter to similar forces within other African diasporic circles, demonstrating the overlapping cultural influences on b-boying movement and practices. Chapter Four examines the racial discourse on breaking in ‘80s media and in the contemporary moment among breakers in relationship to ideas of the dance’s “universal appeal.” Chapter Five provide thick descriptions of different field experiences, illustrating dimensions unaddressed in earlier analyses. Chapter Six examines b-boying as a social movement, wherein the virtual expansion of cyphering demands we consider global connection in a different manner.
Creating Cities and Citizens: Municipal Boundaries, Place Entrepreneurs, and the Production of Race in Los Angeles County, 1926–1978
Connor, Michan Andrew
American urban and suburban places have been the sites of significant formations of race, ethnicity, and class, but the way in which places shape these formations has been incompletely understood. Racial identities are formed and altered through the production of metropolitan places. Historical instances of altering or maintaining political boundaries have affected relationships between metropolitan places and social identities. “Boundary events” reformulate racial identity insofar as they structure the political, economic, and cultural contexts of racially inflected local citizenship.
I integrate analyses from three fields. Political scientists and economists have assessed the institutional relationships between local places, but generally presumed ready-formed identities and interests. Critical race and ethnic studies scholars have shown that racial identities are mediated by discourses and institutions, but inconsistently based this analysis in historical place-time. Historians and geographers have chronicled the development of local places as cultural, political, and social entities. I assess places in relation to each other to demonstrate how local boundary events have affected the metropolitan context of identity formation, created favorable conditions for the production of racially differentiated political empowerment, and supported forms of racial identification rooted in this placed relationship to metropolitan power.
This inquiry assesses three boundary events: the consolidation of Watts to Los Angeles in 1926, the incorporation of Lakewood in 1954, and efforts to incorporate East Los Angeles between 1931 and 1974. These places singly are metonyms for particular racial formations, but collectively mark a metropolitan process that connects locations in space and time and by the 1970s produced a particular form of metropolitan racial hegemony. White middle-class residents of Lakewood used local government to protect a limited form of social democracy and to generate institutional and discursive politics that placed that same social democracy outside the reach of political activists of color in Watts and East Los Angeles. The effectiveness of white home rule in Lakewood was not simply a contrast to the critiques of disempowerment advanced in Watts and East Los Angeles; its seeming naturalness provided a visible model for the convergence of identity, territory, and power associated with urban identity politics.
“As shelters against the Cold”: Women Poets of the Black Arts and Chicano Movements, 1965–1978
Ryder, Ulli Kira
This dissertation examines the work of women writers in the Black Arts and Chicano movements during the years 1965-1978. I argue that understanding the intersectional nature of the women’s experiences is crucial for understanding their literary output. Further, I argue that Chicanas and African American women of this era challenged homogenous notions of community and racial identity and that we can trace the development of the Third World feminism and multiculturalism that came to the fore in the 1980s to this earlier period. Thus, this study also impacts the way we conceptualize identity formation and the creation of the literary canon. Investigating the ways in which these women integrated nationalist and feminist rhetoric and activism in their work is crucial for a full understanding of this critical period in U.S. history. At stake is an understanding of how Chicana and African American women in the United States have formed identities and communities; struggled for liberation and equality; and become part of the U.S. literary canon.
“Home is Little Tokyo”: Race, Community, and Memory in Twentieth-century Los Angeles
This dissertation examines the spatial and memorial practices through which the state and racialized communities have together, though with unequal access to power and resources, produced ethnoracially-inscribed spaces in the twentieth-century American city with significant material and symbolic consequences for domestic racial formations, global flows of capital, the use and organization of urban space, and the reproduction of ethnic identity and community. To analyze these processes, I have focused on Little Tokyo, a Japanese American enclave in existence in Los Angeles, California for more than one hundred years. Although geographically small, Little Tokyo – as a diverse downtown neighborhood undergoing multiple cycles of disinvestment and reinvestment, while remaining linked to a transnational community occupying radically dissimilar positions in the U.S. racial hierarchy at different historical moments – represents a key element in the spatial development of U.S. cities in the twentieth century: the creating, claiming, and sustaining of ghettos, barrios, and ethnic enclaves. The story of Little Tokyo’s formation and development offers necessary lessons on the opportunities and challenges of shaping a just and nurturing home in our collective urban future.
I begin by exploring the immigrant and racialized communities sharing the spaces of Little Tokyo at the start of the twentieth century, the racial state’s efforts to contain and domesticate them, and the spatial practices through which enclave communities resisted these efforts. I then analyze the more extensive and brutal spatial policies of the racial state during World War II, and the experiences of African American war workers and returning Japanese American evacuees sharing the enclave. In the following decades, urban redevelopment divided the Japanese American community until a consensus was achieved in support of the spatial and memorial practice of historic preservation in Little Tokyo. Finally, I describe the contemporary focus on constituting community through the enclave even as ethnic identity is appropriated and commodified by the (multi)racial state and private capital. My sources range from archival collections housed at Stanford University, the Huntington Library, and the University of California at Los Angeles to ethnographic observation and interviews with significant Little Tokyo figures past and present.
The Contours of the Sonic Color-line: Slavery, Segregation, and the Cultural Politics of Listening
Stoever, Jennifer Lynn
The Contours of the Sonic Color-line: Slavery, Segregation, and the Cultural Politics of Listening, is a literary, historical, and theoretical examination of the ways in which sound and listening functioned to produce social and racial difference during two significant, interconnected moments in American racial formation: late antebellum slavery in the mid-nineteenth century and the late Jim Crow era in the mid-twentieth. The literary and aural texts I examine—slave narratives and social realist works—explicitly responded to and intervened in racial discourse during these periods, representing the uneven power dynamics of U.S. white supremacy in order to dismantle them. In Contours, I argue that two of the most powerful dimensions of these counternarratives of race have heretofore been overlooked: the way in which they represent racism as operating in multiple sensory modalities—especially sound—as well as their use of aural imagery to challenge the dominance of visual discourses of race stemming from the Enlightenment. The notion of the visible color-line, made famous by W.E.B. Du Bois, is imbricated with its aural echo, what I term the “sonic color-line.”
Through theoretical analysis, close reading, and archival research, I reveal the “sonic color-line” in American culture, an interpretive site where racial difference is produced and policed through the ear. To examine its historical presence, I focus my inquiry on textual soundscapes—the acoustic spaces created by representations of ambient sound, music, speech, and noise—and depictions of listening within a range of African-American cultural production from Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Hannah Crafts, W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, Ann Petry, and Folkways recording artist Tony Schwartz. Through contextualized “close listenings,” I show how the macropolitics of race and gender become powerful lived historical experiences through the intimate, micro-world of the senses. Just as we have a gaze that is filtered through our subjective lens(es), so too do we have what I call a “listening ear” that is historically embodied and culturally contextual. Far from being vision’s binary opposite, sound frequently appears to be visuality’s doppelganger0—its unacknowledged but ever-present “other”—in the construction of race and the performance of racial oppression.
The contours of the sonic color -line: Slavery, segregation, and the cultural politics of listening
Stoever, Jennifer Lynn, 2007
Racial Propositions: “Genteel Apartheid” in Postwar California
HoSang, Daniel Wei
This study examines the role of California ballot measures in the production of racial identity and power in the post-World War II era. In the 1990s, a series of controversial propositions renewed debate over the meaning of race and racism in public life. As the nation looked on, California voters passed ballot initiatives banning public services for undocumented immigrants, repealing public affirmative action programs, outlawing bilingual education, and toughening criminal sentencing laws for juveniles and adults.
Little focus has been placed on the historic soils that nourished these conflicts. Indeed, across the postwar era, California’s system of direct democracy has proved to be a reliable bulwark against many leading civil rights and anti-discrimination issues: California voters rejected fair employment protections (1946), repealed fair housing legislation (1964), overturned school desegregation plans (1972, 1979), and adopted “English only” policies (1984, 1986).
The fervent discussions over these measures as they unfolded within the media, at public debates, neighborhood meetings, and through campaign advertisements has made them a central site for Californians to deliberate the meaning of race, rights, and authority. Over time, these debates played a significant role in allowing voters to disavow persistent patterns of racial hierarchy even as they declared their commitment to equal rights and opportunity. Ultimately, this project traces the origins and development of the current “colorblind consensus” on race, which casts racism as a personal sentiment rather than a collective or structural phenomenon, a feeling rather than a relation of power. This is the first study to link together case studies of racialized California ballot initiatives during the last 50 years within a singular historical narrative. I examine the conflicts and relations of power which gave rise to these initiatives, profile the significant political actors involved, examine the discourse generated by the initiative debates, and explore the impact the measures had on the broader political culture of the state. I analyze polling data, election returns, newspaper accounts and a broad range of archival materials and oral histories related to these events.
Department of American Studies & Ethnicity
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