No Cover Image

Disoriented: Asian Americans, Law, and the Nation-State

Robert S. Chang
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 248
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Does "Asian American" denote an ethnic or racial identification? Is a person of mixed ancestry, the child of Euro- and Asian American parents, Asian American? What does it mean to refer to first generation Hmong refugees and fifth generation Chinese Americans both as Asian American? In Disoriented: Asian Americans, Law, and the Nation State, Robert Chang examines the current discourse on race and law and the implications of postmodern theory and affirmative action-all of which have largely excluded Asian Americans-in order to develop a theory of critical Asian American legal studies. Demonstrating that the ongoing debate surrounding multiculturalism and immigration in the U.S. is really a struggle over the meaning of "America," Chang reveals how the construction of Asian American-ness has become a necessary component in stabilizing a national American identity-- a fact Chang criticizes as harmful to Asian Americans. Defining the many "borders" that operate in positive and negative ways to construct America as we know it, Chang analyzes the position of Asian Americans within America's black/white racial paradigm, how "the family" operates as a stand-in for race and nation, and how the figure of the immigrant embodies a central contradiction in allegories of America. "Has profound political implications for race relations in the new century" - Michigan Law Review, May 2001

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7239-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Becoming Asian American
    (pp. 1-8)

    To bastardize Simone de Beauvoir’s famous phrase, one is not born an Asian American, one becomes one. For myself, being Asian American did not occur solely through an accident of birth. I was born in Korea and came to the United States at an early age. Being Asian American is something I became and perhaps am still becoming. In a different context, Calvin Coolidge said, “We have a great desire to be supremely American.”¹ Identity is understood here to be more than descriptive. Thus, my claim to an Asian American identity is to be taken as aspirational and not merely...

  5. I A Meditation on Borders
    • 1 Dreaming in Black and White: Racial-Sexual Policing in The Birth of a Nation, The Cheat, and Who Killed Vincent Chin?
      (pp. 11-26)

      America dreams of race in black and white. By this I mean that the current racial paradigm has become naturalized so that race in America is generally understood to mean black and white. This notion of race limits people’s understanding and willingness to engage with the history and current situation of Asian Americans in the United States. Instead of being included as participants in conversations on race, Asian Americans are seen as interlopers. Yet this status as interloper is precisely why Asian Americans are important in discussions of race. Our existence disrupts the comfortable binary of the black/white racial paradigm...

    • 2 Centering the Immigrant in the Inter/National Imagination
      (pp. 27-42)

      How a nation treats the immigrant speaks volumes about the nation. This is especially true for the United States, which regards itself as a nation of immigrants. How the United States treats the immigrant is part of the “project of national self-definition … [which] includes not only deciding whom to admit and expel, but also providing for each alien’s transition from outsider to citizen.”¹ This project of national self-definition with regard to the immigrant inevitably intersects with the national project with regard to this country’s racial minorities. A critical examination of this project may help us negotiate the tensions created...

  6. II Developing a Critical Asian American Legal Studies
    • Bridge: Introduction to Part II
      (pp. 45-47)

      Asian Americans suffer from discrimination. Much of this discrimination is quantitatively and qualitatively different from that suffered by other disempowered groups. The qualitative difference—that Asian Americans suffer as Asian Americans and not just generically as persons of color—has certain implications for the study of Asian Americans and the law. I realize that this may raise the (obligatory) essentialist question. I do not make the claim that there is a unitary, essential Asian American experience. Such a claim would be foolhardy given the diversity encompassed in the category “Asian American” and in its intersection with gender, class, sexual orientation,...

    • 3 Why We Need a Critical Asian American Legal Studies
      (pp. 48-60)

      Present-day attitudes about minorities often demonstrate a lack of understanding about the history and current status of Asian Americans. For example, during the spring of 1991, a national poll conducted by theWall Street Journaland NBC News “revealed that the majority of American voters believe that Asian Americans are not discriminated against in the United States” and that “[s]ome even believe that Asian Americans receive ‘too many special advantages.’”¹ The United States Commission on Civil Rights called this a misconception in 1992 and compiled evidence confirming that Asian Americans face widespread prejudice, discrimination, and barriers to equal opportunity. A...

    • 4 Narrative Space
      (pp. 61-75)

      No discourse takes place in a vacuum. Each situates itself, or is situated, within a certain space.¹ A new discourse must create a space within which to operate. A critical Asian American legal studies, as a new discourse, is no exception—it too must create a space, showing its relation to other discourses. Some of this work has already been done. In the previous chapter, I showed that the need to develop a critical Asian American legal studies is, to an extent, a response to the inadequacy of the current discourse on race and the law. It fills the gap...

    • 5 A Narrative Account of Asian America
      (pp. 76-97)

      Exclusion has many faces. Its harms are insidious and its methods multifarious. One reason that exclusion is so readily able to work its harms is that, at a certain point, it becomes so pervasive that it becomes invisible. In this way, the present-day effects of exclusion become disconnected from the past. As a consequence, the oppressed are blamed for the sins of their oppressors. For example, the dominant group often condemns the existence of ethnic enclaves such as Chinatowns and decries the unassimilability of Asian Americans. In doing so, the dominant group forgets that its laws and its history helped...

    • 6 Mapping Asian American Legal Studies
      (pp. 98-106)

      A diversity of views exists within Asian American legal studies. This diversity is inevitable, and it is indeed desirable, because diversity, a term not synonymous with divisiveness, serves as a source of strength. Those engaging in Asian American legal studies will have differing theoretical commitments and methodologies, but we should still be able to speak to one another as long as we understand that we share a common goal—justice—even if we disagree about its content. The diversity of views can be seen in the different responses of Asian Americans to oppression. Although these responses may be in conflict,...

  7. III From Identity Politics to Political Identities
    • Bridge: Introduction to Part III
      (pp. 109-109)

      Part III addresses the move from identity politics as we know it to the construction of political identities. It takes seriously the antiessentialist critique and the problems it poses for identity politics. I argue that we should move away from identity politics as we know it and work toward developing political identities based on shared political commitments. In chapter 7, I examine one especially divisive issue, affirmative action, and show how Asian Americans are being manipulated by neoconservatives who claim to be interested in protecting Asian Americans from discrimination but are in fact interested in preserving white privilege. Chapter 8...

    • 7 Reverse Racism! Affirmative Action, the Family, and the Dream That Is America
      (pp. 110-122)

      I am a product of affirmative action. Thus, to imagine a world without affirmative action would require that I imagine a world without me, something that I am not inclined to do. I am reminded of a cartoon showing the philosopher Descartes saying, “I think, therefore I am.” The second frame shows him musing, “I think not, therefore …” The last frame is blank. I find it ironic that so many affirmative action babies can advocate against the policy responsible for their very existence. And although I disagree with much of what Stephen Carter says, I agree with him that...

    • 8 One America: An Essay in Three Parts
      (pp. 123-135)

      I’m not Latino. But I could be. One feature of Latino identity is that Latinos may be of any race. I can imagine a different family history that would have placed my ancestors as laborers in Latin America or the Caribbean.¹ I can imagine a secondary migration in the Asian diaspora that would then have brought them to the continental United States, and I can imagine the various identity crises they might have undergone. I can imagine intermarriage as that which took place between Punjabi Indian immigrants and Mexican Americans.² The children would not look like me, but perhaps they...

  8. Postscript: This Ain’t Oz
    (pp. 136-138)

    InThe Wizard of Oz, Dorothy delivers the above unforgettable line upon discovering that she has left behind the black and white drudgery of Kansas and has entered a world that is bursting with color.¹ The bewilderment with which she views this bright new world echoes the bewilderment with which America is confronting the changing demographics where Latinas/Latinos and Asian Americans constitute the fastest-growing racial groups in the country. But bewildered or not, America must realize and reconcile itself to the fact that it is, and always has been, full of color.

    America cannot afford to dream of race in...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 139-172)
  10. Index
    (pp. 173-179)
  11. About the Author
    (pp. 180-180)