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A Race So Different

A Race So Different: Performance and Law in Asian America

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 279
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  • Book Info
    A Race So Different
    Book Description:

    Taking a performance studies approach to understanding Asian American racial subjectivity, Joshua Takano Chambers-Letson argues that the law influences racial formation by compelling Asian Americans to embody and perform recognizable identities in both popular aesthetic forms (such as theater, opera, or rock music) and in the rituals of everyday life. Tracing the production of Asian American selfhood from the era of Asian Exclusion through the Global War on Terror,A Race So Differentexplores the legal paradox whereby U.S. law apprehends the Asian American body as simultaneously excluded from and included within the national body politic.Bringing together broadly defined forms of performance, from artistic works such as Madame Butterfly to the Supreme Court's oral arguments in the Cambodian American deportation cases of the twenty-first century, this book invites conversation about how Asian American performance uses the stage to document, interrogate, and complicate the processes of racialization in U.S. law. Through his impressive use of a rich legal and cultural archive, Chambers-Letson articulates a robust understanding of the construction of social and racial realities in the contemporary United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4525-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  4. Introduction: Performance, Law, and the Race So Different
    (pp. 1-26)

    Bashir, a former Guantánamo detainee from Pakistan, stands across the stage from Alice, his former interrogator. It is fifteen years after his time in Guantánamo. She does not recognize him, having taken pills to suppress the memories of her work in the prison. The stage is painted white, marked only by patches of distressed grays and scuffmarks from the actors’ shoes. Bashir is short, with a slightly round body and thinning hair, and he wears a rumpled suit that lends an air of defeat to his figure. He stands upright and holds a bouquet of rose stems in front of...

  5. 1 “That May Be Japanese Law, but Not in My Country”: Madame Butterfly and the Problem of Law
    (pp. 27-66)

    Tuan Anh Nguyen spent most of his life in the United States. He was born in Vietnam to a US American father and Vietnamese mother in September 1969. His mother abandoned Nguyen and his civilian contractor father, Joseph Boulais, when he was only a few years old. In 1975, Boulais returned to the United States with his six-year-old son, whom he continued to raise. At the age of twenty-two, Nguyen pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault on a minor in a Texas state court. A few years later in 1996, while serving out the terms of his eight-year...

  6. 2 “Justice for My Son”: Staging Reparative Justice in Ping Chong’s Chinoiserie
    (pp. 67-95)

    On the morning of October third, 2011, Private Danny Chen arrived at a guard tower in Afghanistan to report for duty. Upon arrival, he realized that he forgot to bring his helmet. A superior officer sent Chen, the only Chinese American soldier in his unit, to retrieve his gear and ordered him to crawl back, burdened down by his gear, across over one hundred meters of gravel. Two fellow officers threw rocks at him as he crawled, before a superior dragged him the rest of the way up the tower steps. This was not the first time that Chen’s unit...

  7. 3 Pledge of Allegiance: Performing Patriotism in the Japanese American Concentration Camps
    (pp. 96-132)

    The US flag is a central motif in Denise Uyehara’s 2003 multimedia solo performanceBig Head, an exploration of the relationship between the World War Two targeting and incarceration of Japanese Americans and contemporary racism experienced by Arab Americans and Muslim Americans in the post-9/11 era.¹ In a chilling sequence, Uyehara stands in front of a white screen as we watch scenes from an event at a mosque. First, a Japanese American activist organization is honored, before we view clips of men and women praying at the mosque, followed by an exterior shot in which a massive US flag is...

  8. 4 The Nail That Stands Out: The Political Performativity of the Moriyuki Shimada Scrapbook
    (pp. 133-173)

    It could be a picture of any field. In the foreground are a few scraps of wood. Cutting through the middle of the photographs is a beam riddled with rusted nails. Wild grass arches up and over the refuse of a wood structure long since collapsed or dismantled, and in the background, a smattering of blurred, barren trees reach up into a cloudy sky. The image was taken by Cincinnati-based photographer Emily Hanako Momohara in 2002 on what used to be the Tule Lake concentration camp, a segregated camp for Nikkei whom the government thought to be dissident or potentially...

  9. 5 Illegal Immigrant Acts: Dengue Fever and the Racialization of Cambodian America
    (pp. 174-203)

    During Dengue Fever’s Echo Park concert to promote its 2008 albumVenus on Earth, the Los Angeles–based indie-rock band makes its way through a boisterous set in its hometown, before a mixed crowd of Angelino hipsters and intergenerational Cambodian immigrants and Cambodian Americans. The band’s five multiethnic, American, male instrumentalists perform their roles with playful abandon. Commanding the stage, twenty-something lead singer Chhom Nimol alternates between wailing and cooing, her voice leaping through sonic hoops in both Khmer and English. In the final moments, voice shaking and a few tears streaming down her cheeks, Chhom lights a candle onstage...

  10. Conclusion: Virtually Legal
    (pp. 204-216)

    Since 2002, artist Hasan M. Elahi has been constantly performing under the watchful eyes of US law enforcement. If you go to his website,Tracking Transience(, you find a rectangular screen, split in half horizontally. The top half of the screen is usually a photograph of a location: a lecture hall, church, or hallway. The bottom half of the screen is a shot from Google Maps, featuring an aerial-view, satellite photograph of a landscape. Along the top half of the map is a series of black and red squares that, if clicked, zoom in or out of the map....

  11. Notes
    (pp. 217-240)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-258)
  13. Index
    (pp. 259-266)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-267)