Q&A: Professor examines those ‘outside the color lines’ in new book

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2012-08-31 23:56Z by Steven

Q&A: Professor examines those ‘outside the color lines’ in new book

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Jenney Price

The history of segregation in the United States is often seen in black and white. Leslie Bow, professor of English and Asian American studies, is interested in the experiences of communities that fell outside those color lines. In her new book, Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South, Bow examines what segregation demanded of people who did not fall into the category of black or white — including Asians, American Indians and people of mixed race.

Wisconsin Week: What did segregation mean for people who — as you described it — stood outside the color lines? You posed the question, “Where did the Asian sit on the segregated bus?’

Leslie Bow: I think what’s most interesting to me about a project like this is that we often conflate race with African-Americans or see race as a black-white issue. When we say “multiculturalism” … we don’t think conceptually or theoretically about the challenge that poses to the way we think about racial history in the United States…

…WW: You mentioned your parents, who are Chinese-American. They attended white schools in Arkansas but didn’t socialize with and weren’t invited to the homes of their white classmates and I wondered how much their experience impacted your research interests?

LB: Definitely, because it was something that they themselves did not talk about. What I found was that they mediated that experience by creating a third level of segregation where there was limited social engagement with either whites or blacks. Their social context was wholly Chinese-American at the time. So, to me that was just the jumping off point for really an exploration of ambiguity, which is very much the bread and butter of literary studies: How you come to this process of interpreting multiple meanings within any given text…

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Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South (review)

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2012-06-25 21:39Z by Steven

Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South (review)

Journal of Asian American Studies
Volume 15, Number 2, June 2012
pages 225-227
DOI: 10.1353/jaas.2012.0017

Jennifer Ho, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

In her acknowledgements, Leslie Bow admits that she began her research project in order to “explore an omission” (ix)—namely, the underreported stories and history of Asian Americans living in the Jim Crow South. Yet Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South is not merely an attempt to insert Asian Americans into a southern landscape nor is it a catalog of all the areas and arenas in which Asian Americans resided in a segregated south. Instead, Bow’s work articulates a more subtle but no less powerful argument: in thinking of the legacy of southern segregation, racial anomalies—those groups that are neither black nor white—represent a “productive site for understanding the investments that underlie a given system of relations; what is unaccommodated becomes a site of contested interpretation” (4). Partly Colored offers Bow’s interpretation of a selection of these contested sites, predominantly how Asian American subjects become objects of scrutiny and, in Bow’s words, “intermediacy,” but Bow also dedicates a chapter to the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina and their in-between status as neither black nor white. Whether Asian American or American Indian, these racial anomalies of the segregated south are produced through an awareness of their racial difference to both white and black communities. And it is their unique positioning—of being in a state of simultaneous acceptance and abjection—that Bow turns her attention to most forcefully, citing a methodological debt to Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark, since Bow is interested in how an Africanist presence “shadows the admittedly quirky archive of the minor” (Morrison qtd. in Bow 18)—the minor, in this case, being the narratives formed by and about Asian Americans and other racial anomalies in the segregated south.

Framed by an introduction and an afterword, the six substantive chapters of Partly Colored are divided into two parts: Chapters 1 through 3 focus on the ways in which Asian Americans, mestizos, and American Indians distance themselves from African Americans in order to promote their racial identities as more favored and hence less inferior than their black American neighbors. Chapters 4 through 6 look at specific Asian American narratives, created primarily after the contemporary civil rights movement in a post-segregation era, in order to investigate the means by which these Asian American subjects narrate and negotiate their in-between-ness or, in the words of Bow, their “interstitiality.” Indeed, like the term “intermediacy,” “interstitial” is another phrase that Bow uses to theorize her ideas about racial anomalies in segregated southern spaces. Both terms convey the sense of the ambiguous, and in some cases ambivalent, racialized subject—of one who is in-between supposedly fixed racial categories. The former term, “intermediacy,” connotes one who is a stepping-stone on the way to or from a more desired subject position. The latter term, “interstitial,” demonstrates a liminality and porousness that denotes instability and fluctuation. In this sense, both “intermediacy” and “interstitiality” are perfect words to encapsulate the indeterminacy of existing as Asian American amidst a set of racial codes predicated on white supremacy and black oppression; as Bow affirms: “Asian America is a site of multiple ambiguities against which, I would argue, the complexity of black/white relations—often conflated with ‘race relations’—stands out in heightened relief” (225).

In the first three chapters of her work, Bow deftly demonstrates how various communities living in the segregated south—the conjoined twins, Chang and Eng (subjects of Chapter 1), Lumbee Indians (subjects of Chapter 2), and Chinese Americans of the Mississippi Delta (subjects of Chapter 3)—negotiate as intermediate and interstitial bodies within the racially demarcated terrain of the segregated south. Here Bow’s training as a literary critic is in evidence through the skill with which she analyzes the various narratives that these subjects tell about their in-between condition and the ways in which their narratives, in turn, produce a counter-narrative, one that Bow rightly understands as a form of disavowal from African American abjection while…

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An Interview with UW’s Lynet Uttal: Making the Asian American experience visible through learning

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Biography, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2011-09-07 01:02Z by Steven

An Interview with UW’s Lynet Uttal: Making the Asian American experience visible through learning

Asian Wisconzine
Volume 7, Number 9 (September 2011)

Heidi M. Pascual

Part 1 of 2

It was “quite an accident of fate” that Lynet Uttal became the director of the  University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Asian American Studies Program. Although Uttal has been a faculty affiliate of Asian American Studies since 2003, she never considered being in that position.

“I was in Mexico on sabbatical when I received an email from then director Leslie  Bow asking me if I would consider being the next director,” Uttal said in an interview with Asian Wisconzine. “Although I teach about Asian Americans in my courses, yet I never considered myself as doing research about Asian Americans or being part of the field of Asian American Studies.”

Four years into her position, Uttal has loved her work as she learned the importance of the program in terms of education offering and how it also helps her grow professionally.

“I love being the director of the Asian American Studies Program because the program is very important for the mission of the University as well as for my own professional growth as a race scholar,” she explained. “I have grown in the last four years to believe that the Asian American Studies Program is important because Asian Americans are a racialized group in the United States that is invisible in the practices and understanding of race in the the United States. For example, although it was Asian American graduate students who were extremely active in creating all of the ethnic studies programs and ethnic studies requirement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, very little has been done to acknowledge their activism and contributions.  Yet, Asian Americans have a history in U.S. society parallel to African Americans in terms of having experienced legal exclusions and discrimination on the basis of race.”

Uttal has a mixed racial, cultural and national background, with a Japanese American mother and a Russian American Jewish father, but according to her, neither of these cultures (which were not mainstream Euro-American) was used to create a sense of ethnic identity in her parents’ home.

“My mother is a Japanese American who grew up in Japan from age 9-23 years and returned to the U.S., almost as if she were a Japanese immigrant,” Uttal said.  “She raised my two sisters and me to think of ourselves as American, because according to Japanese standards we certainly were not Japanese.  But we also were not Japanese American.  The cultural and socialization values in the home I grew up in reflected my Japanese grandparents’ values as well as my mother’s transnational identity ideas, and also father’s upbringing as a Russian American Jewish father.”…

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Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Law, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2010-06-28 20:46Z by Steven

Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South

New York University Press
304 pages
13 illustrations
Cloth ISBN: 9780814791325
Paperback ISBN: 9780814791332

Leslie Bow, Professor of English and Asian American Studies
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Arkansas, 1943. The Deep South during the heart of Jim Crow-era segregation. A Japanese-American person boards a bus, and immediately is faced with a dilemma. Not white. Not black. Where to sit?

By elucidating the experience of interstitial ethnic groups such as Mexican, Asian, and Native Americans—groups that are held to be neither black nor white—Leslie Bow explores how the color line accommodated—or refused to accommodate—“other” ethnicities within a binary racial system. Analyzing pre- and post-1954 American literature, film, autobiography, government documents, ethnography, photographs, and popular culture, Bow investigates the ways in which racially “in-between” people and communities were brought to heel within the South’s prevailing cultural logic, while locating the interstitial as a site of cultural anxiety and negotiation.

Spanning the pre- to the post- segregation eras, Partly Colored traces the compelling history of “third race” individuals in the U.S. South, and in the process forces us to contend with the multiracial panorama that constitutes American culture and history.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Thinking Interstitially

  1. Coloring between the Lines: Historiographies of Southern Anomaly
  2. The Interstitial Indian: The Lumbee and Segregation’s Middle Caste
  3. White Is and White Ain’t: Failed Approximation and Eruptions of Funk in Representations of the Chinese in the South
  4. Anxieties of the ‘Partly Colored’
  5. Productive Estrangement: Racial-Sexual Continuums in Asian American as Southern Literature
  6. Transracial/Transgender: Analogies of Difference in Mai’s America

Afterword: Continuums, Mobility, Places on the Train
Works Cited
About the Author

Read the introduction here.

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