Identifying and Mapping Issues, Theories, & Research in Asian/American Rhetoric(s): An Annotated Bibliography

Romance on a Global Stage: Pen Pals, Virtual Ethnography, and “Mail Order” Marriages

Posted in Uncategorized by Jennifer Sano-Franchini on February 1, 2010

Constable, Nicole. Romance on a Global Stage: Pen Pals, Virtual Ethnography, and “Mail Order” Marriages

One of Constable’s primary purposes seems to be to complicate stereotypes about transnational correspondence (commonly known as “mail-order”) marriages and relationships, focusing specifically on relationships between women from China and the Philippines, and white men from the US. Constable conducts “virtual ethnography” through “interviews, face-to-face encounters, and Internet communications that span two years or more” with Filipina and Chinese women and their partners (15).  Constable explains that her methodological decisions come in response to more text-based analyses, e.g. of catalogs, ads, and websites that connect American men to Asian women, which tend to be sensationalistic: “[E]thnographic field research can serve as a critique of textual and discursive approaches that overemphasize the sexual dimensions of correspondence courtship and overlook women’s agency” (11).

The larger theoretical work that Constable purports to do centers on the link between political economy and cultural notions of desire.  For example, she says, “I argue against a dichotomous or discontinuous view of love and opportunism that treats pragmatic concerns as incompatible with emotional ones.  I argue that political economy is not simply a backdrop to such a study, nor is it the determining force in creating correspondence marriages, but that cultural notions of love and desire are shaped by political economy” (11). To this ends, Constable discusses how certain assumptions about correspondence marriages affect political institutions; for example, she compares the immigration and naturalization policies and processes of Asian brides and Asian adoptees.  Constable considers adoption a privileged form of immigration, based on certain preconceptions about adoption as a “heroic act,” about Asians as “model minorities,” and about the possibility of natural love between parent and child as being more viable than love between prospective romantic partners.  She further explains that, “The cultural and class differences, as well as the sexuality, of the Asian wife are indelibly inscribed on her adult body, in contrast to the young child, who is viewed, in a sense, as a tabula rasa on which American middle-class values and identity can be more easily inscribed” (212).  Finally, Constable attempts to establish the wider relevance of her work, explaining that, “it is important to view correspondence relationships not as unique, but as representative of many of the issues and concerns raised by the institution of marriage in general” (224).

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Listening for Legacies, or How I Began to Hear Dorothy Laigo Cordova, the Pinay Behind the Podium Known as FANHS

Posted in Asian American Rhetoric(s) by Jennifer Sano-Franchini on May 7, 2009

Monberg, Terese Guinsatao. “Listening for Legacies, or How I Began to Hear Dorothy Laigo Cordova, the Pinay Behind the Podium Known as FANHS.” Representations: Doing Asian American Rhetoric. LuMing Mao & Morris Young, eds. Utah State P, 2008.

In this chapter, Monberg works “toward a more culturally contingent model of feminist historiography” and develops an “alternative” methodology and theory of listening as a model for Asian American rhetorics as a subject of study. Centering on the case of Dorothy Laigo Cordova and the Filipino American National Historical society (FANHS), Monberg explains that “certain methods of listening–because they are attentive to interdependencies among rhetorical space, memory, and history–are central to the makings of an Asian Pacific American ‘feminist’ rhetoric” (86). Furthermore, she argues that “while most feminist historiographers in rhetoric use the term listening, most forms of listening have largely reseted in seeing… To go beyond what is immediately visible and documented, then, requires what Jacqueline Jones Royster calls ‘a habit of critical questioning, of speculating in order to make visible unnoticed possibilities, to pose and articulate what we see now, what’s missing, and what we might see instead’” (86-7).

Monberg uses the method of oral history interview, and she reflects on this experience to discuss oral history as a site for listening, explaining that oral history methodologies are common in Asian Pacific American studies, but less so among feminist historiographers (90). However, “oral history is not a simple solution for making new forms of rhetoric ‘visible.’ For if a ‘text’ or rhetorical space is meaningful within a larger system of beliefs, then we also need to rethink the interpretive paradigms we use when listening for/to, in this case, a Filipina/o American ‘feminist’ rhetoric” (94). In sum, Monberg concludes that certain culturally contingent rhetorical capacities may remain hidden due to a preference for visible textual evidence, and “Listening is both a method for uncovering and for making an Asian Pacific American rhetoric, which must by necessity ‘explore other modes of retrieving and spacializing [rhetorical] history’” (103).

Rhetoric of the Asian American Self: Influences of Region and Social Class on Autobiographical Writing

Posted in Asian American Rhetoric(s) by Jennifer Sano-Franchini on May 7, 2009

Tasaka, Robyn. “Rhetoric of the Asian American Self: Influences of Region and Social Class on Autobiographical Writing.” Representations: Doing Asian American Rhetoric. LuMing Mao & Morris Young, eds. Utah State UP, 2008.

Tasaka examines “how region as well as social class affect students’ conceptions of themselves as Asian American and thus the ways in which they inscribe their racial and/or ethnic backgrounds in autobiographical writing assignments.” To provide context, she describes Hawai‘i’s historical and current racial environment, focusing specifically on Hawai‘i’s plantation history and English Standard education systems, before providing numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau to represent the current ethnic makeup of Hawai‘i, as well as statistics on the roster of the Hawai‘i State Legislature to illustrate the political presence of the various ethnicities. After briefly referencing scholarship on social class as it factors into student writing, Tasaka analyzes autobiographical writing by three students from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa through the frameworks of double-consciousness, guided tour of culture, and social statement.  She supplements this analysis with interviews with the students.

The purpose of this piece as I understand it is to enact revisionist history by re-evaluating certain accepted notions of what it means to be Asian American: Asian American identity interacts closely with social and political status so that to talk about race or ethnic identity in isolation is ultimately reductive and problematic. Tasaka does rhetorical work that endorses a more complex understanding of Asian Americans than has been available in the existing literature, thereby re-interpreting the past to help us to better understand our present and future.