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).

Representations: Doing Asian American Rhetoric

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

Mao, LuMing and Morris Young, eds. Representations: Doing Asian American Rhetoric. Logan: Utah State UP, 2008.

Mao and Young “define Asian American rhetoric as the systematic, effective use and development by Asian Americans of symbolic resources, including this new American language, in social, cultural, and political contexts” (3). The use of the singular Asian American rhetoric–rather than rhetorics or rhetoric(s)–is a purposeful one according to Mao and Young, who assert that any kind of “ethnic rhetoric” is already necessarily plural, “infused with competing voices, internal contradictions, and shifting alliances at every given discursive moment.” Moreover, however, this use of the singular “rhetoric” is “an example of what Gayatri Spivak calls a ‘strategic use of positive essentialism.’” To elaborate, “Asian American rhetoric” is named as such “to contest and complicate the dominance of European American rhetoric or even the broader definition of the Rhetorical Tradition” by articulating the complexity and multiplicity of “rhetoric” (9). This tension between singular and plural is a theme that guides how the essays are divided. Furthermore, the selection and arrangement of these essays implicitly illuminate a methodology for research on Asian American rhetoric.

The first section, “Performing Asian American Rhetoric in Context,” “highlights the tension or contradictions between the desire to claim a sense of unity or homogeneity for Asian Americans” by centering on Asian American discursive practices in a number of contexts, communities, and places to gain a better understanding of “how Asian Americans invent, remember, and recover certain discursive practices to enact different forms of Asian American rhetoric” (15). The second section, “‘Translating’ and ‘Transforming’ Asian American Identities” focuses on the “issue of representation and resistance, or, more specifically, toward how Asian Americans use rhetoric to combat misrepresentations and stereotypes and to develop representations for their very own that are directly based upon their own experiences as Other and upon their own struggles for political, racial, and linguistic justice” (16). The approaches presented in this collection are particularly useful for how they at times take a longitudinal view of culture, examining immigrant/multi-generational populations and how factors of nationalism and generation influence what Asian/American rhetorics looks like: always moving, a “rhetoric of becoming.” Additionally, the various essays provide a robust collection of ideas and theories about Asian American rhetoric, pertinent to material rhetorics and rhetorical space; movement and transnationalism; memory and agency; methodologies, rhetorical listening, and oral history; the intersections of subjectivities, revisionist histories, and popular culture; and new media.