Seeking a revolution



Edited By Russell C. Leong (New York: Asian American and Asian Research Institute, The City University of New York, 2017, 256 pp., $25, paperback)

“Asian American Matters: A New York Anthology” is a commemorative assembling of new, revised, and selected work from CUNY Forum, a journal established in 2013 by Russell C. Leong for the Asian American and Asian Research Institute, The City University of New York. The contributors in this volume explore the intersection of new thinking, community-based research and social activism. Leong was educated in the United States and Taiwan in film and comparative literature, and he is the recipient of the American Book Award and the PEN Josephine Miles Award.

It is probably no coincidence that this book was published roughly a year after the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8, 2016 when Donald Trump became the president-elect. Trump’s candidacy revolved around the exclusionary rhetoric of an anti-Muslim ban, wholly based on racist assumptions. The repetition of this sort of racialization reflects an internalized racial logic within the American psyche. Post 9/11 saw the making of a racialized other, known as the “terrorist,” where South Asians, Middle Easterners, Arabs, and Muslims are grouped together. In light of today’s calls for exclusion of Muslims and the war on terror, scholars have gathered in this academic platform to reassess whether Asian American studies can spur a revolution of values through activism, technology, mentorship and leadership, envisioning and supporting art, culture, literature, and gender diversity, and from fostering community-based teaching, innovative curricula and institutions.

As a grad student of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, my account of Leong’s book is compelling, nostalgic, and that it inspires the idea of a possible Asian studies renaissance. “Asian American Matters” critiques the course of Asian American Studies from its inception to present day, and it flirts with the idea of becoming ever more inclusive.

The book begins with Moustafa Bayoumi’s call to respond in a post-9/11 world, followed by Prema Kurien examining who are Asian Americans. Bayoumi and Kurien are among several other authors in the first chapter that situate the context of post-9/11 within Asian American studies. This chapter empowers a movement of coalition-building among pan-ethnic lines in the inter-discipline and beyond. It also challenges its’ supporters to employ new politics of dissent in order to move toward a more radical reorganization of inclusivity.

Chapter two traces the demographics, geographies and institutions within the last 50 years of past and future to reveal the ways in which these factors have shaped the changing intellectual landscape of Asian American studies. Chapter three and four showcase the ways writing, activism, art, and media fosters consciousness and invoke a vision for the future. Chapter five demonstrates the ways academics can approach community-based and online methodologies that empowers their subjects and make information accessible to the masses. Lastly, chapter six ends with “Passages: Peter Kwong.” The collective pages in this chapter echo a range of issues facing Asian Americans from within and outside of the Americas. Furthermore, it seeks to advance the principles and concerns of Asian American studies.

As a student of Asian American studies, it is difficult to not admire the writers’ enthusiasm. To be fair, there are some weaknesses in the book. The book answers a lot of questions and provides many possible solutions; however, it invites even more questions. Nevertheless, the book leaves us with context, tools for revolution, along with hope and responsibility for new generations of students, scholars and activists.

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