I just had to say this: Susan Koshy rocks. And while she isn't Filipino American, she is a real Filipino Americanist scholar, one of the few scholars of Asian American studies who actually reads and uses the good shit that has come out of Filipino American studies from the last thirty years. Her book, Sexual Naturalization (Stanford UP, 2004), isn't all about Filipino Americans but it does take Filipino American history seriously.
Her work reconsiders the tired old discourse on miscegenation in Asian American historiography and cultural studies, discourse that has focused heavily on Chinese, Japanese, and even Korean relations with whites, blacks, etc. Instead, she rigorously historicizes the emergence of Asian-white "miscegenation" as both legal and literary/filmic trope and also considers the interracial relationships of Filipino and Asian Indian migrants, two Asian American groups that have been underrepresented in Asian American studies in general. Her argument is that these different focal points--texts produced by whites and Asian Americans--give us a wider view of both the effects and genealogies of representations of Asian men and women's sexuality in the United States. The practice, legal prohibition, and discursive representation of miscegenation in two places--within the national borders of the United States, and extraterritorially--also give us insight into the (hetero)sexual constitution of the nation.
She's an English professor (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), so her chapters are in essence historicist literary criticism, but, she argues, it is important to look at "the role of literary and filmic texts in educating desire and directing it toward its appropriate subjects" (17). She claims that analyzing the cultural imaginary produced by these particular texts illuminates their deep significance in the sociological, interracial formations of American society:
A striking feature of [early] stories of white-Asian miscegenation is their remarkable popularity at a time when the extent of white-Asian sexual contacts was rather limited and restricted to specific locations. The lack of correspondence between fiction and sociological reality has drawn comment from scholars, but its significance has not been probed further. However, I argue that this very discrepancy between fiction and sociology is the key to unlocking the cultural power of these scripts. These narratives are important precisely because they invented and therfore preceded the racialized sexual cultures that in subsequent decades attained greater sociological solidity. Myths of white-Asian desire were productive of, rather than reflective of, the sociological reality of white-Asian miscegenation, helping shift the meanings of Asian American masculinity and femininity over the decades.
Thus far, narratives of white-Asian miscegenation have received little scholarly scrunity because of their axiomatic status as productions of white fantasy. Critics have pointed to their Orientalist tropes and stereotypical representations of Asians in explaining their popularity with a white mainstream public. However, this study uses the popularity and fascination exerted by narratives of miscegenation to argue for their importance, not their irrelevance. It places the cultural work of these texts at the center of analytic attention and demonstrates the instability of their identifications, which have been viewed reductively as either fixed or simply false. This book foregrounds the complexity of the negotiations performed by texts within this tradition. (18-19)
She first looks at the American cultural imaginary on "Oriental" sexuality in works like "Madame Butterfly" (the original short story by John Long published in 1898) and the film Broken Blossoms (1919) directed by D.W. Griffith (of Birth of a Nation infamy). Her third and fourth chapters then look at Bulosan's America Is in the Heart (1946) and Bharati Mukherjee's Jasmine (1989). The structure of her book thus corresponds to the historical evolution of white-Asian narratives of miscegenation: "Early in the [20th] century, whites used [this narrative] to reinforce or interrogate dominant perceptions of the assimilability of Asians, and later it was appropriated by Asian Americans to naturalize their claim to America even as they sought to redefine, subvert, or expand the meanings of Americanness in the name of socialist, international, or multicultural projects" (20).
It's a real pleasure to read something as astute and well-written as Koshy's work. She doesn't use a lot of confusing jargon, and she maps her arguments for the reader so you know exactly where you're heading. You can tell she's really writing for her reader's comprehension, and that's really welcome in a literary and cultural studies text. Plus, hey, it's about sex and sexuality, so already I'm interested. ;)
More on the Carlos Bulosan chapter in a follow-up post.... (Who knew Bulosan would have such a critical revival in the early 2000s?)