Deconstructing Hemispheric Orientalism: Exploring Alternative Anti-Asian Discourses across the Americas

AHA Session 68
Immigration and Ethnic History Society 1
Friday, January 6, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Room 401 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Cindy I-Fen Cheng, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Kathleen López, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Session Abstract

This panel, sponsored by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society, examines the history of Asian settlements in Latin America and the Caribbean during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Specifically, the panel will explore the history of Chinese in Jamaica, Mexico, and El Salvador, as well as Southeast Asian refugees in Argentina, and the ways in which divergent racial frameworks emerged from local responses, such as anti-Chinese violence and anti-refugee campaigns that were unique to different national contexts. The papers in this panel interrogate the notion of “Hemispheric Orientalism,” a concept which has gained increasing traction among scholars who have used it as a lens to explain the patterns of anti-Chinese attitudes, policies, and experiences of racism and racial formation of Asians in the Americas. While scholars have suggested that local circumstances are paramount to how Hemispheric Orientalism unfolds, few have actually attempted to investigate these local, endemic expressions. Through ethnography, archival research, and a comparative framework, these papers offer a critique of the prevailing understanding of this concept by investigating local conditions as the genesis of Mexican, Salvadoran, Jamaican, and Argentinian Asian racial forms. Together, these papers suggest that anti-Asian racisms in non-U.S. contexts were not merely an extension or outgrowth of a tragic U.S. anti-Asian ideology but possessed their own local textures and diverged from place to place. In doing so, the presenters suggest a de-centering of U.S.-based racial ideologies as the standard point of reference for understanding anti-Asian violence and racism, and they offer a reconceptualization of the ways in which we have studied Asians in the Americas.

The questions guiding the papers in this panel are: how does anti-Asian racism make sense in certain contexts for different hierarchically organized ethno/racial groups? What are the local politics that informed these anti-Asian racisms, and how do they compare across different national contexts? The first paper by Jordan Lynton will present an ethnographic and historical study of Chinese in Jamaica and the strategic ways in which Chinese Jamaicans have negotiated aspects of their identity to avoid inter-ethnic conflicts and to forge transnational ties. The second paper by Jason Chang will compare the formation and evolution of anti-Chinese Orientalism in Mexico and El Salvador in the first half of the twentieth century and how the cultural logics of race, mestizo nationalism, and indigenous resistance in both countries informed anti-Chinese campaigns. Finally, the third paper by Sam Vong will explore the resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees in Argentina in 1979 and the inherent contradictions and problems of this humanitarian endeavor as the resettlement program unraveled. Together, the topics and issues addressed in this panel will draw audience members interested in Asian migration and diasporas in the Americas, Latin American and Caribbean studies, and comparative race and ethnic studies.

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