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The Landscape of Contemporary Asian American Studies (September 2016): Arts and Culture

By Mark E. Pfeifer

Arts and Culture

Leilani Nishime’s Undercover Asian: Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture is a study of media images of multiracial Asian Americans.  In this work, the author discusses “codes” that both serve to facilitate and prevent audiences from recognizing the multiracial status of Asian Americans.  The author shows how in popular media portrayals, viewers and readers often fail to identify multiracial Asian Americans.  Case studies pertain to athlete Tiger Woods and actor Keanu Reeves.

A related realm that has been of some interest to scholars in recent years has been portrayals and imagery of Asian Americans in media, film, and the arts.  Sheng-Mei Ma’s East-West Montage: Reflections on Asian Bodies in Diaspora focuses on cultural expressions in literature and film by and about people of Asian descent, including Asian Americans as well as persons residing in Asia.  In this fairly dense theoretical work, sections center on depictions of Asian bodies in written work as well as in movies, and the broader implications of these depictions for understanding such social processes as identity and racial constructions.  Jodi Kim’s Ends of Empire: Asian American Critique and the Cold War is an analysis focusing on the ways Asian American writers and filmmakers have attempted to critique the history of US involvement in Asia during the Cold War era.  The author pays particular attention to how Asian American artists and writers have discussed gendered and racialized implications of American entanglements in Asian countries during the Cold War era.  In Musicians from a Different Shore: Asians and Asian Americans in Classical Music, Mari Yoshihara addresses the question of how Asians and Asian Americans have become so involved in classical music in the United States.  The author makes the key points that the role of Asians in classical music was shaped by the history of Western imperialism in past centuries and that an association with class and Western modernity has promoted Asians’ involvement in Western music, while an additional set of values independent of material concerns has played a major part in their involvement with classical music.  Yoshihara also examines how classical music serves as a vehicle through which Asian and Asian American musicians experience their racial, gender, sexual, or class identities in American society.