“The Diversity Requirement” takes on anti-neoliberal criticisms of the post-2008 US university as emblematized by quit lit, the essay genre in which tenure-track hopefuls announce that they are leaving academia, as deracinated yet totalizing theories that ignore how racism structures institutional contingency and academic precarity, even when the diversity requirement is a norm. This article responds by turning to the Asian American campus novel, a generic category not readily deployed because of the recurrence of universities in literary and lived model minority narratives. Taking Asian American institutional racialization as representative of the ambivalence that subtends contingency, “The Diversity Requirement” connects the author’s experience as contingent faculty and as staff of the campus diversity requirement to readings of Karen Tei Yamashita’s I Hotel (2010) and Weike Wang’s Chemistry: A Novel (2017) through the figure of the Asian American student teacher, the apt pupils within liberal whiteness who lack expertise or experience and yet are tasked with teaching responsibilities for diversity without full access to institutional power. In doing so, this article theorizes ambivalent contingency—a mitigated agency and constrained privilege from within institutional contingency that reflects contradicting intersections of power within and beyond the individual—as a strategy for surviving the institution without reproducing its logics of exclusion.
The identification with the fucking university is almost as bad as the counter-identification against the fucking university, which is almost as bad as the identification with the fucking university.—Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, “the university: last words” (2020)
Since the 2008 recession, neoliberalism has become the ur-theory of critical university studies, for it names the austerity measures in education, research, and citizenship that prioritize profit on the backs of its publics. In 2014 reports by the American Association of University Professors confirmed the deleterious long-term impact of high-turnover temporary faculty, as well as the simultaneous increase in student enrollment and non-tenure-track employment from the 1970s to the present.1 At the same time, the genre of quit lit grew out of Rebecca Schuman’s 2013,Slate article, “Thesis Hatement,” to centralize testimonies by people who after confronting academia’s cruel optimism—the affective texture of neoliberalism—left its bad promises of the good life.2 Through confessional poetics and sympathetic storytelling, quit lit demands a reckoning with the increasing unlikeliness of tenure-line employment. Maximillian Alvarez’s 2017 Baffler essay “Contingent No More: An Academic Manifesto” applies Lauren Berlant’s frame of the precariat, a social class characterized by dependency as well as an internalization of this insecurity, to describe contingent faculty’s demoralizing conditions in the US corporate university. The contingent academic now personifies anti-neoliberal institutional criticism.
Predominantly written by white, cisgendered authors, quit lit has not countenanced how the casualization of academic labor has coincided with efforts to diversify higher education.3 (Except through the insidious myth of the diversity hire?)4 Invocations of Thea Hunter, a Black woman who perhaps exemplifies the deathliness of academic precarity, make evident the individualism that subtends quit lit’s supposed universality. Adam Harris’s 2019 story in the Atlantic, “The Death of an Adjunct: The Human Cost of Higher Education’s Adjunct Shift,” suggests but does not say outright that Hunter left a tenure-track position because quotidian racist aggressions made it unbearable.5 Maybe her subsequent contingent job in New York City felt more like living than this so-called academic good life. Hunter passed in 2018 from an untreated respiratory condition, likely exacerbated by her lack of health insurance. Yet, rather than apprehend her death through the systemic abuse of Black women by medical care, the story’s premise finds unfairness in that her degree did not protect her from structural racism and misogyny. Harris mentions that Hunter’s piecemeal adjuncting included the City College of New York’s Black Studies Program, without questioning the underfunding of both the race-conscious program and minority-majority public institution that rendered her contingent. Hunter’s race and gender in this way disrupt a generalized sense of precarity in certain anti-neoliberal institutional criticisms, here represented by quit lit, that can risk reinforcing mythologies of merit, perseverance, and success.
Through misapprehensions of social location and institutional violence, such as when its authors occlude their preexisting race, class, and gender privileges, quit lit has not envisioned a horizon of justice past a tenure-track job offer. After a summer of academic Twitter buzzing about contingency, Zoe Todd (2019) tweeted: “White folks are obsessed with academic precarity because for a lot of them it’s the first time they’ve been at a disadvantage in society & think it’s comparable to the racism, sexism & violence that marginalized groups face in every part of society every day, including academe.” Publications like Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (Gutiérrez y Muhs et al. 2012) and social media campaigns like summer 2020’s #BlackIvyStories show how academia does not ensure success, such as sustainable employment based on merit, and even depends on systemic failures along lines of difference.6 Jodi Melamed (2016) observes that the conflation of neoliberal institutionality with totality, as seen in quit lit, can make liberalism look like freedom.7 Melamed cautions that critiques of neoliberal institutionality’s sheer calculation—a cruelty made flatly clear in COVID-19 disaster capitalism—need to mind that the supposed haven of the liberal academy, and its promises of merit, was founded on and exacerbates antiblackness, settler colonialism, and white supremacy. Difference can reroute the loop of liberalism and neoliberalism that frames academic labor politics through fantasies of meritocracy, individual autonomy, and the universality of aggrieved ex-privilege.
Though I begin by critiquing quit lit’s story of the exceptional individual, I write of contingency from a place of recognition. From 2014 to 2018, I took on four contingent faculty positions at three different institutions. Over the years, I became both more certain of the life of the mind and more discouraged of my capacity to live it. With each new gig, I found solace in making a life for myself—friends, lovers, community, routine—a home. I then abandoned that life at the end of each contract. Quit lit resonates in my soul, yet what the authors mourn looks less like any campus I recognize and more like the campus novel’s cloistered, bohemian space of petty yet esoteric politics, as epitomized by Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim (1954).8 For Lavelle Porter (2019), Black academic fictions, in distinction from the whiteness of the campus novel, suggest how Black intellectuals negotiate the antiblackness that institutionally misrecognizes their intelligence and creativity, and their responsibility to Black communities through and against that institution. However, despite the abundance of Asian American novels set within universities, such as Karen Tei Yamashita’s I Hotel (2010) at the University of California, Berkeley or Susan Choi’s The Foreign Student (1998) at Sewanee: The University of the South, critical analyses do not name the texts as academic fictions; instead, they treat the institution as a backdrop for Cold War racial dramas and anxieties about activist dissent.9 These racial legibilities reflect the structural asymmetry between quit lit’s whiteness, Thea Hunter, and me: whereas Blackness can be inimical to the institution, institutions include Asian Americans as contingency.
Thus, apprehending Asian American racialization can participate in the abatement of institutional misery for its nonwhite inhabitants. In this article, I analyze the affective textures of my faculty experience between contingent employment and contingent fields with those of the beleaguered teachers in Karen Tei Yamashita’s I Hotel (2010) and Weike Wang’s Chemistry: A Novel (2017). While quit lit emphasizes the exceptional individual, these Asian American campus stories reflect ambivalent contingency, a mitigated agency and constrained privilege within institutional precarity that reflects contradicting intersections of power within and beyond the individual.10 Though I focus on characters, I push against enlarging their humanity—a liberal hermeneutic of diversity, an ultimately antagonistic institutional strategy that produces contingency—to foreground the ambivalence of their desires and failures against university logics.11 Ambivalent contingency refuses neoliberalism’s fatalism and liberalism’s false promises, including yet another diversity training and the tenure-track good life. Ambivalent contingency contributes to decolonization and abolition by challenging the subjectivizing reproduction of state and capital to theorize institutional life beyond the shadow of totality.
Deprofessionalizing the Asian American Diversity Hire
In the casualization of higher education, institutions classify temporary, contract-based teaching personnel as contingent. However, Sara Ahmed (2006: 103) contends that contingency, in sharing an etymological root with contact, is linked to “the sociality of being ‘with’ others, to getting close enough to touch.”12 Beneath contingency’s descriptive power as devalued labor are these sublimated, affective proximities without guarantees, an effect of its ambivalence.13Ambivalence, psychoanalysis’s term for the contradictory love and hate for a single object that obstructs normative development, has been taken up in theories of postcolonial subjectivity and racial melancholia to describe a process of and reaction to dominant power. Institutions reproduce the contingent academic as necessary yet surplus to their operations, but the contingent academic’s “partial presence”—what Homi K. Bhabha (1994: 123) riffs on as almost but not quite—reflects an institutional anxiety about its control of that population. In turn, the contingent academic fosters a love/hate relationship to the profession.14 Given that we have all the researched reasons to say no but say yes anyway, love—for students, ideas, collegiality—sustains contingency’s ambivalence.
Neoliberalism’s cultures have instrumentalized love to justify all manners of exploitation.15 Yet, love here names what Vivian L. Huang and Summer Kim Lee (2020: 4) call contingent coalition, “the act of loitering in that frustrated feeling of being in ‘the same way’ together, that does anything but yield relations of symmetry.” Foregrounding difference in that “frustrated feeling” recalls Ahmed’s argument that hegemonic happiness produces ambivalence for the minoritized subject against whom this happiness has been defined. Dwelling in this ambivalence can be a particularly queer university politic because it does not ensure reproduction—not just of the institution and the cishet good life it promises but also the contingent faculty’s line itself. This article takes as the emblem of ambivalent contingency the Asian American student teacher, a term I use to capture the racialized imagining of Asian Americans within liberal whiteness as apt pupils who lack expertise or experience, and yet are tasked with teaching responsibilities for diversity without full access to institutional power. Ambivalent contingency thus indexes institutional racial inclusion through structural contingency but—against totalizing theories of the university, its exceptional individualism, and its masculinist hero narratives—makes evident more ethical possibilities of inhabiting academic institutions.
This misapprehension that the autonomous “I” deserves to be an exception to what is the rule for others characterizes not only quit lit but also the institutional framing of diversity. The 2018 market season brought me an enviable dilemma: continue to teach eager students as a non-tenure-track temporary lecturer in an Asian American studies program or en-discipline in literature at a predominantly white liberal arts college as their first Asian Americanist. I chose the latter. The senior faculty and administration at that institution narrated me as a “diversity hire,” both to proclaim their commitment to inclusion and to indicate that I was an intellectual compromise for that commitment. I struggled teaching the department service course for the campus diversity requirement, US Multicultural Literatures. Some, who refused to believe racism thrived in our classrooms, saw my polarizing student evaluations as evidence not of my pedagogical effectiveness in post-2016 America but of my failure. Yet, when I accepted that tenure-track position, I heard that I became a success story of the job market—which affirms myths of meritocracy, securing tenure-ladder employment after downturns in the market, and diversity, as a visual index of institutional commitment.16
I missed the work I did off the tenure ladder, as three of my four contingent faculty contracts were in Asian American studies programs. Those programs were far more rigorous and impactful for students than my catchall diversity service course, yet their program status evidences diversity work as the institutional production of contingency. Cathy J. Schlund-Vials (2017: 72–77) contends that institutions administer engaged interdisciplines like ethnic studies through “planned obsolescence,” in which student activism responds to local spectacles of antagonism; their founding is publicized, but their gains are attributed to liberal progress as opposed to their labor as they are then sunsetted through budget cuts, lack of retention, and refusal to replace lines.17 Timothy Yu’s 2011 two-part essay “Has Asian American Studies Failed?” (Yu 2011a, 2011b, 2017) captures recurrent questions about how Asian American studies has “failed” its promise to transform the public sphere by institutionalizing in the university.18 However, the ensuing discussion’s focus on undergraduate pedagogy and mainstream legibility show how the import of the interdisciplines has been narrowed by diversity.
Year after year, including 2020, Black-led, interracial student protests respond to campus, local, and national antiblackness, coloniality, and white supremacy with demands, including required courses in ethnic studies, to combat systemic racism through the classroom. The student-of-color organizers from my temporary elite research university argued for such a requirement with a mantra: “We cannot graduate racists.” I agree and yet also find its conjunction of liberatory knowledge and credentializing at a predominantly white institution incommensurable. The students imagine something like Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s undercommons, a space, informed by Blackness, of fugitivity from the financializing logics of the neoliberal university in the white supremacist settler nation-state. Administrators often rename such a course in systemic racism the “diversity requirement,” to translate difference into data for management. As Harney and Moten (2013) write, the modern university perpetuates such professionalization, wherein education only propagates professions. The totalizing conception of power and limited political horizon of quit lit reflect the reach of this professionalization. Diversity, as professionalization, makes evident how critique has been absorbed into the Enlightenment vision of the university to produce subjects for state and capital under the guise of resistance through the university’s ambivalent commitment to neoliberal image management (30–34).
The problem is not institutionality but how professionalization socializes identification with the institution. In the summer of 2020, the abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore expressed her frustration with the diversity requirement as professionalization: mandatory diversity training at primarily white institutions distracts from radical demands to redistribute university resources. The handful of critical students of color at that previously mentioned primarily white liberal arts college came to my diversity class trained by student affairs in the latest vocabulary, though without the attendant politics, histories, and contexts. I struggled in helping them see how power operates in complex and covert ways while they sat next to students who struggled with barebones analyses of blatant bias and inequality. I felt every explanation of social movement critique turn into wokeness, a term from Black digital spaces that white students deploy for symbolic capital and white administrators use to trivialize dissent.19 The diversity requirement—a “double-dip” designation added onto “truer” discipline-based general education courses—was seen as an “easy A” in platitudes about kindness. Assuming an ignorance to be cured, the diversity requirement, by design, cannot countenance racist backlash, which it shields by subjecting course faculty, often junior and of color, to antagonistic student evaluations, less-than-meritorious rankings, and gaslighting through a centering of (white majoritarian) “student care” over antiracist pedagogy. Diversity becomes ancillary to institutional categories of excellence and rigor, not to critique their liberal violence but to delegitimize difference as epistemology and method.
Asians and Asian Americans, as highly represented campus populations and symbols of US and global diversity, seem to epitomize professionalization. Yet, at the same time, institutional contingency racializes Asian Americans as students: intelligent but lacking intellection, needing to be taught and excelling in the state’s lesson. Originating in the 1968–69 Third World Liberation Front student strikes, Asian American as a panethnic identity united ethnic communities across experiences of white supremacy and imperialism.20 Betraying the model minority myth, which arose contemporaneously to align certain Asian Americans with whiteness, Asian American panethnicity has been contingent on the Black student movements that conditioned race radicalism. Asian American has since been absorbed as a state umbrella term, and campaigns to disaggregate Asian American reveal patterned stratification between overrepresented educated, affluent professionals and entrepreneurs and underrepresented groups like refugees, wage laborers, and underemployed migrants. However, as a panethnic sensibility centralized on elite college campuses, the Asian American political imagination has become contingent on model minority selective inclusion in these institutions, even as many have noted the importance of Asian American studies in confronting ethnic-specific political conservatisms. As administrators, conservative faculty, and moderate pundits alike invoke model minorities (some of whom invite that usage) to obstruct equity measures like race-conscious admissions, curricular changes, and hiring plans, those Asian Americans find their contingency to whiteness turned from adjacency to temporariness, as their experience of racist hostility reflects how they then become scapegoats and collateral. In all these senses of contingency, Asian American political will is ambivalent: pulled between model minority conservatism and a people-of-color solidarity, yet appearing more as student than agent.
This secondary status of Asian Americans alongside diversity education’s limited focus on individuals has led to a maldistribution of authority such that, paradoxically, Asian Americans are not seen as experts on race, and yet any Asian American is as expert as any other. For example, the visibility of anti-Asian hate crimes amid the 2020 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the national #StopAsianHate campaign, which in its celebrity and corporate uptake authorized any Asian American to speak as representative—often to the erasure of Asian American history, historicity, and intellection. Summer Kim Lee’s (2019: 34) analysis of Asian Americans as late arrivals, both to their socialization into whiteness and to politicization in relation to Blackness, reflects the mitigated authority of the Asian American student teacher, an agent of institutional will who is seen as lacking a truer intellectual authority, is always studying and yet seeming inauthentic in making the grade.
Rather than taking such abnegations of Asian American studies, in which self-interest substitute-taught for community thinking, as a sign of the field’s failure, I argue that prior visions of the interdiscipline understood both racialization and resistance to its terms as contingency. Written by the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA) at the University of California, Berkeley after the Third World strike, “Asian Studies: The Concept of Asian Studies” ( 1971: 264) articulates the then-nascent field’s goals: “Self-determination for Third World (and all) people, and an end to the current system dominant in the United States and the world—based on property individualism and professional bureaucracy.” The AAPA’s Asian studies is not the Department of Education Title VI project that took its name to master the “East,” and it is not the diversity management project that administrators want Asian American studies to be. If Black studies destabilizes the epistemological and sociogenic imposition of liberal humanism, the AAPA’s proposal for Asian studies envisions bad students who do not reproduce racial capitalism’s so-called success. As Minh-Ha T. Pham (2012) reminds us, “success” racializes Asian Americans in difference from other nonwhite groups, who via comparison or silent inference are “failures.” This Asian studies, in which the study functions as Harney and Moten’s vision of freedom based in mutual responsibility, upends professionalization and its institutional metrics by redirecting Asian American ambitions and loves through ambivalent contingency toward, to quote activists like Soya Jung, a model minority mutiny.21
Professionalization is a structural problem, of how the university perpetuates systemic violence, but also an aesthetic problem, in the apprehension of these operations. Framing Yamashita’s I Hotel (2010) and Wang’s Chemistry: A Novel (2017) as part of a growing genre archive recognizes how, especially since the structural shifts after the 2008 recession as indexed by quit lit, the Asian American campus novel has confronted professionalization.22 At the same time, to extend the campus novel genre this way highlights the prevalence of higher education in Asian American literature and shows how critical preoccupations with model minority mythmaking have submerged the literature’s theorizing of institutional racialization. Though I, the activists of I Hotel, and the narrator of Chemistry differ in institutional location, we share the contingency of being Asian Americans, the perpetual student teachers, who take on instructional roles—and flail.23
Liberal readings would centralize the unfairness of the teacher’s individual plight, but our flailing reveals an ambivalence underlying the naturalized connection between knowledge economies and racial capitalism. The Asian American student teacher thus can expose the contingency of success, as the Asian American moves from a racial categorization to a political enactment. Though flailing, as an effort to survive precarity that falls short of heroic resistance, they only fail as a by-product of institutional metrics. The ambivalent contingency of the Asian American student teacher, in which the mediation of agency by institutional conditions forestalls intended outcomes, unintentionally practices refusal—what Audra Simpson (2014: 11) describes as quotidian acts of opacity and illegibility that can deconstruct systems of legitimacy. These teachers show that the requirement is not to succeed and contribute to the illusion of the civil rights project but to refuse the university and deprofessionalize difference.24
“But I Am Not the Revolution”: Contingent Abbreviations in I Hotel
For some scholars and activists, the Asian American movement represents a moment of a truer purpose before the institutionalization of Asian American studies and Asian America. However, William Wei (2004: 300) warns against apprehending movement participants “as incarnations of an ideal political archetype” of such lost radicalism. Yamashita’s I Hotel, a historical epic composed of ten interconnected novellas that each narrate a year of the Asian American movement, thematizes Wei’s deidealization, for, as Long Le-Khac (2020: 153) argues, I Hotel “takes up the unsettled spirit of that period, on the content level, by immersing readers in the fights over the Asian American idea, and on a formal level, with a restless form that takes pleasure in the many shapes the Asian American idea might take.”25I Hotel begins in 1968 with the student strikes for ethnic studies at San Francisco State College and the University of California, Berkeley; it ends on August 3, 1977, hours before San Francisco riot police’s forcible eviction of the International Hotel—a home to many Filipino elders, a locus of Asian American organizing, and the last remains of Manilatown against the city’s racist redevelopment plans. In this context, the characters Tom H. Takabayashi and Ria Ishii may read as two embodiments of a leftist desire for failure to be a successful radicalism against nascent neoliberal institutionality. However, such a reading reveals our liberal cathexis on the university by assuming that Asian American politicization is an inevitable result of higher learning. Instead, reading Takabayashi and Ishii as Asian American student teachers envisions the professional ethnic studies critic as Nick Mitchell (2015: 91) describes, as “complicity with the dominant.” Their flailing thus reveals the queerness of ambivalent contingency, particularly its refusal of the success/failure binary and the totalizing conceptions of domination and resistance so essential for the emotional appeal of the hero narrative of something like quit lit.
I Hotel as a campus novel centralizes how its institutional settings mediate Blackness and antiblackness through their status-conferring respectability. The second chapter of the first novella, titled “Language in Reaction,” uses the column-based typographic layout of high school history textbooks to compare Institution A, or the University of California, Berkeley, to Institution B, or San Francisco State College. Institution A “considered itself a center of research and a factory for knowledge” (Yamashita 2010: 18), while Institution B “considered itself a teaching college, a middling institution in a tiered system” that “was part of the Master Plan,” “a great train system chugging students along predetermined tracks” (19–20). The “Master Plan,” the California Master Plan for Higher Education of 1960, sought to graduate more students at a minimum per-student cost by eliminating “redundancies” through the alignment of the University of California campuses, the California State University campuses, and community colleges into a single system. At Institution A, “a famous black author and leader of a black organization came to teach at the university,” and he, a figure like Eldridge Cleaver, incites the students to protest by shouting, “Fuck the Governor!” (19).26 By contrast, at Institution B, “a black instructor . . . who was also a leader of a black organization” excites the students by arguing that “Institution B was a n[—]-producing factory and called upon students to Pick up the Gun! to defend themselves against a cracker administration” (20, italics original). At A, the Black voice is invited into the prestigious institution for his accolades and moves against an abstract symbol of power, the governor. At B, he, presumably George Mason Murray, is already of the second-tier institution known for its student-of-color population. He analyzes how the Master Plan’s promise of access to higher education reinforces the system’s white supremacist hierarchy of cultural capital. Against the mythos of an unmediated radical spirit, I Hotel briefly departs from Asian Americans to frame its predominantly Chinese- and Japanese-American activists, many of whom attend Institution A, in relation to institutional symbolic capital as much as Black freedom agitation.
Highlighting the exceptional visibility of Black agitation against the unexceptional presence of Asian American students at Institution A, I Hotel foregrounds the emergence of Asian American radicalism as and through the ambivalence of their institutional racialization. The second novella, “1969: I Spy Hotel,” focalizes Tom H. Takabayashi—a Japanese-American incarceree at Tule Lake turned criminology professor at UC Berkeley, who is roughly based on Paul Takagi, a cofounder of ethnic studies—to locate Asian Americans as people of color.27 Takabayashi’s chapters rehearse the insurgent history of how Third World Liberation Front student protestors “invented a new political category: Asian American” (123) and created their own course, 100X: The Asian American Experience. Takabayashi divides his commitments between the School of Criminology, historically used to train police officers, and the students’ radical curriculum. This arrangement, formalized as the joint appointment with which many Asian Americanists are familiar, structures the contingency of the interdiscipline. Takabayashi states that their collective victory was that they “challenged the idea that society, and therefore education, should be controlled by the threat of punishment and the history of race” (127). The Asian American Experience does not spread cultural diversity but a critique of state violence, in a success story of radicalism that fails the neoliberalizing institution. However, the enforcement of racism occurs through administrative violence, as the denial of tenure follows political dissent, and ethnic studies is delegitimized as “invented racial science” (126). Takabayashi’s firing supplies a now-familiar narrative as terminated faculty, a tragic symbol of dissent against the research university’s support of the police state.
However, his institutional contingency is not totalizing, as Takabayashi as an Asian American student teacher shows how such a familiar narrative of radicalism depends on what Chris A. Eng (2017) challenges as the heteronormative field imagination of Asian American studies. We identify with Takabayashi as he is rendered a student teacher, a bad pupil, and emplot an exceptional rise-and-fall hero narrative based on his patronage of the student activists. He becomes a student teacher, our patriarch whose resistance perpetuates our liberal fantasy of the university as the locus of Enlightenment. Takabayashi’s heroic individualism appears as ethnic studies radicalism, but it reproduces diversity education by investing in liberalism’s narrative of self-correction and the recentering of the university professional. In this way, ambivalent contingency critiques the professionalization of dissent in the bind that Melamed identifies, of refusing the turn to liberal institutionality to contest neoliberalism.
By contrast, Ria Ishii in the sixth novella, “1973: Int’l Hotel,” may initially be read as a failure of radicalism, but her feminist-of-color rendering of ambivalent contingency undercuts this professionalizing of dissent.28 The novella’s second chapter begins with the narrator meditating on philosophy and activism: “Something inside the mind tells you that your thinking can be powerful. But then, the thinking has got to be put into practice, and how many middle-class activists checked into factories to see what it’s like to work?” (Yamashita 2010: 383). The narrator indicts the Asian American students for imagining themselves as the vanguard when, as suggested at the onset of I Hotel, their politicization is contingent on their cultural capital. Ria Ishii, on behalf of UC Berkeley student organizers, infiltrates a garment factory and foments the walkout of its Chinese immigrant workers to found an alternative: the I-Hotel Cooperative Garment Factory.29 Ria becomes an exceptional individual, as “technically, Ria could sew; socially, she could organize; and theoretically, Ria could think political economics: Marx and C. L. R. James, to be specific” (384). Nevertheless, Ria’s exceptionality does not displace her university affiliation. She thus inhabits a structural remove from the women for whom she agitates: immigrant garment workers of color, whose figuration in the Asian American political imagination marks neoliberal globalization as a crisis.
The conflict caused by the students’ cultural capital in Ria’s narrative highlights the ambivalence that subtends feminist-of-color praxis to show that, unlike what the “middle-class activists” and Asian American student teachers thought, radicalism is contingent and cannot be known in advance. Initially, Ria and a factory worker, Mrs. Lee, produce Mao jackets—a style with activist countercultural cachet—to raise money for sewing machines and the rent on a fixer-upper space at the I-Hotel to start the co-op. Ria is confronted by her colleague, Olivia Wang:
“So you’re organizing a cooperative, but you need to make sure you aren’t replicating capitalist models.”
Ria argued back, “Of course we’re replicating capitalist models. How are we supposed to pay ourselves? Do you have a better plan?”
“I saw that Mao jacket you designed. You’re creating bourgeois fashion.”
“Yeah, and we’re turning Maoism into an exotic commodity.”
“That’s right. And that’s because you don’t have a clear line.” (388)
Olivia invokes the “mass line” of Mao Tse Tung’s call to align leadership with the consciousness of the masses, as represented by the factory workers.30 Ria responds: “Believe me, I struggle with this every day, but it’s not like textbook Lenin” (388). While Olivia’s appearance here feels antagonistic, her presence anchors several of I Hotel’s discussions, including the fifth novella’s fourth chapter, “What Is to Be Done?” The chapter refracts the titular question of Lenin’s 1902 pamphlet through quotations by now-renowned feminists of color, including Angela Davis, Pat Sumi, Shirley Chisholm, Dolores Huerta, and Yuri Kochiyama, to show what a Marx-Lenin-Mao class analysis without race and gender misses a woman of color’s lived vulnerabilities. Yet, Olivia does not answer Ria’s question about fiscal sustainability, which makes her immediate critique of Orientalist commodification appear as diversity education’s superficial grandstanding. This distance between the intellectual and the subaltern takes up the thematizing of the Master Plan from I Hotel’s opening that racializes Asian Americans as unintentional agents of the institution.
Nevertheless, Olivia is not wrong, as Ria develops language learning programs for the garment workers that redistribute her cultural capital but also reflect Asian American professionalization. She writes on the chalkboard, “referendum, recall, initiative, civil rights” as a lesson about “American history” (390), envisioning a political consciousness based in the procedures of formal democracy. For “garment business,” she writes, “market, price, renegotiate, percentage, cheap, stingy” (390) to introduce the women to strategies of union organizing against the oppressive systems that overdetermine their experiences. “Civil rights” and “cheap” and “stingy,” as the lists’ final terms, sit across from each other as arrival points. “Civil rights” thus become contingent upon “cheap” and “stingy,” as the latter mark the former’s negation yet remain in the realm of liberal fairness. Through this ambivalence about capitalism, I do not read Ria Ishii’s classroom as the radical vanguard but as student teaching. That is, she does labor advocacy as a student who teaches; however, akin to a community practicum, her classroom creates students of the institutional logics of diversity.
Though the “textbook Lenin” (and Marx and Mao) may have led Ishii to believe that the factory women would transform oppressive structures and sustain the students’ momentum, the sewing workers respond with ambivalence. Mrs. Lee later confronts Ishii to explain that the Chinese workers have started an independent childcare service to, as the students had wished, take control of their labor. Mrs. Lee adds: “I know what you think, but I am not the revolution” (391), and she encourages Ishii to focus on her college education. This resolution may read as a failure by reflecting liberal desires for model minority mobility, but Mrs. Lee reveals the constitutive refusals that force a reckoning with Ishii’s individualism. Ishii as the professionalized intellectual has no institutional metric to evaluate how the factory women defy management and refuse the professionalization of dissent. Against the location of Asian Americans as a community of color in Takabayashi’s chapter, community in Ishii’s story is a contingent term: it can refer either to the legacy of Black, Latina, and Asian American feminists represented by Olivia or to the sewing women who do not align with a more radical politic but constitute the undercommons and poach from the university through their student teachers. The title of the novella, “1973: Int’l Hotel,” suggests how abbreviations, as a typographical and a symbolic shortcut, might truncate referential value. Especially against the masculinized heroic tragedy of Takabayashi as the ethnic studies professional, Ishii unintentionally enacts the AAPA’s Asian studies by facilitating a self-determination that is contingent on the ladies’ refusal. This refusal terminates Ishii’s diversity classroom, the Enlightenment model of education, and the student activists’ virtuous abbreviations of otherness, thus ending the reproduction of the professional bureaucracy of university logics.
“Before the Age of Thirty”: The Asymmetries of Professionalization in Chemistry
Drawing from anti-institutional narrations like those of I Hotel to reproduce its radical legacy, Asian American studies compels identifications with the terminated faculty, the student activists, and the subaltern laborers in spite of (and perhaps because of) the institutional location of the university classroom. By contrast, Wang’s Chemistry: A Novel, a literary reflection of the Asian American occupational concentration in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), would seem to signal the failed radical imagination of the Asian American present.31Chemistry focalizes an unnamed Chinese American woman narrator, who stalls in her PhD in chemistry, while her white boyfriend Eric, the only named character, proposes to her and applies for tenure-track positions. Wang has described the affectation of Chemistry’s narrator as “scientific” or “objective,” seemingly race-neutral markers against tokenizing expectations of an Asian American voice.32 I argue that the result, in which an Asian American speaks scientistically, vocalizes institutional racialization. Long T. Bui (2016) highlights how Asians and Asian Americans have pursued a “better life” as model STEM students, who then serve as demographic diversity, revenue stream, and research and development personnel for the military-industrial complex. Yet, the novel thematizes the human fallout of the contemporary academy (familiar to any doctoral student), in anecdotes about the murder of an advisor by a long-suffering student; a PhD student’s death by suicide due to the advisor’s labor exploitation; and a graduate student caught fabricating data—all based around a thesis: “It is common knowledge now that graduate students make close to nothing and that there are more PhD scientists in this country than there are jobs for them” (Wang 2017: 9). Refusing to name its cast beyond Eric, Chemistry does not turn to exceptional individualism to humanize these plights. The novel instead shows how the institutional ambivalence of the Asian American STEM student highlights the formal asymmetries that confound the liberal insistence on the immunity of science to racial inequality, political influence, or social bias, and the neoliberal knowledge economy’s racialization of Asian as the embodiment of professionalization.
Chemistry thus speaks through institutional and literary form against the overt intelligibility of Asian American as diversity data. The narrator’s early descriptions of labwork are laced with desires for self-harm that she conveys matter-of-factly, which culminate with her shouting and smashing beakers in a passage written without interiority; she is then placed on medical leave. The narrator later recounts how both her mother and father, who is also a scientist, have broken things with a similar rage and control. Critics read this traumatic echo as what makes the novel Asian American—a familiar portrayal of intergenerational trauma and model minority filiality.33 However, this ethnographic, liberal reading practice for essentialized culturalisms misses the novel’s self-awareness about diversity education. At the onset of the novel, in the immediate aftermath of stalling Eric’s proposal, the narrator states: “But our friends can still dream. An Asian baby with red hair. One friend says, You should write a Science paper on that and then apply for academic jobs and then get tenure” (8). The currency of “ethnic ambiguity” and human capital convert the baby, the novel’s first declaration of race, into data. With biodiversity objectified through institutional metrics, the multiracial baby secures its mother employment through the convergence of neoliberal identity politics and neoliberal academia. Yet, a readerly horror at a baby being worth tenure assumes that the narrator’s good life is mothering a child she has not stated wanting. By refusing liberal individualism as the escape from neoliberal quantitative forms, Chemistry expresses ambivalence about how difference becomes legible in both professionalization and professional diversity.
This first mention of race shows the narrator to be an Asian American student teacher to undercut her generalizable truisms that reflect professionalized knowledge production. Told through meandering yet interconnected, elliptical thoughts, part 1 of the novel traces the twilight of the narrator’s graduate career and her relationship after she defers Eric’s proposal, while part 2 narrates her reassembly in the aftermath. Many of the narrator’s anecdotes and recollections double back across the two parts, especially her didactic tidbits about chemistry, which at first read as misdirecting performances of facticity but later metaphorize emotion. In doing so, Chemistry aestheticizes the polysemy of its titular subject, as the study of matter at incomprehensible scales and the ineffability of attachment. However, a key exception to Chemistry’s formal symmetry occurs when, frustrated with a television cooking competition’s clichéd framing of an Asian American chef as breaking away from her parents, the narrator ends the subsequent anecdote with a quip: “What Tolstoy said about unhappy families” (155). In a novel otherwise dedicated to fact dropping, the reference to Anna Karenina (1878) by Leo Tolstoy, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” goes unexplained. The Anna Karenina principle in statistics describes when an outcome can fail due to multiple factors and can only be successful when all conditions are met. The Anna Karenina principle frustrates cause-and-effect explanations for success and failure, and here the family fails due to dysfunctions that are not simply Asian American. The narrator’s oblique gesture to the principle disrupts the novel’s generally even organization of didactic knowledge, and it thus reveals the uneven certitude of what the narrator deploys as reputedly Chinese knowledge: proverbs and customs, as much as racial cliché. While diversity education would take her as an Asian American authority despite existing outside the historicity of I Hotel, the narrator’s student status destabilizes the sympathetic identification that is contingent on her failing an overgeneralized Asian filiality—the data that marks Asian Americans as such in professionalized diversity.
At the same time, while diversity thinks of professionalization as an Asian value becoming of liberal meritocracy, Chemistry narrates how the racialization of Asians as professional students facilitates the extraction of academic labor to maximum value within neoliberal institutionality. As the narrator readjusts after quitting her graduate program, she explains:
One newspaper article claims that elite American schools are good at producing only excellent sheep, the kind that can jump through hoop after hoop and not ask why.
The same goes for Asians, another article says. Give them a task and they will achieve it with high success. They will do everything you say, but ask them to think on their own and they cannot. They will also never ask why. (146)
The juxtaposition of the cultural capital of elite institutions and the model minority striving for excellence is neither contradiction nor stereotype but a coconstruction, as Asian racialization signifies as a representation of capital.34 The narrator’s father embodies the ur-story of racial value: the model minority’s STEM labor or, as the narrator calls it, the “classic immigrant story” (22). This symmetry between the Asian immigrant and professionalization, wrapped in a sentimental diversity narrative, reflects how universities, in Roderick A. Ferguson’s (2012: 86) words, “ingratiate minorities by making ability not only a standard of incorporation but a mode of surveillance, exclusion, and measurement.” Her father “finishes his doctorate in record time, three years, and then he gets a well-paying job” (Wang 2017: 33), funded by his wealthier Shanghainese wife while also requiring her to leave friends, family, and home. The narrator adds: “His advisor tells him: You work the same amount as twelve full-time graduate students. If only I had twelve more like you” (33). The line hyperbolizes meritocracy through an arithmetic exchange: twelve units of labor for the price of one. The logic of equivalence and extraction that makes his knowledge labor exemplary disavows the mother’s financial support, or the structural advantage that conditions its possibility. Such Asian American professionalization facilitates a neoliberal depersonalization as capital that, counterintuitively, individualizes human lives.
However, as refracted through anecdotes about Nobel Prizes, this depersonalization is not remedied by the exceptional individualism of liberal narratives of discovery. She explains: “The man who founds the Nobel Prizes is also the same man who invents dynamite, is called the Merchant of Death. Seeking to leave a different legacy, he gives his fortune to start the prizes, including the peace prize. This strategy works, it seems” (139). Maintaining Alfred Nobel’s legacy that joins excellence and mass death, Fritz Haber and Victor Grignard—the inventors of chlorine gas and phosgene, respectively, both of which were weaponized in World War I—won Nobel Prizes. Mentions of radium and Marie Curie recur, and they culminate in the novel’s penultimate episode with a discussion of Clara Haber and Marie Curie. The narrator recounts how both husbands proposed to these scientists multiple times before acceptance; Fritz asks Clara Haber to be a housewife and, “after finding out about the chlorine gas, Clara shoots herself in the family garden” (210), while Pierre demands that Marie Curie receive Nobel recognition because “she is the one who sifted through ten tons of mineral-rich ore to find that tenth of a gram” (210). The narrator opines, “It might be that all marriages lie between these two extremes” (211). Feminized labor disappears to canonize masculine excellence, which mirrors not only the narrator’s mother and father but also the narrator’s limited options at the onset of the novel. Chemistry highlights those who are disavowed between those two extremes yet scripts them through marriage, the contract of the liberal state. In so doing, the narrator implies the unintelligibility of love outside of institutional metrics, even as the inequalities embedded in these measurements become misapprehended as personal dilemma.
Chemistry thus elucidates how love has been instrumentalized as a motor for discovery and exceptional hero narratives. Eric’s suggestion that maybe chemistry is not for the narrator triggers a factoid: “Everyone is a genius, said Einstein. But he also said, A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of thirty will never do so” (84). A doctorate invites presumptions of a talent that is innate—and even hereditary, as signaled by the opening’s imagined baby—and that signifies as cultural capital, which, as the father’s story shows, requires financial capital. The gap between the ontological and the social illustrates the contingency of this pursuit, especially for those who have run out of academic “shelf life.” The narrator’s redirect to “genius” from Eric’s comment about career success reflects not only liberal ideas of value and merit but also neoliberal discourses about “doing what you love” as a substitute for payment.35 The narrator shares her successful lab mate’s mantra: “You must love chemistry even when it is not working. You must love chemistry unconditionally” (9). But, as Maximillian Alvarez (2017) argues regarding the love of the profession, “Loving something means you are willing to suffer for it, yes, but when your suffering becomes a requirement, that’s just abuse.” Refusing love as the basis for professionalization, ambivalent contingency makes evident other possibilities beyond success and failure, toward a self-determination of making institutional life livable.
In the end, the narrator becomes the Asian American student teacher, the deprofessionalized instructor whose flailing counterintuitively realizes the AAPA’s Asian studies through her refusals. After leaving her doctoral program, she takes a gig as a tutor. She surmises at the denouement of this arc: “I know I cannot do it long-term. But I like it and am not bad at it” (Wang 2017: 199). Her ending is one not of unconditional love but of sufficient enjoyment that sustains her (she measures her wages in pizzas, and her promotion nets her twenty-one pizzas per hour). Her desire to teach comes as a surprise, as her GRE prep sessions often do not review the test but speak to her students’ meandering interests. She deprofessionalizes knowing, as opposed to I Hotel’s Ria Ishii, who teaches to professionalize dissent. Given that expensive tutoring programs make standardized testing a motor of university racism, she poaches from affluent parents who perpetuate institutional misery. It is difficult to make her tutoring a hero narrative, but she flails through her contingency to survive. Against the “good life” of STEM academia and the heteronormative narrative of the novel, her happiness reflects ambivalent terms in difference from the institutional metrics of her doctorate. I do not want to erase the therapist she starts seeing while on medical leave, who often gets the narrator wrong but supports without the fanfare of allyship. Guided by the narrator’s frustration with the Asian American chef narrative, I read against the liberal individualism in the intergenerational conflict story that disavows the raced family to be free in whiteness. Her ending is contingent, and yet it enables her to see something like a future by refusing the constraints of the “unconditional” terms demanded by chemistry and professionalization.
Beyond Asian American Tokenization
Throughout this article, I have argued that the flailing Asian American intellectual can reaffirm success through a liberal morality that bemoans contingency, or they can reveal ambivalent agency based in that contingency that refuses to totalize that institution’s power or reproduce its misery toward a more sustainable relationality. I Hotel’s Takabayashi losing his professorial job for his politics is not unlike the story of Ria Ishii, who secretly sews late into the night on behalf of her workers. However, Ishii shows the political necessity of deprofessionalizing resistance by failing to incite the revolution. In doing so, she works outside the liberal framework of progress, as suggested by the form of the textbook, that inheres even in radicalism. Much in this way, Chemistry’s narrator restores the disavowed symmetries of canonical narratives to illustrate the social destruction of discovery. Deprofessionalization in Chemistry makes space for the woman who is not invested in self-care or growth but did something because she liked it and was not bad at it. That is the Asian Americanist tale, one occluded by grander stories of legibly successful dissent because it is not shepherded by a masculinized hero. My argument has neither been for a more radical Asian American studies nor to be better at diversity but, as Ferguson (2012: 108) writes, to “be more in the academy than of it.” By the time I quietly exited my “diversity hire,” I had not organized to the administration’s satisfaction the Asian studies minor that neither faculty nor students requested, and I had moved to phase out the catchall diversity service course that served no one.
Asian American studies in and out of the academy is indebted to Black visionaries, but my theorizing of ambivalent contingency is to show how our critical exchanges can be dialogical. Institutional possibilities after 2020’s self-reflection bring to mind the necessary move of the University of Chicago English department to create a graduate cohort of Black studies scholars. Going beyond the platitudes of most solidarity statements, the department committed to addressing the antagonistic relationship between the elite institution and the Chicago South Side through an affirmative measure to nurture Black studies as an epistemology that can transform the university and the conservative politics of the liberal humanistic canon. Some critics were quick to call this fascist, as though a Eurocentric project suddenly could not find a home anywhere else, in ways that made me doubt they had scrutinized the actual fascism in our midst. However, graduate education at the University of Chicago is not the undercommons. Instead, this arrangement is inviting these graduate students into the contingent space of professionalized Asian Americans. That is, the shift in inclusion may be best understood not only as a continuation of debates about Black intellection, respectability, and fugitivity but also through the ambivalent contingency slotted to the model minority.
Asian American studies can offer strategies for surviving contingency, such as the East of California section (EOC, originally caucus) of the Association for Asian American Studies. As a historical metonym, EOC indexes the field’s intellectual movement to institutions out of California. As a paradigm, EOC speaks to the trace memory of 1968 as Asian American studies programs become administered as a symbol of US and global diversity without politics, material support, or fluency in ethnic studies theories and methodologies. By acting across institutions, EOC refuses diversity’s individualizing tokenization toward intellectual vitality.36 My social media conversations with the Feeling Underappreciated at Colleges That Are Kind of Intellectually Tiresome consortium, which grew out of EOC interactions, locate contingent moments of joy through this ambivalence—something more than the theatrics of quitting. As I have argued, ambivalence is the mode of inhabiting the contradictory politics of knowledge without reproducing the methods of neoliberal institutions or liberal solutions. But, in envisioning transdisciplinary and interinstitutional affiliations toward liberatory futures, such contingent solutions are also ones that frustratingly cannot be known in advance. Because when our institutions make clear their hostility as administrations and colleagues alike demand our gratitude: #FUCKIT.
Thanks to Janelle Wong, Christina B. Hanhardt, Daryl J. Maeda, and Nitasha Tamar Sharma for their guidance over these years. Adam Visentin, Austin Crann, and Kyle James helped me bear the personal narrative. Gratitude to Hi’ilei Hobart, Emily Nell Haynes, Abram J. Lewis, and Elizabeth Bowlsey Schwall; Shalini Shankar, Ji-Yeon Yuh, and Joshua Chambers-Letson; Wendy A. Lee, Summer Kim Lee, Vivian L. Huang, Renee Hudson, and Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann. This article would not be possible without Chris A. Eng, Michelle N. Huang, and Cheryl Narumi Naruse. I also thank the University of Maryland students whose 2011 interviews germinated this article and the Northwestern students from “We Demand: Race and Student Protest” in spring 2018.
See “Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession,” available online at https://www.aaup.org/report/contingent-appointments-and-academic-profession, and “Trends in the Academic Labor Force, 1975–2015,” https://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/Academic_Labor_Force_Trends_1975-2015_0.pdf.
Lauren Berlant (2011: 24) defines cruel optimism as “a relation of attachment to compromised conditions of possibility whose realization is discovered to be impossible, sheer fantasy, or too possible, and toxic.”
See Cottom n.d. Newfield 2008 and 2016 importantly historicize the structural transformations of public higher education.
For instance, see diatribes by Walter Benn Michaels.
After two evocative examples, which he conveys in the habitual past tense, of Hunter having her qualifications questioned, Harris writes: “The slights built up until they became too much to handle.” The specifics in all three sentences disappear.
Melamed (2016) defines institutionality as “resolutions of material social process congealed into a relatively durable form.” This article is indebted to critical ethnic studies interventions in critical university studies. Important works beyond the texts explicitly referenced in this article are Chatterjee and Maira 2014; Ferguson 2015 and 2017; Hong 2015; Marez 2014; Rodriguez 2012; Wilder 2013.
For one of those resonating quit lit texts, see Neutill 2015. I wrote this article before the release of the Netflix academic dramedy The Chair (2021). In the many takes on its representation of women faculty of color, the culture wars, and the elite university, few thought about Korean American protagonist Ji-Yoon Kim beyond reading her as metonym for Asian American womanhood or individualizing her character. Ambivalent contingency offers a rubric for not only Ji-Yoon but also the other Asian Americans of Pembroke University between institution and agency.
Hi’ilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart’s workshop comment on the palpable ambivalence that characterized the third iteration of this essay led to this concept.
Ambivalent contingency belongs to what Kandice Chuh (2019: 5) calls the illiberal humanities, in which aesthetic practices do not serve liberal humanism’s bourgeois individualism and the colonial logic of modernity but apprehend the self as mutually dependent on its social ecologies.
Ahmed’s On Being Included (2012) animates this article, but it finds impetus in her work on emotion in Ahmed 2006, 2010, and 2017.
Valerie Rohy (2015: 166, 182) also provides important considerations for a queer contingency.
On ambivalence, see also Eng and Han 2018, which builds on Freudian and Kleinian theories like Melanie Klein’s “A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States” (1975). For more on institutional ambivalence, see Nguyen 2015.
See Tokumitsu 2014. Macharia 2015 provides an important intervention in the equation of love as ideology.
For more on Asian Americans in racialized meritocracy, see Wang 2006, and for more on visuality and institutional diversity politics, see Musser 2015.
Anita Mannur’s (2017) chapter from the same volume also provided important inspiration for this article.
Yu’s (2011a) December 20, 2011, blog post of this titular question grew to Yu’s (2011b) December 29, 2011, follow-up post, a 2012 forum for the Journal of Asian American Studies, and “Has Asian American Studies Failed?,” a key piece for Cathy Schlund-Vials’s 2017 collection, Flashpoints in Asian American Studies. For more on failure, see Halberstam 2011; Ty 2017.
See Nash 2019 for more on the conversion of Black feminist thought to symbolic capital. See also Melamed 2011, Phruksachart 2020, and Tompkins 2021 on reading literature as political action.
On the Asian American movement, see Maeda 2009; Umemoto 1989. Chan 2000 and Osajima 2007 address the role of the university and Asian American panethnic politics after the 1970s.
The novels of Susan Choi, particularly The Foreign Student (1998), A Person of Interest (2008), and Trust Exercise (2019), may immediately come to mind as Asian American campus novels, as well as Don Lee’s The Collective (2013), Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You (2014), Julia Cho’s play Office Hour (2016), Anelise Chen’s So Many Olympic Exertions (2017), and Amitava Kumar’s Immigrant, Montana (2018). However, my contention is that the college as a setting or destination in Asian American literature since at least the University of California, Berkeley in Mine Okubo’s Citizen 13660 (1946) and Mills College in Jade Snow Wong’s Fifth Chinese Daughter (1950) has naturalized its place in Asian American racial form, even in these texts that predate official model minority myth discourse. Thus, there is perhaps less a genre-defining moment than a discernable shift in how Asian Americans’ relation to the university becomes legible as a US campus novel. For example, though readers are quick to note how the post-1965 class privilege of the South Asian Americans in Jhumpa Lahiri’s first collection Interpreter of Maladies (1999) manifests through Boston and Cambridge universities, little is made of how the coprotagonist of the opening story “A Temporary Matter” flails while writing his dissertation on colonial Indian history; however, after the preoccupation throughout her second collection Unaccustomed Earth (2008) with aesthetic value and canonicity, her second novel, The Lowland (2013), is undeniably a campus story.
As Hentyle Yapp (2018: 131) argues, “Flailing describes how those in precarity cannot necessarily afford being oppositional or even to fail.”
I use professionalization and its antonym, deprofessionalization, to align with Harney and Moten’s usage in The Undercommons (2013), distinct from a generalized career training or Christopher T. Fan’s (2020) usage to mean workplace entry.
As Yamashita (2010: 610) explains, each novella’s epigraph is a “hotel,” a six-sided diagram that notes the year and a key event, the setting, three central characters, and the novella’s unifying idea, to capture “the complex architecture of a time, a movement, a hotel, and its people.” For more analysis of this form, see Wong 2017.
See Taylor 2010 for more on this historical moment.
Christine Hong made this connection in her remarks at the 2021 virtual Association for Asian American Studies conference. See also Fujino 2015.
The first chapter of the novella narrates Asian American activists’ attendance at the American Indian movement’s occupation of Alcatraz to, as Catherine Fung (2014: 167) argues, stake out “a collective ethos that empowers people to actively change the terms of their existence.” Ria’s chapter makes efforts to enact this contingent coalition.
This cooperative is much like the one proposed by the Asian studies students at the University of California, Berkeley. See “The Cooperative: A Viable Alternative for Garment Factory Workers,” AAPA Newsletter 2, no. 1 (1969): 4.
See, for example, “The Mass Line,” available online at https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/works/red-book/ch11.htm.
See Christopher T. Fan (2020) for more on the literary expression of the Asian American occupational concentration in STEM fields.
See Hu 2017. Xiang 2018 offers an important way of thinking about the racialization of Asian American narrative voice.
Hu 2017 represents a key example of this reading practice. For that witnessing of daughterly pain, see Ninh 2012.
See Tokumitsu 2014.
This point is indebted to Tina Chen, whose infrastructure for EOC inspired this thought.