Copyright © 2000 by Stephen Knadler, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.
In name, General Benedict Arnold was an American, but at heart he was a traitor. In name, I am an American, but at heart I am a true American. I set forth the following facts which will sufficiently prove this. (1) I did not report my name, my marriage, of the names of my children to the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu. . . . (qtd in Ichioka 407)In setting up an opposition between name and heart, between surface sign and affective loyalties, Ozawa attempts to separate national identity from the question of "race." The final proof of national identity should be "trans-corporeal" -- more a matter of the heart and soul than of an often ambiguous racial body or heritage. The narratological complement to Ozawa's earlier dramatic argument for the slippery nature of morphological or race-based boundaries for national inclusion (from skin to ethnic genealogy) is the reconstruction of citizenship around the "heart." In calling Ozawa's defense "transpositional,"  I mean to suggest that he denies any essentialist or race-based definition of nationality. Instead to be an "American" is to occupy an historically specific "position" or subjectivity not limited by the potential citizen's ethnic background but instead experienced as a set of emotional relations toward cultural objects and practices -- from language, education, to institutional loyalties.
Such a re-inscription of "race" even as such a group identity is seemingly challenged can be found in David Leiwei Li's otherwise subtle reading of David Mura's Turning Japanese. In Mura, Li finds the representative of a contemporary Asian American perspective that has "change[d] from a single-minded American, though a racialized alterity, eager for national incorporation, to a multi-centered cosmopolitan U.S. citizen cognizant of his rights and commitments" (149). Although Li speaks of Mura's identification as "multi-centered" and "cosmopolitan," he understands these terms within a familiar binary logic of East/West, Japanese and American. There is an unexamined assumption of a unity of "white" "mainstream" American culture within Li's reading, and he wants only to foreground the "unresolved dialogues" between the East and the Wet, ethnicity and nationhood, rootedness and at-homeness." Yet there is something mystifying in calling this "exile" a "dialogue" as if there were only two worlds that divided the diasporic subject? For most Asian Americans, especially early immigrants who were classified as black, and forced to live adjacent to other marginalized racial and ethnic communities, the cross-cultural encounter would have been more a multi-lingual conversation. To call this "exilic migrancy" a dialogue is to suppress (much as white America did itself) the other cultures that comprised the "American" landscape. In his own peregrinations Younghill Kang's Chungpa Han refuses such a bi-racial mapping of America, and he attempts to expose the exclusionary practices behind America's performance of "naturalized" whiteness. Back
In using the term "transpositional," I am indebted to Cheryl Walker's study of 19th-century native American autobiographies, Indian Nation: Native American Literature and Nineteenth-Century Nationalisms, see especially page 46. Back
In my reading of the Ozawa case, I am drawing upon Walter Benn Michael's investigation into the shifting meaning of "race" during the modernist era from supremacy to difference, from biological character to a "spirit" legitimating a distinctive cultural consciousness. See Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism, particularly 122, 140-41. Back
Although I do not have space in this short article to discuss other prerequisite cases, I want to note that the same logic of naturalization circulated within other Supreme court rulings. In 1927, five years after the Ozawa case, Gong Lum, a Chinese American from Mississippi, sued to be admitted to the white public schools. In its decision against Lum, the Supreme Court cited the landmark Plessy vs Ferguson case to uphold the constitutionality of the legal segregation of Chinese in the Jim Crow South. By determining the separate but equal clause applied to Asian Americans as well as "blacks," the Court placed all "non-whites" in the same social and economic class (See Loewen). Throughout the nineteenth century, as Alexander Saxton has argued, it was common for Asian immigrants to be assigned an economic position similar to freed blacks and marked as "near Negro" (8). Although Lum was suing for equal assess and not naturalization, the courts as in the Ozawa case, declared Asians and blacks kindred peoples in relation to a history of oppression and exploitation. As a consequence of legal decisions such as that in the Lum case, the courts further disseminated the logic of naturalization: that in struggling against oppression, it was in the Asian American's best interest to struggle to be nearer white than black, and that "black" culture ought to be as alien to Asian immigrants as it was to "hard-working" middle-class white Americans. Back
Lively's promotion of Chungpa as the "genuine article" resonates, I would argue, with Kang's own career. As a writer who made his name like Lafacadio Hearn as a retailer/reteller of Asian images in his first autobiography, The Grass Roof, he knew that his middle-class white readers saw him as a safe, feminized object of their patriarchal gaze. Like the audience at Rev. Bonheure's revival they saw him not as an individual, but as the "genuine" native insider who could speak about the mysteries and manners of the Orient. Kang, moreover, was able to make his literary debut as a reviewer for the New York Times and The New Republic only by serving as a spokesperson for the "authenticity" of books on China. In an incendiary review of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth for The New Republic (July 1, 1931), however, Kang incited the furor of a number of letter writers because he questioned her "genuine" understanding of Chinese civilization. Kang's specific message in his critique of Pearl S. Buck I think has specific relevance for our consideration here. While, on one hand, he faults Buck for not fully understanding the more than ornamental details of Chinese culture, he inveighs as well against the universalizing of a "white" American/Western experience (here romantic love) and applying it to the inner life of people from another culture. This assumption of the normativity of their own experience, as Kang implies, is a common trait of "white" Westerners, and both in his review and his later fictional autobiography, he would resort to the strategic practice of challenging whiteness' naturalized normativity. Back
In many ways, Kang's East Goes West seems to appeal to a "romance of likeness" between Asians and Americans to argue for the "Yankee Oriental's" naturalization because he is nearer white. Like other Asian writers such as Dr. No Yong Park in an Oriental View of American Civilization, who noted cultural similarities to promote harmony between East and West (Lee 65), Kang emphasizes the parallels between traditional Korean society and New England's (the originary America's) Puritan legacy. Although such a rhetorical strategy would allow Kang to repudiate the stereotypes of Asians as almond-eyed brutes, insidious Fu Manchus, or unemotional Spartans, to insist on this common civilized "whiteness" would replicate the Negrophobia that isolates Asians from other minority groups. But throughout East Goes West, Kang tends to invoke, so as only to satirize and re-signify, the meaning of this logic of naturalization that legitimates white supremacism. Thus, when Chungpa Han goes to work for the New England farmer, Mr. Higgens, he ponders the commonality between the lives of the simple rustic New England farmer and the hard-working rural Koreans. On one hand, he denies Anglo-Americans their identitarian difference: "Life here for me was simple, sound, wholesome, and primitive. The typical Oriental is all of these -- the view the West has yet to form of him, it seems, since as a stock character he is either cruel and brutish heathen with horrid outlandish customs, or a subtle and crafty gentleman of inscrutable sophistication" (209). On the other hand, in countering pernicious representations of Koreans, Kang doesn't just offer more positive images: he implies an originary spiritual affinity that would reconfigure the Korean as not alien, but kinsman. While, as Walter Benn Michaels has argued, many of the great modernist texts were committed to the "nativist project of racializing the American" (13), Kang likens the Korean and New Englander to imply that the admittance of Asians would provide an atavistic renewal of the nation's pre-modern soul. Back
As The New York Times wrote in its opening paragraph: "While the American woman is considered emancipated and on an equal basis with men, economically this equality does not hold true, Dr. Younghill Kang, Professor of Oriental Culture at New York University declared yesterday" (1). Back