ASA 201




Introduction to Asian American Studies


Princeton University. Fall 2021.



Professor Paul Nadal (he/they)

Office: B-29 McCosh Hall

Hours: Wednesdays 2:00–4:00pm or by appt.


Course Description


This course surveys critical themes in the interdisciplinary field of Asian American studies, including perspectives from history, literature, sociology, and gender and sexuality studies. It develops an account of Asian racialization beyond the black-white binary in the context of US war and empire in Asia and the Pacific Islands, settler colonialism, globalization, migration, and popular culture. Who or what is an "Asian American"? How have conceptions of Asian America changed over time? How do cultural forms such as literature and film add to an understanding of Asian American identity as a historically dynamic process and social relation?


Books to Purchase


·      Joanne Ramos, The Farm: A Novel (2019)

·      Dean Saranillo, Unsustainable Empire: Alternative Histories of Hawai‘i Statehood 

Course Format


Meetings will consist of seminar discussion based on intensive analyses of texts, as well as collaborative learning exercises such as group work and presentations. My role in the classroom is to structure, guide, and deepen a discussion driven by students. This model requires students to read carefully and to prepare notes in advance of the seminar meeting.




Reading assignments run from 100 to 200 pages a week, more when we are reading fiction. Expect about eight hours minimum of reading per week. As you read, I advise that you take notes so that you keep some kind of written record of all the course materials we will be covering this semester. If you find that you are struggling with the readings, please come see me. In seminar, we will examine the major arguments of a work and do textual analysis. Due to time constraints, however, we may not be able to discuss every reading in class. You must nevertheless complete all assigned texts, as they provide important background and points of departure for discussion.



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Semester Schedule

Readings are subject to change depending on progress of class.



Wk 1. Introductions



Wk 2. Asian Exclusion: Aliens Ineligible to Citizenship


§  Gary Y. Okihiro, “Is Yellow Black or White?" from Margins and Mainstreams: Asians in American History and Culture

§  Bill Ong Hing, “Two Contrasting Schemes: Understanding Immigration Policies Affecting Asians Before and After 1965” from Making and Remaking Asian America Through Immigration Policy

§  Yuji Ichioka, “The Early Japanese Immigrant Quest for Citizenship: The Background of the 1922 Ozawa Case,”Amerasia 4.2 (1977): 1-22

§  Mae Ngai, “The Immigration Act of 1924,” from Major Problems in Asian American History

§  Lisa Lowe, “Immigration, Citizenship, Racialization: Asian American Critique,” from Immigrant Acts

§  Sources: Page Law 1875; Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; California Alien Land Law 1913; “A Different Asian American Timeline” <>

Further Reading: Moon-Ho Jung, Coolies and Cane; Beth Lew-Williams, The Chinese Must Go; Colleen Lye, America’s Asia; David Palumbo-Liu, Asian/American; Lisa Lowe, The Intimacy of Four Continents; Carlos Bulosan, America Is in the Heart; John Okada, No-No Boy; Lon Kurashige and Alice Yang, eds., Major Problems in Asian American History: Documents and Essays; Mae Ngai, “The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law”; Yuji Ichioka, ““Japanese Immigrant Response to the 1920 California Alien Land Law”; Elaine H. Kim, “A Critique of Strangers from a Different Shore




Wk 3. Asian Racialization: Sites, Surfaces, Skin


“East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

        — Rudyard Kipling, “The Ballad of East and West" (1889)


What happens to the Asian body as it enters the field of vision? What notions of Asianness underlie this grid of intelligibility, wherein race and power intersect? Given the historicity of ways of seeing, how do we account for the variability of Asian and Asian American racial formation? How do ideas about racial difference circulate across racial and ethnic groups, historical periods, and geographic distances? Finally, how have Asian Americans themselves navigated, eluded, appropriated, or altogether subverted these practices of racial capture and codes of racial embodiment?

§  Edward Said, Introduction to Orientalism (pp. 1-28)

§  Anna Pegler-Gordon, “Photographic Paper Sons: Resisting Immigration Identity Documentation, 1893-1943”

§  Paul A. Kramer, “Mixed Messages at the St. Louis World's Fair”

§  Gary Y. Okihiro, “America’s Concentration Camps”

§  Junaid Rana, “Tracing the Muslim Body: Race, US Deportation, and Pakistani Return Migration”

§  Film: Slaying the Dragon (58 minutes) online

§  Source: Takao Ozawa v. US (1922); Bhagat Singh Thind v. US (1923)

§  Source: Life Magazine, “How to Tell Japs from the Chinese” (1941)


Further Reading: Anna Pegler-Gordon, In Sight of America: Photography and the Development of U.S. Immigration Policy; Leslie Bow, Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South; Peggy Pascoe, “Configuring Race in the American West” from What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America; Robert G. Lee, Orientals; Henry Yu, Thinking Orientals; Christina Klein, Cold War Orientalism; Anne Anlin Cheng, The Melancholy of Race; Daniel Y. Kim, Writing Manhood in Black and Yellow; Susan Koshy, Sexual Naturalization; Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation; Yoon Sun Lee, Modern Minority; Ju Yon Kim, The Racial Mundane; Joseph Jonghyun Jeon, Racial Things, Racial Forms



Wk 4. The Asian American Movement: Then and Now


“Until the political ferment of the Long Sixties, there were no Asian Americans.”

        — Karen Ishizuka


Where did the term “Asian American” come from? What inspired the political saliency of panethnicity? How do we situate the rise of the Asian American political subject in relation to global histories of Maoism, Third World decolonization, and anti-war movements? What does 1968 teach us about the past, present, and futures of Asian American identity as an unfinished political project?


§  Glenn Omatsu, “The ‘Four Prisons’ and the Movements of Liberation: Asian American Activism from the 1960s to the 1990s”

§  Mark Chiang, “Contradictions in the Emergence of Ethnic Studies,” from The Cultural Capital of Asian American Studies

§  Julie J. Park and Amy Liu, “Interest Convergence or Divergence?: A Critical Race Analysis of Asian Americans, Meritocracy, and Critical Mass in the Affirmative Action Debate”

§  Sources: “Third World Liberation Front: Notice of Demands” (1968) Gidra, Vol. 3, no. 1; Amy Uyematsu, “The Emergence of Yellow Power in America” (1989); “Yellow Power,” Giant Robot (Spring 1998); “Princeton Asian American Studies Task Force 1993 Report”; “Princeton and Asian American Studies: A Report by the Princeton Asian American Students Association (AASA)” (2013); A timeline of Princeton Asian American Alumni Association < >


Further Reading: Claire Jean Kim, “The Racial Triangulation of Asian Americans”; William Wei, The Asian American Movement; Karen L. Ishizuka, Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties; Dorothy Rony Fujita, “Coalitions, Race, and Labor: Rereading Philip Vera Cruz”; Yen Le Espiritu, “Coming Together: The Asian American Movement”; Susie Ling, “The Mountain Movers: Asian American Women’s Movement in Los Angeles”; Rene Ciria-Cruz et al., eds., A Time to Rise: Collective Memoirs of the Union of Democratic Filipinos; Estella Habal, San Francisco's International Hotel: Mobilizing the Filipino American Community in the Anti-Eviction Movement; Karen Tei Yamashita, I-Hotel: A Novel; The Fall of the I-Hotel (1983, dir. Curtis Choy); Gary Okihiro, Introduction and Chapter 1 of Third World Studies



Wk 5 Telling Our Stories: Asian American Documentary


Why do representations of Asian American history often turn to the documentary mode? What are the promises and perils of this cinematic form? How have artists redirected the narrative conventions of documentary cinema toward consciousness raising—i.e., toward the making of an Asian American political consciousness? Can documentary ever be harmful or counterproductive – under what conditions? Who sees? Who speaks? Who is watching? Who is being watched? How and why? What other forms of media might Asian American artists explore to represent the complexity of Asian American realities?


§  Text: Trinh T. Minh-ha, “Mechanical Eye, Electronic Ear, and the Lure of Authenticity”

§  Text: Viet Thanh Nguyen, “Prologue” and “Just Memory,” from Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War

§  Text: Helen Zia, “Detroit Blues,” from Asian American Dreams

§  Curtis Choy, The Fall of the I-Hotel (1983) (57 minutes)

§  Christine Choy, Who Killed Vincent Chin? (1987) (87 minutes)

§  Trinh T. Minh-ha, Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989) (108 minutes)

§  Optional: Jayasri Majumdar Hart, Roots in the Sand (1998) (55 minutes)

§  Optional: Marlon Fuentes, Bontoc Eulogy (1995) (56 minutes)

* All available on CANVAS > Reserves



Wk 6 Midterm Exam



Wk 7 Dean Saranillo, Unsustainable Empire: Alternative Histories of Hawai‘i Statehood


How do we write an Asian American history informed by a critical understanding of settler colonialism, US militarism, native displacement, indigenous dispossession, and empire? What is the place of Hawai’i in the study of the Asian American experience?



Wk 8. Beyond the Nation-State: Oceanic Ethnic Studies and the Limits of “Asian America”


How do “oceanic” and “archipelagic” approaches change our conceptions of who, where, when, and what is “Asian America(n)”? What counter- histories and theories of Asian/Asian American racial formation do these non–nation-based frameworks suggest? Is “Asian American” (as a panethnic category of political identification) still a tenable or even a desirable organizing logic? How might Asian American Studies itself be reinvigorated towards a critique of indigenous disposession and racial capitalism?


§  Epeli Hau’ofa, “Our Sea of Islands”

§  Craig Santos Perez, from unincorporated territory [hacha]: poems

§  Stewart Firth and Karin von Strokirch, “A Nuclear Pacific”

§  Brian Russell Roberts, “Archipelagic Thinking and the Borderwaters

§  How the Internet Travels through Oceans,” New York Times (10 March 2019)

§  Lisa Kahaleole Hall, “Which of These Things Is Not Like the Other: Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders Are Not Asian Americans, and All Pacific Islanders Are Not Hawaiian”

§  Rick Baldoz and César Ayala, “The Bordering of America: Colonialism and Citizenship in the Philippines and Puerto Rico”

§  Source: Hawaiian Sovereignty Leader Haunani-Kay Trask Criticizes Asian ‘Settler’ Privilege and Collaboration with Colonialism (2000)


Further Reading: Iyko Day, Alien Capital; Candace Fujikane and Jonathan Okamura, Introduction to American Settler Colonialism; Amy K. Stillman, “Pacific-ing Asian Pacific American History”; Haunani-Kay Trask, Notes from a Native Daughter; Brian Russell Roberts and Michelle Ann Stephens, eds., Archipelagic American Studies; Stewart Firth and Karin von Strokirch, “A Nuclear Pacific”; Vicente M. Diaz, “To ‘P’ or Not to ‘P’?”: Marking the Territory Between Pacific Islander and Asian American Studies”; JoAnna Poblete-Cross, “Bridging Indigenous and Immigrant Struggles”; Kandice Chuh, Imagine Otherwise; Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Blu’s Hanging: A Novel



Wk 9 After 1965: Gender , Work, and Globalization


What happened — regionally, nationally, and globally — in 1965? What new configurations of gender, race, and labor emerged in the post-1965 expansion of Asian America? How do we understand the connection between 1965 and 1968? Given the literal and symbolic non-synchronicity of these two moments of Asian American sociopolitical making, how do we make sense of their legacies as they shape present-day Asian American realities?


§  Edna Bonacich, and Lucie Cheng, “The Political Economy of Capitalist Restructuring and the New Asian Immigration”

§  Catherine Ceniza Choy, “Your Cap Is a Passport’: Filipino Nurses and the U.S. Exchange Visitor Program”

§  Amy Bhatt, “Returnees: ‘R2I,’ Citizenship, and the Domestic Sphere”

§  Rachel Aviv, “The Cost of Caring” (New Yorker, 11 April 2016)

§  Sarah Maslin Nir, “The Price of Nice Nails” (New York Times, 7 May 2015)

§  Source: Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

§  Recommended: Xiaolan Bao, “The Garment Workers: Gender, Race, and Class in the City’s Garment Industry”


Further Reading: Ivan Light and Edna Bonacich, Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Koreans in Los Angeles, 1965-1982; David Harvey, “From Fordism to Flexible Accumulation” from The Condition of Postmodernity”; Smitha Radhakrishnan, Appropriately Indian: Gender and Culture in a New Transnational Class; Paul Ong, Edna Bonacich, and Lucie Cheng, “The Political Economy of Capitalist Restructuring and the New Asian Immigration”; Helen Zia, “Detroit Blues”; Aihwa Ong, Flexible Citizenship; Diane Elson and Ruth Pearson, “’Nimble Fingers Make Cheap Workers’: An Analysis of Women’s Employment in Third World Export Manufacturing”; Neferti X. M. Tadiar, “Domestic Bodies”; Min Hyoung Song, The Children of 1965



Wk 10 The Farm: A Novel


 Wk 11 Crisis Management: Wars, Pandemics, Catastrophes m


How does tracing the “Asian” or “Asian American” as a historically variable racial formation sharpen our understanding of the crises of capital across the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries? How does the concept of “crisis” – in its political, economic, climate, public health forms — transform our experience of time? How have Asian American communities responded to these social transformations?


§  Warwick Anderson, “Excremental Colonialism,” from Colonial Pathologies: American Tropical Medicine, Race, and Hygiene in the Philippines

§  Lisa Yoneyama, “Transpacific Cold War Formations and the Question of (Un)Redressability,” Introduction to Cold War Ruins: Transpacific Critique of American Justice and Japanese War Crimes

§  Ma Vang, “Secrecy as Knowledge,” from Secrecy, Fugitivity, and Hmong Refugee Epistemologies

§  Asian American Feminsit Collective, “Care in the Time of Coronavirus: A Zine”

§  Jaeah Lee, “Why Was Vicha Ratanapakdee Killed?,” The New York Times Magazine, August 18, 2021

§  R.O. Kwong, “A Letter to My Fellow Asian Women Whose Hearts Are Still Breaking,” Vanity Fair (19 March 2021)



Wk 12 Contemporary Asian America: From Culture, Technology, Sex to What Is to be Done? m

The “politics of representation”—why is it so important yet inexorably fraught? Given the relative visibility of Asian Americans today, what’s next? How would you describe the difference between representations of Asians and Asian Americans today versus their late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century counterparts? What historical, geopolitical, social, and cultural changes help explain these differences? What kind of political desire is “recognition”? Is there a way out of the latter’s impasses? What is to be done now?


§  Anne Anlin Cheng, Onamentalism (Introduction and Ch 5 “Dolls”)

§  Mel Y. Chen, “Lead’s Racial Matters” from Animacies

§  Paisley Rekdal, “On Cultural Appropriation” Letter One and Letter Five

§  Chiraag Bhakta, “The Whitewashing of #WhitePeopleDoingYogaMother Jones (18 October 2019)

§  Seulghee Lee, “When Is Asian American Life Grievable?” (April 2021)

§  Chris Chen, “The Limit Point of Capitalist Equality: Notes toward an Abolitionist Antiracism” (2013)

§  Source: Film: “Unspoken” (2020), dir. Patrick G. Lee

§  Source: “Exploring the Roots of Chicago’s Queer South Asian Community” (NBC 2018) <>


Further Reading: David L. Eng and Alice Y. Hom, Q & A: Queer in Asian America; Russel Leong, ed., Asian American Sexualities; Karin Aguilar-San Juan, “Going Home: Enacting Justice in Queer Asian America”; Sandip Roy, “The Call of Rice: (South) Asian American Queer Communities” from A Part, Yet Apart: South Asians in Asian America; Tan Hoang Nguyen, “The Rise, and Fall, of a Gay Asian American Porn Star”; David L. Eng, The Feeling of Kinship; Jasbir Puar, Terrorist Assemblages; Mel Y. Chen, Animacies; Martin F. Manalansan, Global Divas; Karen Shimawaka, National Abjection: The Asian American Body on Stage; David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly; Margaret Cho, I’m the One That I Want (2000); Colleen Lye, “Contradiction and Commitment” (2020); Rudy P. Guevarra, Becoming Mexipino: Multiethnic Identities and Communities in San Diego; Grace Pena Delgado, Making the Chinese Mexican; Ana Paulina Lee, Mandarin Brazil; Mimi Thi Nguyen and Thuy Linh Tu, eds., Alien Encounters: Popular Culture in Asian AmericaYunte Huang, Transpacific Imaginations; Vijay Prashad, “Crafting Solidarities”; Bill Mullen, Afro-Orientalism; Kim Hewitt, “Martial Arts Is Nothing If Not Cool: Speculations on the Intersections between Martial Arts and African American Expressive Culture”; Jeff Chang, Can't Stop Won't Stop; Mimi Thi Nguyen, “Bruce Lee I Love You”; Crystal S. Anderson, “When Were We Colored?: Blacks, Asians, and Racial Discourse”; Robert Ji-Song Ku et al., eds., Eating Asian America;  Shilpa Dave et al., eds., Global Asian American Popular Cultures; King-Kok Cheung, Chinese American Literature Without BordersJinqi Ling, Across Meridians; Karen Tei Yamashita, Brazil-Maru: A Novel (1992) and Circle K Cycles: A Novel (2001)