kaya publishes books of the asian pacific diaspora


Syllabus: Asian American Stories
Porntip Israsena Twishime, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Porntip Israsena Twishime is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she researches narratives about Asian Americans and Asian American storytelling as a mode of relation and knowledge production.

I designed Asian American Stories as a course that does the “double work” of performance studies; it introduces students to “Asian American” stories, artists, writers, creators, and communities, and simultaneously challenges our impulse to label this grandiose and often contradictory body of work as “Asian American.” In other words, this class introduces “Asian American” as a concept and then provides the opportunity to examine, deconstruct, and reimagine that concept through our encounters with a variety of Asian American stories. A primary course objective is to conceptualize Asian American studies as more than an identity-based project. I present Asian American studies as a project concerned more broadly with power and the process of knowledge production about social issues such as race. In these ways, our interest in Asian American stories will be less about who Asian American subjects are, and more about how Asian America is constituted through operations of power, knowledge, and cultural production. By reading Asian American stories in these ways, we will learn that Asian American stories are not only for Asian Americans and are not just another marginalized group’s stories about race. Rather, and more importantly, Asian American stories are stories about race, racial formation, and power in the United States.

This course examines contemporary issues of race, including media consumption and representation, U.S. empire across Asia, environmental justice, and the racialization of COVID-19, alongside issues of gender, sexuality, class, and migration. We will approach these issues through stories, a prevalent and familiar mode of communication. Stories about race in the United States abound. Dominant stories of race assign and affix individuals and communities of people with particular meanings that often recycle tropes and stereotypes. Stories about Asian America and Asian American people, however, are rendered invisible in the larger story about race in the United States which is often told through a Black-white binary. We will turn to contemporary Asian American literature as an alternative entry point into the story of race in the United States.

Our class will begin by developing a conceptual framework we use to read, consume, analyze, and respond to the stories we will read this semester. Our conceptual framework will be built upon readings in performance studies, ethnic studies, and Asian American feminisms. Then, we will read/watch/listen to novels, poetry, film, plays, and essays by Asian Americans as communicative strategies that generate alternative stories about the history and culture of race in the United States. Our literary texts are organized into four Modules and are paired with selected “Keywords” from Asian American Studies, American Cultural Studies, and Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Introductions to Each Other, the Course, and Performance Studies Course Introductions
From Performance Studies ReaderCh 4, “Performance Studies” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett)
From Keywords for American Cultural Studies: “Performance” (Manning)
From Keywords for Gender and Sexuality Studies: “Performativity” (Nyong’o)


Stories as a Mode of Communication From Storytelling in Daily Life (Langellier & Peterson): “A Communication Approach to Storytelling”
“When We Call One Another By Our Names” (Pérez)
“A Crucial Collaboration” (Ozeki)


Theorizing Stories of Race From Racial Formation in the United States (Omi & Wina): Ch 4, “The Theory of Racial Formation”
From Keywords for Asian American Studies: “Race” (Rana)
From Immigrant Acts (Lowe): Ch 1, “Immigration, Citizenship, Racialization: Asian American Critique
From Asian American Feminisms and Women of Color Politics: “Asian American Feminisms and Women of Color Feminisms” (Tzu-Chun Wu)


Module 1: Race, Time, and Difference From Keywords for Gender and Sexuality Studies: “Difference” (Kahaleole Hall), “Temporality” (Freeman)
From Keywords for Asian American Studies: “Multiculturalism” (Lee)
Play: Snowflakes, or Rare White People (Chinn)


Module 2: Race, Health, Land, and the Environment From Keywords for Gender and Sexuality Studies: “Biopower” (Wazana Tompkins), “Ecology” (Powys Whyte)
From Keywords for Asian American Studies: “Health” (Yoo)
Novel: On Such a Full Sea (Lee) *Audiobook recommended


Module 3: Race, Gender, Sexuality, Class, and Empire From Keywords for Asian American Studies: “Empire” (Jung)
From Keywords for Gender and Sexuality Studies: “Intersectionality (Nash), “Queer” (Reddy)
“At Least Prostitutes Bring Home Money”“Daughter in Waiting”“Dear Grandmother” (Svay)
“Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong”“Telemachus” (Vuong)
Novel: Rolling the R’s (Linmark)


Module 4: Race, Media, and Representation From Keywords for Asian American Studies:
“Commodification” (Lieu), “Film” (Desai), “Media” (Davé)
Essays: “Always Be Optimizing,” “The Cult of the Difficult Woman” (Trick Mirror, Tolentino)
Webseries: “Brown Girls” (Asghar) 


Final Presentations & Course Reflections Present final papers and creative projects
Offer course reflections


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