On Beginnings

This is a post that I was planning to write in January at the start of the new year, but I am glad that life and work got in the way because beginnings have taken on a sharper, more intense meaning for me these last few weeks. And, for once, the timing feels just right that I’m getting this writing in on the eve of Lunar New Year.

It would be wrong, of course, to say that beginnings are a new preoccupation of mine. Much of my scholarly work has been a meditation on and an effort to articulate other beginnings for Asian American studies and Asian Americanist critique. Thinking through the historic establishment of the field, the constraints of identitarian epistemologies, and other geographies for Asian America are some ways I’ve confronted questions around the objects and objectives, the scope, scales, and stakes of Asian American studies.

At the same time, beginning the dissertation that would become my current book project was a struggle. I have written elsewhere about the anxiety of embarking on an Asian American cultural studies project, about fears that it would delimit the possibilities and audiences for my research and confine me to  what is natural, expected, and known–an Asian American woman who would, of course, study Asian American literatures and cultures. And yet, recognizing that these concerns, which I’ve come to describe as the feeling of being minor, are not personal or individual, but rather structural and systemic–evidence of institutional racism and the effects of compartmentalizing minoritized knowledges–was a pivotal moment in my academic career and intellectual life.

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Revising the Dissertation Abstract

One of the most useful pieces of advice I received from my mentors is not only to focus on writing my dissertation, but to write about it (often). This practice of constantly framing and reframing my project has helped me keep track of my research questions and their exigency. It reminds me of why I do the work that I do and keeps me engaged in it. Plus, it never hurts to give yourself a bit of breathing room to reflect on what you have learned in the process of your research and to recognize what you have accomplished so far.

One of the reflecting experiments I engaged in recently was to revise my dissertation abstract to offer more grounding in terms of motive, methodology, and audience. You can check it out below:

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