Research

Finally in Print! — “Time Traveling with Care: On Female Coolies and Archival Speculations”

I received my copy of the June 2018 American Quarterly last week and I couldn’t be more thrilled to see my essay, “Time Traveling with Care: On Female Coolies and Archival Speculations,” in print at last in a journal that I’ve been following since I began my graduate studies. That it appears alongside the words of Kandice Chuh, Jodi Melamed, Douglas Ishii, and other scholars who have been vital mentors and interlocutors for my research over the years is all the more reason why I will hold this AQ issue close.

The essay itself has gone through numerous revisions, from its early beginnings as a term paper for Robert Reid-Pharr’s seminar on “African American/Africana Literature and Culture,” as an ASA conference presentation, and dissertation chapter, which is also to say that many people contributed their time, energy, and wisdom to supporting its realization in this current form. Any remaining shortcomings are of course mine but I wanted to share my acknowledgments again here to make visible the often unseen, unpaid labor that goes into the life of a publication like this:

This essay benefitted from the insights of many eyes. I would like to thank Kandice Chuh, Duncan Faherty, the members of my dissertation writing group, and my colleagues on the Committee on Globalization and Social Change at the Graduate Center, CUNY, for their generous feedback on earlier drafts. Many thanks also to Cathy N. Davidson, the two anonymous reviewers, and the Board of Managing Editors at American Quarterly for sharing the critical insights that helped me realize my vision for this piece in its final stages. Lastly, I want to thank my sister, Sharon Tran, for her unflagging support; the meditations on what it means to approach an archive with care in this essay are, in part, indebted to her always careful reading of my work.

There are many others who haven’t been mentioned here by name, including an entire class of students that I taught at Queens College who challenged and deepened my thinking about Patricia Powell’s The Pagoda more than I could have ever anticipated; their questions and energy animates this essay as well. I look forward too to the ways in which future readers will take up and give continued life to this work in the years to come.

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Thoughts

Two Letters, to Where I have Been and Where I am Going

Dear CUNY,

I’ve been holding my breath, holding myself back from writing this letter because I know that it can never encompass all I want to say about what being in and of you has meant. And/but I am taking the advice that a CUNY mentor once gave me when I was floundering during the dissertation process, to start writing before you are ready, because I know this letter is one that I’ll never be fully ready to write.

In many ways, it was growing up in and with you that helped me find community, direction, purpose, a voice, myself. So, there is much I want and need to say:

The first is thank you. Thank you for giving me opportunities that I know I haven’t always appreciated. Thank you for the people you brought into my life–friends, teachers, mentors, allies, leaders, students, strangers–people who have been variously kind, strong, loving, hurtful, generous, difficult, inspirational. Thank you for the way you forced me to get to know this city, to move out of the sheltered corner of Little Neck, Queens where I grew up to traverse its sprawling landscape, to walk across bridges, to find other sites of belonging. You taught me how to feel at home in this city. Thank you for the skills you helped me develop while I was learning and working as a CUNY student and teacher: the ability to read, write, and grade papers standing on public buses and trains, a dexterity honed during long commutes and all-too-frequent MTA delays; a knack for finding windows in stuffy, claustrophobic buildings, to look for spaces to let light in when the weight of the work feels especially heavy; a know-how for tracking down resources, opportunities, and pockets of funding, which you haven’t always made easy to find, but it’s because of that that I learned to ask questions and to make demands, to realize the sound and worth of my own voice; an eye for recognizing people who are similarly lost and out of place, who are also driven by questions, ideas, and a refusal to accept things as they are; an intuition for making community out of commuter campuses, to find people and causes worth showing up and fighting for. This list could go on and on.

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Thoughts

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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Research

Reflections on Chapter Writing

One of the most difficult challenges I faced during the beginning of the dissertation process was figuring out how to write a chapter. How does it differ from a seminar paper? Are there specific elements or sections I need to include? How do I know when I am done? After finishing full drafts of my first two chapters (finally!), I feel ready now to offer some brief reflections on this process.

Although I had read beautifully written critical and theoretical texts before, sitting down to write my own chapter was still a daunting experience because I have only ever been familiar with the form of seminar papers. The essays I wrote for class, with its specific thesis statement, often focusing on a single literary text, did not prepare me for writing a chapter that is just a piece of a larger project. For me, grappling with this new form also meant learning how to let go of my own desires to produce a perfect whole, a neat and contained document. I had to move between the arguments I wanted to pose in a specific chapter and the over-arching research questions that animate my dissertation project. I had to constantly remind myself that a chapter is just one attempt at getting at these larger questions without necessarily having to answer them in full; the following chapters would provide other opportunities and angles for returning to and approaching these questions differently.

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Research, Teaching

How Google Docs Changed My Life

The title of this post might be a bit hyperbolic, but I really do mean it. I have been using Google Docs on-and-off for the past few years, mostly as a way of collaborating with other graduate students to organize events and share meeting notes. But it wasn’t until this past summer when I opened up a fresh Google Doc to begin drafting the second chapter of my dissertation that I began to realize its amazing capabilities.

One of the main reasons why I decided to try writing in Google Docs was because I was getting frustrated by the amount of clutter in the massive dissertation file I created on Scrivener. Since I’m the kind of person who is always trying to find more effective ways of organizing my research and writing, a program like Scrivener seemed like a godsend- It offers a way of collecting drafts and research materials and notes into different folders as well as the option to split your screen in two so you can edit one document while reviewing another, not to mention tons of features that I have not yet learned how to use. But the main drawbacks to Scrivener, at least for me, was the complexity of the layout (a dizzying amount of buttons and lists) and the tediousness of having to constantly convert my files to share with non-Scrivener users. Google Docs solved these dilemmas beautifully.

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