Asian American Studies

New Books in April

 April brings a fresh crop of great new books. Check out what we’re releasing this month.


In Biblical Porn Jessica Johnson draws on a decade of fieldwork at Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church in Seattle to show how congregants became entangled in a process of religious conviction through which they embodied Driscoll’s teaching on gender and sexuality in ways that supported the church’s growth.

In Abject Performances Leticia Alvarado explores how Latino artists and cultural producers have developed and deployed an irreverent aesthetics of abjection to resist assimilation and disrupt respectability politics.

Matthew Vitz’s A City on a Lake outlines the environmental history and politics of Mexico City as it transformed its original forested, water-rich environment into a smog-infested megacity, showing how the scientific and political disputes over water policy, housing, forestry, and sanitary engineering led to the city’s unequal urbanization and environmental decline.

In Domesticating Democracy Susan Helen Ellison offers an ethnography of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) organizations in El Alto, Bolivia, showing that by helping residents cope with their interpersonal disputes and economic troubles how they change the ways Bolivians interact with the state and global capitalism, making them into self-reliant citizens.

978-0-8223-7081-9.jpgKatherine Verdery’s My Life as a Spy analyzes the 2,781 page surveillance file the Romanian secret police compiled on her during her research trips to Transylvania in the 1970s and 1980s. Reading it led her to question her identity and also revealed how deeply the secret police was embedded in everyday life.

 In Edges of Exposure, following Senegalese toxicologists as they struggle to keep equipment, labs, and projects operating, Noémi Tousignant explores the impact of insufficient investments in scientific capacity in postcolonial Africa.


Examining human rights discourse from the French Revolution to the present, in Human Rights and the Care of the Self Alexandre Lefebvre turns common assumptions about human rights—that its main purpose is to enable, protect, and care for those in need—on their heads, showing how the value of human rights lies in its support of ethical self-care.

Gay PrioriLibby Adler’s Gay Priori offers a comprehensive critique of the mainstream LGBT legal agenda in the United States, showing how LGBT equal rights discourse drives legal advocates toward a narrow array of reform objectives that do little to help the lives of the most marginalized members of the LGBT community.

In From the Tricontinental to the Global South Anne Garland Mahler traces the history and intellectual legacy of the understudied global justice movement called the Tricontinental and calls for a revival of the Tricontinental’s politics as a means to strengthen racial justice and anti-neoliberal struggles in the twenty-first-century.

Aimee Bahng’s Migrant Futures traces the cultural production of futurity by juxtaposing the practices of speculative finance against those of speculative fiction, showing how speculative novels, films, and narratives create alternative futures that envision the potential for new political economies, social structures, and subjectivities that exceed the framework of capitalism.

A Primer for Teaching Environmental History, by Emily Wakild and Michelle K. Berry, is a guide for college and high school teachers who are teaching environmental history for the first time, for experienced teachers who want to reinvigorate their courses, for those who are training future teachers to prepare their own syllabi, and for teachers who want to incorporate environmental history into their world history courses. The book is part of a new series, Design Principles for Teaching History.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for Subject Matters, our e-mail newsletter, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

Recent Scholarship on the 2017 Women’s March

On January 21, 2017, over 5 million people marched all over the world in support of women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, environmental policy reform, reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and worker’s rights, among other causes. We are excited to share this recent scholarship that analyzes the Women’s March itself, as well as continued scholarship on feminism and women’s rights.

“Positions in Solidarity: Voices and Images from the US Women’s Marches” by Deborah Frizzell in Cultural Politics

Trump-WomensMarch_2017-top-1510075_(32409710246)In this article featured in Cultural Politics, Frizzell features photographs and remembrances of the Women’s Marches in New York City and Washington, D.C. The article addresses the efficacy of mass marches and similar forms of protest and poses questions about the nature of the March, what it achieved, and questions if solidarity can be sustained in an environment of ongoing divisiveness.
An excerpt from the article:
On the morning of January 21, 2017, I reviewed a PDF file from the National Lawyers Guild and the Black Movement Law Project to prepare for participation in the Women’s March in New York City. As I dressed for a mild winter’s day, I wrote with a Sharpie pen on my forearm the guild’s legal support hotline number in case of arrest. My good friend and colleague Sharon Vatsky and I decided to attend the march together. Although we had experience protesting in a number of marches over the years, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, we were not sure what to expect in 2017 with militarized police forces and escalating violence deployed by Trump supporters as a tactic against Muslims, Latinos, people of color, Jews, and LGBTQ communities.
Read the full article, made freely available.

“The Women’s March: New York, January 21, 2017” by Caroline Walker Bynum in Common Knowledge

Women's_March_2017-01_(04)Bynum wrote this article, featured in Common Knowledge, two days after the Women’s March in New York City. It describes the event while focusing on two specific aspects: the March’s multi-issue focus and its response to the denigration of women’s expertise represented in much of the hostility to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Bynum argues that “a pernicious and often unrecognized denigration of female voices and female expertise forms an undercurrent of contemporary political debate that needs to be much more widely resisted.”

An excerpt from the article:

Indeed, the staggering diversity of issues was one of the most obvious aspects of Saturday’s march. Even among those in my little group, there were many reasons for turning out. Our signs spoke of defending Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, gun control, the inner cities, the environment. If there was no clear agenda, why does it seem so important that my friends and I marched?

Above all, it is important because it was a women’s march—a fact that the commentators have not fully noted and understood.

Read the full article, made freely available.


Additional Scholarship on Feminism and Women’s Rights

Read to Respond: Feminism and Women’s Rights

readtorespondOur “Read to Respond” series addresses the current climate of misinformation by highlighting articles and books that encourage thoughtful, educated debate on today’s most pressing issues. This blog post on Feminism and Women’s Rights features journal articles and books tackling topics from abortion laws, maternity leave, Islamic feminism, and more. Read, reflect, and share these resources in and out of the classroom to keep these important conversations going.

“Borders and Margins,” a special issue of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies

ddmew_13_3_coverThis special issue of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, “Borders and Margins,” approaches borders and margins through the lens of gender and sexuality.  Borders and margins are productive spaces to examine both the power and contingency of normative gender and sexual ideals and how gendered and sexual bodies participate in the production and reconfiguration of the nation-state. Essays in this issue analyze how women on the margins of society expose the exclusionary and gendered logics of nation-state formation and then generate new engagements with embodied politics and religious practice. This examination of borders and margins continues the feminist and gender-based analyses of material and discursive spaces and mobilities examined in previous issues.

The issue also features a special forum on Trump’s Presidency and Middle East Women’s Studies, examining topics such as the Muslim ban and the gendered side of Islamophobia. This special forum is freely available until May 2018.

Start reading with Sara Smith’s preface to the issue, freely available now.

“1970s Feminisms,” a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly

ddsaq_114_4For more than a decade, feminist historians and historiographers have engaged in challenging the “third wave” portrait of 1970s feminism as essentialist, white, middle-class, uninterested in racism, and theoretically naive. This task has involved setting the record straight about women’s liberation by interrogating how that image took hold in the public imagination and among academic feminists. This issue invites feminist theorists to return to women’s liberation—to the texts, genres, and cultural productions to which the movement gave rise—for a more nuanced look at its conceptual and political consequences. The essays in this issue explore such topics as the ambivalent legacies of women’s liberation; the production of feminist subjectivity in mass culture and abortion documentaries; the political effects of archiving Chicana feminism; and conceptual and generic innovations in the work of Gayle Rubin, Christine Delphy, and Shulamith Firestone.

Start reading now.

“Trans/Feminisms,” a special issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly

ddtsq_3_1-2Feminism and trans activism don’t have to be mutually exclusive, argue the contributors to “Trans/Feminisms,” the most recent issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly.

This special double issue, edited by Susan Stryker and Talia M. Bettcher, goes beyond the simplistic dichotomy between an exclusionary transphobic feminism and an inclusive trans-affirming feminism. Exploring the ways in which trans issues are addressed within feminist and women’s organizations and social movements around the world, contributors ask how trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary issues are related to feminist movements today, what kind of work is currently undertaken in the name of trans/feminism, what new paradigms and visions are emerging, and what questions still need to be taken up.

Central to this issue is the recognition that oppressions intersect, converge, overlap, and sometimes diverge in complex ways, and that trans/feminist politics cannot restrict itself to the domain of gender alone.

This issue features numerous shorter works that represent the diversity of trans/feminist practices and problematics and, in addition to original research articles, includes theory, reports, manifestos, opinion pieces, reviews, and creative/artistic productions, as well as republished key documents of trans/feminist history and international scholarship.

Start reading now.

“World Policy Interrupted,” a special issue of World Policy Journal
wpj33_4_23_frontcover_fppIn “World Policy Interrupted,” a special issue of World Policy Journal penned entirely by female foreign policy experts and journalists, contributors imagine a world where the majority of foreign policy experts quoted, bylined, and miked are not men.

The issue challenges the perception that women are not policymakers by showcasing the voices of female experts and leaders. Contributors to this issue address topics such as feminism in Chinaabortion laws across the Americascombating violent extremism by working with religious leaders, and women in media. The issue also features a conversation with Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritus.

Start reading now.

American Studies Association 2016

1We had such a wonderful time selling books and journals at the American Studies Association last week in Denver, Colorado.

On Friday we had a reception celebrating Small Axe‘s fiftieth issue and twentieth anniversary. The wine and cheese were great, but the Small Axe swag was an even bigger hit!

The reception was fun way to celebrate with editor David Scott, managing editor Vanessa Pérez-Rosario, editorial board members, and readers of the journal. Keep the celebration going by reading Small Axe #50.

Friday night also included a reception for GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. It was great to see so many scholars and contributors to the journal, as well as co-editors Beth Freeman and Marcia Ochoa, celebrating the journal.

Several of our authors won awards for their books. Simone Browne won the 2016 Lora Romero Prize for her book, Dark Matters, and Lisa Lowe’s Intimacies of Four Continents was a finalist for the 2016 John Hope Franklin Prize, both from ASA.

It was wonderful to see so many authors and editors stop by our booth. We loved seeing them with their books, and especially enjoyed E. Patrick Johnson and Kai Green’s reenactment of the No Tea, No Shade cover!

Not able to make it out this year? Are there a few more books or journal issues you wish you would have grabbed? Don’t worry—you can use the coupon code ASA16 on our website through the end of the year to stock up on our great American studies titles for 30% off.

Q & A with Elizabeth Chin

Chin S16 author photo (Credit Charles Chessler)

Elizabeth Chin is Professor of Media Design Practices at Art Center College of Design and the author of Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture. Her new book, My Life with Things, is a meditation on her relationship with consumer goods and a critical statement on the politics and method of anthropology in which she uses everyday items to intimately examine the ways consumption resonates with personal and social meaning.

Where did the idea for this project come from and how did it evolve?

Chin.jpgThe idea for the diary part initially began as a series of emails I sent out to a small group of friends.
This was in the early 2000s before blogs were even much of a thing. If I had started the project a few years later, it might just have been a blog, and the book might never have happened. Along the way, though, I became fascinated with thinking about Karl Marx and his relationship to consumption. I wondered what his personal relationship to things might have been, and this spurred me into exploring all kinds of things from the economy in secondhand clothes to lace-making and the ins and outs of carbuncles. I was interested in Marx and his family as people, not icons or two-dimensional figures. It was when I was exploring the world of pawn in Marx’s time that I also realized pawn had been so important for Native people in the U.S., and that sent me on a whole new exploration. The evolution of the book overall was never straightforward, and certainly was not the result of some sort of well-laid plan. It was a series of explorations and journeys that then had do be cobbled together into the book.

Was there a particular writer or scholar who inspired you to experiment with writing voice and the limits of ethnography?

Actually I think the main inspiration for experimenting with the writing was my father. My dad, Frank Chin, is a writer – all he does is to write. He’s written plays, novels, nonfiction. He writes every single day. Even after a devastating stroke he’s written several books. I grew up around writing, and I’ve always written and taken it seriously as a craft. I like to joke that in my family you don’t really grow up until you publish your first book. So because of that, my orientation toward writing has always had what I suppose might be called a writerly orientation that is concerned with the writing itself as a form of practice and expression.

In My Life with Things you are remarkably candid – almost shockingly so – about your personal life. Did you have any reservations about revealing that level of detail, or was it just a necessity of the project?

Early on I decided this project had to be done wholeheartedly and without self-censoring. Part of this was because that is really how I think the best work gets done, you just have to dive in and not worry while you’re doing the work whether or not it can be declared “good” or “acceptable” or “embarrassing.” I knew I had no hope of producing good work if I was actually trying to do good work. My goal was to be as honest as possible in producing the material; I knew I could always worry afterward whether anybody else should ever see it. In the book itself, there were some people who had to be edited out after the fact, and some events that had to be re-framed, as well. I made the choice to do this because to include them would have exposed very private moments without their consent. In this way I still stuck to the ethical code we use in any kind of ethnographic work: I did not have their permission to reveal a particular event, so including them was not ethical. I never felt I had the right to publish things about people in my life, even true things, which would be hurtful to them. Some of the most painful material does deal with my mother and her struggles with mental illness. She read the manuscript before it was published, and if she had asked me to remove those entries I would have.

How did you choose which of your things to write about? Are there any items that didn’t make the cut?

With the entries, I just would sit down and write about whatever came to mind. This meant that there were plenty of entries that were boring, or just never really went anywhere. Sometimes I was sure that some item I was writing about was just an amazing journey, but later it would be excruciating to read myself obsessing of some minute consumer decision or other. At other times I could see in the writing that I was trying to hard to make a workable entry. This is partly why it was so important to write and write and write. I knew there was no guarantee that every entry was going to have a life.

You close the book with the fictional account of Dr. ——, a hoarder/collector/consumer and anthropologist whose house—stuffed to the gills with things—explodes. Is there any overlap between yourself and Dr. ——?

Writing that section was a ball. I loved making fun of myself and making fun of anthropology. Like so many academics I tend to take myself so very seriously and every single tiny slight or ego poke can keep me boiling for weeks. I absolutely think that I could become a hoarder. My husband thinks I already am. For my part, I see many surfaces in my house that remain undecorated and under-occupied. Part of me would love to continue that piece of writing, turn it into a whole crazy novel.

What do you hope readers take away from this book, both in terms of your arguments and in the methodology and your writing voice?

For me this book has been about embracing a kind of fearlessness, and in a way that is the thing I hope people respond to most, the notion that fearlessness is possible, even in the midst of terrible depression, even while struggle to keep going is endless. As an undergraduate I attended NYU in the drama program, and I’ve danced very seriously all my life. In the performing arts, you have to be fearless as well, even in the midst of profound insecurity. When you are on stage and performing, you never reach the heights if you are working at being good. You have to get out there with all your training behind you and then throw it away and trust that somehow you’ll fly. This is my attempt at flying in my writing. Most of me is utterly terrified, but there was this other part of me that had to make the attempt, so I’m trusting that part while also planning to crawl into a hole for a while.

You can order My Life with Things from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or order directly from Duke University Press. From now until June 20, this title and all other in-stock books and journal issues are 50% off using coupon code STOCKUP.

Save 50% on Asian American Studies Titles


We are excited to announce a Spring sale on our Asian American studies titles. Save 50% on all in-stock books and special journal issues in that subject until May 2nd. Simply use coupon code ASAM50 during checkout after selecting any of our Asian American studies books.

Here are just a few of the great titles you can order with these great savings.

Tropical Renditions“In this stunningly refreshing take on the musicological and performative dimensions of Filipino American historical and cultural experiences, Christine Bacareza Balance makes intricate and superb sonic connections between seemingly separate realms such as colonialism, migration, youth culture, leisure, and labor. Standing alone in its incisive cultural critique and superb interpretive readings of a culture and a people spanning thousands of miles, Tropical Renditions makes a pioneering contribution to Asian American studies and performance studies.”— Martin F. Manalansan IV, author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora
Asians Wear ClothesAsians Wear Clothes on the Internet is a fiercely imaginative and inspiring book. Minh-Ha T. Pham’s discussion of the garment industry’s racialization and the details she provides about bloggers’ lives and the conditions of their labor is impressive. She acknowledges and debunks the writing on overly utopian and breathless views of digital media as ‘participatory culture’ while giving full credit and agency to the bloggers she writes about. Stunning!”— Lisa Nakamura, author of Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet

Nguyen Tan Hoang’s exciting book is a compelling accountA View from the Bottom of the aesthetic, political, and queer possibilities of racialized forms of ‘bottomhood.’ As someone who has been writing about masochism and passivity in relation to queer feminisms for a while, I realize that this is the book I have needed in sorting through the complex forms of personhood, pleasure, and power that bottomhood braids into the meanings of race, nation, and sexuality.”— Jack Halberstam, author of The Queer Art of Failure

Animacies“This ambitious transdisciplinary analysis of the relations between humans, nonhuman animals, and matter charts a compelling and innovative rethinking of the biopolitics of ‘animacy.’ Mel Y. Chen animates animacy, a concept of sentience hierarchy derived in linguistics, to offer a far-ranging critique that implicates disability studies, queer of color critique, and postcolonial theory. The generative result is a timely and crucial intervention that foregrounds the oft-occluded import of race and sex in the rapidly growing fields of posthumanist theory, new materialisms, and animal studies.”— Jasbir K. Puar, author of Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times

Details of the Sale:
To save 50% visit and enter coupon code ASAM50 during checkout.
Sale applies to all Asian American studies print books and journal issues (instock).
Sale is not valid for journal subscriptions or society membership fees.
Regular shipping rates apply.
All sales final; no returns.
Discount applies to orders placed through our website.
Sale valid from April 25 to May 2, 2016.


New Books in February

It seemed like January zoomed right by us, and now February is already here! Which of course means it’s time to take a look at the new books to watch out for this month.

Adams cover image, 6097-1
The contributors to Metrics, edited by Vincanne Adams, use ethnographic evidence from around the globe to evaluate the accomplishments, limits, and the consequences of applying metrics to global health. Now the standard in measuring global health program success, metrics has far implications that extend beyond patients to the political and financial realms.

In The Brain’s Body Victoria Pitts-Taylor applies feminist and critical theory to recent developments in neuroscience and new materialist social thought to demonstrate how the brain interacts with and is impacted by power, social structures, and inequality.

Day cover image, 6093-3In Alien Capital Iyko Day retheorizes the history and logic of settler colonialism by examining its intersection with Asian racialization and capitalism, showing how the conflation of Asian immigrants to Canada and the United states with the abstract dimensions of capital became settler colonialism’s defining feature.

Lesley Gill traces the rise and fall of the strong labor unions and working class of Barrancabermeja, Colombia in A Century of Violence in a Red City, showing how the incursion of neoliberalism, the drug trade, and counterinsurgency military campaigns into civil society that began in the 1980s has destabilized everyday life and decimated the city’s powerful social institutions.

Published in China in 2010 and appearing here in English for the first time, Revolution and its Narratives, by Cai Xiang and edited by Rebecca E. Karl and Xueping Zhong, is a historical, literary, and critical account of the cultural production of the narratives of China’s socialist revolution that illuminates the complexity of socialist art, culture, and politics.

Pierce cover image, 6091-9In Moral Economies of Corruption Steven Pierce provides a cultural history of the last 150 years of corruption in Nigeria as a case study for considering corruption’s dynamic nature, finding it to be a culturally contingent set of political discourses and historically embedded practices.

Placing the body at the center of critical improvisation studies, the contributors to Negotiated Moments, edited by Gillian Siddall and Ellen Waterman, explore the challenges of negotiating subjectivity through improvisation in various forms—from jazz, Japanese taiko drumming, and Iranian classical music to sound walking and political street theater.

Coles cover image, 6064-3In Visionary Pragmatism, Romand Coles’s new mode of scholarship and political practice called “visionary pragmatism” blends theory with practice in the generation of new transformative responses to contemporary political and ecological crises.

Indonesian Notebook, edited by Brian Russell Roberts and Keith Foulcher, contains myriad documents by Indonesian writers, intellectuals, and reporters that provide the largely absent Indonesian perspectives of the 1955 Bandung Conference and of Richard Wright’s activities there, adding new depths to the understandings of the conference. It also includes a newly discovered lecture by Wright.

Remembering Nancy Abelmann

nabelmanWe were saddened to learn of the death this week of Nancy Abelmann, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research (Humanities, Arts and Related Fields) and the Harry E. Preble Professor of Anthropology, Asian American Studies, East Asian Languages and Cultures, and Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, co-director of the Ethnography of the University Initiative, and author of The Intimate University: Korean American Students and the Problems of Segregation (2009) as well as several other books. She wrote on family, class, gender, education, and migration with a focus on South Korea and Korean/Asian America.978-0-8223-4615-9

Duke University Press Editorial Director Ken Wissoker says that, “She was a pathbreaking scholar who was always making connections between scholars from Asia and from North America.  She thought seriously about the academy and the lives of those of different backgrounds and experiences in it.” Wissoker adds that, “Most of all, she was a tireless mentor.  I can’t count the times I saw her sitting on the floor in a hotel or airport with a younger scholar giving them advice on their writing or their cv.  Her generosity was boundless and beyond words. She will be truly missed.”

Our thoughts and heartfelt sympathy are with her family, friends, and colleagues.

The Unending Korean War

Labeled as “forgotten” in the United States and yet seared into national consciousness in both Koreas, the Korean War persists some six decades after the signing of the armistice agreement as a differentiated and multisited structure of feeling, perception, memory, knowledge, and historical ruin.

positions 23:4“The Unending Korean War,” a special issue of positions

In the most recent issue of positions, “The Unending Korean War,” editors Christine Hong and Henry Em and contributors consider the longue dureé of the Korean War as a protean structure, at once generative and destructive, whose formations and deformations, benefits and costs, and truths and obfuscations can be traced on both sides of the North Pacific. This unfinished conflict not only reverberates in the relations between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the United States, but also manifests itself in regional and global tensions.

Contributors to the issue address such topics as comic books and the militarization of U.S. masculinity; a photo essay tribute to Chris Marker, French filmmaker and photographer; war as business in Manchurian action films in South Korea; and militarized and gendered diasporas of transnational adoption.

American Literature 87:1The Korean War and American Literature

The March 2015 issue of American Literature (volume 87, issue 1) addresses the unending Korean War through the lens of literature. Read further to discover how contributors Joseph Darda and Steven Belletto see literature coming to terms with the Korean War.

“The Literary Afterlife of the Korean War” by Joseph Darda

The Korean War is remembered only for not being remembered, Joseph Darda argues in “The Literary Afterlife of the Korean War.” Darda begins with an analysis of the biopolitical logic of defense that arose after World War II during a time of American global ascendancy and heightened anticommunism and then discusses the understanding of the Korean War as “forgotten,” an idea first introduced in 1951 but more recently taken up by memory studies scholars, before advancing an alternative narrative theory of the Korean War. He concludes with  a consideration of the twenty-first-century literary return of the Korean War through readings of two acclaimed American novels: Ha Jin’s War Trash (2004) and Toni Morrison’s Home (2012).

“The Korean War, the Cold War, and the American Novel,” by Steven Belletto

In “The Korean War, the Cold War, and the American Novel,” Steven Belletto proposes that there are two broad phases of Korean War literature: one by white, male Americans who fought in the war, reported on the war, or ahd some other ties to the United States military. The second phase, which gained traction in the 1980s and 1990s, is generally written by first- or second-generation Korean Americans who either experienced the war directly or explored the cultural memory of a war that, some scholars have argued, is a precondition of the very idea of Korean Americanness. The category of “Korean War literature,” Bellatto writes, changes how we understand “Cold War literature” and therefore post-1945 American literature and culture.

To read these articles, made freely available, visit the positions and American Literature sites.

Jeff Chang Interviews Oliver Wang

Wang cover image, 5890-9Oliver Wang’s new book Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the San Francisco Bay Area chronicles the history of the San Francisco Bay Area Filipino American mobile DJ scene of the late 1970s through the mid-1990s. He shows how DJ crews helped unify the Bay Area’s Filipino American community, gave its members social status and brotherhood, and drew huge crowds. In this guest post, music writer Jeff Chang (Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop) interviews Wang about his book.

Oliver Wang’s Introduction: I first got to know Jeff Chang back in the early 1990s; he’s long been a great friend and mentor. He was also one of the final readers of the Legions of Boom manuscript, offering some crucial feedback that helped with fine-tuning everything at the end. Back in 2004, he asked me to interview him for a Q&A segment for his book, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop. When it came time for me to create something similar, it only seemed appropriate to go full-circle and ask Jeff to do the same with me for my book.

Jeff Chang: Let’s start with the basics: what’s the book about?

Oliver Wang: Legions of Boom looks at the Filipino American mobile disc jockey scene in the San Francisco Bay Area. This was a musical, cultural scene that was made up of largely Filipino American teenagers who created DJ crews to provide audio and visual services for different private events: the school dance, your cousin’s wedding, that sort of thing. Dozens, if not hundreds, of these crews popped up from the late ‘70s through the early 1990s, at practically any high school that had a significant Filipino American population in the Bay Area, from Vallejo to San Jose, San Francisco and Daly City to Union City and Fremont. The book looks at the rise and fall of that scene, why these teens formed into the crews, and what they got out of it.

JC: Why did you want to title this book Legions of Boom?

OW: The book title comes from the Legion of Boom. They were an alliance of different Bay Area crews, basically a Voltron-like collective. The idea behind an alliance is that you’re sharing equipment or DJs, so that if you want to stage a really big performance or have multiple DJs contributing, people could collaborate to build something bigger than what any single crew could mount. Different alliances came and went but the Legion of Boom was perhaps the biggest. I just loved the mental image that came to mind when you think of a “Legion of Boom”: armies of speakers and subwoofers lined up in a row. The name gives you this beautiful visual picture of sound systems while also capturing the way in which a DJ scene was made up of not just individual DJs, but groups who were collaborating and competing with one another.

JC: What makes this story so compelling?

OW: I think first and foremost: it was just a story that I had not heard anyone else tell. There were a tiny set of exceptions like [Bay Area journalist] Davey D who wrote an article about this back in the late ’90s, but when I started digging into these stories around 2001, there was nothing else I could find written about the Filipino American mobile DJ crews.

I first learned about them through the Filipino American scratch DJs that many people know: Q-Bert, Mixmaster Mike, Shortkut, Apollo,etc. When I began to interview these guys for local press, the one similarity in their “origin stories” is that they got started DJing with mobile crews. What occurred to me is that in order to understand the history of Filipino American scratch DJs and turntablists, you really had to go back one generation and look at their roots, which meant the mobile scene. As no one outside the scene seemed to know much about it, my journalistic Spidey Sense went off and I thought, “there’s a really good story to be told here.” And that story was rich enough not just a single story, but an entire book.

JC: Mark Anthony Neal and I were once talking about the history and roots of hip hop and he said he was waiting for this particular story to be told, that he was expecting that it might challenge him. This story feels like a hidden hip hop history.

OW: I think yes and no. I actually even include in the book itself a little footnote to point out that this book is ultimately not meant to be a book about Filipino American DJs in hip hop. The scene began to aggressively form in the early 1980s – concurrent with hip-hop’s growth out of New York – but not because of it. Hip-hop was absolutely an important, essential part of the identify of many DJs from the scene, especially the younger ones who joined in the mid/late 1980s, but I never got the sense that the early pioneering crews identified themselves as being hip-hop DJs. And musically, most of what they were playing was under the influence of disco and funk music, and then new wave and electro. Hip-hop became a big part of their playlists but it didn’t become a dominant part of their musical tastes until the latter end of the scene.

Plus, the big crucial difference is that with hip-hop, it made the jump from being a local party scene to a recorded medium and genre. The mobile scene in the Bay Area never was able to make that leap, which I think is one key reason why no one outside of the scene was that aware of it.

JC: Well, the scratch scene has had a really strong impact on hip hop. And of course hip-hop DJing itself had its roots in Jamaican reggae sound systems and also strong links to the disco DJ scenes. Public Enemy was a mobile DJ crew before they were a rap crew.

OW: Yeah, I think we sometimes forget how central mobile crews were to DJing and hip-hop culture. The invention of scratching added a different layer by introducing this stylistic, competitive element that the younger DJs in the mobile scene could get with. They had already been intensely competitive at the crew level – vying for business with one another, vying for reputation. Introducing something like scratching into that mix, it gets adopted quickly because people understand how that this kind of stylistic invention allows them to find another way to compete with one another.

What happens is that with people like Q-Bert, and Mike, and Apollo and Shortkut, these are all basically like the young guns in the scene but they’re not supposed to be scratching at weddings because you just wouldn’t do that at a wedding. So they had this kinship in being interested in a kind of DJ performance that was not widely embraced by the elders in the scene and instead, they find one another. Eventually, you can see this generational shift happening by the late ‘80s as the scratch DJs break off from their mobile crews and instead, join up with newly emergent scratch crews.

Q-Bert, Mike and Apollo form the Shadow DJs, later known as F.M.2O and that eventually becomes the nucleus of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz. My point is that hip-hop helped implant this new idea that then gives birth to what eventually becomes the turntablist off-shoot from the mobile crews. That, in no small way, helps explain why the mobile crew scene goes into decline by the early ’90s is because when you were 14 in 1981, the cool thing to do was to become a mobile DJ. Fast-forward 10 years, and it’s really turntablism, or maybe import car racing, that become the new things to do at that age.

JC: It’s such an amazing thing that you’ve done here. You’ve captured really what is an ephemeral scene, but you’ve outlined the very complex sets of relationships and ecosystems that come out of it. Were you surprised at how deep and how broad the movement lasted to have left such little trace?

OW: I don’t know if “surprised” is the right word, but I think for me, the big transformation in my own thinking is that when I first started this research, people from outside the scene would ask me, “What was it about Filipinos that got them into this?” It was a quest for some kind of quasi-anthropological explanation.

I wanted to base my conclusions on what my respondents had to say versus trying to – pardon the pun – put an outside theoretical spin on it. And what I found was that when you tried to probe the “Filipinoness” of the scene, what people had to say wasn’t so much about cultural influences as it was talking about how their extended family networks and Filipino student and church groups and community organizations all pitched in to help these guys get gigs. Whether it’s a birthday, or a wedding, or a debut, or a church party, if someone needed music, you could hire one of mobile crews in your neighborhood or in your family circles. In other words, the mobile scene had this incredible social network—what I describe as a community infrastructure—that could support all these different crews with gigs.

So I don’t think Filipinos in the Bay had some inherently superior, cultural advantage that allowed the mobile scene to thrive. It’s because they had a strong set of social networks that proved key to building and sustaining this scene. To me, that was a big revelation to think about because it established the scene’s Filipinoness without advancing some kind of cultural pathology.

JC: You have really written a wonderful local, sociological take on cultural production amongst an immigrant and second-generation kids, a rare ethnography of Asian American communities in the post-65 period at leisure. There is just not a lot of that kind of scholarship. Was that part of the attraction you had to telling this particular story?

OW: Yeah, absolutely. Part of my entry point into all of this is the fact that I started DJing around 1993 myself. I’m not Filipino American, but as a Chinese American, I was intrigued at how a generation of Asian American youth created this incredible cultural scene for themselves. I was aware of other examples too, whether you’re talking about the Buddhist basketball leagues or all the import car racing clubs. But as someone who was taking Asian American Studies classes at UC Berkeley in the early ‘90s, I wasn’t reading about any of this in those classes.

I have nothing against the discipline’s focus on literature but I felt very little of that had anything in common with what I was interested in culturally. It didn’t feel connected to what I could see peers getting into. It’s not like I went into this research with a chip on my shoulder but I did think it was important to demonstrate that there are other stories that we could be focusing on and pursuing.

JC: In our current moment, it feels like there are these cultural uprisings that occur all the time, but that then leave without a trace. What are some of the insights that you can pass on to people who are interested in capturing these kinds of moments for the future, to talk about what endures from what seems like ephemera?

OW: The simple, yet incredibly effective, thing anyone can do is to sit down and talk with people about their experiences. I was amazed at how so many of my interviewees told me, “No one’s asked me about this before.” This seemed like such an important part of a generation’s experiences that I was always surprised to realize how few people had bothered to document it. Those conversations reminded me that sometimes, all you need to do is ask, “What happened? Why did it happen? What did you get out of it?” Once you open that door, all kinds of stories will come out. You don’t have to have a grand sense of where it’s all going to go. Just get the testimonies down first, and then see where it goes.

JC: One of the things I really enjoyed about the book was the beautiful passages where you actually talk about what it means to actually be a DJ. I wanted to ask you how your experience being a DJ influenced both your research as well as your writing?

OW: Hearing them talk about what it was like to be a DJ and to interact with audiences, and why that was important to them in terms of their sense of power and control…those were all things I could inherently understand as someone who DJs myself. And even though I never did mobile parties in the way they did, that basic relationship between DJ and audience is something that I understand very well.

I also think that assembling a book is like putting together a mix. It’s all about selection and sequencing and segues. It’s about the decisions you make, which means not just what you include, but also what you have to leave out. I’ve never made a mixtape where I didn’t later regret the things that I could have put in, but didn’t. And I feel that way at the end of the book-writing process.

It was about the act of producing a finished product made up of little bits and snippets of your source material, whether those are vinyl records or a series of oral histories. You’re piecing them together to form something you hope is coherent and entertaining and informative and insightful. I don’t think being a DJ made the writing process any easier – probably the inverse in fact – but it did feel familiar, mixing together different parts to create a final whole.

To save 30% on the paperback edition of Legions of Boom, call Duke University Press at 888-651-0122 and give them the coupon code E15BOOM. Or order directly from Oliver Wang and get a limited-edition CD along with the book.

New Books in April

Spring is finally here, and what better way to welcome it than a round-up of new and forthcoming books? Here are all the fantastic new books to expect in April.

 Novak & Sakakeeny cover image, 5889-3Keywords in Soundby David Novak and Matt Sakakeeny, defines the field of sound studies and provides a comprehensive conceptual apparatus for why studying sound matters. Each essay includes the keyword’s intellectual history, a discussion of its role in cultural, social and political discourses, and suggestions for possible future research.

Ilan Stavans and Joshua Ellison’s Reclaiming Travel is a provocative meditation on the meaning of travel in the twenty-first century. Eschewing tourism, Stavans and Ellison urge for a rethinking of contemporary travel in order to return it to its roots as a tool for self-discovery and transformation.

Anthropologist Shalini Shankar explores how racial and ethnic differences are Shankar cover image, 5877-0created and commodified through advertisements and marketing in Advertising Diversity. Focusing on Asian American ad firms, she describes the day-to-day process of creating ads and argues that advertising has framed Asian Americans as “model consumers,” thereby legitimizing their presence in American popular culture.

The contributors to Postgenomicsedited by Sarah S. Richardson and Hallam Stevens, assess the changes to the life sciences the Human Genome Project’s completion brought, develop new frameworks for studying the human genome in the postgenomic era, and show how the environment, technology, race, and gender influence the genome and how we think about it.

In Unearthing ConflictFabiana Li examines the politics surrounding the rapid growth of mining in the Peruvian Andes, arguing that anti-mining protests are not only about mining’s negative environmental impacts, but about the legitimization of contested forms of knowledge.

Hochberg cover image, 5887-9In Visual Occupations, Gil Z. Hochberg examines films, photography, painting and literature by Israeli and Palestinian artists. Israel’s greater ability to control what can be seen, how, and from what position drives the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The artists Hochberg studies challenge Israel’s visual and social dominance by creating new ways to see the conflict.

Nancy van Deusen examines over one hundred lawsuits that indio slaves brought to the Spanish court in the mid-sixteenth century to gain their freedom in Global Indios. The category indio was largely constructed during these lawsuits, and van Deusen emphasizes the need to situate colonial indigenous subjects and slavery in a global context.

In Political Landscapes, an environmental history of twentieth-century Mexico, Christopher R. Boyer conceptualizes the forests of Chihuahua and Michoacán as political landscapes. Conflicts among local landowners, the federal government and timber companies politicized these geographies, demonstrating the crucial role that social forces play in the construction of environments.

In Repeating Žižekedited by Agon Hamza, the contributors read the influential and controversial Slavoj Žižek as a Hamza cover image, 5891-6
philosopher. They place his work in the Western philosophical tradition and analyze it using his own theses, concepts, and methods, all while attempting to formalize his thought into a philosophical school.

Challenging Social Inequality, edited by Miguel Carter, is a collection of essays examining the history and contemporary struggles of Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers Movement, the largest social movement in the Americas.