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The Asian American Body Onstage
Karen Shimakawa

Duke University Press

Durham & London

From National Abjection by Shimakawa, Karen. DOI: 10.1215/9780822384243

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2002 Duke University Press

All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper 
Typeset in Quadraat by Tseng Information Systems, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
and permissions information appear on the
last printed page of this book.

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for my family

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acknowledgments, ix

Its not right for a body to know his own origins, 1

chapter 1
I should beAmerican! Abjection and
the Asian (American) Body, 23
chapter 2
The dance thats happening Performance, Politics,
and Asian American Theatre Companies, 57
chapter 3
Wecome a Chinatowng, Folks!
Resisting Abjection, 77
chapter 4

Ill be here . . . right where you left me

Mimetic Abjection/Abject Mimicry, 99
chapter 5

Whose history is this, anyway? Changing

Geographies in Ping Chongs East-West Quartet, 129

Then well have drama, 159

notes, 165
references, 179
index, 189

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The task of thanking everyone who assisted me in completing this project is a

bit daunting and quite humbling, but serves as a warm reminder of the many
enriching relationships it has helped cement along the way. Susan Jeords and
Shawn Wong were two of the earliest (and therefore most heroic) readers of
this manuscript. Their advice and encouragement formed the bedrock for the
book, and their ways of thinking (and being) in this profession continue to
serve as models for me.
The playwrights, theatre administrators, and performers I interviewed
were, without exception, generous with their time and energy. These artists
are invaluable repositories of historical experience, rsthand knowledge, and
artistic insight, and I am deeply grateful to them for sharing all of these with
me. Frank Chin, Ping Chong, Philip Kan Gotanda, David Henry Hwang, Mako
Iwamatsu, Judith Nihei, Rick Shiomi, and Wakako Yamauchi were incredibly
gracious and forthcoming, and I hope the book does their experience (some)
justice. Bruce Allardice of Ping Chong and Co., Laura Rawson of Theater Mu,
and Pamela Wu of the Asian American Theatre Company were also extremely
helpful in pulling together materials for the manuscript.
I am also indebted to friends, students, and colleagues at Vanderbilt University. Myriam Chancy was (and is) a wonder and an inspiration; Jay Clayton was a
much-appreciated booster and wise counselor in the submission process; and
my conversations with John Sloop pushed me to think harder, more carefully,
and in more materially grounded ways than I could have otherwise. Thank you
allit is a better book, in countless ways, for your collegiality and friendship.
I am grateful to Mona Simpson and the Robert Penn Warren Humanities Center at Vanderbilt University for research assistance, as well as to my cofellows
there for their careful and generous readings.
Here at the University of California at Davis my list of thank-yous has continued to grow. I came to UC Davis with a background in literature, but my ini-

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tial appointment here was in Theatre and Dance and Asian American Studies
two disciplines around and between which my work lies but in neither of which
I had been formally trained. My colleagues in both departments were unfailingly supportive and generous in sharing their knowledge and expertise, and
my ways of thinking about Asian American performance have progressed by
leaps and bounds as a result. In Theatre and Dance Janelle Reinelt, William
Worthen, Sue-Ellen Case, Susan Foster, Barbara Sellers-Youngconversations
with each of them have found their way into the book, and my perspective
on performance has been radically changed (for the better) by working with
such a brilliant, talented, and generous group. Thanks also are due to Ninette
Medovoy for shouldering some of my administrative burdens while I completed
this project. In Asian American Studies I have been no less fortunate: Stanley
Sue, Bill Ong Hing, Wendy Ho, Greg Garcia, Kathy Entao, and (especially) Kent
Ono have been particularly kind and supportive and have taught me not only
the discipline(s) but, more important, the materially grounded practice of Asian
American studies; working with them has claried the stakes of Asian American
critique for me, which has not only made this a better book but has (I hope)
made me a better scholar. I am also grateful to the Davis Humanities Institute
and my cofellows there for their support of my research.
Other UC Davis folks t less neatly into the organizational chart but have
been just as crucial to this books completion: warm thanks to Sarah Projansky, Ella Ray, Liz Constable, and Sophie Volpp for reading and providing enormously constructive comments on the manuscript (not to mention valuable
support and friendship); thanks also to the Womens Research and Resource
Center for making that possible. I worked with a wonderful team of student
research assistants at UC Davis who also deserve acknowledgment here: Hope
Medina, Susan Pastika, and Betty Tran were diligent and resourceful in tracking
down the many loose threads that might otherwise have been left hanging.
At both Vanderbilt and UC Davis I have had the privilege of working with
students too numerous to acknowledge by name but who have pushed me to
think more carefully and responsively about how Asian American performance
works (as well as why and when it doesnt) and why we should care: time and
time again, during an ordinary, in-class, under-rehearsed, weekly reading or
staging of a scene, we have shared one of those thrilling and/or chilling ashes
of insight that comes only through embodied exploration of a text, a moment
when we are reminded of the emotional and political power of Asian American
performance, for performers and audience members alike.
Further aeld I am deeply grateful to Lisa Lowe, Josephine Lee, and Dorinne
Kondo for their constructive comments on my work, as well as for their menx Acknowledgments
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torship. I could not ask for better professional role models, and I am grateful
(if humbled) by the high standards they have set.
The random assortment of friends who resist categorization but without
whose companionship and support I could not have abided includes Mason
Stokes, Tim Wager, and Stephanie Wells, who made it possible for me to envision a life in this profession (by showing me how to avoid having to choose one
over the other)it has been (still is) a pleasure growing up with you; Harry
Leaf, with whom it has been (still is) a pleasure not growing up.
David Romn is someone by whom I am continually amazed and by whose
friendship I have been incalculably enriched. His contribution to my education
and this manuscript is so far above and beyond the call of duty that for sheer
cheerleading alone (not to mention substantive intellectual and professional
guidance) he deserves coauthorship credit.
Kandice Chuh likewise served as a symbolic coauthor; more than anyone I
know, she models an intellectual and professional integrity that I hope to emulate, and I am a smarter and better person for having had the privilege of her
It is inadequate to thank Ken Wissoker simply for being a dream of an editor,
although he is thatso much so that its easy to take his editorial expertise for
granted (which I have probably done too often), as he has a stunningly and skillfully light touch. Much more than that, he has been a true and cherished (not
to mention patient) friend, and Im grateful for the opportunity to have worked
with him. I am also grateful to Christine Habermaas and Rebecca Johns-Danes
at Duke University Press for their editorial assistance, and to Joe Abbott for his
meticulous copyediting.
Finally, this book is dedicated to my family (parents, sisters, nephews, and
various partners), without whose support and patience it would never have
been started, let alone nished.

Acknowledgments xi
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Its not right for a body to know his own origins


Chinamen are made, not born, my dear. Out of junk-imports, lies, railroad scrap iron,
dirty jokes, broken bottles, cigar smoke, Cosquilla Indian blood, wino spit, and lots of
milk of amnesia.tam lum, The Chickencoop Chinaman

The multi-tongued word magician and title character of Frank Chins The
Chickencoop Chinaman burst onto the stage in 1974 with a spectacular case of
logorrhea. Argued by some to be the play that inaugurated contemporary
Asian American theatre, The Chickencoop Chinaman opens with Tam asleep on a
plane, dreaming/fantasizing a conversation with a baton-twirling Hong Kong
Dream Girl. 1 Responding to her seemingly simple question (Where were you
born?), Tam launches into a three-page rant that moves from fervent Biblethumping sermon (in the beginning there was the Word! . . . And the Word
was chinaman) through a jazzy, beat-inspired fable of a chicken named
Mad Mother Red (running for pork chop suey in the dead of night) and an
exuberant sales pitch (For I am a Chinaman! A miracle synthetic! Drip dry
and machine washable) before concluding ambivalently, Its not right for a
body to know his own origins (Chin 1981, 68). Although Tams witty, freewheeling declaration of agency and self-authorshipthat Chinamen are no
more born than nylon or acrylicmight be seen as either sarcasm or sheer
bravado (McDonald, xvi), it is also an apt response to the question, perhaps
the only possible response. The Hong Kong Dream Girl inquires after Tams
nativity in hopes of thereby determining his real identity; her assumption is that
his birthplaceChina or the United Stateswill explain him and that the distance between these two sites is stark and dispositive. Tam thwarts this genealogical approach by asserting a synthesized identity that does not conform to
her model. For Tam (and Chin), although the label Chinaman was a designation
rst formulated and deployed to objectify and belittle Chinese immigrants,2

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it is a productive construction. Tams monologue problematizes that prior, injurious usage, (partially) reclaiming the term by celebrating its elasticity and
foregrounding its articiality.
In a way Tams genealogy of Chinamen charts the trajectory of this book.
A collapsing of nationality, race, ethnicity, and bodily identity popularized
in the nineteenth century in newspaper editorials, legal decisions, literature,
and theatre of the period, Chinaman marked Chinese Americans as fundamentally dierent from (and inferior to) a norm, as politically and biologically
not-Americanthis despite the fact that by the turn of the century 118,000
Chinese Americans lived and worked in the United States, establishing businesses, communities, institutions, and families here, much like every other
immigrant group before and since (Hing, 48). Chinaman, then, marks a process
of abjection, an attempt to circumscribe and radically dierentiate something
that, although deemed repulsively other is, paradoxically, at some fundamental
level, an undierentiable part of the whole. Tams (fantasized) triumph over
that racist circumscription is achieved by playing with the abject term, neither
wholly disproving it nor altogether sanitizing it of its racist origins; rather, with
erce deance (and no small measure of irony) Tam occupies the position of
the abject in order to expose and exploit its contradictory nature.
Like Chinaman, Asian American is a category both produced through and in
reaction to abjection within and by dominant U.S. culturea discursive formation that both describes a demographic category and calls that category
into being. Yen Le Espiritu notes that panethnic Asian Americanness was selfconsciously produced as the result of a conuence of anti-Asian hostility,
demographic enumeration (that is, census categories), political protest, and
coalition building that resulted in reactive solidarities (135).3 As Espiritu,
Glenn Omatsu, William Wei, and others have shown, Asian Americanness
as a panethnic, self-identied political and social coalition/identity is a midto late-twentieth-century creation, an antiracist coalitional strategy;4 but the
amalgamation of a wide range of ethnic communities descending from and
including immigrants and refugees from various countries in East, South,
and Southeast Asia and the Pacic Islands through legal, social, and political
racism began long before that. As I elaborate in the remainder of the introduction, both uses of the term/category have continued currency into the present
day; and in using the term Asian American throughout this study I hope to retain
that tension between anti-Asian racialization and political coalition building
for it is in that tension that the productive potential of abjection lies.
Tams phrase made, not born invites us to examine the production and
performance of Asian Americanness within the context of a U.S. culture that
2 Introduction
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has historically, repeatedly (although not uniformly or continually) insisted on

its cultural and political abjection. It poses the question, How might studying
performance help us better understand the relationship between Asian Americanness and (U.S.) Americanness? Not absolutely or permanently excluded
from that latter identity and yet not quite representative of it, I want to suggest
that Asian Americanness functions as abject in relation to Americanness. Julia
Kristeva denes abjection as both a state and a processthe condition/position
of that which is deemed loathsome and the process by which that appraisal is
madeand she deems abject and abjection [as] . . . the primers of my culture
(1982, 2). It is, for her, the means by which the subject/I is produced: by establishing perceptual and conceptual borders around the self and jettison[ing]
that which is deemed objectionable, the subject comes into (and maintains)
self-consciousness. Read as abject, Asian Americanness thus occupies a role
both necessary to and mutually constitutive of national subject formation
but it does not result in the formation of an Asian American subject or even an Asian American object. The abject, it is important to note, does not achieve a (stable) status
of objectthe term often used to describe the position of (racially or sexually)
disenfranchised groups in analyses of the politics of representation. Rather,
I deploy the discourse of abjection in describing Asian American performance
because (as in Kristevas formulation) there is nothing objective or objectal
to the abject. It is simply a frontier (1982, 9). For what characterizes Asian
Americanness as it comes into visibility in the present study is its constantly
shifting relation to Americanness, a movement between visibility and invisibility, foreignness and domestication/assimilation; it is that movement between
enacted by and on Asian Americans, I argue, that marks the boundaries of Asian
American cultural (and sometimes legal) citizenship. For U.S. Americanness
to maintain its symbolic coherence, the national abject continually must be
both made present and jettisoned. In positing the paradigm of abjection as a
national/cultural identity-forming process, this book oers a way of reading
Asian Americanness in relation to and as a product of U.S. Americanness
that is, as occupying the seemingly contradictory, yet functionally essential,
position of constituent element and radical other.5
In employing the lexicon of abjection I do not intend to import the entire
apparatus of psychoanalytic theory with respect to the formation of the subject nor to suggest that a uniform, linear process takes place in the psyches of
all (white? non-Asian?) Americans who experience and process the dierence posed by Asian Americans in order to arrive at a determination of Asian
American abjection. Nor am I arguing for abjection as a sole causal explanation of the transhistorical construction of Asian Americanness. Certainly there
Introduction 3
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are other, complementary ways of understanding the history and consequent

performance of Asian Americannessmany of which I cite throughout this
study; however, I utilize abjection as a descriptive paradigm in order to posit
a way of understanding the relationship linking the psychic, symbolic, legal,
and aesthetic dimensions of national identity as they are performed (theatrically and otherwise) by Asian Americans.6 What National Abjection attempts to
grapple with is the complex relationship between aective experience and cultural expression in the formation of Asian Americanness; the concept of abjection describes how that relationship may be understood as a process in a way
that accounts for the trajectory of Asian American theatre, including the ineffectiveness of some political/performance responses to antiAsian American
racism, and the eectiveness of others.
Judith Butler briey references the apparatus of abjection to analyze and critique gendered social subjectication in Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits
of Sex. Butler considers how certain bodies (white, heterosexual males) come
to matter or function as centralized within social discourse, whereas others do
not: The abject, she writes, designates here precisely those unlivable zones
of social life which are nevertheless densely populated by those who do not enjoy the status of the subject, but whose living under the sign of the unlivable is
required to circumscribe the domain of the subject (3). What I nd protable
in these formulations are the links they articulate connecting psychic, social,
visual/perceptive, and bodily experiences of identity. Scholars of the politics of
representation, and particularly of performance, must grapple with the connections linking the body, the image, and the polis, in other words, connections
between aect and eect; so although I may defer from adopting the corpus
of Western psychoanalytic narratives, values, and assumptions as universal, I
have found portions of that lexicon productive for this project.7

On the most material level, as feminist, critical legal, and critical race theorists have demonstrated, the legal parameters of U.S. Americanness have been
premised on racialization (and sexualization) in order to construct the ideal
subject of the law as an Anglo-European heterosexual male.8 By examining
the history of the adjudication of race in the United States, Ian Haney Lpez
has concluded that it has been produced both physiologically and conceptually
through the court. The prerequisite laws establishing whiteness as prerequisite to naturalized citizenship, in eect in various forms from 1878 to 1952,
writes Haney Lpez, have directly shaped the physical appearance of people
in the United States by limiting entrance to certain physical types and by alter4 Introduction
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ing the range of marital choices available to people here. What we look like,
the literal and racial features we in this country exhibit, is to a large extent the
product of legal rules and decisions (15). Even more fundamental to American whiteness for Haney Lopz are the conceptual or perceptual ways law has
constructed race in the United States (whose eects extend well beyond the
period governed by the prerequisite cases), by creating the legal categories that
largely determine our understanding of biological racial dierence and by
den[ing] the content of racial identities and . . . specify[ing] their relative
privilege or disadvantage in U.S. society (10). That is, the cultural or symbolic
dominance of whiteness in the conceptualization of U.S. citizen has been
supported through the periodic, systematic exclusion of nonwhites through
immigration regulation and the dierential allocation of material and social
privileges along racialized lines.
In similar fashion Asian Americanists have argued that the literal and symbolic exclusion of Asians (among other groups deemed undesirable) has been
fundamental to the formation of (legal and cultural) U.S. Americanness. In
the last century and a half, writes Lisa Lowe, the American citizen has been dened over against the Asian immigrant, legally, economically, and culturally (4,
emphasis in original). Lowe argues that discursive manipulation of the categories of (Asian) immigrant and citizen (and material control over their respective bodies) has been foundational in the production of U.S. American citizenship, both legal and symbolic, often by dening them as mutually exclusive.
The conceptual U.S. citizen-subject comes into being, in other words, through
the expulsion of Asianness in the gure of the Asian immigrant.9 Certainly, the
history of the regulation of Asian immigration includes repeated incidents of
symbolic and literal expulsion as a means of establishing and maintaining a
racially specic Americanness, albeit punctuated by intermittent periods of
(partial) inclusion/assimilation. Acts of Congress and rulings by federal and
state courts denying entry or reentry, citizenship, and other rights to Chinese,
Japanese, Filipinos, Koreans, South Asians, and Hawaiians on the basis of their
incapacity to assimilate and the threat thereby posed to real American citizens and culture span the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries;
and although many of the early cases/regulations have been overturned and/or
superseded, they are nonetheless worth consideration for their explicit articulation of many of the rationales that continue to justify cultural/symbolic Asian
exclusion in order to conserve American identity and resources.
In re Ah Yup (1878), the rst federal adjudication of a racial prerequisite to
naturalization, for example, is instructive for its linkage between race and social/cultural assimilation as mutually reinforcing justications for Asian excluIntroduction 5
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sion. In deciding the case, federal Circuit Judge Sawyer (writing for the Court)
consulted Websters Dictionary (on race), the New American Cyclopedia (on ethnology),
and debates on the oor of the U.S. Senate regarding the Chinese problem
(which largely focused on the issue of Chinese immigration and its eects on
the U.S. labor market). Sawyer concluded that despite the fact that none can
be said to be literally white, and those called white may be found of every shade
from the lightest blonde to the most swarthy brunette, based on consultation
of these materials it is entirely clear that congress [sic] intended by this legislation to exclude Mongolians from the right of naturalization (223, 224; 1 F. Cas.
223 [C.C.D. Cal. 1878]). Similarly, In re Kanaka Nian (1889) based its ruling
(denying the plainti s naturalization application) in part on evidence that it
does not appear to the satisfaction of the court that the applicant understands
the principles of government of the United States or its institutions suciently
to become a citizen. The Utah Supreme Court based its decision on evidence
that the petitioner could not read the U.S. Constitution in English (although
he testied to having read it in translation) and could not name the U.S. president at the time (259; 6 Utah 259 [1889]). Claiming that the man entrusted
with the high, dicult, and sacred duties of an American citizen should be informed and enlightened [and] . . . should possess a feeling of moral obligation
sucient to cause him to adopt the right, the Utah Supreme Court thus established moral and literacy parameters for Americanness, which the petitioner
was found unable to meet. Finally, the most sweeping and explicit expression
of this impulse to exclude Asianness, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, barred
entry (and later reentry) of resident alien Chinese altogether. In its review of
the circumstances leading to the passage of the act, the U.S. Supreme Court
(in Chae Chan Ping v. United States) noted that Chinese immigrants gained an
(unfair) advantage in competition for labor opportunities because they were
generally industrious and frugal, and they remained strangers in the land,
residing apart by themselves, and adhering to the customs and usages of their
own country. It seemed impossible for them to assimilate with our people or
to make any change in their habits or modes of being. 10 Based on these sentiments, the Court reasoned, the Exclusion Act was found to be constitutional.
The failure of Chinese persons to assimilate (and subordinate themselves economically) to a cultural norm of Americanness justied their exclusion in the
eyes of the Court.
In these and numerous similar cases it seems the courts are searching for
that elusive, incontrovertible proof of (excludable) foreignness or, rather, the
cultural or (better still) scientic means by which to mark the frontier of
Americanness by using Asianness as its limit case. We know what American6 Introduction
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ness is, these decisions seem to imply, by pointing to the ways in which Asian
applicants are not that. But as Judge Sawyers admission in In re AhYup indicates,
the evidence that should be most clearly dispositivethe raced bodyproves
paradoxically the most dicult to interpret and, therefore, the most dicult
to regulate. Ironically, a racial prerequisite to citizenship that is theoretically
based in biological/genealogical descent may prove vulnerable to attack precisely at the moment the biological body oers itself as testimony/evidence.
In United States v. Dolla, for instance, the petitioner, an Indian-born Afghani,
oered (and prevailed through the use of ) physical evidence of whiteness.
The U.S. attorney led a writ of error, but in reviewing the case the U.S. Court
of Appeals dismissed the writ, noting that in the naturalization hearing it was
documented that
the applicants complexion is dark, eyes dark, features regular and rather
delicate, hair very black, wavy and very ne and soft. On being called on to
pull up the sleeves of his coat and shirt, the skin of his arm where it had
been protected from the sun and weather by his clothing was found to be
several shades lighter than that of his face and hands, and was suciently
transparent for the blue color of the veins to show very clearly. He was about
medium or a little below medium in physical size; and his bones and limbs
appeared to be rather small and delicate.11
Putting aside momentarily the humiliation these details prompt one to imagine the petitioner might have suered in this examination, it is ironic that in
taking the racial prerequisites literally and faithfully, the immigration ocials
nd on physical inspection of the plainti a truly blue-blooded American
after all.
The immigrant body, then, poses a particular kind of threat to the (literal and
symbolic) American body. As David Palumbo-Liu argues, exclusionist and
antimiscegenation psychologists, sociologists, and jurists found a particularly
eective synthesis in the science of eugenics/ethnology and the rhetorical
politics of racial exclusion in the early twentieth century, conceptualizing the
bodyof the nation as one in dire need of protection from infection: A particular
discursive formation evolved [during the 1920s and 1930s] that blended science
with politics, economics with sociology, national and international interests,
within which the nation was imagined as a body that must, through fastidious hygienic measures, guard against what passes from the exterior, excise the
cancerous cells that have already penetrated it, and prevent any reproductive
act that would compromise the regeneration of its species in an increasingly
massied and mobile world (24).
Introduction 7
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The bodily discourse that fueled the anti-immigrant, anti-immigration

legislation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (and that arguably resurfaced in the 1990s, as evidenced by the passage of anti-immigrant
legislation such as Californias Proposition 187) constructed the gurative national body as an organism that must be protected from contamination or
infection by the contagionboth literal and gurativethat the immigrant
body represents.12 Kristeva draws a similar metaphoric relation between the
body and cultural formation in her formulation of abjection. Ostensibly elaborating a theory of culture, Kristeva argues that the quintessential experiences
of abjection are decidedly rooted in the body: as in true theatre . . . refuse and
corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. . . . My body
extricates itself, as being alive, from that border. . . . If dung signies the other
side of the border, the place where I am not and which permits me to be, the
corpse, the most sickening of wastes, is a border that has encroached upon
everything (1982, 3, emphasis in original).
The corpse is, for Kristeva, the utmost of abjection precisely because it
cannot be categorically or permanently jettisoned: our bodies are continually approaching that state, and waste marks the presence of mortality and
decay within usevidence of the impossibility of successfully or permanently
achieving radical exclusion of the abject: It is death infecting life. Abject. It
is something rejected from which one does not part (1982, 4). This paradoxical recognition of the abhorrent as already internalized marks a second aspect
of abjection relevant to the present study: for as radically other/foreign to U.S.
Americanness as courts (often reecting more widely held cultural politics)
have insisted Asianness is, there has been a consistent, simultaneous rhetoric (both legal and cultural) of melting pot/multicultural inclusion that
envisions Asians as assimilable (or unavoidably assimilated) to U.S. Americanness. Certainly, exclusionary laws and policies such as the Chinese Exclusion
Act and the 1908 Gentlemens Agreement (restricting immigration of Japanese
laborers) were eventually repealed; even before those repeals U.S. citizenship
was extended to (rst U.S.-born, then naturalized) Asian Americans in United
States v. Wong Kim Ark, albeit not without dissent. Citing the determining relevance of English common law, the majority compared the relative merits of
citizenship based on parentage (jus sanguinis) and citizenship based on place
of birth (jus soli) and weighed in on the side of jus soli. Two dissenting justices, however, made the somewhat unorthodox suggestion that the determination of citizenship is political and as such should not be made on the basis
of English common law. Nonetheless, the end result was to convey birthright

8 Introduction
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citizenship to American-born Chinese, despite the bar to naturalization for

resident aliens.13
That process of (ambivalent) inclusion, as Palumbo-Liu and others have
shown, is not only formative of Asian Americanness, but it is constitutive of
(U.S.) Americanness itself. In the early twentieth century, a crucially formative period in the development of modern U.S. Americanness according to
Palumbo-Liu, the prevailing cultural and political perceptions of Asian Americanness had their origins in prevailing cultural and political perceptions of
Asia (either conceived collectively or as particular nations/regions) in relation
to the popularly held mythologization/celebration of American modernity and
westward expansion:
The very shape and character of the United States in the twentieth centuryspecically, in the imaginings of modern American development in
the global systemis inseparable from historical occasions of real contact
between and interpenetrations of Asia and America, in and across the Pacic
Ocean. The dening mythos of America, its manifest destiny, was, after
all, to form a bridge westward from the Old World, not just to the western
coast of the North American continent, but from there to the trans-Pacic
regions of Asia. (Palumbo-Liu, 5)
The historical positioning of the United States in relation to Asia, he argues, has in turn directly inuenced the perception of Asian Americans as
either proof of the triumph of American modernity or, alternatively, as a call
for careful risk management and/or exclusion. Similarly, Lowe notes that as a
synonym for immigrant, Asian Americans have been fundamental to the construction of the nation as a simulacrum of inclusiveness (albeit limited by
the project of imagining the nation as homogenous, which necessitates the
simultaneous positioning of Asian immigrants as fundamentally foreign )
(5). The nation-building mythology of Western expansion, then, colludes with
those of immigrant assimilation and melting-pot democratization to the extent that they may provide an account of, and justication for, the presence of
Asians in America.
This seeming contradictiona history of expulsion and exclusion of Asianness and the discourse of multiculturalism/diversity and inclusion of Asians
and other nonnormative subjectsis captured by the dilemma posed by abjection: it is through abjection that stable borders/subjects are constituted; but
by denition that process of constitution can never be complete because, in
Kristevas words, the process of abjection does not radically cut o the subject

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from what threatens iton the contrary, abjection acknowledges it to be in

perpetual danger (1982, 9). And because the process is never fully successful
or complete, the deject (one by whom the abject exists) must repeatedly
reinforce those boundaries: [a] deviser of territories, languages, works, the
deject never stops demarcating his universe whose uid connesfor they are
constituted of a non-object, the abjectconstantly question his solidity and
impel him to start afresh (8). It is this dynamic and unstable aspect of abjection that makes it a peculiarly apt model for charting Asian Americanness.
For if Asianness is what must be radically jettisoned in order to constitute
Americanness, it is also (has always been) a source of contamination. If
an element of abjection is the impossibility of wholly or nally dierentiating
it from the deject, what I am suggesting is that it is an (in)ability shared by
the nation in its attempt to concretize national boundaries and that it is this
inability that positions Asian Americans as a site of national abjection within
U.S. American culture. Racialized as (always potentially) foreign, we nevertheless cannot be dierentiated from the legitimate U.S. American subject
with an exclusion carrying the force of law and therefore cannot be openly,
completely, or permanently expelled; thus, to maintain the legitimacy of the
dominant racial/national complex, the process of abjection must continually
be reiterated or re-presented.14
The contradictory impulses of abjection were driving forces in the internment of mainland Japanese Americans during World War II.15 Ostensibly on
the basis of military emergency (the rationale of the Supreme Courts nding of constitutionality), in 1941 nearly 120,000 people of Japanese descent
(along with their non-Japanese spouses and multiracial children in some cases)
were evacuated from their homes on the West Coast (many forced to abandon
homes, farms, and other livelihoods) per President Franklin D. Roosevelts Executive Order 9066. The evacuees were relocated inland to camps (military
outposts fenced and secured with armed guards). Of course, as Gordon Hirabayashi and other defendants who challenged the constitutionality of internment
(and lost) pointed out, many of the internees were U.S. citizens; that is, the
very entity being concretized/defended in the expulsion of a foreign threat
(American lives, values, and property) included, indeed, required inclusion
of that which was being expelled. The democratic principles ostensibly being
defended abroadfreedom from racist genocide and colonial/nationalist brutalitiesled directly to racist-nationalist oppression and property theft at
home. The internment camps themselves can be seen as spatializations of abjection: their locations chosen precisely on the basis of their interiority (remoteness from the West Coast), the camps were fenced and patrolled by armed
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guards to keep a foreign threat out by, paradoxically, drawing it further in. The
rhetoric of the Japanese American Citizens League (jacl) similarly exemplied this abject contradiction: by peaceably submitting to the War Relocation
Act and thereby embracing the role of the abjected (symbolic) foreigner, its
leaders advised, internees would be demonstrating their exemplary Americanness. In his memoirs then-jacl leader Mike Masaoka recalls his reasoning at
the time. Given advance notice of the armys intention to relocate West Coast
Japanese, he (and Saburo Kido, fellow jacl leader) concluded they would advocate compliance:
In a time of great national crisis the government, rightly or wrongly, fairly
or unfairly, had demanded a sacrice. Could we as loyal citizens refuse to
respond? The answer was obvious. We had to reason that to defy our governments orders was to conrm its doubts about our loyalty.
There was another important consideration. . . . Cooperation as an indisputable demonstration of our loyalty might help to speed our return to
our homes. Moreover we feared the consequences if Japanese Americans resisted evacuation orders and the Army moved in with bayonets to eject the
people forcibly. . . . I was determined that the jacl must not give a doubting nation further cause to confuse the identity of Americans of Japanese
origin with the Japanese enemy. (Masaoka and Hosokawa, 92)
Masaoka, Kido, and other jacl leaders urged the Japanese American community to prove its Americanness by consenting to its removal. These exhortations to patriotism complicated the exclusionary impulse of the relocation,
claiming the insider status of Americanness by embracing the position of
the (abject) outsider. This paradox was heightened further when Japanese
Americans in or en route to camps were drafted (or volunteered) to serve in the
U.S. Army; although foreign enough to require radical jettisoning from their
homes, they were simultaneously seen as suciently American to serve their
country abroadas combat soldiers in Europe, as well as, in many cases, translators in postwar occupied Japan.
Although Congress passed (and Presidents Reagan and George Bush Sr.
signed) acts providing monetary and other reparations for former internees in
1988 and 1992, the injuries of others abjected in World War II have not been
redressed.16 For nearly a decade Filipino veterans of World War II have been
ghting for the benets they earned ghting alongside or as part of the U.S.
Army, and their struggle illustrates even more explicitly the ways that abjection
functions not only symbolically but literally, materially, and legally. When the
U.S. entered World War II and engaged the Japanese army in the Philippines,
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more than 250,000 Filipinos were ordered into service by President Roosevelt.
Promised U.S. citizenship and full military benets, these soldiers served under
direct U.S. military command or in concert with U.S. troops. However, when
Congress passed the postwar Recision Act in 1946, it reneged on its promise to provide citizenship and/or benets to many Filipino veterans.17 Coerced
into inclusion in a wartime symbolic Americanness through military service, in other words, these veterans were symbolically expelled once the war
ended; their pursuit of justice (which continues as of this writing), in calling
attention to their claim to insider benets, produces the characteristically
vacillating and ambivalent discourse of abjection. Although President George
Bush Sr. revived the citizenship promise in 1990 and a signicant number of
veterans patriated as a result, Filipino veterans continued to receive only half
the compensation of other U.S. veterans. A Fact Sheet distributed by the Department of Veterans Aairs (VA Benets for Filipino Veterans) distributed
in September 2000 explains the dilemma posed by this discrepancy:
the dierence [between full benets and half benets] was intended to reect the diering economic conditions in the Philippines and the United
States. Through the years since World War II, however, many Filipino veterans and their dependents have immigrated to this country. Filipino veterans
living in the United States face living expenses comparable to those for U.S.
veterans. Limiting payment of subsistence benets to those Filipino veterans results in an undue inequity and potential hardships to this group of
What signals abjection in this excerpt, I would argue, is its insistence on a
qualitative distinction between Filipino veterans living in the United States
and U.S. veterans, even as it suggests their living expenses are comparable.
These Filipino veterans were drafted by the U.S. government and fought under
U.S. command with the assumption that such service would secure U.S. citizenship. It is dicult to understand, then, in what sense these veterans are not
U.S. veteransespecially given the fact that in many cases they applied for and
obtained U.S. citizenship once it was made available to them in 1990. Their
struggle for benets foregrounds the tensions that bring symbolic citizenship
into visibility: these veterans performed perhaps the ultimate citizenly duty,
risking and in many cases giving their lives in defense of America, yet this
exemplary performance is not (or is only begrudgingly) recognized as entitling
them to American benets under the law.
In 2000 President Clinton signed into law new regulations providing full
va benetsbut only for those Filipino veterans residing in the United States.
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(Veterans who return to the Philippines receive 75 percent of their Supplemental Social Security Income, or ssi). The new program includes restrictions for
Social Security, pensions, and disability income, which render the new benets practically unfeasible, according to veterans advocates. If you deduct
everything, argues Lourdes Santos Tancinco, board president of the San Francisco Veterans Equity Center, you end up with zero (qtd. in Wells). Veterans
advocacy groups continue to press for full benets for all veterans, but the current state of the law illustrates how abjection works to ramify (and, in this
case, reestablish) boundaries between inside and outside, by recognizing the
ways in which Filipino veterans are functional participants in U.S. Americanness (by virtue of their military service) then forcing them to either assimilate
(through citizenship) to sameness or be jettisoned (by forgoing or surrendering citizenship and returning to the Philippines, thereby forfeiting the benets
they earned). In other words, their situation highlights the instability, inconsistency, and perhaps arbitrariness with which legal citizenship (and its attendant rights and benets) tracks the symbolic performance it purports to codify;
abjection of these veterans, through insistence on their dierence from U.S.
veterans, settles (gives the appearance of settling) that uncertainty.
In his account of the contradiction that marks Asian/ Americanness (which
he characterizes as a tenuous, historicized, provisional, and contingent consolidation of a nation against itself ), Palumbo-Liu suggests that the deployment of the model minority myth is an exemplary instance of [the]
negotiations of social and political subjectivity (170171). Indeed, the popular depiction of Asian Americans as a model minority illustrates the very
contradictions that characterize abjection. Praised and valued for their ability
(and inclination) to assimilate into the mainstream (with an eye toward eventually disappearing in/as it)indeed, to surpass even normal Americans
(that is, whites) at being ideal manifestations of American success and selfdetermination at a particular historical moment (the early period of the civil
rights movement), Asian Americans were singled out for their aptitude for conforming to dominant models of proper American citizenly values and practices (including subjection to the law, heteronormative and patriarchal family
values, and especially the pursuit of higher education), over and against what
were seen as other, less tractable, more antihegemonic racialized minorities.18
The ambivalence of abjection is coded into the oxymoronic term itself, which
embraces Asian Americanness as exemplary of the correct embodiment of
Americanness even as it marks that group out as distinguishable from normal Americanness by virtue of its racialized minority status.19
As Keith Osajima has observed, model minority rhetoric underwent modiIntroduction 13
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cation over the next twenty years. By the 1980s, Osajima found, popular press
references to the model minority frequently noted the shifting ethnic composition of Asian America and often focused on newer immigrant groups rather
than on Chinese and Japanese Americans, although he concludes that the continued reliance on culturally based explanations for success mirror the same
dominant ideological assumptions that articles from the 1960s rested upon.
Asian American success once again rearms that America is a land of opportunity (169). It is not incidental that Osajimas two phases of model minority
discourse span an important period for Asian American abjection: the Vietnam War and subsequent refugee resettlement.The Vietnam War as a historical
event constitutes a dilemma for the project of U.S. nationalism: a deeply divisive war that ended in retreat, its moral ambiguities continue to plague the
national conscience, challenging the national narrative of the U.S. as paternalist protector of (Third World) innocents. An event that shook the stability
and coherence of Americas understanding of itself (Lowe, 3), the Vietnam
War thus constitutes an abject history, one that has repeatedly reasserted itself
as a wound in need of healing (and thereby disappearing from our national conscience and self-image) and that (as I discuss in chapter 1) achieved
a semipermanent jettisoning by being overwritten with a U.S. victory in
the Persian Gulf in 1991.
Of particular relevance to the present study, the inux of Southeast Asian
refugees resulting from the war and its aftermath may be seen as literal embodiments of that abject history, which threatened to (and occasionally succeeded in) collapsing the conceptual borders protecting a phantasmatic U.S.
Americanness free from the taint of that war. Refugees from Vietnam, Laos,
and Cambodia by their very presence forced a reckoning by U.S. Americans
with our involvement in the history that brought them to the United States
and with their complex but undeniable claim to Americanness. Operating on the assumption that these populations would be more quickly absorbed/assimilated into American society (and thereby cease to be functionally recognizable as abject), the U.S. government pursued a policy of dispersal
(via the Interagency Task Force, commissioned by President Ford in 1975,
and later the 1980 Refugee Act), providing incentives to social services providers sponsoring the refugees to place the newcomers in areas without large
Asian American populations, and to avoid placing perceptible numbers of
refugees within a single community. But as Bill Ong Hing and others have
noted, these misguided (Hing, 129) attempts to sanitize this population of its
abject taint through rapid absorption/assimilation met with considerable resistance, both from more entrenched Americans who nonetheless saw the
14 Introduction
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newcomers quite clearly as abject and from the refugees themselves, who constructed a counterdiscourse of resistance (Palumbo-Liu, 247) by remigrating, reconstituting ethnic-identied communities, and cultivating a visible and
well-dened sense of ethnic identity. That is, it is precisely by actively pursuing and reinhabiting the position designated as culturally abject that Southeast Asian Americans have resisted coerced assimilation to mainstream AngloAmericanization.
The destabilizing threat posed by this contradiction, in turn, produces
spectacularly divergent resultsimages and representations, as well as legal
rulings and governmental policies, that vacillate wildly between positioning Asian Americans as foreigners/outsiders/deviants/criminals or as domesticated/invisible/exemplary/honorary whites. Radically unresolvable, the
tension generated in that social/historical contradiction results in the production of racial stereotypes of Asian Americans in representation. As Homi Bhabha
points out in positing the function of racial stereotypes in the colonial context,
an important feature of colonial discourse is its dependence on the concept
of xity in the ideological construction of otherness. Fixity, as the sign of
cultural/historical/racial dierence in the discourse of colonialism, is a paradoxical mode of representation: it connotes rigidity and an unchanging order
as well as disorder, degeneracy and daemonic repetition (1994b, 66).
Thus colonial discourse functions, through the racial stereotype, to establish a self in opposition to an other by making that other abnormal, monstrous,
and thereby xed and characterizable. However, Bhabha continues, this xity is
paradoxical because a crucial second feature of the racial stereotype is its
necessary ambivalence. The stereotype, he continues, is a form of knowledge and identication that vacillates between what is always in place, already
known, and something that must be anxiously repeated (66). Just as the abject
perpetually threatens encroachment on the self and so must be continually abjected, so the racial stereotype can never be a single, denitive object. Through
the racial stereotype, writes Bhabha, what is being dramatized is a separationbetween races, cultures, histories, within historiesa separation between
before and after that repeats obsessively the mythical moment or disjunction
(82, emphasis in original); and the obsessively repeated tropes governing Asian
American representation in dominant culture focus on two (related) characteristics: sexuality and nationality.
A dening characteristic of the Orient (in the eyes of the orientalist as described by Edward Said) is its status as a place where one could look for sexual
experience unobtainable in Europe (Said 1978, 190). In her study of Hollywood representations of East-West sexual relations Gina Marchetti similarly
Introduction 15
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concludes, One of the more enduring aspects of Western visions of Asia involves the Easts supposedly intrinsic seductiveness. Associated with material
opulence, moral laxity, sensuality, cultural decadence, and exotic beauty, this
seductiveness implies a peculiar spiritual danger and often hidden threat to the
Westerner (67). This heightened or aberrant sexuality associated with Asia,
then, functions to circumscribe the West in terms of sex, sexuality, and gender by dening its other. Kristeva suggests that the abject is similarly eroticized, virtually by denition (1982, 55), and indeed popular representations
of Asian Americans can be characterized most prominently by their aberrant
(and often contradictory) sexualities. Writing about lmic representations of
Asian women in her essay Lotus Blossoms Dont Bleed, Rene Tajima notes
that there are two basic types: the Lotus Blossom Baby (a.k.a. China Doll,
Geisha Girl, shy Polynesian Beauty), and the Dragon Lady (Fu Manchus various female relations, prostitutes, devious madames) (309). As for Asian men,
Tajima notes, quite often they are cast as rapists or love-struck losers (312).
But as Richard Fung observes, even the rapist has fallen from view in recent
iterations;20 nevertheless, he oers a similarly antonymic pairing: Asian men
in representation are consigned to one of two categories: the egghead-wimp,
or . . . the kung-fu master/ninja/samurai. He is sometimes dangerous, sometimes friendly, but almost always characterized by a desexualized Zen asceticism. In short, he concludes, the Asian man is dened by a striking absence
down there (1991, 148). That these stereotypes should occur in contrasting
pairs is signicant, as Bhabha points out: It is recognizably true that the chain
of stereotypical signication is curiously mixed and split, polymorphous and
perverse, an articulation of multiple belief. The black is both savage (cannibal)
and yet the most obedient and dignied of servants (the bearer of food); he is
the embodiment of rampant sexuality and yet innocent as a child; he is mystical, primitive, simple-minded and yet the most worldly and accomplished liar,
and manipulator of social forces (1994b, 82).
But although Bhabha sees this split functioning to demarcate a linear progressive narrative (under certain conditions of colonial domination and control the native is progressively reformable [1994b, 83]), the coincident or
simultaneous split in the case of Asian American stereotypes can also be
understood as a product of abjection. Because the radically excluded abject
is not wholly objectiable (cannot be denitively dierentiated from real
Americanness), the image constantly wavers, attempting to reconcile itself to
that condition/dilemma and thereby resulting in often diametrically opposed
stereotypes, both purporting to represent Asian Americanness. 21
More accurately, these opposing stereotypes are often invoked in order
16 Introduction
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to represent Asianness (in the guise of Asian Americanness); to the degree

Asian Americans are abjected in representation, they are frequently conated
with Asian foreigners. Abjection, in other words, functions to make Asian
Americanness into Asianness. If Asian American identity functions as a site of
racial/sexual/national abjection, then it can only be represented (objectied)
once it has been radically excluded; as ordinary Americans, Asian Americans
are often simply incomprehensible or invisible.This, nally, is the dynamic that
largely dictates Asian American representation: if (paraphrasing Kristeva) the
nation must abject itself within the same motion through which it claims to
establish itself, it does so by abjecting Asian Americanness, by making it other,
foreign, abnormal, not-American.
Countless other historical examples of Asian American abjection could be
included in this listthe preceding discussion is intended to be illustrative
rather than exhaustive. What I hope becomes clear through these examples
is a pattern of contradiction on the part of the U.S. government and mainstream culture with respect to various Asian American communitiesat times
embracing/ingesting them, at other times violently (if often symbolically) expelling/excluding/segregating themand that these contradictions may be
understood as a product of the continually collapsing project of abjection as a
fundamental element of national identity formation.

Given this dilemma, how might the Asian American body be performed? Asian
Americans have, after all, been engaged in (theatrical and quotidian) performance for more than two hundred years, and (self-proclaimed) Asian American theatreas a dramatic genre/institutionhas been in existence for more
than forty years, a benchmark that prompts me to wonder how these images are
seen, the process through which they become visually comprehensible. Those
images did not arise ab initio, of course, but rather emerged from/against a
centuries-old backdrop of racist portrayals of Orientals, geishas and, of
course, Chinamen. Asian American performers never walk onto an empty
stage; as James Moy, Robert Lee, and others have demonstrated, that space is
always already densely populated with phantasms of orientalness through and
against which an Asian American performer must struggle to be seen.
That those racist representations have a long and spectacular history has
been well documented in excellent studies such as Moys Marginal Sights and
Lees Orientals, along with another invaluable resource for Asian American theatre scholars, Dave Williamss The Chinese Other, 18501925: An Anthology of Plays,
which collects some of the earliest U.S. theatrical representations of ChinaIntroduction 17
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men and yellowface performance. These representations do not merely serve

as a historical antecedent to contemporary Asian American performance, however; orientalist/yellowface performance continues unabated, enacting an ongoing process of national-racial abjection of Asian Americanness and providing a foil/backdrop/motivation for contemporary Asian American performance
interventions. Chapter 1 thus focuses on a relatively recent instance of (mainstream) Asian American abjection in order to situate the Asian American performance responses/alternative strategies discussed in subsequent chapters.
Examining in detail the controversial U.S. premiere of the musical production
Miss Saigon, this chapter considers how that box oce record-breaking representation of U.S. Americanness and Vietnameseness/Asianness eectively
abjects Asian Americanness, precluding the possibility of its armative representation or visualization. Although National Abjection is not primarily focused on (abjecting) mainstream representations of Asian Americanness, it
is nonetheless useful to begin here; for if the overwhelming force of dominant representation is to abject Asian Americanness, it is crucial to understand
how it works, in order to decipher and evaluate Asian American responses and
counterperformances. And although it may be fairly obvious that Miss Saigon
is a problematic representation, it is still instructive to dissect that text and
consider how it is problematic and, more important, what happens to the problems texts such as this set in motion. Abjection governed not only what was
represented (or not) onstage but also the framing of the issues surrounding
the controversial casting of white British actor Jonathan Pryce in the Eurasian
role of the Engineer and the Asian American activists protesting that casting.
Coinciding with the Persian Gulf War, the controversy came to signify not only
a battle for artistic freedom (in the words of the shows producers) but also
for the embattled integrity of (white, heterosexual male) U.S. Americanness.
Turning from dominant cultural representations governing Asian American
(in)visibility, beginning with chapter 2 I then consider Asian American performance in relation to that larger eld of representation. What interests me
about Asian American theatre/performancewhich encompasses both the institutions and the genre(s) of dramatic literature and performance textsis
the way it can negotiate that process of coming into visibility. Clearly, one cannot simply opt out of the process of abjection/racialization through sheer force
of will; but as I argue in chapter 2, the dramatic space is one where audiences
are arguably willing to relax those otherwise punitively enforced restrictions
on bodily identity and so may aord if not a complete repudiation of those
imposed identities then at least (and at its best) a problematization of or critical engagement with them. The theatre is a place where one may (somewhat
18 Introduction
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safely) scrutinize the abjecta feature that renders it, in the eyes of performativity theorists such as Butler, less powerful: In the theatre, one can say,
this is just an act, and de-realize the act, make acting into something quite
distinct from what is real. Because of this distinction, one can maintain ones
sense of reality in the face of this temporary challenge to our existing ontological assumptions . . . the various conventions which announce this is only
a play allow strict lines to be drawn between the performance and life (Butler
1990, 278).
But as Kristevas discussion of the corpse (as in true theatre . . . refuse and
corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside [3]) reminds us, abjection is
at once a specular and aective process: one abjects (that is, becomes a deject)
through a process of looking at (which may or may not result in seeing) that which
is designated abject and recognizing ones own bodily relation to abjection.
What I am suggesting is that there is also a way to conceive of that process from
the perspective of the one being looked at (or looked past/through), the one inhabiting the bodyand space of abjection, and that this constitutive and dynamic
relationship between seeing and being, between seeing and feeling, is what
makes performance a particularly fruitful site at which to examine the process of
national abjection that produces Asian Americanness. Although the theatrical
occasion may, in one sense, render the presentation of the abject safe, the
theatre can also function to destabilize the rigid categories of self/other, subject/object/abjectnot only on a self-consciously ctive or diegetic level but
on an experiential one as well.
Certainly, this suspension of punitive identication between bodies and
particular identities/abjections is only partial: one does not check all visual/
cultural associations at the door of the theatre (hence the very possibility of
cross-racial and cross-gender casting as political/aesthetic praxis); but it is precisely for this reason I argue theatre is an ideal place in which to interrogate
the process of abjection. In speculating on the future of the hyphen (that is,
intercultural exchange in theatre) Una Chaudhuri asserts that inherent in the
medium is an awareness of the abject, a whole hidden poetics of alterity:
consciousness of otherness, she writes, is tightly woven into the fabric of
the dramatic medium whichfor all its vaunted commitment to liveness and
presenceis always also projected into the future, into other times and places
of its potential reincarnation (1991, 202). The very fact that there is a body
onstage, an actor who, all tacitly agree, is enacting a role/identity that is not
her own necessarily implies a threat (and tacit acceptance) of the destabilization of the opposition between (to paraphrase Butler) bodies that matter and
bodies that dont.
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Chapter 2 also considers the formation of some of the founding Asian

American theatre companies, such as East West Players (Los Angeles), the
Asian AmericanTheatre Company (San Francisco), the Northwest Asian American Theatre (Seattle), as well as New Yorks Pan Asian Repertory, Hawaiis
Kumu Kahua, and Minneapoliss Theatre Mu.Through interviews with some of
the founding members of these companies, as well as with artists who worked
(deliberately or otherwise) outside those institutions, I argue that these companies operate alongside mainstream or racially nonspecic U.S. theatre in a
dynamic that could be understood as an abject/deject relation: they serve an
audience of community members, actors, and playwrights who, in most cases,
would not otherwise be served/seen and who have been excluded/abjected from
mainstream theatre; paradoxically, however, by denition they serve to reiterate their own abjection from the mainstream theatre industry. At the same
time, these theatres maintain a complicated and dynamic relationship to both
mainstream theatre and Americanness, thus exhibiting the ambivalence and
vacillation characteristic of abjection. Although not intended as an exhaustive history of Asian American theatre companies, this chapter posits a way of
understanding why these institutions emerged when they did, as well as how
they came to take up the political and aesthetic forms they currently inhabit as
a relation/response to national abjection.22
In light of that history chapter 3 examines the ways several early Asian
American plays, as well as some more recent additions to the genre, reiterate (self-consciously or otherwise) the abjection of Asian Americanness. Plays
such as Wakako Yamauchis 12-1-A, Elizabeth Wongs Letters to a Student Revolutionary, and Frank Chins The Chickencoop Chinaman and Year of the Dragon all illustrate the integral role of abjection in the production of a (racialized) national
subject. Further, these works provide an occasion to begin to consider discursive subject formation and bodily identityand the vexed relationship between
the two in conceiving Asian Americanness: by what alchemy, this chapter asks,
do racial stereotype and nationalist rhetoric produce the racialized body? In each
instance the abjection portrayed in these plays takes place primarily (but not
exclusively) at the level of discourse, and the Asian American body onstage is
deployed to challenge ordisprove the discursive racial formation. In eect these
plays attempt to produce a counterdiscourse using the raced body as its source
text, explicitly challenging the abjection of Asian Americanness by representing Asian Americans as fully formed and fully materialized subjects, in stark
contrast to the abjected (and therefore invisible) or objectied (and therefore
hyperbolic and stereotypical) representations imposed by dominant culture.
Although these challenges to abjection are important antidotes to dominant
20 Introduction
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representations and are useful in helping us delineate the contours of racialized national abjectionthey help us, in eect, see how abjection produces
or circumscribes a certain kind of Asian Americannessthey simultaneously
constitute the limits of comprehensibility and thereby risk essentializing Asian
American identities. It would be a mistakeor at least insucientto consider only those ways in which Asian American theatre can represent the Asian
American body as not-abject. Noting that citation of a norm (and the concomitant construction/rejection of its abject) oers itself as an occasion to
expose the norm itself as a privileged interpretation, Butler raises the possibility (albeit limited) for transgression within this system: for those relegated
to that position of abjection, the task is to regure this necessary outside
as a future horizon, one in which the violence of exclusion is perpetually in
the process of being overcome (1993, 53). How might that be done? Following Irigarays formulation of a womans strategy of play[ing] with mimesis
(1985a, 86), Butler interprets Irigarays rereading of Platos Timaeus as a call to
citation, not as enslavement or simple reiteration of the original, but as an
insubordination that appears to take place within the very terms of the original, a strategy Butler terms critical mimesis (1993, 45). This is precisely
the strategy at work in Asian American performance works such as those I
consider in chapter 4: Velina Hasu Houstons Tea, Jeannie Barrogas Talk-Story,
Philip Kan Gotandas Yankee Dawg You Die, and David Henry Hwangs M. Buttery. Rather than an outright disavowal or rejection of stereotypical, racializing/nationalizing discourse, these plays critically reterritorialize the position
of the abject through mimicry, not necessarily to render Asian Americanness nonabject but to redeploy the threatening force of abjection. Moreover, in
order to be eective in theatrical performance, critical mimesis cannot work
primarily or exclusively through discourse: because theatre by denition consists of physical bodies taking on explicitly ctive roles, to merely speak or roleplay the abjecting discourse is not enough to eect resignication. These plays
are eective, to the extent they are eective, because they do not merely respeak the discourse of abjection (perfectly, playfully, or otherwise); rather, they
self-consciously engage the eects of that discourse on the Asian American body
and recirculate and redirect the force of abjection through and on that body.
In other words, in contrast to the plays discussed in chapter 3, these works do
not re-present the process of abjection so much as they perform the abject imperfectly. Where the earlier works attempt to truthfully represent Asian American experiences and to assert that truth as a curative to the misrepresentations
that make Asian Americanness comprehensible (that is, the racist stereotypes
discussed earlier), the works examined in this chapter willingly, if playfully,
Introduction 21
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embody culturally comprehensible stereotypes even as those stereotypes are

Chapter 5 considers in depth thework of theatre artist Ping Chong. Focusing
specically on two plays in his East-West series (Deshima and Chinoiserie), I consider the pleasures, perils, and potential in deploying a critically mimetic representation in a transnational context. Chongs historiographic series
investigates the production of Japaneseness, Japanese Americanness, Chineseness, and Chinese Americanness as each of those concepts/positions/identities
has accrued meaning and materiality over time. Looking backward (as well as
forward) from the contemporary moment of globalization and transnational
diasporan movement, Chong reembodies history in order to embody it differently. By contextualizing the process of Asian American abjection within
a historically embedded transnational framework, Chongs characters performatively re-vision national abjection onstage.

22 Introduction
From National Abjection by Shimakawa, Karen. DOI: 10.1215/9780822384243
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I should beAmerican!
Abjection and the Asian (American) Body

You are here like a mystery

Im from a world thats so di rent from all that you are
chris, Sun and Moon, Miss Saigon

Advance publicity for the 1991 Broadway premiere of Miss Saigon, a musical written and staged by the blockbuster team that assembled Les Misrables (French
composer Alain Boublil and lyricist Claude-Michel Schenberg, and British
producer Cameron Macintosh), was a lightning rod for Asian American arts
and community activists. And it was not only the Asian American community
that joined the fray: the issue reverberated beyond the New York theatre community and sparked a nationwide debate on race and artistic freedom. Indeed,
the controversy surrounding the casting of white British actor Jonathan Pryce
in the role of a Eurasian character named The Engineer elicited commentary
in major newspapers all over the country, from journalists as far aeld from
theatre as George Will and Anna Quindlen.1 In part because of this controversy
and the shows prior successful run in London, Miss Saigon opened in New York
to record-breaking advance ticket sales of $39 million and went on to become
one of the most successful Broadway plays of all time by its nal performance
in 2001 before a sold-out house (Gerard 1991).
A recasting of Madame Buttery set at the close of the Vietnam War, Miss Saigon
tells the story of a white American gi named Chris and a seventeen-yearold Vietnamese prostitute named Kim. The pair meet in a Saigon bar and fall
in love days before Chriss battalion is pulled out of Saigon in the 1975 U.S.
Embassy airlift. Unable to nd her in the throng outside the embassy gates,
Chris leaves Kim behind, unaware that she is pregnant with their child. Back

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in the U.S. Chris marries Ellen. Act 2 opens three years later, when Chris learns
of the child and returns to Vietnam with his American wife. After learning of
Chriss marriage, Kim (who has been steadfast in her belief that Chris would
eventually return to save her and their child) commits suicide in order to compel Chris and Ellen to take the child back to the United States and raise him as
their own.
Initially inspired by a magazine photograph, Boublil and Schenberg immediately saw a connection between that image and Giacomo Puccinis opera
and embarked on composing a sung-through musical in that vein. Schenbergs recollection of his initial response to the photograph is notable:
The little Vietnamese girl was about to board a plane from Ho Chi Minh City
Airport for the United States of America where her father, an ex-gi she had
never seen, was waiting for her. Her mother was leaving her there and would
never see her again.
Behind this particular picture lay a background of years of enquiries and
bureaucratic formalities, in order to nd the ex-soldier from the other side of
the world, with whom the woman had shared a brief moment of her life. . . .
I was so appalled by the image of this deliberate ripping apart that I had to
sit down and catch my breath. . . . Was that not the most moving, the most
staggering example of The Ultimate Sacrice, as undergone by Cio-Cio
San in Madame Buttery, giving her life for her child? 2
But as Angela Pao notes, commenting on Schenbergs statement, As Boublil
and Schenberg have so eectively demonstrated . . . this was far from the ultimate sacrice a mother could make for her child (31, emphasis in original).
Is it the image of a self-sacricing Asian woman/mother that trips Schenbergs memory of Madame Buttery or the (implied) sexual liaison with a (white)
American man? The two are arguably inextricable: mutually dening images of
Asian femininity, each necessarily invokes the other and nds its fullest, most
cathartic expression in the Buttery narrative.
In his historical survey of U.S. theatrical representations of the Chinese,
James Moy argues that the forced opening of Japan by Western traders, missionaries, and military forces in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and
Japans own aggressive campaign to colonize Asia gave rise not only to the rhetoric of the yellow peril but also to the basic outline of the Buttery story, with
its characteristic penchant for fatally untrustworthy Asian men and suicidal
Asian women: American dramatists, Moy observes, with the characteristic provincialism of the Eurocentric colonialist way of looking at the world,
began killing o Asiansas if to articulate an unwillingness, an impatience,
24 National Abjection
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The start of everything for Boublil and Schenberg. Photo originally appeared in France
Soir, October 1985. Photographer unknown.

or simply a lack of desire to understand (84). This fear of Asianness, concludes Moy, manifested itself in theatrical representation as an aestheticization
of dead Asiansespecially, although not exclusively, dead female Asianswith
Puccinis opera constituting only the most celebrated iteration in a long line
of beautiful(ly) dead Asian women.3
Moy traces the Buttery plot to the 1898 short story Madame Buttery, by
John Luther Long, although historian Endymion Wilkinson, as well as Boublil
and Schenberg, locate its origins in an earlier text, Madame Chrysanthemum
(1887), the autobiography of a French naval ocer (Julien Viaud) writing under
the pen name Pierre Loti.The popularity of the Long story, which bears remarkable similarities to Lotis, led to a Broadway musical (Madame Buttery: A Japanese Tragedy) staged by David Belasco in 1900. That production was attended by
Puccini, presumably thus providing inspiration for his most celebrated opera
(and the most widely known version of the Buttery narrative), which debuted in
1904.The marketabilityof the Buttery storydid not end there, however. As Moy,
Marchetti, and others point out, the story of an Asian/oriental woman sacricing herself for a white, heterosexual (usually married) Western man (and often
their biracial child) continues to be a plotline of choice in East-West romance
narratives produced in the West. So pervasive is this race/gender narrative, in
fact, that in the late 20th century, surmises Angela Pao, it is impossible to
I should beAmerican! 25
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discuss Western representation of Asian women without returning to Madame

Buttery (26).
The familiarity and availability of the image of a (suicidal) Asian woman
was certainly relevant in the creation of Miss Saigon, where the plays creators
began with the self-conscious objective of retelling the Buttery story, but the
implications of Paos comment are much wider: the self-sacrice of an Asian
woman for the love of a white (Western) man has become an archetypal template, against which Asian womens sexuality is always measured in terms of
self-denial/self-destruction (and often internalized racism). Thus it is entirely
predictableperhaps unavoidablethat, in wanting to tell any love story involving an Asian woman and a white man, Boublil and Schenberg were reminded of Puccinis heroine, ninety years and nationalities/national histories
The direct association between interracial romance and the Buttery narrative is frequently also generated by a third factor (as it is in this case): militarism/military conquest. In fact, the Miss Saigon creative team readily acknowledges that the displacement or metaphorization of the diplomatic/military
conict onto an interracial love aairspecically, the Buttery narrativewas
what they envisioned from the start: it came to our minds immediately, recalls Boublil, that these two people were living in short cut what these two
countriesVietnam and Americahad been living (qtd. in Behr and Steyn,
38).4 This link between Buttery narratives and military/diplomatic relations is
not new, for as Marchetti argues, the sexual relationship of the Buttery narrative is frequently employed as an allegory for, or interpersonal negotiation of,
larger international politics, rearming the Wests (usually benevolent) dominance over the East: The myth continues to function, writes Marchetti, as
a political legitimation of hegemony internationally (108). If, as I argued in
my introduction, the Vietnam War and its aftermath represent an abject history from which U.S. Americanness must repeatedly distance itself, the selfannihilation of the Vietnamese woman/Buttery thus eects her own abnegation, leaving the U.S.-identied audiences conscience clear of blame and free
of the taint of war or Vietnameseness/abjection. In other words, the Buttery
narrative, when deployed in this military setting, serves the dual (or colluded)
purposes of abjecting Asianness and the traumatic memory of military defeat.
At the same time, as Susan Jeords has argued, Vietnam representation
[in the U.S.] is thus more than a comment on a particular war: it is an emblem
for the presentation of dominant cultural ideology in contemporary American
society (5).That cultural ideology, according to Jeords, is gender: Gender is
the matrix through which Vietnam is read, interpreted, and reframed in domi26 National Abjection
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nant American culture, she argues. The unspoken desire of Vietnam representation, and its primary cultural function, is to restage the Nam (read:
gender) in America (53).
Jeordss readings of representations of Vietnam and the Vietnam War
position male soldiers/veterans as either defeated victims of feminization
or revisionist emblems of American masculinity. Miss Saigon participates in
both of these projectsespecially the latterand by mapping the Buttery narrative onto them, the plays logic is to racialize gender dierence,
gender racial/national dierence, and, in demarcating those dierences, to
abject the Asian = feminine = female = not-American equation in order
to consolidate the white = male = masculine = American constellation.
Indeed, in consciously fashioning the character of Chris as an allegorical
stand-in for the United States, Miss Saigon focuses on and self-consciously
re-creates (white) American masculinityor rather, it consolidates Americanness as whiteness/maleness/masculinityby abjecting Asianness as nonAmerican/female/feminine.
U.S. lyricist Richard Maltby, hired to collaborate with Boublil and Schenberg in translating the libretto into English, commented that neither ClaudeMichel nor Alain nor even Cameron really understood how devastating the
Vietnam War was to the American psyche (Behr and Steyn, 65). Presumably,
France, too, bears a deject-abject relation to Indochina, a historical relationship that is subsumed byperhaps abjected throughthe limited focus on
the United Statess involvement in Vietnam, with only passing references to
Frances originating role as colonists in the region. If anything, that France
played a large role in instigating the devastation of the region seems to have
been a source of legitimation for Boublil, who recounted feeling a sense of
relief on discovering Lotis French antecedent for Puccinis American opera,
since it must not be forgotten that Vietnam was a French colony and a French
mistake before it became an American one (qtd. in Behr and Steyn, 31). This
shared history of involvement in Southeast Asia constituted a source of authority for Boublil and Schenberg, who (in promotional materials written
after the start of the Pryce casting controversy) averred that The Engineer,
the half-French, half-Vietnamese wheeler-dealer [was] an actual Vietnamese
type that many French and English journalists have encountered in addition to
being based on the minor character of Goro in Puccinis opera (Behr and Steyn,
32). However, Boublil claimed insider knowledge of both sides of the story
declaring a greater anity with theVietnamese victims than with the Americans,
despite their (Frances and the United Statess) shared mistake: Born and
raised in Tunisia, he reected, I had learned a sense of fatalism under another
I should beAmerican! 27
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Oriental hot sky. . . . Kim and Thuy are familiar to me, like a friends sister and
a cousin. . . . I also felt very clearly that the American Dream probably meant
for Vietnamese exactly what it meant to me and my school friends in Tunisia
(Behr and Steyn, 33). Thus, Boublil and presumably his collaborator distance
or demarcate themselves from Frances abject historical relationship to Indochina/Vietnam by projecting that guilt/responsibility onto the United States
and at times by identifying with the Vietnamese victims as a way of deferring
aliation with a United States that is (perhaps more spectacularly) saddled
with the abject burden of the Vietnam War and its aftermath.
The show accomplishes this task by avoiding even the supercial moral
ambiguities of Puccinis narrative. Schenberg states atly (and without further elaboration), We didnt want Chris to be a bastard like Pinkerton (Behr
and Steyn, 30), and indeed the published/performed version of the character
has very little in common with the worldly, womanizing, callous, and aggressive American in Puccinis opera. Rather, Miss Saigon labors to establish Chris as
well intentioned and without fault at every stage of the narrative. In the opening musical number other gis jovially participate in a lottery/beauty contest
in which the woman who wins becomes the prize of the holder of the winning
lottery ticket. The women preen, strut, and bump and grind in G-strings and
bikinis, apparently not only willing but enthusiastic to participate in this exchange. Chris hangs back from the catcallingnot from a lack of appropriately
heteromasculine libidinal aggression, as the lyrics later assure us, but because
of his patriotic preoccupation with the impending end of the U.S. occupation
of Saigon:
The meat is cheap in Saigon
Why cant I just play the game?
We lost the war long ago
What is this bug up my ass
You tell me I dont know. (The Heat Is On)5
Near the end of the number it is not Chris but rather his friend (appropriately
named) John who, as a gesture of homosocial aection, buys Kim for Chris
despite Chriss reluctance, we are assured:
john: Im gonna buy you a girl.
chris: You can buy me a beer.
Thus, Chris is exonerated from all potential charges of exploitation or objectication in retaining Kims servicesenabling the audience (by now positioned
to identify with Chriss point of view) to enjoy the spectacular display of (ap28 National Abjection
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parently eager) sexually available Asian women, without having to feel ethically
compromised for having taken pleasure in the appeal.
Predictably, once the pair have had sex, they fall in love, further cleansing the
American from the taint of exploitation; Kim even refuses the money he oers,
thus voluntarily purging the relationship of its basis in coercion and sexual
commodication. His subsequent eorts to bring Kim with him to the United
States are thwarted by othersJohn, The Engineer, the U.S. governmentbut
his repeated, earnest, desperate eorts are portrayed in agonizing detail, as if
to preempt the ambivalence that audiences might otherwise feel when, near
the close of act 1, the production recreates the now-famous image of the last
helicopter leaving the embassy roof as throngs of Vietnamese (many of whom
served the U.S. government during the occupation) reached out in vain. And
to reinforce Chriss blamelessness, repeated reference is made in act 2 to his
prolonged despair after returning to the United States (he spoke to no one for
a year, John later recounts) as if to assure audiences that he did not suer his
betrayal of Kimwhich was, of course, not really a betrayal at alllightly.
Chriss motivation for wanting to protect Kim shifts from sexual attraction
to paternalism early in the narrative. Having spent the night with Kim, Chris
wakes to sing, Now Ill leave remembering her, and it is not until he hears
Kims story of violence and desperate poverty that he is prompted to suggest an
ongoing relationshipand perhaps marriage. In act 2, when Ellen asks Chris
if he still loves Kim, he defends his earlier actions as having been motivated not
by love but because I wanted to save her, protect her / Christ, Im an American /
How could I fail to do good? This seemingly innate American paternalism is
repeatedly invoked by the U.S. characters (Chris, Ellen, John), acknowledging
a sense of dutyalthough in each case this duty derives from an identication
with the United States as charitable caretaker of theThird World rather than out
of aection or a recognized sense of responsibility for having created suering in the rst place. This duty, to care for the (abjected) other, whose mutually
implicated relationship with Chris/America cannot be acknowledged, eclipses
the romantic story line (from Chriss perspective, if not from Kims) in order to
rmly and comfortably establish the moral rectitude of America/Chris (and, as
I argue below, the utter inassimilability of Kim) for the remainder of the show.
Ellens role in the play would appear to be minimal. Her function as white
American heterosexual partner for Chris is crucial, but she doesnt do anything
so much as she occupies a necessary position vis--vis Chris and Kim.6 With
almost no deviation she echoes Chriss stances throughout the play, assuring
Kim that it is our duty to help raise the biracial child and, moreover, that
Chris and I stand completely together on that. This is precisely her function:
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to stand completely together with Chris. Ellen does not signify Americanness
on her ownthere is virtually no development of her character beyond establishing this unwavering loyalty to Chris and her jealousy of Kim 7rather, she
enables Chris to signify Americanness as male, heterosexual, and unavailable
to Kim as an avenue to U.S. citizenship (through marriage).8
Similarly, although the original Broadway cast featured an African American actor (Hinton Battle) as John, as the buddy gure he does not so much
signify Americanness as supplement and provide a foil for Chris as the primary embodiment of Americanness in the play.9 John is the less-than-perfect
sidekick who brings Chris and Kim (and later their child) together. He is rst
seen participating quite enthusiastically in the hubbub surrounding the Miss
Saigon contest, declaring, I got the hots for Yvonne / We should get drunk
and get laid. He thus serves as a moral contrast to the more decorous Chris.
John also provides a conveniently disinterested position from which to advocate for patriation of Amerasian children (in Bui-Doi, discussed in more detail below). Because no indication is given that John is aware of having fathered
children in Vietnam (although evidently not for his lack of trying), he is able
to argue for paternalist magnanimity without having to confront (or force the
audience to confront) how his actions might have created the suering and
hardship he depicts in his appeal.
Thus, Chris emerges as the locus of U.S. American identity: white, male,
heteromasculine. But as I argued in the introduction, identities such as this do
not emerge in a vacuum: they are produced through the radical jettisoning
of that which is (thereby) deemed abject; this is, in fact, the pattern laid out
by the creators of Miss Saigon, who imagined the play as a study in contrasts:
the show is about West/East, male/female, materialistic/fatalistic, observed
Schenberg (Behr and Steyn, 34), and it seems clear that he and the rest of the
creative team envisioned these dyads as unassailably self-evident, mutually exclusive, opposing essences embodiedrather than createdby the characters
Chris and Kim. Americanness thus emerges as that against which Vietnameseness is dened. Indeed, their love theme, Sun and Moon plays on this dynamic:
You are sunlight and I, moon
Joined by the gods of fortune
Midnight and high noon
Sharing the sky.
The songs poignancy lies in the fact that Midnight and high noon do not
share the skythey are denitionally opposing phenomena, and this in turn is
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the underlying principle of their relationship: as it turns out, they too cannot
exist in the same place at the same timehence the necessity of Kims suicide,
once it is established that she cannot be Chriss American wife.
Vietnameseness is not merely opposed to Americannessit emerges as the
radical negation of America and of American identity. Like Kristevas abject,
there is nothing objectal to it; Vietnam is the frontier of not-America, not a
recognizable place. The shows most famous special eect, the embassy airlift,
features a full-sized helicopter that descends and then reascends into the yspace, leaving a horde of Vietnamese people behind, droning in a monotone
dirge, No place, no home / No life, no hope / No chance, no change (Id Give
My Life for You). In and of itself Vietnam is a no-place, pure absence: it is only
in contradistinction to the United States that Vietnam even exists.10
Instead of a place there is Vietnam-as-woman. Signicantly, in his rst love
song to Kim, Chris addresses himself not to her but to her countryand, in
fact, the syntax and phrasing are such that the distinction between woman and
nation is unclear:
Who is the girl in the rusty bed?
Why am I back in a lthy room?
Why is her voice ringing in my head?
Why am I high on her cheap perfume?
Hey look I mean you no oense
But why does nothing here make sense? (Why God Why?)
Kim does not merely embody Vietnameseness or even Vietnamese femaleness
or femininityshe is Vietnam. Further, as that nation she doesnt make sense
a characterization of Vietnam voiced by Chris and other Americans throughout the play. In Sun and Moon, for example, Chris describes Kim as a mystery that contrasts his world with all that you are; Chris is of or from his
nation (= world); she is hers. Consequently, Kim is precluded from ever being
of or from anywhere else (that is, the United States), either. Indeed, after Chriss
marriage to Ellen is revealed, Kim ceases hoping that Chris will take her back
with himher only goal is to send her child. The United Statess abject, Kim
cannot be allowed to become of the United States because this would call into
question the parameters of a U.S. Americanness that is founded on her exclusion.
Vietnamese sex and sexuality similarly function as abject or not-American.
Following the familiar pattern of stereotyping I discussed in the introduction,
all the Vietnamese women in Miss Saigon are prostitutes, either hypersexualized
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Dragon Ladies in string bikinis or Kim, the single Lotus Blossomshy, passive, virginal in an ersatz Vietnamese wedding gown. Boasting of her exotic
attributes, Yvonne (one of the other prostitutes) promises, Ill show you / My
special trophy of war, thrusting her hips (in what could be termed the talent portion of the beauty contest), and the gis roar with approval. In contrast,
Kim is portrayed as unwilling and unpracticed (Im seventeen and Im new
here today. . . . Ive not done this before, etc.). She rst appears onstage stuing her bra and asking the other women, Is this the way you make a chest?
as if to underscore her sexuality as implausible artice. Vietnamese identity,
as personied by these women, is portrayed in terms of either aberrant and/or
decient sexualitywhich alternately repulses Chris (in the case of the experienced prostitutes) and is corrected by him (in the case of Kim) but which, in
all events, is marked by its eccentricity in comparison with heteronormative,
American (/male) sexuality.11
Moreover, mirroring Chriss above-mentioned postcoital switch from
sexual attraction to paternalism, Kim switches abruptly from sexual/romantic
object to maternal self-sacricer. With the introduction of their child, Tam,
Kims rhetoric doggedly and single-mindedly addresses itself to protecting
Tam and reuniting the child with his fatherto the point of self-annihilation:
in her rst song to Tam she declares, To make sure youre not hurt again / I
swear Id give my life for you (Id Give My Life for You). Lea Salonga, who
originated the role of Kim in London and reprised it in NewYork to great critical
and popular acclaim, was frequently and extravagantly praised for her performance of maternal self-sacrice: the dedication to her son is one of the most
moving things I have ever seen on the London stage, gushed one reviewer
(Whitney 1989). And of course, inevitably, her rhetorical foreshadowing proves
accurateshe never again shares a romantic scene with Chris (at least not until
he cradles her dying body in the plays nal moments). The defusing of Kim
as sexual rival to Ellen neutralizes the threat that she might not be (or remain)
not-American after allthe threat of abject contamination.
This focus on Kims maternal role makes particular sense in light of the
photograph that served as the shows original inspirationa photograph in
which any relationship between the people pictured and the United States, or
Americanness, is at best implied/imagined. Schenberg was by his own account overwhelmed with the resonance of this image: The silence of this
woman stunned by her grief was a shout of pain louder than any of the earths
laments. . . . She knew, as only a woman could, that beyond this departure gate
there was both a new life for her daughter and no life at all for her, and that she
had willed it (Behr and Steyn, 26). It is notable that Schenberg is unable to
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conceive of the woman in the photograph as having a life apart from her role
as mother: as the (only possible) result of this parting the child moves on to a
new life (as an American), the woman to no life at all, presumably because
she has no future in the United States; and Vietnam after the U.S. withdrawal,
as noted above, constitutes No place, no home / No life, no hope / No chance,
no change. In their reinterpretation of the narrative inferred from the photograph, Schenberg and Boublil carry the narrative to its full extent: the mother
literally loses her life in the act of giving a new (/American) life to her child,
and the gap between the United States and Vietnam becomes irretrievable and
insurmountable.There is life/Americanness, or there is no life at all, their reading of the photograph seems to imply, since as a dening eld against which a
subject/gure denes itself, Vietnam-as-abject cannot sustain even objectal
Having utilized the familiar tropes of Asian female representation (as alternately sexually available/willing/exotically enticing or virginal/maternal/
desexualized), Miss Saigon annihilates the maternal even as it exalts that role
or, rather, as in the Puccini opera, it exalts the maternal role as beautiful in its
drive toward self-annihilationKim is aesthetically appealing precisely because
she is suicidally maternal.12 Fear of the archaic mother, Kristeva writes, tracing the origins of various rituals of abjection, turns out to be essentially a
fear of her generative power (1982, 77). It is perhaps for this reason that,
in Jeordss view, reproduction may be the repressed of Vietnam representation, the topic whose eruption orients the identication of women as the
mother/whore whose appearance requires such violence to control, whose entrance into combat and the masculine collective demands death and silence
(9394). In Miss Saigon, however, not all maternal reproduction is created equal:
Ellen and Chris do not yet have children but want kids of [their] own, a plan
that does not merit a reaction from any of the characters. The generative power
that causes anxiety (and necessitates Kims death) is the Vietnamese one, the
site of a potential breakdown of the American/not-American, deject/abject barrier: Tam is living proof that their worlds are not mutually exclusive, posing
a threat that is circumscribed by Kims death, which thereby prevents further
(cross-contaminated) reproduction. Along with the death of Kims Vietnamese
anc, Thuy, Kims suicide marks the nal and most incontrovertible opposition betweenVietnam and the United States: at the plays end,of the majorcharacters, all of the U.S. Americans are alive, and all of the Vietnamese are not.13
Thuy, Kims Vietnamese betrothed, also functions to construct normative
(American) sexual identity by abject contrast; but if Kim is good Vietnamese
sexuality (available and nonthreatening), Thuy is her bad counterpart. Both
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function as national synecdoche, along familiar racial/sexual/national lines:

Kim is South Vietnam, female, willing, passive, receptive, and doggedly loyal
and grateful to the United States; Thuy is Viet Cong, angry, male, threatening
(although never quite masculine enough to make good on that threathe is
eventually killed by a woman), violent, barbaric, and hostile to U.S. intervention. His two appearances onstage are marked by violence, and his desire for
Kim is notable primarily for its lack of apparent aection/emotion and for its
reliance on archaic tradition. Bursting in on Chriss and Kims wedding ceremony (accompanied by a dissonant, martial musical theme), Thuy sings, That
promise made by your father I will claim when we win / To break a vow of your
parents is worse than a sin (Whats This I Find?). The practice of arranged
marriage is here presented as cruel and arbitrary, something the enlightened
Kim wants no part of.
This is, in fact, another way Vietnameseness serves as an abject foil for U.S.
Americanness: Vietnam and its culture are portrayed in terms of inexplicable
savagery, incomprehensible primitivism. This is a world of almost pathetic
ignorance, writes Mark Steyn in his Program Notes (Behr and Steyn), and,
indeed,Vietnamese culture, tradition, and life are repeatedly described in terms
of mystery at best and more often simply as lth. This construction of Vietnam is clearly established in the opening number, The Heat Is On in Saigon:
The heat is on in Saigon
The girls are hotter n hell
One of these slits here will be Miss Saigon
God, the tension is high
Not to mention the smell.
The plays orchestration thematically underscores this point: at the moments
when a Vietnamese character sings of things Vietnamese, the orchestration
often becomes stereotypically oriental, utilizing Eastern instrumentation
and ersatz-Asian pentatonic scales in a clanging, dissonant (by Western musical standards) contrast to the rest of the orchestration. The music resolves
into Western harmonics and major chords when the action resolves in favor
of U.S. Americanness, thus aectivelycreating the experience of jarring dierence that is ultimately expelled or displaced. The composers have vigorously
protested that although they intended the orchestration to evoke an oriental
ambience, they had no intention of incorporating actual Vietnamese orchestration or musical themes. In fact, the score utilized practically no Vietnamese
instruments in the pit. It was a blend of the Far East . . . instruments from Indonesia, Japan, all over (qtd. in Behr and Steyn, 52). Schenberg remarked that
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the score represents less an attempt to mimic Eastern tonal patterns than an
eort to capture the feel of a hot, wet country ; for Boublil and Schenberg,
evidently anything Asian would doit just had to sound foreign. 14
This fundamental foreignness forms the basis of Chriss and Kims relationship; hence, it motivates Chriss perplexity in act 2 when he realizes that Kim,
having participated in a Vietnamese wedding ceremony with him three years
earlier (The Ceremony [Dju Vui Vai]), considers him her husband. Despite
being informed during the ceremony that the women are singing a wedding
song, Chris reduces the scene to pure aesthetic spectacle (Its the prettiest
thing Ive ever heard), ignoring the substantive meaning of the ceremony; Vietnamese tradition and law have no more force than a pretty song. Moreover,
when in act 2 Chris reveals his American marriage, no oneincluding Kim
and the other Vietnamese characterschallenge the second marriage or the
primacy of American law. Vietnamese law and tradition are incomprehensible
to Chris; they are, therefore, without meaning or force, serving only as an aesthetic backdrop/contrast to the real system of social regulation represented
by Chriss American marriage.
Even the shows logo, an impressionistic, Chinese brushwork helicopter,
exemplies this approach to dening national dierence. Vaguely evocative
of Chinese calligraphy, it is simply a stylized drawing rather than a meaningful sign in a linguistic system. Vietnamese or even Chinese written language systems are reduced to mysterious aesthetics, without power to signify
anything beyond the graphically representational to non-Vietnamese-reading
audiences. This is, nally, how Vietnameseness emerges in Miss Saigon: inscrutable and/or incomprehensible (although potentially aesthetically or sexually
pleasurable), dening Americanness through opposition.
What then is the status of Asian American or Vietnamese American identity in
Miss Saigon? As I noted in the introduction, the Vietnam War, after all, played
a signicant role in shaping the Asian American population and its politics in
the United States. Vietnamese Americanness represents that abject force that
threatens to collapse back in on the (white, male, heterosexual American) self.
Whereas Kim/Vietnam can be eectively arrested on the other side of the
American/not-American divide (through death) into a pleasing aesthetic object,Vietnamese Americannessand especially biracial Vietnamese Americannesscannot be as unproblematically expelled and therefore must undergo
constant, persistent, active abjection.
Although she notes that in some Vietnam narratives, Vietnamese women
. . . still conjure up the troubling prospect of Vietnam as a potent, unvanquished, threatening nation with its women linked to the possibility of casI should beAmerican! 35
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tration, Marchetti also identies several television dramas using the Buttery
story to displace . . . returning soldiers guilt or ambivalence about their participation in an undeclared war of dubious legality, morality, and ecacy onto
the more concrete and possibly reconcilable problems of interpersonal relationships (99, 102). Moreover, as she points out, the Buttery narrative provides an especially eective response to yellow peril discourse in this case,
since these narratives silence the Asian woman from the outset, making her a
beautiful corpse for the visual contemplation of the camera. This conrms the
passivity of Vietnam metaphorically, while allowing the exploration of other
themes open to historical revisionismfor example, interracial male bonding, the rationalization of American atrocities during the war, and the symbolic
solving of the mystery of Vietnams ability to defeat America (100).
However, even more than the Asian woman (and her suicide), the child in
the Buttery narrative is of particular relevance in the case of Vietnam reiterations, according to Marchetti. Because of the threat of treachery the Asian
woman poses in many of these lm and television dramas, it is the child who
serves to justify the fathers role in the war, Marchetti observes, and [the
childs] existence rationalizes Americas continuing claim to father the infantilized, helpless, misdirected Third World embodied by the Amerasian child
(100). The liveness of the Amerasian child in Miss Saigon (along with that of the
Asian American protesters in the case of the U.S. production), however, combined with the aggressive claims to Americanness (and the menacing evocation of boat people) made by the unsavory Engineer, pose a new and perhaps
more visceral threat of abjection to a dominant-culture-identied U.S. audience, thereby altering the nature and locus of the yellow peril in the play
and allowing for (perhaps necessitating) a revaluation of the beautiful (abject)
corpse of the Vietnamese Buttery.

The two characters for whom crossing over from Vietnameseness to Americanness is contemplated are Tam and The Engineer. Signicantly, both characters are biracial. Pure (biologically raced) Asianness and Americanness here
are mutually exclusivean equation that Kims life, and especially her death,
arms. Her above-mentioned overdetermined death drive is directly and repeatedly linked to Tams attainment/realization of the stereotypical American Dream:
Ill give you a million things Ill never own
Ill give you a world to conquer when youre grown
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You will be who you want to be

Can choose whatever heaven grants
As long as you can have your chance
I swear Ill give my life for you (Id Give My Life for You)
This equation is made throughout the play: to the extent that Tam and other
biracial children are contemplated as even potentially American, their ties to
Vietnam/ese mothers are severed. In Bui-Doi John sings about such children, recasting the roles of American gis in their conceptions (and by extension the war): Theyre called Bui-doi, an a capella male quasi-military choir
sings as the music swells inspirationally: They are the living reminders of all
the good we failed to do. / Thats why we know deep in our hearts / That they
are all our children too. In her analysis of the uses of the Buttery story, Marchetti observes that while ostensibly conrming an absolute separation of
the races, it also allows for the possibility of assimilation through the adoption of the mixed-race child (78). Indeed, Bui-Doi seems calculated to exonerate the United States in its exploitation and destruction not only of Vietnamese womens and childrens lives but of the country itself. The curiously
passive lament for all the good we failed to do preempts the question of U.S.
responsibility or even agency, and (as Marchetti has noted in similar narratives) the absorption of the Amerasian children of war into America argues
against any residual charges of American racism, cruelty, or heartlessness
(100). Moreover, she argues, the emotions and ethical consequences of fathering Amerasian children are more easily digestible than the far more controversial issues of the legitimacy of the war itself. Indeed, by not mentioning these
issues, these narratives can quietly reconcile them by transposing them into
the problem of the legitimacy of a child rather than the legality of a war (102).
Johns symbolicbut not literal or personalclaim of responsibility positions
the children as symbols of the war itself rather than as the esh-and-blood
outcome of the sorts of encounters depicted in the opening bar scene, and
it recasts Americas political/military intentions in Vietnam as charitable but
Notably absent from this scene of exoneration are the Vietnamese mothers:
there is no reference to women or mothers anywhere in the song. We owe them
fathers, and a familyand loving homes they never knew, John sings, evoking
an image of these children as completely outside any maternal context. In order
to claim these children as U.S. American, their (biological and cultural) ties to
Vietnameseness evidently must be severed or suppressed; to acknowledge the
I should beAmerican! 37
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roles of Vietnamese women in their creation is to recognize that the childrens

Americanness might threaten the stability of Americanness through the radical jettisoning of Vietnameseness. Jeords argues that in Vietnam narratives
the function of Vietnam representation is to enact . . . control [over the process of reproduction] . . . by appropriating it for the masculine (108); indeed,
Bui-Doi evokes a phantasmatic scene of male-only reproduction, where U.S.
American (male) veterans assume the roles of father, and a familyeven
as they avoid personal accountabilitythereby resignifying these children as
wholly non-Vietnamese. Thus, Kim cannot coexist with Tam any more than she
can coexist with Ellen: as a biological link between the child and Vietnam, Kim
signies the permeability of that boundary and the ethical ramications of that
permeation. I know now why I came to this earth, she tells Tam shortly before killing herself. Its so you can nd your place. But, she adds, for that I
must leave your embrace (The Sacred Bird).
This strategy does not guarantee Tam admittance into U.S. Americanness,
however: Chris and Ellen initially only want to help Kim nancially and from
a distance. Even Kims suicide, a spectacle calculated to ensure Tams place in
Chriss American family, is undetermined in its success. Tam is last seen holding the hand of The Engineer, his future/citizenship uncertain. Tam is not able
to fully realize a U.S. American identity during the play; he is left neither inside nor outside the boundaries of Americanness, a liminal gure of abjection
that wavers on the brink of inclusion/exclusion. Johns claim that the bui-doi
are our children too acknowledges their claim to Americanness, and the erasure of their Vietnamese mothers would seem to ensure that claim; but if, as
John sings, the childrens Americanness is written on their face, in the form
of biraciality, it is also true that their not-Americanness is evidenced there as
well.16 In order to function as a means of exonerating the U.S. from blame in the
Vietnam War, Tam cannot be wholly, radically excluded or jettisoned as foreign, cannot be conveniently killed o like Kim/Vietnameseness; at the same
time, U.S. Americanness cannot wholly embrace him without eroding its own
racially dened borders. Tams ambiguous exit is perhaps the only possibility,
leaving Asian Americanness-as-abject unvisualizable.
It is telling that Tam ends up associated with The Engineer, the other potentially Asian American character in the play. Like Tam, The Engineer is biracial
(the son of a French father and a Vietnamese mother) and hence less easily
written o as immutably foreign like Kim or Thuy. In The Engineers case,
however, the traces of Vietnameseness are precisely what must be emphasized:
for if Tam is the good (potential) Asian American, the model minoritarian
that is, harmless and invisibleThe Engineer spectacularly embodies main38 National Abjection
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stream U.S. medias worst fears and prejudices about Asian immigrants to the
United States.
Although he ends the play as Tams de facto guardian (the nal image is
of Tam and The Engineer, hand in hand, proceeding warily into an uncertain
future), his relationship to the child is purely self-serving: he adopts Tam
as a nephew, as soon as he learns of Tams parentage, in order to gain (illegal) admission to the United States. Boy, kiss your brand new Uncle Tran, he
greasily croons to the child at their rst meeting; This kid is okay / He is our
entree / To the U.S.A. (Let Me See His Western Nose). Whereas Tam is the
illegitimate child whose charitable inclusion into Americanness will absolve
U.S. guilt, The Engineer is the bastard whose claim to Americanness is almost
legitimate, who is constantly threatening to get in, who must be kept out at
all costs.
The Engineers biraciality, like Tams, suggests a destabilization between
Asian race/nation identity and American race/nation identity. But his biraciality
does not provide an opportunity for even the appropriative exoneration of one
parent at the expense of the other, as doesTams. Rather,The Engineers parentage illustrates the unseemlydangers of cross-race (and, according to the shows
logic, therefore cross-nation) liaisons: My father was a tattoo artist in Haiphong, he explains. But his designs on Mother didnt last too long / My
mother sold her body, high on betel nuts / My job was bringing red-faced monsieurs to our huts. This is a far cry from Kims maternal crusade and Chriss
and Ellens sense of duty toward their son.The Engineers biraciality is a sign
of miscegenated, unreformed debasement rather than of the assimilationist
ideal embodied in the child. Much more than Tam, then, The Engineer represents a threat to the national/racial borders that constitute Vietnameseness and
U.S. Americanness and so must perpetually undergo abjection. Other than the
ambiguous reference to his father in the previouslycited lyric ora French phrase
dropped here or there (although the apparently nonbiracial prostitutes occasionally drop them as well), there is no mention or indication of his biraciality
or biculturalism; The Engineer displays only his orientalness throughout the
play. He sings disdainfully of being born of a race / That thinks only of rice
and does not refer to his European genealogy after the initial line about his
father. Tam is the embodiment of assimilable Asian American abjection, one
who may be allowed to pass through the borders of Americanness (by cleansing him of the maternal taint of Asianness and recreating him as all-white),
whereas The Engineer undergoes the opposite process: his paternity and biraciality are erased in favor of his Asianness, which is demonized and jettisoned
as abject and inassimilable.
I should beAmerican! 39
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One of the anchors securing The Engineers foreign roots is his deviant
(and therefore non-American) sexuality. Where a three-year-old Tam poses no
threat to U.S. American heteromasculine authority, The Engineer might. From
the outset that threat is diused by his association with nonnormative sexuality. As a pimp in Saigon he herds the women onto the brothel stage (Get
your asses on stageIm raising cash tonight), coaching them through their
moves, but never displays any sexual desire toward them (in stark contrast to
the robust response of the U.S. gis, who display proper levels of sexual aggression toward the women). In act 2, as a barker for a sex club in Bangkok, he
extols the extraordinary aptitudes of his employees to male sex tourists:
Hey Joe, try taking a little excursion
Youll all feel good from a little perversion
Massage requiring total immersion
Some strange positions say me are Persian. (What a Waste)
Later in the same scene he whispers conspiratorially and lewdly, Drinks are
on me / First girl is free / What can I say? / You get me for a small extra fee. This
number is particularly notable in its explicit linking of Asianness (female and
male) to nonnormative sexuality. The curtains part at the opening of act 2 to
pizzicato strings and Asian percussion creating a parodically oriental ambiance, while underneath the music The Engineer lilts in a singsong, nasal, obsequious, and Asian-accented voice, Hey! Try my girls! You wanna try my girls?
Yo! Cmon, try my girls! The stage is a dazzling, dizzying spectacle of neon and
ashing lights, sequined erotic dancers in gilded cages, food vendors, sex barkers, and tourists singing simultaneously, Chicken, lemon grass and bamboo /
We want to try something new / Come do the ping pong routine. Although
the ostensible purpose of this opening is to dierentiate the desolation of Saigon (No place, no home / No life, no hope) from the gaudy debauchery of
Bangkok (Gee, isnt Bangkok really neat? / The things theyre selling on the
street / Fresh dog, if thats what youd enjoy / A girl, and if you want, a boy,
sings The Engineer), but the overriding eect of the scene is to simply move
the action forward in time: the archaism and primitivism of Vietnam and the
contemporary metropolitanism of Bangkok. After all, although The Engineer
complains about conditions in Bangkok, his main objection is his wage, not his
occupationwhich was the same in both cities. Kim, too, we are told, adapts
relatively easilyworking as a bar girl as she had before. Given that the play
opens in a brothel in Saigon, the distinction between the sexual mores of Saigon and Bangkok are negligible; Bangkok sells sex simply with more glitz and
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The link between these two locales is The Engineer. He is simultaneously

lascivious, sexually exploitative, pansexual, and desexualized. Most important,
though, is that his sexuality is simply incomprehensible, illegible, indeterminate, even as it is spectacularly displayed. Eurasian characters, notes Marchetti,
often provide the opportunity to deal with forbidden sexuality without the
added threat an actual Asian actor or completely Asian character may pose to
the racial status quo (68). Whereas Thuy dened U.S. male heterosexuality by
his marked absence/sublimation of sexual desire, The Engineer embodies an
uncategorizable yet spectacular perversitya condition that, the logic of the
play suggests, is hereditary: it is the direct result of his racially and nationally
mixed beginnings in prostitution and sexual debauchery. The Engineer may,
at the plays end, make it to the United States, but his characterization persistently emphasizes his deviation from the healthy U.S. American heterosexual
(heteromasculine) norm. Even in the United States, the play reassures us, he
will be easily recognizable in his abject nonnormativity: dreaming of his new
life in the New World, he predicts, To the johns there, / Ill sell blondes there /
That they can charge on a card (The American Dream). You can take the
(Eurasian) man out of the world of perversion (that is, Asia), but you cant take
the perversion/Asianness out of the Eurasian man.
But whatever his intentions in aspiring to Americanness, that is his explicit
goal throughout the playand in a sense hes already there/here: throughout
the play The Engineer evokes familiar images of Asian America, reminding the
audience that for all of his ignorance, perversity, and general foreignness, he
could well become (Asian) American. When your life hangs by a thread / Dont
cry about the fates, he counsels; Grab a stash of cash / And plan a restrant in
the states (If You Want to Die in Bed). By conjuring up this familiar image
of the Vietnamese immigrantowned restaurant, The Engineer imaginatively
identies himself with that image. Similarly, his subsequent reference to boatpeople functions to locate the specic Asian American identity formation on
which he has set his sights, a formation readily recognizable to American audiences through media representations of war refugees. In staking this claim to
a real identity formation/community, he cannot be completely discounted as
(wholly) Vietnamese/not-Americanwhich in this play means being killed o
with Kim and Thuy; his constant references to Vietnamese American life and
community remind audiences that Vietnam and the United States are perhaps
not as discrete as we might hope.
Through these gambits The Engineer functions as the abject which does
not cease challenging its master (Kristeva 1982, 2). Persistently portrayed as
monstrous (or at best unseemly), he threatens to locate himself in the U.S.
I should beAmerican! 41
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world of the audience. His nal number, The American Dream, is a large
musical production that spectacularly brings together the contradictory nature
of The Engineers American desires and abjects/radically jettisons him from
their attainment. Second only to the helicopter scene in notoriety, The American Dream is singled out by reviewers for praise.17 Conceived as a means by
which The Engineer could resolve the show and all the ideas about American
materialism (Boublil, qtd. in Behr and Steyn, 150), The American Dream
is a glitzy, Las Vegasstyle musical number that directly precedes Kims suicide. Believing he is about to be admitted to the United States, The Engineer
launches into a joyous celebration in praise of (his version of ) Americanness:
Whats this I smell in the air?The American Dream
Sweet as a suite in Bel-Air (The American Dream)
Bald people think theyll grow hair . . .
Call girls are lining Times Square . . .
Bums there have money to spare . . .
Cars that have bars take you there . . .
On stage each night: Fred Astaire . . .
Although The Engineers rendering of American life may be humorously hyperbolic or nave, his vision of the United States is close to the familiar discourse,
stereotypically attributed to new immigrants, of the United States as a place
of exorbitant wealth: the Chinese immigrants Gold Mountain or European
immigrants image of a New World where the streets are paved with gold and
where anyone can make it, regardless of their origins. In fact, it is only the
degree of his hyperbole that makes The Engineer laughable. Come make a
life from thin air, he sings, a familiar rhetoric that Americans often proudly
endorse, the bootstrap narrative of the self-made man. His fantasy of the
United States is not far from Kims dream for Tam (You will be who you want
to be), one consistent with the common American ego-ideal of the U.S. as a
place of limitless potential, individual freedom, and self-determination. This
is not merely the way that we Americans think foreigners perceive us;
it is how, to a large extent, nationalist rhetoric informs/constitutes prevailing
national fantasies. By invoking that image, The Engineer lays claim to the recognizable U.S. Americanness attributed to the audience.
The abject Engineers claim, of course, cannot stand. He doesnt stop with
Come make a life from thin air: Come and get more than your share, he
continues, thus demonstrating his misinterpretation or inadequate understanding of the national mythology. He may come close to claiming (Asian)
Americanness but never close enough to pose a serious threat. His hyperbole
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distinguishes him from authentic Americanness in its ludicrous aspiration,

and as a whole The American Dream strains the exaggeration to its breaking
point, thus eectively protecting the boundaries of Americanness and jettisoning The Engineer. A parody of a Busby Berkeleystyle production, the spectacle
mounts in intensity (musically, visually, and rhetorically) ad absurdum. The
Engineer wears a red blazer, the blonde-wigged (mostly Asian) women dancers
wear white, and the johns are clothed in blue.18 The scenes climax comes
when The Engineer descends in the back of a Cadillac convertible, escorting
Miss Chinatown (draped la the Statue of Liberty).19 The cymbals clash and
horns blare, and the key moves up a halftone every verse, creating a sense of increasing tension. The number ends with The Engineer jumping onto the hood
of the Cadillac, writhing masturbatorily (choreographer Bob Avian directed
Jonathan Pryce to Fuck the car [Behr and Steyn, 153]) as the chorus highkicks around Miss Chinatown. The threat of The Engineer-as-(Asian) American may have been undeniablehis references to boat people and Chinatown
preclude such denialbut the grotesque extremes to which he takes his almost
valid image of Americanness deects that threat. Earlier in the play he sang, I
should beAmerican! His use of the modal should is telling: there, as in this
nal number, he expresses the desire for Americanness (as does Kim) and even
exhibits a sense of entitlement, staking a claim that has not (yet) been honored
but that is a potentially legitimate claim nonethelessKristevas abject excrement that is death/Asianness infecting life/Americanness. But despite his
belief (and perhaps our repressed acknowledgment) that he should be American, clearly he is not (and cannot be) one of us.

If Miss Saigon were the only show about sexually available Asian women or
money-grubbing Asian men, surmises Richard Fung, it wouldnt be a stereotype and there would be no protestnegative portrayals per se are not a problem (19931994, 8). It is the sedimentary eect of the incessant, uncritical
iteration of such images, he continues, that is detrimental for Asians and Asian
Americans. Perhaps because the constructions of Americanness, Asianness,
and Asian Americanness in Miss Saigon followed all too familiar patterns of
racist, orientalist representation, the controversy over the casting (and content) of the show took on such force and resonance, for both its protesters and
Long before plans to bring Miss Saigon to New York were announced in March
1990, the show enjoyed huge success on Londons West End, meriting notices
in the New York Times and Variety.20 By the time Macintosh began U.S. preproducI should beAmerican! 43
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tion in earnest in mid-1990, then, the shows subject matter and basic premise
were fairly widely known among theatre artists, arts activists, and audiences;
protests against both the shows casting practices and its content began then
as well. In July 1990 playwright David Henry Hwang and actor B. D. Wong both
wrote letters to American Actors Equity, the union regulating the employment
of citizen and noncitizen actors in the United States, protesting the anticipated
casting of Jonathan Pryce, who had originated the role of The Engineer in London. Hwang and Wong complained that there had been no opportunity for
Asian or Asian American actors to try out for what was virtually an anomaly: a
starring role depicting an Asian or Eurasian character. Moreover, both considered Pryces performance of the role oensive and inappropriate. Mr. Pryce is
an excellent actor, wrote Hwang, but I would be equally upset were he cast
as Boy Willie in [August Wilsons African American family drama] The Piano
Lesson (qtd. in Witchel 1990a). Equity must issue work permits to noncitizen actors enabling them to perform in the United States with an eye toward
protecting the interests of U.S. artists, and protesters urged the union not to
issue such permits in this case. Equity responded rst (on 25 July 1990) by condemning the casting of Pryce as an aront to the Asian community and,
after a vote of the governing council the following week, banned Pryce from
appearing in the role (Rothstein 1990a). Immediately following that announcement on 7 August 1990, Equity members began circulating petitions to force
the council to reconsider its decision, and Macintosh declared he would cancel the New York premiere. The requisite number of member signatures was
gathered in less than two days, and Equitys council called a special session to
debate the issue a week later, at which time they reversed their decision and approved Pryces application (Rothstein 1990f ). During that interim week New
York City mayor David Dinkins oered to serve as arbitrator in the matter, and
the New York Times ran eight stories on the issue, several of which appeared on
the front page.21 In the days and weeks following, editorials appeared in major
newspapers all over the country, including the Los Angeles Times (three editorials), the Washington Post (two), USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as
the New York Times and Varietyall condemning Equitys initial ban.22 The controversy was also featured in the national publications Time and U.S. News and
World Report.23 A few voices in support of the ban were heard during that time in
the form of individual letters, editorial columns, and a full-page advertisement
in Variety, signed by Asian American community and arts activist groups.24
Even after the issue was eectively resolved (following the second Equity
council vote), however, it continued to be discussed and debated in print for
months; support for Macintosh and Pryce and condemnation of Equity were
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seemingly universal. Although conceivably of vital material interest to those

actors, technicians, investors, and theatre administrators directly connected to
Miss Saigon, and in a larger sense to members of the theatre community nationwide, it is notable that the controversy sparked a debate that reached well beyond the question of color-blind casting to issues of artistic freedom and censorship, race relations, and multiculturalism. The scope and duration of the
discussion indicates that this aair had struck a cultural nerve attached to
the pervasive anxiety over the representation of Asian Americanness and more
generally (and consequently) the integrity of U.S. Americanness in representation/culture. What interests me in this debate is not so much whether Pryce
had a legal right to perform the role of The Engineer asgiven the fact that he
did sohow, why, and to whom it mattered so much.
A frequently cited defense voiced by Macintosh and the creative team for
their insistence on Pryce was the dearth of Asian or Asian American actors of
the caliber and experience of Pryce. Casting director Vincent Li declared that
after an exhaustive worldwide search, I can say with the greatest assurance
that if there were an Asian actor of 4550 years, with classical stage background
and an international stature and reputation, we would surely have snied him
out by now (Witchel 1990a). Li later recanted this statement, saying that he
had not meant to imply that such a search had actually been undertaken for
an Asian actor to play The Engineerthe worldwide search referred to their
eorts to ll the Vietnamese womens and subordinate mens roles. Nonetheless, there is some truth to his assertion: with the exceptions of Flower Drum
Song, The World of Suzy Wong, Pacic Overtures, and The King and I, there have been
virtually no starring roles specically written with Asian or Asian American
performers in mind to come to Broadway. The bottom line, Li lamented,
is there was just no product to provide Asian actors with successful, nancially viable acting careers in the mainstream venues of Broadway, lm and
television (Witchel 1990a). Thus, Asian American actors are caught in a casting catch-22: not deemed commercially viable, they cannot get cast in leading
roles, and not being cast in such roles renders them commercially unviable.
Pao notes that the roles of The Engineer and Thuy were both cast with white
actors in the London production and argues, Given the insubstantial status of
the Asian male in Western, certainly Anglo-American culture, it is not surprising that the creators and producers of Miss Saigon believed that the casting of
European actors in the male Eurasian and Asian roles would not have detrimental consequences for the reality eect (32). Pao points out the gender double
standard at work here.The ubiquitous use of images of Asian femininity necessitates real Asian actors for those parts because the Asian woman and OrienI should beAmerican! 45
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tal beauty and exoticism have been marketed widely enough that the imagination is severely jarred by any attempt to envision a Caucasian actress with taped
eyelids as an object of romantic or sexual desire (27). Such appears to have
been the logic governing casting decisions here: Macintosh insisted on Asian
actresses for the Asian female roles because make-up, though suitable enough
for opera, would . . . be inadequate, especially for female members of the cast,
and the physical demands made on performers in Miss Saigon required an authentic Asian litheness and grace (qtd. in Behr and Steyn, 141).25 For Pryce
and The Engineer, however, what was required was artistic illusion and a
dramatic suspension of disbelief. Its like the theatre itself, reasoned Pryce.
If I tell an audience, Im Vietnamese and they want to see me that way, they
will (Witchel 1990b, L15). Richard Corlisss Time feature on the controversy
(which, although not obviously framed as an editorial, almost unmitigatingly
supports Macintoshs position) similarly buttresses the authors position with
the principles of artistic freedom and the power of imagination: The point,
Corliss explains, was that stage and screen are places of sublime pretense
where audiences can make believe that any actor is perfect for any role (75).
The photograph that appears next to this statement, however, undermines his
point: a close-up of Pryce in performance, skin darkened with makeup and
eyelids taped with prosthetic devices, the image suggests that dramatic makebelieve can only go so far.26
Interestingly, while racial masquerade was precisely what reviewer David
Richards praised in Pryces performance, citing the real electricity generated
by the perverse spectacle . . . [of ] Mr. Pryce, an anorexic Al Jolson (H5), what
Frank Rich lauded was an Engineer who was (ostensibly) racially unmarked.
In his attack on the Equity ban, Rich described Pryces Engineer as a character without a proper name and without an ethnic or national identity of any
recognizable sort (C3). But if The Engineers ethnic, sexual, or national identications are not (as I argued in the preceding section) immediately comprehensible, the comparison to Jolson indicates that such identicatory processes are
not irrelevant or inoperative. The appeal of Pryces performance, these reviews
suggest, is not in his ability to fool audiences into believing that he is raced
Asian or Eurasian; rather, what is pleasurable is seeing the markings of (nonwhite, non-U.S. American) race, ethnicity, sexuality, and nationality rendered
as a disembodied, aesthetic spectacle.
Certainly, there is general agreement that Macintosh had the legal right to
insist on Pryce in the role of The Engineer; according to Equitys own regulations an actor of Pryces stature is all but guaranteed a work permit under
their star provision. Nor can one discount the strong economic justication
46 National Abjection
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Jonathan Pryce as The Engineer in Miss Saigon. (Photograph by

Michael Le Poer Trench)

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for retaining Pryce, who garnered substantial positive publicity for the production during its London run. On the contrary, this is precisely the point:
the vehemence with which Macintosh fought for Pryce, and the subsequent
critical and commercial success of the show (largely attributed to Pryces performance), suggests that for a large segment of mainstream Broadway theatre
audiences, watching a white man in yellowface, with taped eyelids, blackened
teeth, greased hair, and bronzed skin is more pleasurable, more comprehensible,
and (for producers) more protable than watching an Asian or Asian American
male body onstage.
In fact, Macintoshs primary defense was that cross-casting across race
was politically progressive, pointing out that he had recently cast African
American actor Robert Guillaume in the role of the Phantom in the Los Angeles
production of The Phantom of the Opera. Why is it quite proper for him to play a
European aristocrat and not for Jonathan Pryce to play a Eurasian? This is surely
a case of double standards, said Macintosh in his prepared statement shortly
before Equity issued its ban (qtd. in Witchel 1990, C15). Macintosh also pointed
out that African American actor Morgan Freeman had recently appeared as
Petrucchio in the Central Park production of Shakespeares The Taming of the
Shrew; Freemans performance was cited repeatedly by Macintosh and his supporters, as was Denzel Washingtons concurrent performance in the title role
of Richard III. Several editorials framed the debate in terms of nontraditional
or color-blind casting. Rich and others also cited Lawrence Oliviers 1968
performance of Othello in blackface, and a New York Times editorial asked rhetorically, Who on earth would have played the King of Siam? (Acting Silly).
That editorial added that since British Equity . . . had no complaints from its
Asian members, Pryces performance could not have been oensive. Macintosh asked, Is equal racial opportunity a one-way street? (qtd. in Witchel
1990, C15), and many who argued on his behalf echoed this rhetoric.
None of these arguments, however, takes into account the sedimentary
eects of power and the relative positions of actors and parts in a given historical context: the visibility and political inuence of British Asians and Asian
Americans relative to dominant cultures are not considered in these editorials;
with the exception of Oliviers Othello and Yul Brynners King of Siam the examples cited by Macintosh and others are all of nonwhite actors playing leading
roles traditionally reserved for white actorsand, not coincidentally, all but
Olivier and Brynner were cross cast in the last decade. As Tisa Chang, artistic director of the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, pointed out in her letter to the
editor, Morgan Freeman was not required to white up to play Petrucchio
(Chang and Belleta, A24). More important, nontraditional is not synonymous
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with color-blind: Nontraditional casting is not a two way street, declared Equity executive director Alan Eisenberg in his testimony before the NewYork City
Commission on Human Rights following the controversy. In an ideal world,
where power and resources were equally distributed, there could perhaps be a
truly color-blind casting situation; as of now, he insisted, the casting of a
non-ethnic actor in an ethnic role is not an acceptable use of non-traditional
casting (qtd. in Pang 1991, B3). We cannot even begin to ght for nontraditional casting if audiences are not given permission to accept us enacting characters of our own colors, argued B. D. Wong, pointing out the dynamic power
disparity separating our world from that idea (qtd. in Hummler 1990, 71). African American actress Ellen Holly reiterated this point: Such a world, believe
me, is one that every performer longs for. My only problem with it is that, to
date, it has been a one-way street in which whites co-opt roles from their darker
brothers (Holly 1990, 7). African American actor Paul Wineld publicly lamented Equitys reversal of the ban precisely because the theatre industry has
not reached a point of true color-blindness: Yes, I want to continue to be considered for traditionally white roles when Im the best available actor. But on
Broadway, the best available actor is somehow always, in box oce terms the
most economically viable actor, i.e., white (Wineld 1990). Macintosh and
his supporters consistently failed to acknowledge that there is a fundamental
dierence between casting an actor of color in a starring role of heroic stature
and casting a white actor in a comic, demeaning, racially stereotyped role; and
this dierence has everything to do with the relative positions of those raced
individuals in the culture ostage and not merely with the actors technical
skill onstage.
The voices in support of the ban, though, were few, far between, and ultimately ineectual: the overwhelming and, at times, vehement majority of those
publicly weighing in supported Macintosh and Pryce. Macintosh was successful, I would argue, largely because of the terms by which he was able to frame
the debate. In his rst public statement on the matter Macintosh insisted that
the artistic standards of all of the creative team necessitated casting Pryce
(qtd. in Witchel 1990, C15), and he consistently characterized the conict as
one between talent and politics (Hummler, 77): the debate is no longer
about the casting of Miss Saigon, he declared, but about the art of acting itself. . . . We passionately disapprove of stereotype casting, which is why
we continue to champion freedom of artistic choice. Racial barriers can only
undermine the very foundations of our profession (qtd. in Rothstein 1990b,
C17). Positioning himself as the champion of antiracism, Macintosh appealed
to a liberal humanist ahistorical blindness to dierence that would not take
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into account past and present inequities. The negative response to Pryce, in
contrast, was cast in terms of a racial appeal that demanded racial privilege
in the guise of multi-racial equality (qtd. in Behr and Steyn, 183).Thus framed,
the controversy was squarely situated in the ongoing debate over multiculturalism, armative action, and reverse racism, and it was this resonance with
those larger issues that sparked and fueled the national response.
In withdrawing his membership from Equity in protest of the ban, actor
Charlton Heston declared, Its not what I marched behind Martin Luther King
for (Heston 1990); indeed, the larger social and political ramications were
taken up virtually immediately by columnists and cultural critics nationwide.
George Will saw Equitys actions as evidence of the hypocrisy inherent in U.S.
American liberalism. Finding himself in the unlikely position of supporting nontraditional, color-blind casting, the conservative columnist attacked
the actors union as racist. The unions weasly position is one of liberals running a racial spoils system, he complained, and he attributed this lamentable
situation directly to a creeping liberalism in our social and judicial system:
When Supreme Court Justice William Brennan resigned, Will wrote, there
was much celebration of his legacy. The Miss Saigon scandal is part of it.
He is particularly responsible for giving a constitutional imprimatur to the poison of progressive racism seeping through Americas system (Will 1990).
Will denounced the ban as reverse discrimination [dressed up] as armative
action. Condemnation of the ban was not limited to conservative quarters,
however, as Hendrik Hertzberg of New Republic hastened to point out. In response to Wills column, which points to the ways nationalism, abjection, and
racialization problematize conventional groupings such as conservative and
liberal, Hertzberg asked, Why should liberalism have to accept the stigma
for this one at all? I mean, look here. Im a liberal. Some of my best friends
are liberals. None of us supports what Equity has done. In fact we all agree
with Mr. Will that the decision is an outrage. But what in the world is liberal about it? (Hertzberg 1990). New York Times and Newsweek columnist Anna
Quindlen also weighed in against the ban. She accused Equity of acting as
the thought police and constructed a syllogism between Pryce (who, because
the role of The Engineer is Eurasian, is denied the opportunity to play him
in yellowface) and a woman executive (who, because the role of corporate
executive is scripted male, is denied a promotion) (Quindlen 1990). Travel
writer and essayist Pico Iyer, who identies himself as a member of an Asian
minority, called Equitys ban minority terrorism, as well as the unavoidable, lamentable product of armative action (Iyer 1990). The ban elicited a
three-page condemnation by New York Timess Richard Bernstein, linking it to
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the societal perils of multiculturalism and sounding an alarm that the new
tribalism represented by these protests signaled that things seem to be getting worse (Bernstein 1990, H1). Bernstein drew a direct connection between
the casting process here and what he saw as a heightening of racial tensions
in the United States. Ethnic tensions are enamed as they have rarely been
since the race riots of the 1960s, he cautioned. It sometimes seems as though
there is no such thing as an objective truth (12).
It is this fear, nally, that lies at the heart of the virulent response to Equitys
ban.Taking the Miss Saigon controversyas an occasion to speculate on The Uses
and Abuses of Multiculturalism, Robert Brustein concluded that a certain
strain of multiculturalism, to which he ascribed the Equity ban and the protests
against Pryce, represents the abandonment of hope for a national identity. . . .
If our arts fail to dream that dream [of pluralism], if they desist in that eort,
we cease to be a nation (Brustein 1990, 34, emphasis added). The protesters assertion of competing interests, needs, and visions of (self-)representation, according to these commentators, threatens nothing less than the dissolution of
U.S. Americanness, a loss of the discrete, bright-lined, denitional categories
of American and not-American. The protesters insistence that there is a
qualitative dierence between a white actor and an Asian or Asian American
actor with respect to the role played, between Olivier blacking up to play
Othello and Freeman playing Petrucchio, threatens the integrity of U.S. Americanness by pointing out failures of American democracy and of the (creation)
myth of equality on which Americanness is premised.
The controversy took place precisely at a moment when the integrity and
uniformity of U.S. American subjectivity was absolutely crucial: during Iraqs
invasion of Kuwait and the ensuing Persian Gulf War.The day the New York Times
reported Equitys ban on Pryce, 8 August 1990, that news item shared the rst
page with the headline bush sends u.s. forces to saudi arabia as
kingdom agrees to confront iraq and was one of only two news
items on the front page that day that were unrelated to the events in the Middle
East. The connection between the two events was made explicit in a Wall Street
Journal editorial on 20 August 1990, which began its praise of Equitys reversal
of the ban: The only problem with a blu is that someone may call it. When
Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait he doubtless assumed that his naked aggression would be met with a great deal of rhetoric, but nothing more. . . . Something like the same strategy must have been in the minds of the Actors Equity
Council (Why Equitys Blu Didnt Work).Virtually all of the editorials here
cited, in fact, appeared on editorial pages dominated by news and commentary
on the Middle East, and for all the national attention Miss Saigon attracted, it was
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overshadowed by coverage of the diplomatic and military events in the Persian

Gulf. The insistence on a unied, color-blind approach to American theatre,
then, emerged in and from an atmosphere of heightened self-consciousness
about U.S. Americanness in an international context and the possibility that
American lives (and, according to politicians, values) were at stake.
This context gave the casting controversy a particular resonance because the
public and media were quick to compare this war with the Vietnam War as a
yardstick by which to measure U.S. American military success or failure. The
same issue of Time that contained Iyers essay on minority terrorism in the
Miss Saigon controversy also featured a poll on public opinions about the Persian
Gulf situation, accompanying the cover story, Are We Ready for This? (beside
a close-up of an American service person in a gas mask). Along with questions
such as How likely is a U.S. war with Iraq? (49 percent said very likely) and
Was the U.S. right or wrong to have become involved in this conict? (73 percent said right) was the question Will U.S. involvement in the Middle East
result in a situation like Vietnam? A total of 57 percent responded, No. 27
Popular support for this war was thus dependent on a radical dierentiation
between it and that other, failed oneand U.S. Americans voiced some anxiety
about whether such a dierentiation could be made. In two separate USA Today
polls asking people about their opinions of the Persian Gulf situation, without
prompting from the questioners several respondents drew their own comparisons between the current situation and Vietnam as a way of expressing their
reluctance to fully endorse President Bushs push for military involvement in
the region: Im a little concerned that this could become another Vietnam,
responded one person, and another worried, Im afraid this is going to be another war like Vietnam. 28 U.S. News and World Report ran a column by Michael
Barone assuring readers that the almost universal condemnation by Americans of Iraqs swallowing up of Kuwait and their overwhelming support for
sending U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia suggest that . . . the post-Vietnam aversion to the use of American military power . . . has vanished (Barone 1990).
To the extent that the United States was portrayed/imagined as victorious in
this war, it would have to be distinguished from the Vietnam War. This use
of Vietnam-as-symbol-of-failure entered discussions of Miss Saigon as well
when Frank Rich lamented, By barring . . . art for American audiences under
the disingenuous guise of promoting democratic principles, Actors Equity
has, I fear, stumbled into its very own Vietnam (1990, C3). In what was probably an unintentionally apt image Rich thus aligns Pryce with the U.S. military
in its (thwarted) attempts to subdue and conquer Asian territory; but as in the

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case of the Persian Gulf War, Richs warning seems to imply, the mistakes of
the past must not be repeated.
Indeed, the shows creators did manage not only to avoid past mistakes
but in so doing to eectively rewrite that past, doing Madame Buttery (and
the Vietnam War itself ) one better, in order to cohere with a newly consolidated U.S. Americanness. Miss Saigon opened on Broadway on 11 April 1991,
after the end of the Persian Gulf War. As William Henry notes in his review,
the creative team appeared edgy in discussing the political weight of Miss
Saigon, well aware that an uninching look at bad memories from Vietnam
may be wildly inappropriate just after the buoyant triumph of the Gulf War
(Henry 1991). The raves with which the show was received in New York indicate
that they had no reason to be nervousin large part because, in Theater Week
reviewer Ken Mandelbaums view, Their [Chriss and Kims] doomed aair
has greater resonance than that of Pinkerton and Buttery, and Chris subsequent guilt over leaving Kim is symbolic of Americas guilt for the disaster it
wrought in a country where it didnt belong (Mandelbaum 1991). Miss Saigon
thus actually expiates the countrys collective guilt over its participation in the
Vietnam War and its shame in losing that contest. Joining in Chriss plea, Im
an American / How could I fail to do good? postGulf War American audiences, secure in the assumption that they had done good (in both senses of
the term) in the Persian Gulf, could indulge themselves in the spectacle without identifying with it.The record-breaking success of the show, I would argue,
resulted in part from the resonance such an exonerated, consolidated (white,
heteromasculine), victorious U.S. Americanness had with a large segment of
postPersian Gulf U.S. audiences phantasmatic national self-images. In other
words, the victory in the Persian Gulf, combined with Boublils and Schenbergs rewriting of Pinkerton as the saintly-heroic Chris, worked together to
jettison the abject feelings of guilt and shame that the subject matter might
otherwise have evoked for American audiences, converting it into a pleasurably
othered, aesthetic object.

This box-oce success occurred amid (and gave rise to) another phalanx of
Asian American protests. The play was chosen by two prominent gay and lesbian community groups in New York City as their annual fund-raiser. Asian
American gay, lesbian, and bisexual activists, as well as other lesbian and gay
activist communities of color, targeted one of those groups, the Lambda Legal
Defense and Education Fund (lldef) to protest their endorsement and eco-

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nomic support of the representations of Asian men and women in Miss Saigon.
(The other group that had planned to use Miss Saigon as a fund-raiser, the New
York City Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, eventually withdrew
from the fund-raiser in response to the activists protests [Yoshikawa 1994,
277].) These protests (and others held during the national tour of Miss Saigon)
focused primarily on the content of the representations of Asianness and Asian
Americanness rather than on the casting of Pryce. We saw Miss Saigon as the
latest in a long line of Western misrepresentations of Asians, wrote protest
organizer Yoko Yoshikawa, perpetuating a damaging fantasy of submissive
Orientals, self-erasing women, and asexual, contemptible men (Yoshikawa
1994, 276). Protesters thus called on lldef to drop the fund-raiser. What
does it mean for Lambda, a civil rights organization that claims to represent
all gay men and lesbian women, began the protesters statement to lldef,
to meet its annual budget with images of us as prostitutes and pimps, greasy
Chinks and slits? (qtd. in Yoshikawa 1994, 283). Nevertheless, lldef refused to halt the fund-raiser, and the conict within the gay and lesbian community escalated. African American poet and essayist Audre Lorde refused to
accept lldefs Liberty Award in protest, and in a parallel to the response to
Equity protesters, the Village Voice ran a feature on the lldef protest accusing
the protest coalition of more p.c.-than-thou gay-bashing (qtd. in Yoshikawa
1994, 287), despite the fact that, as Yoshikawa points out, the primary organizers of the lldef protest were lesbians and gay men. When lesbian and gay
people of color criticize the white gay male establishment, she argues, they
are gay-bashing. This implies that one must be white to be gay (Yoshikawa
1994, 287). As Yoshikawas comment implies, the Village Voices logic resembles
not only that of the Macintosh supporters but of the play itself, consolidating
a hegemonic sexual and racial identity by vehemently disavowing/jettisoning
others. The insistence of lldef on proceeding with the Miss Saigon fund-raiser
and responses such as the Voice commentary suggest that the process of abjecting Asian Americanness may occur even along the margins of mainstream
U.S. Americanness.This perhaps explains why, despite the presence of ve hundred sign-waving, chanting protesters on lldefs Gala Night (including two
protesters who actually attended and disrupted the performance), the fundraiser proceeded as planned with virtually no media coverage of the protest.
The protest coalitions ocial opening-night protest took place ve
nights later, and it was this protest that attracted the attention of the national
news media. How the media swarmed! recalled Yoshikawa. All the major
networks slotted us as their top story on the evening news that night. And
then there were CNN, the Post, the Daily News, the New York Times, National Pub54 National Abjection
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lic Radio, etc. (Yoshikawa 1994, 291). However, although this news coverage did momentarily make visible the Asian American body, rather than abjecting/erasing it, it could do so only insofar as that identity could be readily
quantied, uniformly categorized, and thereby objectied. There was no discussion of the previous protest against the lldef, the complicated relationship between this protest (targeted more broadly as an antiracist protest) and
the lldef fund-raiser, which had focused on the relationship between the
lesbian and gay Asian American communities and the larger lesbian and gay
New York establishment. No mention was made of our organizing process, no
questions were asked about who we were.Why should they? They saw our Asian
faces. . . . The media was not interested in tackling that aspect of our coalition
(Yoshikawa 1994, 292). That there might be complicated and subtle distinctions within that coalition, among Asian American groups across race, ethnicity, and sexuality, proved too much for the news media,Yoshikawa surmises:
Nowhere in their roster of stereotypes was a place for angry, articulate, queer
Asians. It was too much of a stretch for mainstream society to understand that
we could be more than their cardboard cut-out Asians, that we could instead
be complex individuals with divergent sexualities and multiple allegiances
just like them (293). Because the antiMiss Saigon coalition did not represent
a discrete object/other, but rather dierent constituencies that crossed race,
sex, and gender lines, they were not objectiable in ways readily consumable
by or for mainstream news media.To the extent they could come into visibility in
these protests, it was only by articially cohering (being cohered) into a unied
entity with one argument/position: antiracism. The complicated relationship
between antiracism, antihomophobia, and antimisogyny, that these protests
elucidated proved too complex for the networks and other news media, and
the protesters were reduced to a single position.
Although it is true, as Fung points out, that cultural products [like Miss
Saigon] cannot completely pre-determine how they are to be read (Fung 1993
1994, 11) a cultural product like Asian Americanness must rst be visible if it is
to be read at all. Commenting on the accusations of censorship leveled against
him during the protest, David Henry Hwang countered, Criticism from Asian
Americans, from Third World peoples, isnt censorship in that it doesnt stop
the ability of artists to work.The corporate structure, the mainstream, for years
not wanting to release any movies that just had Asians in them, however
thats censorshipin that it does limit the ability of the artists to work (qtd.
in Fung 19931994, 11). Hwangs denition of censorship attempts to take into
account historical inequities in power and accessa history overlooked by Equitys detractors.
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As coverage of these protests and the play itself demonstrate, in order to

function as a constitutive other, Asian Americanness must be stable and unied, must provide a solid not-American borderaround U.S. Americanness.When,
as here, that stability-in-dierence and uniformity proves ephemeral, Asian
Americanness is abjectedradically jettisonedin order to be made other or,
failing that, made invisible.

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Then well have drama


michael [as Liang Kentang]: Is it my turn?

aleta: Yes, your grace.
michael: I mean, historically, to understand the ballad of Lord MacCartney, one must
also understand the ballad of his Chinese counterpart. Dont you think?
aleta: Absolutely, your grace.
michael: Then well have drama.
aleta: Thats correct, your grace.
ping chong, Chinoiserie

Chongs Liang Kentang recognizes the need for multiple perspectives in the
project of understanding. He also recognizes its role in the creation of drama,
and that he equates the two as twin outcomes of the counterposed ballads
brings us to a consideration of the relationship between performances of abjection in Asian American theatre and elsewhere. The drama that Liang envisions (and subsequentlyenacts) is, afterall, both the material spectacle staged
by Chong and his performers and the historical sequence of events leading to
the Opium Wars, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the murder of Vincent Chin.
Or is it? Can one claim legitimately that the process of racializing and nationalizing identity formation that I have posited as the grounds of Asian Americanness is materially connected to theatrical performance? Moreover, how can
something that is, by denition, playacting realize the kinds of socially transformative gains I have claimed for it here?
In Strangers to Ourselves Kristeva takes up the question of nationalism and the
foreigner and asks, Shall we be, intimately and subjectively, able to live with
the others, to live as others, without ostracism but also without leveling? (2).
Although her perspective and interest are primarily those of the (white, nonimmigrant) French citizen, her prescription is one that may (perhaps must)

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be followed by immigrant and nonimmigrant communities simultaneously

(if dierently): To discover our disturbing otherness, for that indeed is what
bursts in to confront that demon, that threat, that apprehension generated
by the projective apparition of the other at the heart of what we persist in
maintaining as a proper, solid us. By recognizing our uncanny strangeness
we shall neither suer from it nor enjoy it from the outside. The foreigner is
within me, hence we are all foreigners (1991, 192). What I have been suggesting throughout this book is that in the United States Asian Americanness
gures historically as that apparition of the other that persists problematically within Americanness, thus compelling its continual, symbolic expulsion;
and that the theatrical works Ive considered here attempt to engage with
that uncanny strangeness through a variety of strategies, all of which produce Asian Americanness as a negotiation between the poles of abject visibility/stereotype/foreigner and invisibility/assimilation (to whiteness). Uncanny strangeness is a perspective that theatrical performance can supply
spectacularly (albeit imaginatively), and as such it oers us a practice eld
for reimagining Asian Americanness and its relation to national abjection.
Throughout these chapters my focus has been on performed texts as opposed to
dramatic literature, in that I am interested primarily in what performance does,
has done, and can do with and for productions of Asian Americannessonstage and o. If a drawback of live performance is its ephemerality, that is also
the source of its power to aect and the reason for its suitability to the task of
understanding racialized national formations such as Asian Americanness.
Of course, Asian Americanness is not the only national formation produced
through abjection; although the histories of East, Southeast, and South Asian
immigration and Pacic colonization have prompted a particular constellation
of inside/outside, deject/abject relations to U.S. Americanness, the production of a hegemonic American national identity through a process of radical expulsion and absorption/ablation of dierence does not address itself
to Asian Americanness exclusively. And just as the Asian American movement
that gave rise to an Asian American theatrical response to abjection grew out
of a larger, cross-constituency coalition of feminists, antiracists, anticolonialists, and antiwar protesters, other theatrical traditions can trace their genealogiesand some of their representational strategiesto that genesis. Native
American dramatists such as Tomson Highway, Hanay Geogaimah, Gerald
Vizenor, Sherman Alexie, and others have created theatrical works that engage similarly with the dual dilemmas of demonization/stereotyping and absorption/erasure. As I noted in chapter 3, the problematic of spacethe situating of Native Americans as symbolic or cultural outsiders in a space to
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which they have an undeniable (and prior) claim to insider statusconstitutes what is perhaps the primal scene of U.S. American abjection, and their
continuing fraught relationship to symbolic (and material) citizenship rights
form the subject matter for numerous Native American and First Nation performance/artworks. Similarly, Chicana/o and Latina/o theatre artists have long
been interested in the relationship linking space, citizenship, and the border
as a complex signier of insider/outsider status. Certainly, the gure of the
(illegal) immigrant in political/economic discourse is one that functions to
position Chicanas/os, Latinas/os, and Asian Americans as potential threats to
the geographical and ideological borders of Americanness; playwrights such
as Cherre Moraga, Eduardo Machado, Luis Alfaro, Guillermo Gomez-Pea,
and Luis Valdez and Teatro Campesino have created numerous works that address the paradoxes of Chicana/o and Latina/o abjection and (especially in the
cases of Gomez-Pea and Teatro Campesino) engage critically mimetic strategies of resistance to the exclusionary eects of stereotyping. African American
playwrights as stylistically divergent as August Wilson and Amiri Baraka have
pursued strategies similar to those of Frank Chin in their marked rejection of
abject stereotypes and (erased) histories, and others like Suzan Lori-Parks and
Anna Deveare Smith (again, among many, many others) engage critically with
representational strategies to consider how abjection structures our abilities
to see and be seen. Queer, nonheteronormative theatre artists of all kinds have
a long tradition in the United States of deploying many of the strategies discussed in the preceding chapters as a means to refute, foreground, and/or recast processes of abjection that partition them from the material and symbolic
privileges of U.S. Americanness. It is not my intention to suggest that Asian
American theatre artists have been the sole, or even rst, artists to respond
creatively and productively to the challenge; rather, they have been and continue to be part of a larger response to exclusionary nationalizing/racializing
practices in U.S. American culture. However, because these practices are not
uniform across race, gender, sexuality, or national originin each case abjection evolves as a process of exclusion specic to the threat of contamination
posed by a given nonnormative group/identity formationtheatre artists have
evolved responses specic to the particular brand(s) of abjection of concern to
each of them.
Among Asian American theatre artists, moreover, such cross-coalitional
links have been crucial in that eort, serving as a continual reminder that the
social, cultural, and material costs of national abjection are shared in ways
that are sometimes obvious and sometimes unacknowledged. A recent collaboration between the Chicano performance group Culture Clash, the Latina
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Theatre Lab (LTL), and the Asian American troupe 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors serves as a prime example. Close Encounters of the Third World, which
premiered at San Franciscos Asian American Theatre Company in 2001, comprised a series of explorations of shared and comparative abjections aecting Chicanas/os, Latinas/os, and Asian Americans. The piece was conceived
specically as a direct response to the anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping
California at the time, targeting Chicana/Latina and Asian Pacic American
communities alike. Sketches such as Railroad Games, for instance, pointed
out the similarly exploitative immigration histories of Chinese Americans and
Chicanas/os, imported and deported according to the whims of U.S. corporations and their labor needs. Memoirs of a Puerto Rican Geisha spoofed the
(global) commodication of orientalist stereotypes of Asian femininity and
illustrated the ways in which racist depictions of Asian female allure impinge
on other women of color as well. The closing number was a rousing chorus of
Madonnas break-through hit Borderline, its lyrics rewritten to describe the
shared perils of (illegal) immigration risked by Asian, Chicana/o, and Latina/o
immigrants alike. In a more critically mimetic vein Alice Tuans solo performance piece New Culture for a New Country (1999) examines the history
of gendered labor on a street corner in Brooklyn, New York. Shifting abruptly
among various characters including a Jewish American tour guide, a Chinese
American dim-sum cart vendor, and an African American Depression-era corn
girl (selling hot buttered corn and sex), Tuan asks audiences to consider the
operations of capitalism, gender, immigration, and racialization as links connecting these various women across decades and cultures. Each abjected from
dominant constructions of Americanness in historically and culturally specic ways, Tuans characters nonetheless demonstrate how national abjection
as a political project not only includes but extends beyond each of them.
LikeTuan, still other Asian American artists urge us to remember that racialization is but one of many grounds on which Asian Americans are abjected
from U.S. Americanness. Gender and sexuality are not merely stereotyping side
eects of race-based national abjection; for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Asian Americans heterosexism is often the primary, and most virulent, form of national abjection. For these Asian Americans insider/outsider,
deject/abject designations are often exponentially more fraught, and Asian
American theatre artists who address this form of exclusion in their work
including Chay Yew, Han Ong, and Diana Sonmust negotiate multiple abjections, often by deploying multiple, simultaneous critiques and/or critical

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For all the grandiose claims this book makes about the sociopolitical relevance
of performance, it seems important to end the book by returning to the questions that informed its inception: what is the connection between histories
of nationalization/racialization/gendering, and theatrical performance? What
can being attentive to the processes of national abjection tell us about performances that take place within the nation? Conversely, what can performance
tell us about national abjection? And perhaps most important, what can performance do to/about that process?
If the rst two years are any indication, the twenty-rst century does not
promise an abatement of that abjection process. Perhaps now more than ever,
we need to understand the means by which nationalisms, and policies enacted
in their names, may be buttressed by racialized abjection, as well as imagine
how/whether those processes might be teased apart. Toward that end, we need
to see and hear how performance may be pressed into the service of, or may
serve as a counterdiscourse to, those dominant narratives of national belonging and national exclusionwhich is what Asian American theatre artists have
been trying to show and tell us all along.

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Introduction: Its not right for a body to know its origins

1 Chins play is not the rst work of dramatic ction produced by, for, or about Asian
Americans; however, as I note in chap. 2, it was one of the rst plays created with
the express purpose of institutionalizing Asian American theatre.
2 For a detailed discussion of early examples of this usage see Robert G. Lee (1999,
esp. chaps. 1 and 2); and Moy (1993).
3 See esp. chaps. 2 and 6 in Espiritu (1992).
4 Omatsu (1994, 1969); Wei (1993, esp. chap. 1).
5 Although it exceeds the scope of this study, a fuller understanding of what I am calling national abjection must also account for the absorption or radical expulsion
of other minority subjectsespeciallyother nonwhite racialized groups and nonheteronormative subjects. I am not arguing that Asian Americans are the only group
positioned in relation to U.S. Americanness through abjection; rather, I oer this
paradigm as a descriptive model of the particular forms of racial, cultural, and often
sexual abjection that (partially) construct minority and dominant cultures in
the United States.
6 David Palumbo-Liu studies the psychic construction of White schizophrenia as
an intersection of cultural and psychic processes, noting in the sociological texts
under examination the centrality of a particular mentality to any notion of assimilation to America (Palumbo-Liu, 296297). In similar fashion Jonathan Dollimore has utilized the provocative convergences between otherwise incompatible
theoretical perspectives [i.e., psychoanalytic and materialist] in theorizing homophobia. Dollimore defends a careful and discriminating use of the psychoanalytic
perspective in analyzing the cultural-social phenomenon. Im aware of the theoretical tensionindeed incompatibilitybetween these two perspectives, he admits, but continues: in a sense I welcome this, nding in that tension an impetus to
recover the historical and political dimensions which theoretically self consistent
(hermetically sealed?) critiques often gesture towards but rather more rarely engage
with (Dollimore, 5). In other words, I hope that in bringing a psychoanalytic paradigm to bear on the process of Asian American identity formation/performance,

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I will be able to both more closely examine that process and investigate the ways
psychoanalytic theory might productively engage the analytic of racial dierence/
Moreover, Kristeva has posited a direct relationship between (psychoanalytic) subject formation and nationalism in her more recent work Nations without Nationalism
(1993). There she posits nationalismthe very capacity to think the nationas
a function of abjection on a social scale.
In deploying the term racialization I mean to invoke Michael Omis and Howard
Winants (1994) development of that term (i.e., that race is the product of legal,
political, socioeconomic, and cultural forces rather than a preexisting natural
system of categorization). On the ideal subject of the law see, e.g., Bartlett and
Kennedy (1991); Fineman (1994); Matsuda (1996); and Minow (1990).
I do not mean to suggest that these exclusionary rulings and regulations were promulgated for the sole or explicit purpose of consolidating a symbolic national identity; as others have eectively argued, acts such as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act
(denying entry to Chinese laborers) and the cases discussed subsequently came in
response to political and economic pressures on the U.S. labor market and international diplomatic negotiations. Nor do I intend these readings to serve as a comprehensive or explanatory history of Asian exclusion. Rather, I cite these illustrations in
order to argue that at various moments in U.S. history material pressures catalyzed
or consolidated a racialized symbolic national identity that brought into being the
abject category of Asian immigrant, which could be deployed in response to those
political and economic demands.
Chae Chan Ping v. United States, 130 U.S. 581, 589 (1889).
United States v. Dolla, 177 F. 101 (5th Cir. 1910).
For a detailed rhetorical analysis of the Proposition 187 debate see Ono and Sloop
See United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 688 (1898).
In accounting for this contradiction David Leiwei Li similarly invokes Kristevas
notion of abjection as a way of reconciling the two. Li breaks the history of Asians
in the U.S. into two periods: Oriental alienation (1854 to 1943 or 1965) and Asian
abjection (1943 or 1965 to the present), in which the Asian American has been
turned into an abject, into that which is neither radical enough for institutional enjoinment of the kind in period 1 nor competent enough to enjoy the subject status of
citizens in a registered and recognized participation of American democracy (Li,
6). Although Lis conception of abjection is not fundamentally inconsistent with
mine, and there is much to admire in Lis detailed interpretive historyof U.S. nationbuilding and the role of Asian Americans in the development of an American
modernity, I am suggesting that from its inception and up to the current moment
(perhaps never more so), Asian Americanness has been produced by the juxtaposition of alienation/exclusion and inclusion/recognized participation. What characterizes this process, for me, as abject is the radical vacillation between extremes

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model minority/yellow peril, lotus blossom/dragon lady, sexless or eeminate zen

master/sadistic rapistrather than a developmental progression from excludable
alien to tolerated abject.
As Leslie Hatamiya (1993) and others have pointed out, anti-Asian, and specically
anti-Japanese, sentiment preceded the outbreak of World War II, and the historical context for the internment is long and complex (the rise of Japanese American farmers as an economic-agricultural bloc in California in the prewar period, to
name but one factor). I am not suggesting that abjection represents a (sole) cause of
the internment; rather, as in the case of model minority discourse and the examples
to follow, I am arguing that abjection provides a lens through which we can understand how these instances of racist oppression were/are articulated and, perhaps,
how or why they often take these paradoxical or seemingly contradictory forms.
Although the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and the Civil Liberties Act Amendments
of 1992 (recommending pardons for convictions for violations of the Relocation
Act and providing $20,000 restitution for former internees) complicate our contemporary understanding of the wartime internment as a process of abjection, I do
not believe they alter it. In fact, the process of grassroots organizing and political
lobbying that led to these acts (as documented by Hatamiya [1993]) could be read
as another example of the judiciary and executive branches of the federal government wrestling with the issue of Asian American abjection. The machinations and
ultimate expressions of abject remorse expressed by Congress on behalf of the
Nation (Hatamiya, 207) resemble in many ways the self-excoriating rhetoric characterizing the abject expressions I examine below in discussing the controversies
surrounding Filipino veterans benets and the prosecution of Wen Ho Lee.
All but one classication of Filipino veterans (out of four) were oered full benets,
with the remainder receiving only half (and sometimes less).
See, e.g., Petersen (1966); and Success Story of One Minority in the U.S. (1966).
For a more detailed discussion of the contradictions inherent in model minority discourse, as well as the measures by which success is assessed in these articles, see
Chan (1991, 167171); Osajima (1988); Suzuki (1977); and Takaki (1989, 474484).
Marchettis (1993) and Moys (1993) studies of lmic and theatrical representations
of Asian and Asian American men largely bear this out.
Bhabha cites this ambivalence as evidence for the reading of the stereotype in terms
of fetishism (1994b, 74) rather than in terms of abjection. However, I would argue
that abjection is a more appropriate model with which to theorize the construction of Asian Americans. Although I do not dispute Bhabhas use of (psychoanalytic) fetishism in the analysis of colonial relations, I am suggesting that because
national identity bears a complex relationship to racial identity (perhaps nowhere
more so than in a multicultural nation like the United States), racialization proceeds dierently in dierent political-historical contexts. The Asian American subject within the United States thus occupies a position more appropriately termed
abject: racially other, she/he nevertheless cannot be dierentiated from the (ideal)

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true U.S. subject with an exclusion carrying the force of law and therefore cannot
be objectied/fetishized without rst undergoing abjection. Kristeva distinguishes
the deject from the fetishist in this way: It is not a part of himself, vital though it
may be, that he is threatened with losing, but his whole life (1982, 55).
22 For more comprehensive treatments see Yuko Kurahashis study of East West
Players (Kurahashi 1999); and the introduction to Josephine Lees excellent study
of Asian American performance (Lee 1997).

Chapter 1. I should beAmerican!: Abjection and the Asian (American) Body

1 See Will (1990); and Quindlen (1990).
2 For a fuller account of the creation of Miss Saigon see Behr and Steyn (1991, 2627).
3 For a discussion of the gender imperatives driving operatic narrative and the aestheticization of dead women in opera more generally see Clment (1988).
4 Neither Boublil nor Schenberg identify with the conict (as citizens of a prior
colonizing nation whose actions arguably precipitated the war). Although there
is some reference to French colonialism in Miss Saigon (The Engineers father is
possibly French), the composers seem to base their representation of the Vietnam
War on popular U.S. iconography of the war exclusively and to identify the conict
as having its origins in U.S.-Vietnam relations. I was a boy when we lost Vietnam, recalls Schenberg, and I didnt mind at all. After all, we French are always
losing wars (Behr and Steyn, 65). Schenbergs comment could imply a certain
level of anti-American sarcasm, but as I argue below, in the process of translating
the libretto from French to English (with U.S. lyricist Richard Maltby), all traces
of anti-American and/or French sentiments were eliminated, and the resulting collaboration seems to have produced an unabashedly and self-congratulatory U.S.
perspective.The extent to which these changes were motivated by a desire to obliterate the history of French colonialism, or (more likely) to broaden the shows appeal
by avoiding controversy or laying blame on the United States (and the West generally) for the suering of the Vietnamese people, cannot be determined. Certainly, in
the promotional materials, interviews, and other publicity focusing on the shows
creators, their status as French is rarely remarked on, nor is the Americanness of
the story questioned.
5 Citations of song lyrics from Miss Saigon are from the Miss Saigon Original London Cast
Recording compact disc (UNI/Geen Records, 1990).
6 As with the role of Chris, it appears that every actor who played this part on Broadway was white. I would argue that because the logic of the play is to concretize
certain equations (American = white = heteromasculine; Asian = not-American
= heterofeminine), the casting of a nonwhiteand especially the casting of an
Asianin either of these roles would make the narrative illegible to most mainstream U.S. audiences.
7 Even this response, however, is portrayed as reasonable and mild. In a recitative

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preceding her ballad Now That Ive Seen Her Ellen reects on her ambivalence
and guilt feelings, thus diusing the potential for a rivalrylove triangle tension:
I dont want this
Dont want to ght her
What did I do?
I didnt come here to meet a girl
who loves my husband
Chris has a sonhe has to see him
But if he does shell be there with him
I came here to help, but what can I do?
Now, after this, what can I do?
8 As I argue below, Chriss marital status is ambiguous.
9 In fact, because he is an African American, John may serve to deect charges of
racism by ostensibly establishing Chris as nonracist. This is a strategy explicitly
employed in the promotional book The Story of Miss Saigon (Behr and Steyn 1991).
Edward Behr, a correspondent for Newsweek during the Vietnam War, opens the book
with his reminiscences of Saigon, legitimating the authenticity of the plays depiction thereof (he concludes the chapter by proclaiming that not only Kim, but
also Chris, are believable characters [15]) and defending the morality of the gis
who patronized bars like the one depicted in the opening scene of Miss Saigon. Casting the United Statess role in wartime Saigon prostitution in wholly passive terms
(Of course the whole bar-girl phenomenon had been a by-product of the awful war,
he concedes [12]), he summons up an image that, for him, proves the egalitarian
nature of those transactions; angered by a French documentary in which former
Vietnamese prostitutes denounce their former oppressors, Behr responds, As
I watched the documentary, another image came to mind: of black gis and their
Vietnamese girlfriends laughing, dancing and irting in a small bar in Cholon with
the innocent abandon and unselfconscious enjoyment of young people anywhere
(14, emphasis in original).
The image of African American gis with Vietnamese girlfriends is for Behr
proof positive that the bar-girl phenomenon was neither oppressive nor racist
and was, in fact, a sort of haven of racial harmony. The participation of African
American gis eliminates the possibility that racism/nationalism or coercion (not
to mention economics) had any hand in forming these relationships.
10 Indeed, the next time Kim appears she is preparing to leave for Thailand; the location then switches to Bangkok. Once the United States has left Vietnam, Vietnam
ceases to be an operative locale in the play.
11 Ellen, the only non-Vietnamese woman in the play, displays little or no sexual desire,
reinforcing the image that U.S. sexual desire is male-identied.
12 Pao traces Kims characters genealogy to turn-of-the-century maternal melodramas, arguing that it was these generic origins that contributed (in part) to the

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racial imperatives governing casting and that thereby precipitated the controversy
I discuss in the last section of this chapter.
The two major non-American characters alive at the endTam and The Engineerare
more appropriately characterized as potentially (but not fully) Vietnamese American,
as I argue in the next section.
As to the determination of perspective in the constitution of foreignness, the perspective seems rmly established: the composers designed their orchestration for
decidedlyWestern ears. Defending his somewhat indiscriminate use of instruments
from all over Asia and christening this style Bamboo Rock, orchestrator William
Brohn quipped, I suppose that some Vietnamese might nd the idea of Bamboo
Rock oensive. But, er, I think its funny. And I guess if you cant laugh somewhere
in this show youre in big trouble, right? (qtd. in Behr and Steyn, 54).
I do not mean to suggest that all biracial children born as a result of sexual encounters between U.S. American gis and Vietnamese women during the war were
purely exploitative or loveless; I nevertheless think it is relevant that it is John, the enthusiastic participant in the opening rae, who performs this ballad. The plays
most obvious example of U.S. exploitation, John (and what he exemplies) is here
absolved of guilt and resignied as the ethical caretaker of the worlds suering
Interestingly, in Boston the national tours production manager donated forty
tickets to local Amerasians recently arrived from Vietnam, precipitating several
newspaper articles proling some of these children. The articles repeatedly noted
the hardship these individuals suered inVietnam as a result of their parentage, and
although the interviewees made reference to U.S. American fathers, none of them
expressed any serious desire or expectation to locate these fathers; nor did they level
any ethical accusations at them. Rather than appearing as directly or explicitly connected to Americanness, these children are abstract, free-oating symbols of all
the good we meant to do.
This equating of biological race with national origins thus precludes the possibility
that such children might be fathered by Asian American gis.
Ironically, the script originally included a ballad sung by the Vietnamese women in
act 1 titled Le rve Amricain (which was eventually translated and renamed The
Movie in My Mind). Boublil attributed the prevalence of this theme throughout
the play to his sense that that is what they [the Vietnamese characters] should be
singing aboutand, after all, what is the whole show about? (Behr and Steyn, 149).
In identifying the performers by race or ethnicity, I recognize the possibility for
dierent (i.e., nontraditional) casting procedures; however, my research suggests
that, to date, such nontraditional casting has not been employed in various productions of this show.
Like the references to restaurants and boat people,The Engineers claim that There
I will crown / Miss Chinatown / All yours for ten percent down provides a specic, materially present location in which to imaginatively locate him; it evokes the

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image of real Asian American communities, to which The Engineer may hold
See, e.g., deVries (1989); Pitman (1989); and Whitney (1989).
See Rich (1990); Rothstein (1990af ); and Witchel (1990b).
In the Los Angeles Times see Bad Show from Actors Equity (1990); Will (1990);
and Miss Saigon Watch: Equity Regained (1990). In the Washington Post see The
Trendy Racism of Actors Equity (1990); and This is Equity? (1990). In USA Today
see Buckley (1990). In the Wall Street Journal see Wilson (1990). In the New York Times
see Acting Silly about Color (1990); Lost Courage, Lost Play (1990); Quindlen
(1990); and Two Stage Triumphs (1990). In Variety see Equity May Pay High Price
to Win Saigon Cast War (1990); and Saigon Vote, Round 2: Will Reversal Save
It? (1990).
See Corliss (1990); and Caste in Casting on Broadway (1990).
See, e.g., Chang and Belleta (1990); Chang (1990); Wineld (1990); True Equity
Now! (1990).
This logic led the casting directors to the Philippines since, as Schenberg declared,
Singing was in their blood (Behr and Steyn, 143).
After the controversy in New York began, Pryce discontinued using the eyelid prostheses.
Are We Ready for This? (1990, 3031).
See USA Today, 3 August 1990, 10A; and USA Today, 9 August 1990, 10A.

Chapter 2. The dance thats happening: Performance, Politics,

and Asian American Theatre Companies
1 In setting forth a historical account of Asian American theatre I do not mean to
suggest that that institution is singular or uniform; as I hope will become clear in
this chapter (and as is assumed throughout this study), the impetus behind the formation of each company, their stated goals and functions within their respective
communities, and the aims and practices of the artists working within them vary
across time, space, and individual artists. I nevertheless want to suggest that the
various companies share one feature: they began and continue to function within
a matrix of national abjection, and to varying degrees they operate in reaction to,
and at times are challenged (and occasionally facilitated) by, that process.
2 Ironically, a revival of Flower Drum Song (with a new libretto by David Henry Hwang
and starring Lea Salonga, the actress who played Kim in the London and New York
productions of Miss Saigon) was staged at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in
fall 2001.
3 Iwamatsu (1995). Subsequent quotations are from this interview unless otherwise
4 For a detailed history of the East West Players see Kurahashi (1999). The theatre
companies whose histories I recount here are not, however, the rst theatre com-

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panies to involve, or be run by, Asian Americans. I am using the phrase Asian
American theatre, referencing Espiritus (and others) formulation of that phrase,
to describe those postcivil rights era, panethnic, politicized (or at least politically
self-reexive) groups who identied themselves as Asian American performance
groups. For an account of earlier Asian American performance, see Lee (2002).
Nihei (1995). Subsequent quotations are from this interview.
Yamauchi (1995). Subsequent quotations are from this interview unless otherwise
For a fuller discussion of 12-1-A see chap. 3.
Gotanda (1995a). Subsequent quotations are from this interview unless otherwise
Chin (1995). Subsequent quotations are from this interview unless otherwise specied.
For a fuller discussion of this complicated relationship, and how it does (or does
not) relate to mainland Asian American race relations, see Okamura (1994).
Shiomi (2000). Subsequent quotations are from this correspondence. Additional
founding members included Andrew K. Kim, Juwon No, and Donna Gustafson.
Some of the material from these workshops eventually developed into the rst act
of Mask Dance, a coauthored performance piece that premiered in 1993. The script
for Mask Dance appears in Srikanth and Yamanaga (2001).
Although Kristevas primary focus in Powers of Horror is literature, insofar as abjection bears a fundamental, constitutive relation to subject formation, the capacity
for signication, and embodiment, it would seem that the artistic/poetic engagement
with abjection that she identies should not be limited to purely literary art forms.
The ritual delement, food taboos, and other transgressions she discusses in From
Filth to Delement (1982, 5689) as social institutionalizations of abjection, for
instance, are all performance-based forms and prohibitions aimed at regulation of
the body and bodily practices; and although some of the practices and prohibitions
she studies here are codied in written texts, such as the Bible, in each case it is the
treatment of the body/material/relation itself, rather than the textual description,
that serves as her focus. In other words, the social meanings of menstrual blood,
semen, incest, particular kinds of food, etc.physical material, bodily products,
and processesas alternately abject or sacred constitute another means (like literature) by which the subject reckons with the fact that it is none other than abject
(1982, 5). Kristeva articulates the process of negotiating abjection in visual terms:
there is a visual cathexis in the phobic mirage, she argues, and at least a speculative cathexis in abjection, suggesting that it is possible to confront the abjection
visuallyor, as the epigraph to this section suggests, theatrically (1982, 46).
Hwang (1995). Subsequent quotations are from this interview unless otherwise
In fairness to Hwang, it is worth quoting the entire passage:

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The Asian-American theatre movement has been important to me. . . . If you grow
up as a minority in this country theres a residual negativism that you take into
your system, simply because of the racism in the air. You get to a point where
you feel a certain amount of self-loathing and wonder if you dont measure up to
certain things. One of the only ways to remedy that is for minority people to get
together, segregate themselves for a while, and realize that they all have common
experiences. You can sort of repair the damage that way.
But once thats done I believe theres an obligation, at least if one is going
to remain engaged in the American experiment, to reintegrate yourself into the
larger society. In the long run, if ethnic theatres do their jobs properly, they
should phase themselves out of their own existence. I think the future is not in
monoethnic theatre, but in multicultural theatres that will do a black play, an
Asian play, a white play, whatever. (Berson, 95)
In the years since he made this statement Hwang has become an outspoken leader
in the ght for Asian American representation in mainstream theatre (including his
public position on the Miss SaigonJonathan Pryce controversy) and a generous supporter of Asian American theatre companies, especially East West Players, which
bears a theatre and a writers institute in his name.
16 Neither he, nor any of the other artists interviewed, argued that only Asian Americans should be allowed to direct Asian American plays, nor did they express a desire
for a tyranny of authenticity that would artistically hamstring a director. All of the
interviewees expressed interest in seeing Asian American playsincluding their
ownperformed in nonAsian American theatres as well as in Asian American
theatres, and all saw the value in making cross-cultural connections through such
17 Chong (1995a). Subsequent quotations are from this interview unless otherwise
18 I examine this critique more fully in chap. 4.

Chapter 3. Wecome a Chinatowng, Folks!: Resisting Abjection

1 In addition to Wakako Yamauchis 12-1-A, which I discuss in detail in this chapter, numerous plays such as Philip Kan Gotandas Song of a Nisei Fisherman, Momoko
Ikos The Gold Watch, and Velina Hasu Houstons Tea all refer to the internment in
varying degrees of detail.
2 Although by and large only those Japanese Americans living on the West Coast of
the U.S. mainland were interned, I would argue that the implementation and aftermath of Executive Order 9066 nevertheless has also functioned to dene Japanese
American communities in Hawaii and elsewherealbeit, by contrast.
3 As noted in the introduction, the Japanese American Citizens League used precisely
this rhetoric as part of its public relations campaign, both during and after the war,

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to facilitate the peaceful (re-)acceptance of Japanese Americans into U.S. American

The WRA questionnaire did include a question directed at female internees, asking
whether they would be willing to volunteer for the Army Nurse Corps or WAC.
The characterizations of Americanness and Chineseness reach virtually to the point
of stereotype, but (as I argue below) I think that is precisely Wongs point.
Besides the two plays discussed below, Chin has written one other play, Gee, Pop!,
which is unpublished.
In Come All Ye Asian AmericanWriters Chin locates the origins of Chinese American self-hate and acceptance of racist ideals of assimilation with the indoctrination
of Chinese immigrants into Christianity: tracing the origins of the phrase Chinese
American, he writes, the Christian Chinese Americans coined the term Chinese American to distinguish themselves from heathen Chinamen (13); and Chin routinely
identies himself (and other real Chinese American writers whom he admires)
as Chinamen.
The scene takes place in Limbo, on an otherwise empty stage dominated by an
oversized, old-fashioned radio; and although the preceding quote does make reference to the print comic-strip version of The Lone Ranger, I would argue that it is
the radio transmission that is more signicantboth because of Chins prop directions and because the trope connecting the radio and the Old West is picked up
in the plays closing monologue.

Chapter 4. Ill be here . . . right where you left me: Mimetic Abjection/Abject Mimicry
1 See Irigarays reading of Platos Hystera and the gendered production of the stage
in Irigaray (1985b); see also Jill Dolans (1988) study of feminist spectatorship; and
Lynda Harts (1989) introductory remarks on feminist theatre and the centrality of
the male-subject-spectator/female-object-spectacle binary in traditional Western
2 There are no Filipino women of Franks generation in the play; Dee is the only Filipino American female character, and the play focuses largely on her relationship to
Frank and the history he represents.
3 Echoing several reviews of the lm, one fans Web site deems makeup artist Ben
Nyes work incredible for giving Jones the Oriental look that was perfect for
her character. See (author accessed on
March 27, 2002).
4 The New York premiere of Yankee Dawg deployed another layer of insubordinate
mimesis: the role of Vincent was played by Sab Shimono, the Japanese American
actor who played the Chinese houseboy in the original Broadway production of
Mame; that role (along with numerous similar roles) sustained Shimono through
the early part of his career, thus enabling him to be in a position to command a

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starring role in this production (as well as many other recent Asian American plays
and lms).
5 Similarly, Una Chaudhuri reads Yankee Dawg as an abject play (1997, 230), where
abject is understood as a critique. Faulting the plays logic as curiously circular (228), Chaudhuri nds that Bradleys and Vincents role reversal and (what she
views as) the plays implicit valorization of an identitarian quest for representational role models actually xes identity within cultural categories (231). While
I take seriously Chaudhuris critiqueespecially in light of her larger argument
(in favor or dramatic-linguistic re-mappings of space that reect the contemporary geopathologies created by the circulations of people and cultures frequently
labeled transnational)I maintain there is a way to see this circularity as a metacommentary on mimetic play. Bradleys and Vincents switch is not exact or complete; that Vincent played a foundational role in creating the identity formation
Asian American actor by performing the abject, and that it is that resulting identity
formation that Vincent subsquently takes on, suggest that the logical circle is not
completely closed.
6 For purposes of clarity I refer to Song as her throughout the following discussion.
Hwangs stage directions refer to Song as she and her through acts 1 and 2,
switching to male signiers for act 3; as I hope becomes clear through the course of
the discussion, however, Hwangs characters relationship to race and sex/gender
thwarts any stable gender signierespecially in act 3an indication, perhaps, of
the eectiveness of her/their critically mimetic strategy.
7 Hwangs explorationthrough the character of Comrade Chinof the performative possibilities for Asians or Asian Americans who are sexed female is signicantly
less developed. A stereotypically Red Chinese character, she is singularly unimaginative, heteronormative, and desexualizedin contrast to the more emancipated Song. Certainly, Hwangs focus in this play is on the relationship between
Gallimard and Song and its implications for gendered/sexed/racialized readings of
the Asian or Asian American male body; it is regrettable that he does not make a
similarly nuanced, complex, and perhaps comparative examination of the possibilities for Asian and Asian American bodies sexed female.

Chapter 5. Whose history is this, anyway?: Changing Geographies

in Ping Chongs East-West Quartet
1 Although Chong frequently collaborates with the performers (including musicians)
on a given piece, and credits them as collaborators in each case, Chong is always
listed as the primary artistic gure: the credits for Deshima read, by Ping Chong
[line break] in collaboration with Michael Matthews, and the credits for Chinoiserie read, conceived and directed by Ping Chong / music by Guy Klucevsek / text
and lyrics by Michael Matthews, Ping Chong, Regine Anna Seckinger, [and] Ric

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Oquita. Although I do not want to minimize the contributions of the collaborators, in publicity materials these works are generally attributed to Chong; for the
sake of expedience I refer to Chong as the author throughout, although I cannot
say to what extent the choices I attribute to him here were, in fact, his alone.
Although After Sorrow and Pojagi are interesting and beautiful in their own
rights, they are, for my purposes, less (for lack of a better term) dramatic in their use
of staging, less explicit about their engagement(s) with the issues of transnationalism, globalization, and diasporathe issues that concern me here; to the extent
they are concerned with these issues, their strategies are consistent with those I
discuss in reference to Deshima and Chinoiserie.
See Chuh (forthcoming) for a theory of subjectless Asian American critique.
See also M. M. Bakhtins Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel, in
which he develops the concept of the chronotope (literally, time space), dened
as the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature (Bakhtin 1981, 84). Bakhtins formulation (which
he draws from mathematics) is obviously related to the time-space problematic I
discuss in this chapter. Because my (and Chongs) interests are primarily theatrical,
political, and economic (where Bakhtins were explicitly literary and historiographic) and
because my reading of Chongs strategies is inuenced by the work of the political
economists and sociologists cited here, it seems more appropriate to draw direct
connections between the discussion of time-space in political economic discourse
and Chongs work than by recourse through Bakhtins novel-centered analysis.
As indicated by the proliferation of such terms as local-global interplay, localglobal nexus, glocalization, and glurbanization, many urban researchers have
begun to conceptualize the current round of globalization as a complex rearticulation of socioeconomic space upon multiple geographic scales (Brenner 366).
The sound track for that scene is gamelan but mixed with an audio recording of
an interview with the founder of Sony, Akio Moritaanother interesting illustration of Chongs strategy of space-time layering in the depiction of the history of
This slide echoes the opening slide sequence:
in the name of god
in the name of god [ pause] and profit
In 1598 ve ships:
and annunciation,
left the Netherlands to trade
in spices with the ocial

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destination as the East-Indies.

The actual destination was
China and the silverland Japan,
via the Strait of Magellan.
Only one ship managed to arrive,
o the coast of Kyushu,
the southernmost island of Japan. (3)
8 Because of time, space, and other technical considerations, the Mickery Theatre
production achieved this eect to a much greater degree than the 1993 New York
restaging (at La MaMa, the videotape from which most of this performance analysis is drawn), which featured a scaled-back version of the eect (relying more on
lighting and scrim projections).
9 Stage directions in this excerpt are mine.
10 Although Deshima does exist in an unpublished script and Chong includes notes
on staging and casting, implying the possibility that it could be performed byothers,
to my knowledge it has never been formally staged by anyone other than Ping Chong
and Company. My comments regarding the scripts manipulation of ethnicity are
specic to the 1993 production, and the explicit references to the performers ethnicities in the script form a central part of my argument here. Obviously the argument
would be complicated by a dierent production/castperhaps necessitating rewriting some of the dialogue at issue here. However, whether or not the lines were
rewritten, I believe the tensions evoked here (between performer and character, race
and ethnicity, nationality and nationality, etc.) would persist, and this discussion
would remain salient.
11 As with Deshima, although an (unpublished) script exists, Chinoiserie has not
been performed by any other company. The script and my comments refer to the
1995 production at the Brooklyn Academy of Art, with performers Ping Chong, ShiZheng Chen, Aleta Hayes, Michael Edo Keane, and Ric Oquita.
12 The leitmotif of baseball is yet another layer of Chongs palimpsest and is referenced in several forms throughout the play.
13 Later in the piece we will be reminded that Chinese laborers were used in the years
immediately following the Civil War to replace emancipated slaves in Mississippi,
illustrating the intricate, dynamic, and long-standing multiracial politics on which
contemporary race relations are built.
14 In addition to Who Killed Vincent Chin? a more explicit examination of this dynamic
can be found in Michael Chos documentary video, Another America (1996).
15 The cross-racial performances of Matthews and Hayes dier from the yellowface
performance of Jonathan Pryce in Miss Saigon (discussed in chapter 1) in crucial
ways: the racialization of the performer is explicitly integral to the production, in
its critical and self-conscious juxtaposition to the racialization of the character.

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Whereas Macintosh claimed the right to cast a white performer on the basis of
artistic freedom, Chong prescribes cross-race casting here in order to more fully
realize his artistic statement. Although I would argue there is a kind of subconscious or unacknowledged pleasure taken by mainstream audiences in watching
Pryces yellowface, certainly the rhetoric used in defense of his casting insisted on
his artistry in achieving the illusion of Eurasiannesshis ability to make audiences (supposedly) forget the racial identity of the performer beneath the bronzing
cream and eyelid prosthetics. Chong, on the other hand, makes the racial identity
of the performer an axis along which his social commentary on racialization and
historiography proceeds. His strategy is to force audiences to reckon with precisely
the kinds of aestheticized forgetting of racist pasts (and presents) that Miss Saigons
cross-race casting practices exploit.

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188 References
From National Abjection by Shimakawa, Karen. DOI: 10.1215/9780822384243
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Abjection, 310; articulation with

psychoanalytic theory, 34, 165 n.6;
eroticism and, 16; lm and, 112114,
115120; globalization and, 131133;
Japanese American internment and,
1011, 7882; language and, 87, 89
97; mimicry and, 101102; national
abjection, 3, 2835, 8385; and pleasure, 128; stereotypes and, 1617, 59,
77, 101; and theatre, 6768, 172 n.13.
See also Miss Saigon
African Americanness: in The Chickencoop
Chinaman, 9293; in Chinoiserie, 154
156, 177 n.13, 177 n.15; in Deshima,
157158, 177 n.15; in Miss Saigon, 169
n.9, 177 n.15
African American theatre artists, 161
Ang, Ien: Chineseness and diaspora,
Appadurai, Arjun: globalization, 130;
ethnic violence, 131
Asian American actors, 5859, 6061,
115120, 125126
Asian Americanness: as panethnic identication, 2; as product of abjection, 3
Asian American Theatre Company
(aatc), 6162, 7172
Asian American theatres: formation of,
5767; vis--vis mainstream theatre,
7176; women in, 105

Bakhtin, M.M. See Chronotope

Barroga, Jeannie: Talk-Story, 110115
Bhabha, Homi: ambivalence and stereotypes, 15, 101; fetishism, 167168 n.21;
mimicry, 102
Biraciality: in The Chickencoop Chinaman,
96; in Miss Saigon, 3739, 170 n.15
Birthright citizenship, 89. See also
Body: and abjection, 8, 172 n.13; corpse,
8; ethnic violence and, 131; globalization and, 131133, 141146; immigrant
vs. American, 7; theatrical performance and, 6871, 108110. See also
Abjection; Theatre
Boublil, Alain (composer), 23. See also
Miss Saigon
Burgin, Victor: postmodernism and
spatialization, 140141
Butler, Judith: abjection, 4; critical
mime, 103
Chae Chan Ping vs. United States. See Chinese
Exclusion Act
Chaudhuri, Una: performance and otherness, 19; Yankee Dawg You Die, 175 n.5
Chicana/o and Latina/o theatre artists,
The Chickencoop Chinaman, 1, 9197
Chin, Comrade (character), 175 n.7

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Chin, Frank: Asian American Theatre

Company (aatc) and, 6162; The
Chickencoop Chinaman, 1, 9197; Chinamen, 12, 92, 174 n.7; Chinatown,
8687, 8889; language and assimilation, 87, 8991; model minority myth,
86, 174 n.7; The Year of the Dragon, 8691
Chin, Lily, 155156
Chin, Vincent, 151154
Chinamen, 12, 92, 174 n.7
Chinese Exclusion Act, 6, 8
The Chinese Must Go, 149
Chineseness and diaspora, 146147
The Chinese Other, 18501925, 1718
Chinoiserie, 146157
Chong, Ping: on Asian American theatre,
7576; Chinoiserie, 146157; Deshima,
134146; East-West Quartet, 133
Chronotope, 176 n.4
Chun, Allen: Chineseness and diaspora,
Citizenship: Filipino veterans and, 1213;
operation of race in, 59
Civil Liberties Act Amendments of 1992,
167 n.16
Civil Liberties Act of 1988, 167 n.16
colorblind casting. See Miss Saigon:
casting controversy
Culture Clash, 161162
Deject, 10. See also Abjection
Deshima, 134146
Dollimore, Jonathan: psychoanalysis and
materialism, 165 n.6
Dutch East-Indies, 138, 145146
East West Players, Inc., 5859, 61, 172
18 Mighty Mountain Warriors, 161162
The Engineer. See Miss Saigon
An English-Chinese Phrasebook, 150
Ethnic violence, 130131

Filipino American history: as abject,

Filipino veterans, 1113
Flower Drum Song, 58, 171 n.2
French colonialism, 2728, 168 n.4. See
also Miss Saigon
Fung, Richard: Asian American male
stereotypes, 16; Miss Saigon controversy, 43
Garner, Stanton: theatre and embodiment, 6970
Gentlemens Agreement of 1908, 8
Globalization, 130133; and time-space
compression, 136137
Gotanda, Philip Kan: Asian American
theatre vs. mainstream theatre, 74
75, 76; early career, 61; Yankee Dawg You
Die, 115120
Grimm, Henry: The Chinese Must Go, 149
Haney Lpez, Ian: whiteness and citizenship, 45
Hayes, Aleta, 150, 155156
Hing, Bill Ong, 14. See also Refugee
Homosexuality: Asian American theatre
artists, 161, 162; in M. Buttery, 120
127; in Miss Saigon, 34; in Yankee Dawg
You Die, 119120
Houston, Velina Hasu: Tea, 105110;
women in Asian American theatre, 105
Hwang, David Henry: Asian American
theatre vs. mainstream theatre, 74
75; lm vs. theatre, 71; M. Buttery,
120127; and the Miss Saigon controversy, 44, 55, 127
Identity politics, 100101; and globalization, 132
Ikegami, Eiko: cyber-nancial globalization, 136137
Imitation. See Mimesis

190 Index
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In re Ah Yup, 56. See also Racial prerequisite laws

In re Kanaka Nian, 6. See also Racial prerequisite laws
Irigaray, Luce: mimicry and femininity,
102103, 105
Iwamatsu, Mako: East West Players,
5859; Asian American theatre, 72
Jameson, Fredric: globalization, 130;
postmodernism, 139140
Japanese American Citizens League
(jacl), 11. See also Japanese American
Japanese American internment, 1011,
7882; in Deshima, 141144; gendered
eects of, 8082
Jeords, Susan: Vietnam War and feminine reproduction, 38; Vietnam War
and masculinity, 2627
Jessop, Bob: globalization and multiscalar shifts, 137
Jones, Jennifer, 114, 174 n.3
Keller, Helen, 9394
Korean American adoptees, 6465
Kristeva, Julia: abjection, 310, 166167
n.14; on nationalism, 159160, 166 n.7
Kumu Kahua Theatre Company, 6264

Marchetti, Gina: stereotypes of Asian

American sexuality, 1516; Vietnam
war in lm, 3536
Masaoka, Mike, 11. See also Japanese
American Citizens League
Masculinity: Asian American stereotypes, 16; in M. Buttery, 123125; in
Miss Saigon, 2930; in Vietnam War
representation, 27; in Yankee Dawg You
Die, 119120
Matthews, Michael, 157158
M. Buttery, 120127
Mimesis: abjection and, 101102; critical mimesis, 103; femininity and, 10;
subjectivity and, 102
Miss Saigon, 2356; Americanness in, 28
30; casting controversy, 4353; Chris
(character), 2829; Ellen (character),
2930; The Engineer (character), 23,
27, 3843, 177 n.15; inspiration for,
24; John (character), 30; Kim (character), 3133; lldef protest of, 5355;
logo, 35; masculinity in, 27, 2930,
34; the maternal in, 3233, 170 n.12;
orchestration for, 34, 170 n.14; Persian
Gulf War and, 5153
Model minority myth, 1314, 86
Moy, James: Asian American heteromasculinity, 119, 125; representations
of Chineseness, 24

Latina Theatre Lab (ltl), 161162

Letters to a Student Revolutionary, 8286
Li, David Leiwei, 166167 n.14
The Lone Ranger, 9496. See also Chin,
Frank: The Chickencoop Chinaman
Lowe, Lisa: immigrant vs. citizen, 5;
symbolic citizenship, 9

Native American theatre artists, 160

Nihei, Judith, 7274
Non-traditional casting. See Miss Saigon,
casting controversy
Northwest Asian American Theatre
(nwaat), 5961

Macintosh, Cameron (producer), 23. See

also Miss Saigon
Madame Buttery, 23, 121, 126127; origins, 25. See also M. Buttery; Miss

Omi, Michael: racialization, 166 n.8

Ong, Aihwa: Chineseness and diaspora,
146; transnationality, 130
Opium Wars, 151154
Orientalism, 1516

Index 191
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Osajima, Keith, 1314. See also Model

minority myth
Palumbo-Liu, David: immigrant body
and race, 7; manifest destiny, 9; model
minority myth, 13; refugee resettlement, 15
Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, 62
Pao, Angela: cross-race casting, 4546;
Madame Buttery and Miss Saigon, 24,
26; maternal melodrama, 170 n.12
Parks, Suzan-Lori, 161
Performance. See Body; Theatre
Persian Gulf War, 5153
Phelan, Peggy: theatre and visibility,
67, 70
Postmodernism: geography and, 140
141; mechanical reproduction and,
Poston, Arizona, 7880
Pryce, Jonathan (actor). See The Engineer;
Miss Saigon
Racial prerequisite laws, 45
Refugee resettlement, 1415
Roach, Joseph, 132133
Said, Edward: orientalism and sexuality,
Schenberg, Claude-Michel (lyricist), 23.
See also Miss Saigon
Shimono, Saburo, 174175 n.4
Shiomi, Rick. See Theatre Mu
Smith, Anna Deveare, 161
Southeast Asian Americans, 1415
Stereotypes: abjection and, 1617; ambivalence and, 15, 16; fake vs. real,
99101; in lm and television, 110
120; in Tea, 106107. See also Miss

Talk-Story, 110115
Tea, 105110
Theatre: abjection and, 6768; embodiment and, 6871, 108110, 172 n.13;
play and, 110; terror and, 68
Theatre Mu, 6465
Transcontinental railroad, 150151
Transnationalism, 131
Tuan, Alice, 162
12-1-A, 61, 7882
United States v. Dolla, 7. See also Racial
prerequisite laws
United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 8. See also
Birthright citizenship
van Gogh, Vincent, 134, 139140
Vietnam War: French colonialism and,
2728; gender and, 2627; as national
abject, 14, 26. See also Miss Saigon
Who Killed Vincent Chin? 153, 155156
Williams, Dave: The Chinese Other, 1850
1925, 1718
Wilson, August, 161
Winant, Howard: racialization, 166 n.8
Wong, Elizabeth: Letters to a Student Revolutionary, 8286
Wong Sam and Associates, 150
Yamauchi, Wakako: Asian American
theatre vs. mainstream theatre, 75;
12-1-A, 61, 7882
Yankee Dawg You Die, 115120
The Year of the Dragon, 8691
Yellowface: 19th century practice of, 17
18; Miss Saigon and, 4353, 7071, 177
Yellow peril, 24, 4451
Yoshikawa, Yoko, 5355

192 Index
From National Abjection by Shimakawa, Karen. DOI: 10.1215/9780822384243
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From National Abjection by Shimakawa, Karen. DOI: 10.1215/9780822384243

Duke University Press, 2002. All rights reserved. Downloaded 07 Dec 2016 00:21 at

Karen Shimakawa is Assistant Professor with joint appointments in the

Department of English and the Asian American Studies Program at the
University of California, Davis. She is the coeditor (with Kandice Chuh) of
Orientations: Mapping Studies in the Asian Diaspora (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001).

Earlier versions of portions of chapter 2 appeared in Orientations: Mapping

Studies in the Asian Diaspora (Duke University Press, 2001) and Journal of Asian
American Studies (Asians in America: Millennial Approaches to Asian Pacic
American Performance, Journal of Asian American Studies 3, no. 3:28399),
and are reprinted here with permission from Duke University Press and The
Johns Hopkins Press, respectively. Earlier versions of portions of chapter 4
appeared as Whos to Say? Or, Making Space for Gender and Ethnicity
in M. Buttery, Theatre Journal 45, no. 3 (1993): 34962; and Swallowing
the Tempest: Asian American Women on Stage, Theatre Journal 47, no. 3
(1995): 36780. These are reprinted here with permission from The Johns
Hopkins University Press.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Shimakawa, Karen.
National abjection : the Asian American body on stage /
Karen Shimakawa.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isbn 0-8223-2937-9 (cloth : alk. paper)
isbn 0-8223-2823-2 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Asian AmericansEthnic identity. 2. Asian AmericansRace
identity. 3. Body, HumanSocial aspectsUnited States.
4. OrientalismUnited States. 5. American dramaAsian American
authors. 6. Performance artUnited States. 7. Abjection in literature.
8. Racism in literature. 9. United StatesRace relations. 10. United
StatesRace relationsPsychological aspects. I. Title.
e184.o6 .s55 2002
305.895'073dc21 2002006795

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