Asian/American Women, the State, and Belonging

Endorsed by the OAH Committee on the Status of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Historians and ALANA Histories, the OAH-Japanese Association for American Studies Japan Historians' Collaborative Committee, the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS), the Women and Social Movements in the U.S., 1600–2000, and the Western History Association

Thursday, April 2, 2020, 12:45 PM - 2:15 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Asian American; Nationalism and Transnationalism; Women's History


This panel, “Asian/American Women, the State, and Belonging,” will examine three different case studies that span the 20th century of how women negotiated the U.S. nation-state in a trans-Pacific context in their journeys for greater equality, despite the multiple inequalities that structured their lives due to empire, race, class, and gender. Genevieve Clutario will demonstrate how the public spectacle of beauty pageants during the U.S. colonial era emerged as a critical site for Filipino national identity formation, as women and men contested their inclusion and exclusion from the State practices of U.S. empire. Focusing on the early twentieth century when the Philippines was a formal part of the United States yet relegated to colonial status, Clutario’s presentation will explore how women challenged gendered, classed, and raced frameworks structured not only by their positionality as women within Philippine society, but also as mediated by the hierarchies of empire. Then, Dorothy Fujita-Rony will examine the lives of two Indonesian women, H.L. Tobing and Minar T. Rony, as they negotiated the gendered and racialized inequalities of an inter-empire context shaped by Dutch, German, Japanese, and U.S. imperialism. Fujita-Rony’s presentation will pay special attention to how these women’s lives were shaped by U.S. empire in their role as knowledge workers in a trans-Pacific context during the U.S. Cold War. Finally, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu’s presentation will move the discussion to a close examination of the life and career of U.S. congressional representative Patsy Mink. Born and raised in Hawai’i, Mink became the first woman of color to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. A tireless advocate of race, class, gender, and educational equality, Mink not only was a key legislator during the Great Society period during Johnson’s administration, but also continued to defend and expand welfare legislation when she returned to Congress in the 1990s. The papers collectively feature women of Asian ancestry, located on the margins of the U.S. imperial nation-state, who nevertheless found innovative ways of navigating political power. The panel foregrounds underexplored historical subjects - colonial nationals, native informants, and U.S. citizens from the Asia Pacific - who negotiated the terms of belonging in such unexpected political forums as beauty pageants, the military-educational complex, and congressional representation.

Papers Presented

Indonesian American Women, the Inter-Empire, and the U.S.: The State, Gender, and "Belonging"

How do inequalities, as well as the struggle for equality, manifest themselves in a context of multiple empires? In this presentation, I will seek to explore the life histories of two women, H.L. Tobing and Minar T. Rony, in terms of their relationship to the state within an interimperial context in the twentieth century. In these women's journeys traversing the Dutch, German, Japanese, and U.S. empires, their experiences were characterized by the fundamental need to overcome inequalities within an interimperial context. I will argue that their understanding of empire suggests an “inter-empire temporality,” in which one empire followed another, and required them to adapt accordingly, not only in terms of daily life-style and economic means, but also in terms of education and language. At the same time, given the constraints of their gendered roles as they encountered these different States, both women also sought to gain positions of equality, despite the racialized and gendered realities that they negotiated. In particular, my paper will focus on these issues regarding their trans-Pacific encounters with U.S. empire as “knowledge workers” during the Cold War in both Indonesia and the United States, where they served as cultural informants and language teachers, a reflection of the intensified U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia during that period. Hence, their migration to the United States during the U.S. Cold War era can be seen as a form of militarized migration.

Presented By
Dorothy Fujita-Rony, University of California, Irvine

Pageant Politics: Gendered and Racial Practices of Belonging and Exclusion Under U.S. Empire

This presentation asks what kinds of opportunities and limits did public spectacle, and in particular, beauty pageants, present for subjects doubly disfranchised from state formations? As colonial wards, Filipino women across ethnic and class lines were not recognized as full-citizens; at the same time these same women were deliberately left out of the formal infrastructural building of the colonial state for the sake of a promised independence. For example, visions of a democratic Philippine nation-state did not include voting rights for women. However, beauty contests, which started as a showcase of colonial progress, paradoxically became a potent site for Filipino national identity formations. The U.S. colonial government started the Manila Carnival Queen contests as a way to earn capital, gain public attention, and perform the success of colonialism through the presentation of beauty queens as a way to bolster the power of the colonial-state and the U.S. nation. These contests, which started as a showcase of colonial progress, paradoxically became a potent site for Filipino national identity formations. How can we look to the institution of beauty pageants to understand gendered, classed, and raced practices of exclusion, belonging, state formations, and power under the context of U.S. colonialism and tenuous promises of colonial independence and a future independent nation -state? How can we understand the ways that beauty pageantry was not just a stage to perform nation, but also eventually became a position of status and influence that lead to significant political power within and the Philippines and the United States?

Presented By
Genevieve Clutario, Harvard University

Patsy Mink and Welfare Reform: Race, Gender, and Resistance

This presentation explores (in)equalities by examining Patsy Takemoto Mink’s efforts to resist welfare reform during the mid-1990s. The first woman of color U.S. congressional representative and the namesake for Title IX, Mink served two sets of terms in the House of Representatives. From 1965 to 1977, Mink advocated for Great Society legislation to promote federal responsibility in ameliorating class, racial, gender, and educational inequalities. When Mink returned to Congress from 1990 to 2002, the year she passed away, she faced the challenges of protecting welfare legislation that she helped pass under the Democratic Johnson administration and subsequently became subject to attack under the Democratic Clinton administration. This presentation examines how a Japanese American woman from Hawai‘i, a state dominated by the Democratic Party since the mid-1950s, navigated the changing political landscape increasingly characterized by neoliberalism. While representations of Asian Americans tended to focus on their presumed model minority status to justify the existing racial and economic status quo, Mink collaborated closely with a feminist coalition of women of color, anti-poverty, and labor activists to revive and reinterpret the role of the federal state. These collaborations were crucial for the passage of social legislation in the 1960s and 1970s. A focus on the efforts to save welfare reveals how these relationships evolved into the 1990s. In essence, this presentation examines the efforts to ameliorate(in)equalities by foregrounding historical actors traditionally left out of scholarly accounts and analyzing their ideas of governance and social justice.

Presented By
Judy T. Wu, University of California, Irvine

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Naoko Shibusawa, Brown University
Naoko Shibusawa (Northwestern PhD., MA; UC Berkeley, BA) is a historian of U.S. political culture and teaches courses on U.S. empire. In addition to her first book, America's Geisha Ally: Reimagining the Japanese Enemy (Harvard, 2006), she has published on transnational Asian American identities, Cold War ideologies, the Lavender Scare, and the Kinsey Report. She is working on two books: Ideologies of US Empire (under contract with the University of North Carolina Press) and Queer Betrayals: The Treason Trial of John David Provoo.

Presenter: Genevieve Clutario, Harvard University
Genevieve Clutario is an assistant professor of History and History and Literature at Harvard University. Her work specializes in interdisciplinary and transnational feminist approaches to Filipino/Filipino American and Asian American histories. She is particular interested in examining racial and gendered formations under modern empire building in the global south. Clutario is currently working on her first book project tentatively entitled, Beauty Regimes: Modern Empires, the Philippines, and the Gendered Labor of Appearance. This book explores who and what do the work of empire. Beauty Regimes analyzes how the colonial state and Filipino nationalists both used fashion, beauty regimens, and public spectacles that centered on Filipino women’s labor Filipino women’s physical appearance to establish power. At the same time, Filipino women used these same arenas to negotiate their own definitions of modernity, citizenship, and nation.

Presenter: Dorothy Fujita-Rony, University of California, Irvine
Dorothy Fujita-Rony is an Associate Professor in the Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Irvine, with specialties in 20th century U.S. history, labor history, public history, and Southeast Asian American Studies. Fujita-Rony completed her undergraduate and graduate training at the Department of American Studies, Yale University. She is currently finishing a book project entitled, Archiving Indonesian American Knowledge: Gender, U.S. Empire, and the Cold War Trans-Pacific, and is at work on another project regarding Filipina/o farmworkers in California. Fujita-Rony also has authored American Workers, Colonial Power: Philippine Seattle and the Transpacific West, 1919-1941, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), as well as additional articles on Filipina/o Americans and U.S. history. Recently, Fujita-Rony contributed an article on Asian American labor to Franklin Odo, ed., Finding a Path Forward: Asian American Pacific Islander National Historic Landmarks Theme Study (National Historic Landmarks Program: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2018). She has worked extensively with different public history organizations, including the Southeast Asian Archive at University of California, Irvine, the Filipino American National Historical Society, and the New York Chinatown History Project (now the Museum of Chinese in the Americas).

Presenter: Judy T. Wu, University of California, Irvine
Judy Tzu-Chun Wu is a professor and chair of the Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Irvine. She received her Ph.D. in U.S. History from Stanford University and previously taught for seventeen years at Ohio State University. She authored Dr. Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: the Life of a Wartime Celebrity (University of California Press, 2005) and Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam Era (Cornell University Press, 2013). Her current book project, a collaboration with political scientist Gwendolyn Mink, explores the political career of Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color U.S. congressional representative and the co-sponsor of Title IX. She also is working on a book that focuses on Asian American and Pacific Islander Women who attended the 1977 National Women’s Conference, with contributions from Adrienne Winans, Sophaline Chuong, Malire Lozada, and Justine Trinh. Wu co-edited Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, 8th Edition (Oxford 2015), Gendering the Trans-Pacific World (Brill 2017), and Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies (2012-2017). She also co-edits Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 (Alexander Street Press) and is the incoming editor for Amerasia Journal.