American Academy of Religion: 23-26 November 2013, Baltimore, MD

I am in Baltimore for the next few days for the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion. There are a ton of people to meet here, as well as a meeting for the steering committee of the Asian North American Religions, Cultures, and Society (ANARCS) group that I need to attend. While the conference lasts until 26 November, I’m actually taking off Monday (25th) afternoon.

Before that, tomorrow I will be in a paper session titled ‘Re-membering Home: Indigenous and Colonial Encounters in Asian North American Religious Spaces.‘  Devin Singh (Yale University) will preside over this panel, which is formed by Melissa Borja (CUNY Staten Island), Ren Ito (Emmanuel College, Toronto), and JuneHee Yoon (Drew University). We are very privileged to have Lisa Rose Mar (University of Maryland, College Park) as our discussant.

My paper is titled ‘Strategies of reconciliation: First Nations and Cantonese evangelicals in Vancouver, BC.’ Here’s the abstract:

This paper performs an empirical analysis of how Cantonese evangelicals have ministered to First Nations populations in British Columbia. Based on 50 key informant interviews and three focus groups, I argue that Cantonese-speaking evangelicals recognize to some extent their duty to help First Nations either through charity or through social justice lobbying as an extension of living out an evangelical understanding of the Gospel. However, these understandings are differential based on their comprehension of orientalization and how to practice evangelical theology based on experiences of racialization. I consider three approaches: a progressive evangelical theology that mandates policy advocacy, a conservative evangelical practice that emphasizes charity work, and lay Cantonese evangelical participation in both strands while being critical of First Nations poverty. This paper contributes to both Asian North American and indigenous religious studies by pointing to the complex potentials for unexpected collaborative avenues in the struggle against white settler ideologies.

I’m also excited for several of the other sessions that ANARCS is sponsoring, including a very promising ‘quad-sponsored’ session titled ‘Placing the Subfield’ that will discuss the ‘Americas’ in the North American religions.

If you are in Baltimore and want to meet up, I’d be very happy to do so. I’m looking forward to a very productive AAR and to learning a lot from my friends and colleagues.

SANACS: Book Review: Jiwu Wang, “His Dominion” and the “Yellow Peril”

The fourth journal issue of the Society of Asian North American Christian Studies (SANACS) is out. The issue features some very interesting pieces, with contributions from Esther Chung-Kim, Amos Yong, Charlene Jin Lee, Richard Mouw, Miyoung Yoon Hammer, Andrew Sung Park, Annie Tsai, Jeney Park-Hearn, Andrew Lee, and Henry Kuo. During the course of my fieldwork in the San Francisco Bay Area and Metro Vancouver, I heard some of these pieces presented live, and my humble opinion is that some of them will become classics in the field of Asian North American Christian studies.

My small contribution (p. 153-6) is a book review of Jiwu Wang’s (2006) “His Dominion” and the “Yellow Peril”: Protestant Missions to Chinese Immigrants in Canada, 1859-1967. Wang’s general argument is that the racializing attitudes of Protestant missionaries in various Canadian Chinatowns led to the rejection of their Christian message even as it crystallized prevailing ‘Chinese’ cultural frameworks. The book also draws on an extensive array of archival sources, which makes it fairly valuable as a record of sources for further research.

Unfortunately, I also had to pan the book for its theoretical framework. As you will see in the review, Wang’s approach relies a little too much on what he calls ‘sociological conflict theory,’ in which two groups–in his case, the Anglo-Canadian Protestant missionaries and the Chinatown communities–reinforce each other’s cultural frameworks by conflicting with each other. There are two problems that I unfold in this review. The first is that Wang’s idea of what ‘white missionaries’ and ‘Chinese communities’ were is a bit too static, even drawing from traditional Chinese texts to explain ‘Chinese culture’ for these southern Chinese rural migrants. Second, this sociological conflict model fails to take into account the rich literature in Asian Canadian studies that also explores white missionary movements among Chinatown communities in Canada. In other words, while this book bills itself as the first of its kind, it really isn’t, and he really needs to engage the ones that came beforehand.

You’ll find the details of my critique in the review, and you will find articles in the main section of the journal issue that are destined to become classics. My hope is that this issue will begin to fill the hiatus in Asian North American Christian research and will point out ways that one should–and should not!–conduct this kind of research as we develop this field together.

Global Networks: Transnational Youth Transitions: becoming adults between Vancouver and Hong Kong

I want to announce the publication of two papers today in two separate posts.  Let me take each in order.

The first is a collaborative paper that Dr. Johanna Waters (University of Birmingham, Geography) and I co-authored.  It is titled ‘Transnational youth transitions: becoming adults between Vancouver and Hong Kong,’ and is published in Global Networks: A Journal of Transnational Studies. It is currently available in Early View. I will post again when it comes into a print journal version.

The genesis of this paper is quite interesting. Jo Waters is a leading scholar in transnational geographies in the United Kingdom. Jo and I both received our graduate education in Geography at the University of British Columbia at Vancouver, and we shared a common supervisor, Professor David Ley. Jo wrote her master’s thesis on transnational Hong Kong family experiences in Vancouver (check out her pieces on astronaut women and transnational family settlement) and her doctoral thesis on how Hong Kong families strategized to send their children to Vancouver for education to gain cultural capital for future employment prospects in East Asia (it is now a book). Jo and I did not overlap in the department, but when I began to study Hongkonger migration as I wrote my master’s thesis on a transnational Hongkonger church, Jo’s work provided a very interesting launching point. I remember checking out both of her theses from the Geographic Information Centre in our department and reading them with rapid page-turning interest. At this point, I also contacted Jo, telling her how much I admired her work. She was very nice to me.

As I began my doctorate, Jo and I began talking about the common points between our data, especially as I had collected more recent data in Chinese churches in both Vancouver in 2008 and Hong Kong in 2010 that corroborated her earlier findings in 2002. Deciding to focus on what we found in common about young people’s experiences of transnational families between Hong Kong and Vancouver, we merged the data. We submitted the piece to Global Networks, from where we got very good feedback from the editors and the reviewers. Jo was then extremely generous in letting me take the lead on the revisions, as this gave me a chance to undergo some crucial professional development. We then revised the piece, and then sent it back to Global Networks with my name as the corresponding author.

The article sheds light on how young people become adults in families that straddle the distance between Hong Kong and Vancouver. It examines how these young people transition from youth to adulthood, combining the literature in social geography on youth and childhood (which is itself drawn from the new social studies of childhood) with the literature on transnational migration. We looked at how young people reacted to the ways that their parents and extended family attempted to supervise them and maintain contact with them at a distance, and we explored the young people’s own sense of place. One of our central contributions is that while many people predict that youth growing up in these families often return to Hong Kong for work, we have to be cautious about describing this as a norm, for young people were often critical of their own families’ transnational strategies.

We hope that this will be a helpful paper in transnational studies more broadly. We also hope that it will give back to the communities we have studied by accurately portraying them and by shaping conversations about them that are not overly determinative about their families’ patterns of migration. Moreover–and this is only implicit in the article–as I reflect on my own engagements with Asian American ethnic studies, my hope is that this paper will help empower Asian American and Asian Canadian families and young people by taking seriously their own sense of place instead of forcing them to constantly answer the question, ‘Where are you from?’ We thank Ali Rogers, the previous editor of Global Networks, as well as our three anonymous reviewers and the copy editors, for their very constructive feedback on our paper. For my part, the experience of working with Jo Waters has been phenomenal and a part of my graduate education and professional development that I will always consider valuable.

Book Review: Issei Buddhism in the Americas

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I recently had the privilege of reviewing Duncan Ryuken Williams and Tomoe Moriya’s edited volume, Issei Buddhism in the Americas (2010) for the Journal of Asian American Studies. It’s out in the most recent issue (15.2).

I liked the book quite a bit, and I think it shows in the review. I was really struck by how much of it was done in relation to Asian American Christianity and was very intrigued by its call to ramp up Buddhist studies for a more comprehensive contribution to religious studies, Asian American studies, and Asian studies. It features some very strong essays that serve as great introductions to various scholars in Asian American Buddhist studies and presents the key sources of historic first-generation Japanese American forms of Buddhist practice and teaching very well. I also appreciated them reaching out to Latin American and Canadian contexts as well in an attempt to paint a fuller picture of the Americas.

Thank you, JAAS, for inviting me to write this review. I want to thank Cindy Wu, the book reviews editor, for managing the review process so well. I also thank Rudy Busto (UC Santa Barbara) and Sharon Suh (Seattle University) for their very encouraging and constructive comments on earlier drafts of the piece and for being such inspiring mentors as the field of Asian North American religious studies continues to grow.

Asian Religions Aren’t That Exotic (Ricepaper 16.4)

The latest issue of Ricepaper Magazine 16.4 has just come out, and I’m happy to announce that I have a feature article.  The issue is titled Poetry and Philosophy and includes articles, fiction, and poetry written by Jenny Uechi, Terry Watada, Siyuan Liu, Renee Sarojini Sarkilar, Nancy Kang, Kim Yong-Hi, Yasuko Thanh, and a profile on Valerie Sing Turner done by Loretta Seto.  It looks great.

My article is titled “Asian Religions Aren’t That Exotic.”  You’ll have to read the article in its entirety, but if you ever wondered how Asian Canadian films The People I’ve Slept With and Eve and the Firehorse, stats from the Canadian census on immigration to Vancouver, the ‘Highway to Heaven’ on Richmond’s No. 5 Road, and the controversy in the Vancouver Sun over Chinese Christians and cultural practices during this year’s Chinese New Year all go together, you’re in for a treat.  I take on all these themes with a twist, that really, Asian religions aren’t that exotic, and that because of this, creative artists should feel free to treat Asian religions in Canada as simply part of the everyday lives of Asian Canadians.

Enjoy!

Hearing a different kind of evangelical: Pastor Ken Shigematsu, Tenth Church Vancouver (Ricepaper 16.3)

Ricepaper Magazine, an Asian Canadian arts and culture magazine, has just put out their new 16.3 issue, The Hybrid Issue!   It features articles on how Asian Canadians negotiate the diversities in their own experiences as well as in their creative output.  Other articles in this issue include excerpts from two plays that explore identity intersections, a creative fiction piece about hybridities at a hot dog stand, a critical piece on Canadian immigration policy, profiles of community authors such as C.E. Gatchalian and Haruko Okano, a reflection on why being called “hapa” isn’t so good, and photos of people of hybrid upbringings.

I contributed a profile to this issue entitled “Hearing a Different Kind of Evangelical” (p. 54-57). The piece centers on Pastor Ken Shigematsu, the senior pastor of Tenth Church Vancouver and the one-time co-planter of Newsong Church with Dave Gibbons in Southern California.  In the piece, I try to “hear” Ken as an “evangelical” and as an “Asian Canadian.”  These two terms are badly misunderstood in popular circles (especially “evangelical”–I cannot begin to count the ways!), and what Ken offers is a chance for us to hear these terms afresh, to see that both terms–at least for Ken and the good folks at Tenth Church–foster diversity, inclusivity, and hybridity across ethnic, class, and even religious lines, even if these terms previously stood for exactly the opposite in our minds.

Tenth Church has a fantastic section of news clippings about the church. There’s plenty there about their policy interactions with the city, the way they’re perceived in the neighbourhoods they are in (Mount Pleasant and Kitsilano), and a very interesting Asian Canadian spin with Tenth on the Asian American “silent exodus” of second-generation Asian Canadian Christians from immigrant churches.

You can get a copy of Ricepaper at any Chapters in the Lower Mainland, as well as most local bookstores.  There’s also a subscription service!  Get it: it’s our Asian Canadian arts and culture mag, and it really is all about promoting what happens in our community!

PhD: Autumn 2011

This autumn, a few things are in the works for the PhD:

  • A new set of articles on geographies of religion and Asian Canadian studies, both theoretical and empirical: more information as these are submitted!
  • Transcribing the interviews that with Cantonese Christians in Metro Vancouver and the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Focus groups with lay Chinese Christians in Metro Vancouver and the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Preparing for the American Academy of Religion conference in San Francisco from November 19-22.
If you’d like to be part of a focus group of Chinese Christians on social and political issues in either Vancouver or San Francisco, do contact me at jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca.  I will be back in San Francisco in late November and early December 2011.