AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 7

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Session 7: Multi-Multiculturalisms in Asia

Organizer and Chair: Nora H. J. Kim, University of Mary Washington, USA

Western models of multiculturalism have invited much heated debates; in some parts of the Western world such Canada and U.K., multiculturalism is gaining even more support and popularity while in others such as the Netherlands, the opposite is true. Many Asian countries have now adopted or have shown interest in discourse and practices of (Western) multiculturalism. This diffusion of western models is expedited by both international organizations and domestic actors. The two types of actors, implicitly and explicitly, collaborate on the project of developing international standards of ethnic and racial minority rights. Against this background, two sets of questions are worth probing. First, what is the nature of Asian multiculturalism? Are there any common characteristics among different Asian countries? To what extent, is it similar or different from Western models? Are there any discrepancies between discourses and actual practices of multiculturalism? The second set of questions concerns with actors and their motivations: who are promoting multiculturalism and whoa are against multiculturalism? What is the relationship like between domestic and international actors? What is the role of national states in the politics of multiculturalism? The proposed panel aims to address these questions by examining discourses and practices of multiculturalism in Asia from a comparative perspective. The panel will contribute to the ongoing conversation regarding multiculturalism, from which perspectives of Asian countries are largely lacking.

Imagining Cosmopolitan Japan: East Asian Immigrants in Recent Japanese TV Dramas
Sunyoung Kwak, University of Tokyo, Japan

Japan’s “return to Asia” project has attracted much political, social, cultural, and academic attention, and the mass media sector was not an exception. Rather, with the Korean pop culture boom and the growth of Mainland Chinese market, Japanese mass media have been paying more and more attention to its East Asian neighbors. At the same time, by expanding working holiday program for South Korean and Taiwanese citizens and relaxing the visa restrictions for Chinese citizens, Japan is expected to attract more tourists and temporary workers from these countries. TV dramas were quick to reflect this flow, as we can see from the three TV dramas that started in April and whose leading characters include visitors or immigrants from East Asia: Tsuki no Koibito (China), Sunao ni Narenakute (South Korea), and Tokyo Little Love (Taiwan). By analyzing the representations of East Asian characters in these dramas, this presentation aims to discuss: what these representations suggest about the current Japanese society’s attitude toward East Asia and its people; how Japanese dramas position Japan in the globalization era; and how these representations can be connected to the multicultural and globalization discourses in Japan. This presentation also discusses about the way how the dramas’ romantic plots become a tool to evade “real” immigration issues and the significance of these drama projects in the Japanese media market, which goes global and regional.

ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community: An Assessment of Its Institutional Prospects
Julio Amador, Foreign Service Institute, Philippines

Can ASEAN’s plans for a socio-cultural community be institutionalized? In regional community building, one of ASEAN’s main goals is to create a socio-cultural community that promotes social responsibility and people-centeredness that will unify the various peoples of ASEAN at the same time respecting the inherent diversity of the region. One process of achieving this is through building regional institutions that will shape and constrain the behavior of states and peoples. As this paper will show, institutionalization is itself a difficult and contradictory process which will have some unintended consequences. These consequences in turn may provide avenues for those concerned with the Socio-Cultural Community to reflect on the direction of this construct.

Everyday Life Multiculturalism among Public Housing Residents in Singapore
Ah-eng Lai, National University of Singapore, Singapore

In ethnically diverse Singapore where multiculturalism is a founding principle of the nation-state at the moment of political formation, multiculturalism is at once ideal, value, policy and process. Much has been written about Singapore’s multiculturalism in which the hegemonic state has clearly defined its official scope and boundaries; less is known about multiculturalism as ground-up phenomenon and as experienced and enacted by the country’s ordinary citizens. This presentation based on anthropological observations discusses multiculturalism in its everyday life and special manifestations among residents in public housing settings in which the majority (83%) of Singapore’s population live. It shows how dimensions of inter-ethnic and other social relations and practices are developed among residents living side by side and sharing common spaces. It reveals that the everyday contexts and spaces of interaction, such as the local kopitiam (coffeeshop) and open public spaces, are potent sites which tell a complex story of deeper structures of inter-ethnic conviviality, mutual-respect and learning as well as tensions, prejudices, and frustrations. It also discusses how living in close proximity over time has matured public housing residents into more collective communities as they forge their own sense of place and community, learn how to better respect, tolerate and negotiate ethno-cultural differences, as well as negotiate with each other and with authorities on needs and desires. It concludes that ordinary citizens’ agency in shaping Singapore’s continuous evolving multiculturalism arise both from and despite a state planned environment and may coincide or collide with state multiculturalism.

Holes of the “multiculturalism” policies in contemporary Korea
Kyeyeon Kim, Graduate University for Advanced Studies, Japan

This paper aims to shed light on problems in the practices of “multiculturalism” policies in Korea, which have favored Korean “regeneration.” With the sharp increase of female marriage immigrants, the Korean government has initiated social policies to help them and their family be integrated in Korean society. The phrase of “multiculturalism” has been attached to these policies. However, they are not “multicultural” in the eyes of overseas Chinese communities, who have lived in Korea for more than 100 years. Beneficiary of many welfare policies are confined to foreign mothers of Korean children, or their families. Because most overseas Chinese families do not have “Korean” children, they are outside of “multiculturalism” at least from the government policy standpoint. Although Korean society paid scant attention to internal diversity until recently, overseas Chinese have so far existed as an element of “multiculturalism.” In this respect, the everyday lives of overseas Chinese family, and their interactions with Korean neighbors can be seen as real practices and barometers of “multiculturalism.” This paper uses filed work results to evaluate “multiculturalism” which have practiced in Korea.

Beyond the Confines of Ethnic Communalism: Reviving Nanyang in Sinophone Singaporean Literature
Brian Bernards, University of Southern California, USA

The Singaporean government’s Speak Mandarin Campaign, launched in 1979, coincided with the forcible closing of the nation’s foremost Sinophone institution of higher education, Nanyang University, in 1980. These campaigns de-politicized and dissociated Mandarin from its local, historical role in leftist politics, education, and activism in Nanyang, the “South Seas” (Southeast Asia). They furthermore highlighted the state’s intervention in and prescription for a postcolonial multiculturalism and multilingualism in which English serves as the inter-ethnic “common language” and Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil (the other three official languages) function only as the “mother tongues” of a particular ethnicity or officially-designated “race.” In this vision, Mandarin, as opposed to other Sinitic languages, is imagined as the sole linguistic vehicle through which the timeless Confucian values of one’s mother culture are transmitted, and Sinophone education is assigned a complementary function of transmitting such values. However, contemporary Sinophone Singaporean writers, many of whom are former Nanyang University graduates, challenge the racial assignation of cultural values in the discourse of these state campaigns. This paper examines the fiction of authors Yeng Pway Ngon, Soon Ai Ling, and Chia Joo Ming, arguing that their stories implicitly refuse relegation to the confines of an ethnic communalism prescribed by state visions of a static multiculturalism and multilingualism. Rather, they retrace the local/regional Nanyang spatial imaginary to articulate and locate a more dynamic, ongoing, trans-ethnic, creolized, and often “muddier” and “messier” sense of roots and heritage, thus reclaiming powers of political, cultural, and historical signification from the state.