Soon after I finished writing my dissertation, the president deemed the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. This official designation was unsurprising news to me as I had been following the COVID-19 headlines for some time. It was, nonetheless, a crushing reality to accept. In a matter of days, I had to cancel my travel plans to DC, where I was to defend my dissertation in person, and quickly prepare to host the event on Zoom. After coping with the disappointment that my 6 years of doctoral training would culminate in my Vermont apartment, I settled into a comfort knowing that there was a silver lining to defending online: my family could tune in. And that they did. In addition to sharing the experience with some of my favorite colleagues and best friends, I had fam Zoom in from Manila, Vancouver, and all over my home state of California.
After the fact, I celebrated with a handful of patient friends who stayed online throughout. We raised a glass together. My advisor sent me a gift basket with champagne and snacks. My partner had a funfetti cake delivered from Milk Bar in DC and surprised me with flowers. The plan, before the pandemic, was to splurge at the LINE Hotel in DC. We scored reservations at Bad Saint, a celebrated Filipino restaurant with a notoriously long line. We’d take a trip over the summer, but for the time being we’d celebrate in the city we called home for 5 years.
I’m still reeling from it all; there is no replacement for liveness, but in its place the internet facilitated something I’ll never forget. As I settle into the moment, one that finds me now a Dr., I do so with an air of self-confidence - knowing I did it, I finished my PhD - as well as a more complicated feeling of somber gratitude - we are enduring so much loss, and yet, there is still much left to embrace.
For the sake of archiving, I’m posting the abstract to my dissertation here:
A Host of Memories: Mixed Race Subjection and Asian American Performances Against Disavowal
This dissertation develops the concept of racial hosting to conceptualize mixed-raceness as an embodied palimpsest of past, present, and future. A Host of Memories: Mixed Race Subjection and Asian American Performances Against Disavowal argues for the importance of uncovering the disavowed, residual, and violent conditions of racial mixture. The project situates queer theories of temporality and feminist theories of situated knowledge in relation to Asian Americanist critiques of memory. I contend that the Asian/white subject is both an index to track the colonial condition across time, and a host that harbors the colonial desires we have come to name as hybridity, multiracialism, and post-racism.
Each chapter builds towards a methodology of memory to, on the one hand, track the sensorial life of mixed-raceness, and on the other hand, document how the discourse of multiracialism obscures mass violence and the colonial ideology of racial purity. Chapter one advances the framework of white residue through an examination of the case of Daniel Holtzclaw, the Japanese/white police officer serving 263 years in prison for assaulting 13 Black women. I then narrate the life of Elliot Rodger, the Chinese/white mass shooter and involuntary celibate. Opening the study in this way dispels the notion that racial mixture renders racism’s past obsolete. I then shift to mixed race artists whose performances of desire, memory, and time include a fervent belief in queer and feminist possibility. Chapter two illuminates how a femme aesthetic of retribution surfaces as a response to racial fetish. This chapter spotlights performances by Chanel Matsunami Govreau and Maya Mackrandilal. Chapter three forwards the concept of muscle memory to study how the accumulation of history is deposited into the body and enacted through movement. Here, I contemplate the queer and trans dance of Zavé Martohardjono. Chapter four de-idealizes hybridity through the oeuvre of contemporary artist Saya Woolfalk. To end, I refer to the photography of Gina Osterloh to force a reckoning with the pressures to remember and claim ancestry. Mixed race subjection, I conclude, is an embodied phenomenon with reverberating implications for the structure of racial form writ large.