Fanon’s Nationalism versus Assimilation

From the Joy Luck Club, the film (1993)

In the same article on “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity,” Lisa Lowe expounds on a discourse based on Frantz Fanon’s Les damnés de la terre (The Wretched of the Earth, 1961). While Fanon is originally referring to Algerian resistance to French colonialism, his treatise provides excellent insight on Asian American identity discourse, which is what Lowe suggests. He argues that a culture that is defining a new order for itself needs to avoid simple assimilation of the dominant ideology but also needs to be cautious of uncritical nationalism of a pre-colonial identity. The new order of identity needs to collectively break away from cultural domination, while continually criticizes the institutions of rule, making sure that subgroups do not get excluded (262). Exclusions also include social marginalizations such as class, peasants, workers, gender, or sexual preference.

On a level relative to Asian American identity discussion, nationalism and assimilation are seen as opposite ends: the first affirms separate purity of ethnic culture versus the latter, which adopts the standards of dominant society. This divide is also applied to the generational conflict that occurs between first generation Asian immigrants to America and the second generation of Asians who grow up in the country accustomed to the Western ways of life and custom and can be coined as Asian Americans. A simple example between first and second generation manifests in mother/father and daughter/son relationships. A mother/father insists the daughter/son to follow tradition and marry the “nice Chinese girl/boy” but the daughter/son refuses and opts to live his/her life the way she/he wants to (along the lines of Western individualism). While this example is shallow, it opens discussion on “stories about the loss of the ‘native’ Asian culture” and criticisms of nationalism or nativism as being “old-fashioned” or “patriarchal.” Ultimately, Lowe refuses “static or binary conceptions of ethnicity, replacing notions of identity with multiplicity and shifting the emphasis on ethnic ‘essence’ to cultural hybridity” (264). She suggests that there can be a middle-path taken that combines both conceptions of native culture along with assimilated Western culture.

In the context of this age and day, I would not completely reject ethnicism or assimilation either but consider a “synthesis” of the two. The trend that depicts the first generation to be more nativist-oriented and the second to reject the nativist-stance and opt for adopting Western customs instead can also be used to study a new generation of Asian Americans. A synthesis of both nativism and assimilation gives birth to a third/new generation of Asian American identity and culture, or more correctly put, Asian American identities and cultures. Roughly put, this new generation adopts the best of both worlds and accepts them as their own culture and identity construction. The generational synthesis allows for growing up and living an American life, practicing its customs, without losing the understanding of the first generation of Asian immigrants and one’s ethnic background.

By utilizing this synthesis of both essentialism and nationalism, the following questions are posed: is the synthesis part of Hyphen’s mission of re-representing Asian Americans? If so, how are they approaching this synthesis?

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