by Robert G. Lee
Asian American studies began as the intellectual expression of a political and social movement mobilized to answer questions long suppressed, suspended, or foreclosed in a national imaginary shaped by race and empire. The twin tasks of Asian American studies with regard to culture have been to critique the changing cultural formation of empire and to recuperate critical agency for Asian American cultural production. This essay argues that such a critical approach to culture depends on the recognition of the connection between local cultures and the global historical terrain on which they are produced. This is not to claim that the conditions of material life determine each instance of cultural production but rather to simply acknowledge Karl Marx’s caution that “men make their own history but they do not make it as just as they please” (1951, 103).