by Robert G. Lee

About Robert G. Lee

Robert G. Lee is Associate Professor of American Studies at Brown University. He edited Dear Miye, Letters Home from Japan 1939-­1946 (1995), which received the 1996 Special Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies. He is author of Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture (1999), which received awards from the Northeast Popular Culture/American Culture Association, the American Political Science Association, and the American Studies Association.


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).