Redefining Asian America: Cultural Politics, Aesthetics, and Social Networks of Independent Rock Musicians
American rock musicians of Asian descent are finding powerful ways to express their cultural identities, despite their practical invisibility in mainstream media. This ethnographic dissertation explores the social and musical life of second and 1.5-generation Asian American musicians actively engaged in independent (indie) rock music performances. By investigating the performance, ideology, and social networks of such musicians, this study interrogates the boundaries of the “Asian American” ethnic identity and the socio-cultural imagination of “Asian America” in the post-Civil-Rights and post-9/11 United States. This dissertation argues that the musicians perform with a dynamic of ambivalence, covering, and uncovering ethnic and racial traits associated with Asian identities. This dynamic in effect contests racializations. Turning outward and eastward, the musicians stretch the confining borders of the U.S., reaching fans and fellow musicians in various sub-regions of Asia.
In these chapters, I document how the musicians leverage the Do-It-Yourself ideology, central in indie rock music scenes, to deploy self-invented ethnic notions, circumvent norms practiced by their white middle-class peers, and transform marginalizing race-related articulations. Reclaiming their outsider status, they challenge the contradictions within the discourses of liberal multiculturalism and forge bonds with others including non-Asian minority groups. This dissertation also examines various transnational musical projects connecting Asian America to a geographical and symbolic “Asia.” Through touring and media exchange via the Internet, the musicians build a set of social networks comprising a unique translocal indie rock music scene of their own. I explore this translocality by adapting web-scraping and mapping technologies from the digital humanities. Finally, I discuss the formation of my band Dzian! as a reflexive, performative response to the issues related to race, ethnicity, and melancholia raised during my fieldwork.