language + gender in relation to diasporic identity

Siu’s text uses the theoretical framework of diasporic citizenship in order to explore the Chinese-Panamanian community and how individuals who fall within this category interact not only with one another, but also with other Chinese-Central Americans, with Panama, China, Taiwan, the U.S and the history of imperialism and economic development that envelops these countries. In studying these interactions, Siu is tackling the process of contesting feelings of belonging and identity in Central America, an important yet neglected region for globalization and transnational flows of capital. In framing her subjects as diasporic citizens, Siu argues her phrase performs the following work: “While diaspora highlights the intersectional position one inhabits when sustaining simultaneous ties with the homeland, nation of residence, and the larger diaspora, citizenship underscores the process of negotiating, asserting, and redefining what it means to belong to those cultural-political communities.” In other words, thinking through the lens of diasporic citizenship allows Siu to simultaneously work with two “contradictory” positions: the diasporic as simultaneous inhabitation of multiple spaces and the citizen as the process of achieving a provisional sense of belonging (to the multiple spaces of the diasporic). While Siu emphasizes the role of geopolitics in shaping the interstitial positionality (interstitial rather than intersectional because it is not firmly locked by the multiple spaces as the idea of intersection would imply, but it rather “falls” within the boundaries), what her chapter on the beauty contest as a microcosm of the diaspora highlighted for me was that geopolitics happen through gender and language. These two abstractions are the media through which subjects materialize the abstract entity of geopolitics, defining themselves and their relationship in the process.
When Siu discusses the pageant’s last question and how Miss Costa Rica and Miss Honduras were the only two contestants to answer in multiple languages, what struck out to me was how the language of choice failed to perform an idealized gender identity that is intimately link to the establishment of a nationalized Chineseness, an establishment that is impervious to the lived experience of “Chinese people.” While most contestants answered in Spanish, Miss Costa Rica’s decision to answer in Cantonese and Spanish suggest that to the panel of men who are judging the contestants, a “winning” femininity that is properly “Chinese” is one that can adopt to the local (pick up Spanish) and maintain ties to the homeland (through Cantonese, although I’m interested by the lack of Mandarin in this discussion). Miss Costa Rica, through her Spanish-Cantonese bilingualism, performs an ideal Chinese femininity. In doing so, Miss Costa Rica establishes, maintains and reproduces the masculinized entities of China-Taiwan. At stakes is not only her winning a crown or her femininity but also the masculine identities of the judges and the national sense of belonging that is mapped onto this masculinity.  It is through language and gender that the geopolitics of China-Taiwan become embedded in lived experience. Meanwhile, Siu argues that Miss Honduras’ decision to answer in English “created a break, a rupture, in representations of diasporic “Chinese-ness,” thereby allowing non-Chinese- speaking diasporic subjects to vocalize and confront the unspoken and unacknowledged marginalizing practices of the diasporic leadership.” This rupture, however, also unsettles gendering. By speaking English, Miss Honduras said she was showing that “just because I don’t speak Chinese doesn’t mean that I am closed-minded or provincial.” Her comment defines English as a signifier for cosmopolitanism, a marker that she is global, educated, and similar to the judges. She is claiming masculinity for herself. Her speaking English was a way of not only claiming cosmopolitanism but also a way of saying “hey look at me i’m like you.” English is what most of the judges (who represent Taiwan and China) speak. In claiming English for herself, Miss Honduras also disrupts the process of nationalized gendering. It is not simply that she becomes a woman through language, but rather that she fails to become a Chinese woman to the eyes of the Chinese men. In failing to do so, her English remarks also destabilize the male identity of the nations. in other words, her assertion of a local Chinese-Honduran woman diasporic citizenship confronts the self-image of the actors trying to monopolize what “Chinese-ness” means.
If language and gender are media through which geopolitics become part of the lived everyday, what happens when we think of spaces where there multiple languages, such as cities, such as New York? The following link is a map of languages in New York City ( In looking at the multiple languages that cohabit New York, I wonder to what extent do diasporic citizen communities must contest with their own particular geopolitics in everyday life. It also makes me think about Miss Honduras’ desire to not be “provincial.” What happens if English become the only signifier for cosmopolitanism? Should it be allowed to gain that status given the close connection it has to imperialism and colonialism? And at the same time, is it unfair to raise these questions in English, from someone who learned English because of the promises it represented? What happens when English is the only entrance into “the modern world”?