Mapping Diasporic Citizenship

In Tendencies, Eve Sedgwick considers the linguistic subtleties in various translations of queer – the Indo-European root twerkw (across), “which also yields the German quer (traverse), Latin torquere (to twist), English athwart… across genders, across sexualities, across genres, across ‘perversions’” (Tendencies, xii).  Thus, the word queer indicates a process or relation that is “multiply transitive… relational and strange.”  Lok Siu’s framework for analysis in Memories of a Future Home: Diasporic Citizenship of Chinese in Panama is similarly characterized by strange traversals and multiple crossings.  She argues that, to be diasporic, one must not only work to sustain the relationships that connect them to both the “homeland” and the “nation of residence,” but it also requires “an ongoing formation of a consciousness, a positioning, a subjective expression of living at the intersection of different cultural-national formations” (Siu, 4).  Within this “configuration of intertwined relationships,” the complexities of diasporic belonging appear.  Similar to the queer subjects, diasporic subjects must constantly negotiate a web of relationships, but the goal of this negotiation is neither marked with coherent success nor legible within the binary and absolutist discourse surrounding nationalism and citizenship.  Therefore, to be a diasporic citizen is in a certain sense to engage in a certain “queer art of failure”, a practice Jack Halberstam describes as a commitment to finding alternatives to conventional understandings of success in a heteronormative, capitalist society.  As Lok Siu emphasizes the complex ways diasporic Chinese communities in South America experience and exercise “contingent belonging in the ever-shifting geopolitical terrain,” she also illuminates an array of productive tensions and discursive failures that reallocate value on to alternative forms of diasporic/queer belonging.

In her introduction, Lok writes that “culture – be it in the form of stories, memories, icons, or narratives – is the primary terrain on which national belonging is enacted, felt, visualized, and challenged” (Lok, 10).  As we have discussed in previous weeks, objects, language, and subjects themselves are sites where culture, identity, and, consequently, belonging are continuously negotiated.  In order to map the queer, multilayered experience of diasporic citizenship, one must take a queer approach to mapping that contemplates the nonlinear, “processual nature of producing diasporic subjectivities” (11).  One might imagine a “queer map” in a way that is analogous to its subjects: disjunctive, multilayered, vacillating, contingent.  An example of such a map might be accomplished through mapping English speaking Chinese Panamanian subjects in places where the legacy of American imperialism continues to shape diasporic citizenship.  Alternatively, one might map the ways support networks for Diasporic Chinese have linked immigrants to their native villages in China, and then regrouped them into quasi-kinship networks in Panama based on that linkage.  The productive failures of such linkages could be usefully expressed through a mapping project that resists any tendency to move towards static lines of connection or unmoving national borders.  Ultimately, Lok’s careful contemplation of Chinese diasporic citizenship inspires new, queer approaches to mapping these cultural terrains where multi-national identities and networks of belonging emerge.