Claiming Diaspora explores the thriving contemporary musical culture of Asian/Chinese America. Ranging from traditional operas to modern instrumental music, from ethnic media networks to popular music, from Asian American jazz to the work of recent avant-garde composers, author Su Zheng reveals the rich and diverse musical activities among Chinese Americans and tells of the struggles and creative searches by Chinese Americans to gain a foothold in the American cultural terrain. In doing so, she not only tells their stories, but also examines the transnational and racialized experiences of this musical culture, challenging us to take a fresh look at the increasingly plural and complex nature of American cultural identity. Until recently, two intersected models have dominated studies of Asian American cultural expressions. The notion of "claiming America" has been a fundamental political strategy for the Asian American movement; while the Americanization model for European immigrants has minimized the impact of the "old country" on immigrant life and cultural expression. In Claiming Diaspora, Zheng critically analyzes the controversies surrounding these two models.
She unveils the fluid and evolving nature of music in Chinese America, discussing current cultural struggles, while acknowledging an unavoidable connection to a history of Asian exclusion in the U.S. Furthermore, Zheng breaks from traditional approaches which have portrayed the music of non-Western people as rooted and immobile to examine the concept of "diaspora" in the context of Asian American experiences and cultural theories of space, place, and displacement. She calls into question the contested meaning of "Asian American" and "Asian American cultural identity" in cultural productions, and builds a comprehensive picture of community and cultural transformation in Chinese and Asian America. Zheng taps unpublished historical sources of immigrant narrative songs, extensive fieldwork in New York City and China, in-depth interviews in which musicians narrate their life stories and music experiences, and her own longstanding involvement as community member, musician, presenter, and cultural broker.
The book delineates the introduction of each music genre from its homeland and its subsequent development in New York, and explains how Chinese Americans express their cultural longings and belongings. Ultimately, Zheng reveals how Chinese American musical activities both reflect and contribute to local, national, and transnational cultural politics.