I’m a bit of a nomad–I was born in Orange County, raised in San Jose, CA and Salt Lake City, graduated from an international school in Korea, received my BA in International Studies at Vassar College, my MA in a self-designed program from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University, and my PhD from the Cultural Studies Graduate Group, with a designated emphasis in Studies in Performance and Practice, from the University of California, Davis. Currently, I’m a core teaching-focused faculty member of the Asian American Studies Program (AAST) at the University of Maryland, College Park. As the only Asian American Studies program in the  DMV (D.C.-Maryland-Virginia) region, AAST offers one of the fastest-growing minors at UMD.

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class photoI teach AAST’s gateway courses in Introduction to Asian American Studies and Asian American History, along with humanities-based courses in Asian American Media, Asian American Film, Asian American Performance, Asian American Oral History, Techno-Orientalism,  Korean American Culture and Society, and Independent Research. Many of our 70+ minors enter the program through my courses.

 

 

 

I also lead AAST’s Chandni Kumar Annual Lecture on Asian Americans and Activism. Each year, I coordinate the invitation of a local, DMV-area speaker to address topics such as their own history of activism, civic and political engagement, student activism, social and racial justice, and coalition-building. Past Kumar speakers have been Darakshan Raja of Justice for Muslims Collective, Sookyung Oh of NAKASEC, and Sandy Dang of Vietnam Education Foundation. I also coordinate the selection of the Student Impact Award, given each year to a UMD Asian American student whose work furthers social justice issues on campus.

Darakshan Raja Danielle Ocampo and me

 

Drawing on my diverse networks, I also regularly invite a range of Asian American activists, nonprofit leaders, policy makers, and cultural producers to speak either to my classes or to the entire UMD campus. Examples have been actor Kal Penn and comedian Karen Chee of Late Night with Seth Meyers.

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My book project, Demilitarizing Energies: The Korean War, the Korean DMZ, and Korean Diasporic Culture, reorients understandings of the imperial contexts and militaristic traces of America’s “Forgotten War.” It does so by innovatively bringing the Energy Humanities, Ethnic Studies, and East Asian geomancy to bear on contemporary Korean diasporic re-imaginings of the Korean War’s most visible legacy – the Korean demilitarized zone. I historicize the DMZ within the “de/militarization” of US empire, which I define as the process by which the geopolitical conditions that established the DMZ as neutral, neutralizing, and rehabilitative crafted the liberal script that camouflaged the US as a humanitarian force in Cold War Asia. The grammatical mark within “de/militarization” gestures to how this barbed-wire border materially, ecologically, and affectively slashed the Korean peninsula and scarred the Korean diaspora. I view this transnational violation through the lens of geomancy, or the Asian praxis of engaging with the land as a living organism whose auspicious sites of energy can be (im)properly channeled for its inhabitants. I then explore several Korean diasporic artists who summon a range of nonhuman energies that radiate across the DMZ – animal, plant, volcanic, ghost – to challenge the US’s imperial war machine. For example, one chapter examines the work of Korean American conceptual artist Michael Joo. In my peer-reviewed article on his 1994 video Salt Transfer Cycle that was published in a special issue on Asian American performance art in MELUS: Multiethnic Literature of the U.S., I derived a notion of “surplus energy,” harnessed from the transgressive frictions between war-traumatized bodies, wild animals, and racialized landscapes. I extend “surplus energy” to Joo’s recent work, including a 2017 mobile sculpture composed of the flight patterns of red-crowned cranes and the molten movements of North Korean volcanic rock. As I recently argued in my 2021 College Art Association conference presentation, the energy flows circulating between lithic, avian, and human in the installation space catalyze a reconfiguration of extractive geopolitics through the restorative potential of Korean diasporic geomancy. Thus, my project reframes the Korean War as a prolonged “energy crisis” fueled by the radioactive waste of liberal freedom, and then traces its emissions through geomantic reckonings in various cultural dwellings: the theater, the gallery, the garden. What emerges from these spatialized practices of decolonial acupuncture is demilitarized reparations – addressing unjust violations of the land as a way to address the violated body’s need for healing.

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I maintain an active research agenda advancing transnational cultural studies of the Korean War, US military empire and Asian American visual media. My peer-reviewed scholarly contributions include “Eternal Return of the Saline Body: Michael Joo’s Salt Transfer Cycle,” which was the lead essay in a special issue on Asian American Performance Art for MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the US, as well as “The De/militarised Frontier: The Korean Demilitarised Zone, the American DMZ Border Guard, and US Liberal Empire,” published in 2019 in the online journal Critical Military Studies. Finally, an essay on the transnational cultural politics of the Korean DMZ will be included in a forthcoming anthology on militarism and Asian American critique edited by Cathy Schlund-Vials, titled Imperial Coordinates, under contract with Rutgers University Press. 

Wellesley College students from my Spring 2016 American Studies course, "Asian/Aliens and Techno- Orientalism." We're holding up copies of Marjorie Liu's graphic novel Monstress #1.
Wellesley College students from my Spring 2016 American Studies course, “Asian/Aliens and Techno-Orientalism.” We’re holding up copies of Marjorie Liu’s graphic novel Monstress #1.

My research on transnational histories and cultures of war, empire, and militarism shapes my award-winning teaching. I’ve held teaching appointments in the following academic units and institutions: UC Davis, Hunter College’s Asian American Studies Program, the Prison University Project’s college program at San Quentin State Prison, Miami University’s Asian/Asian American Studies, Wellesley College’s American Studies Program, and, most recently, Harvard University’s History & Literature program, where I was awarded a Certificate of Teaching Excellence from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. I draw on my research, training, and involvement in the performing arts and media organizations to design theoretically-rigorous, community-engaged, student-centered courses in Asian, American, and Asian American Studies. From an advanced seminar on “techno-orientalism,” to an Asian globalization course that had students craft their own critical “Kpop” music videos, to a Korean War course in which students conducted oral histories with combatants and survivors, to introductory Asian American courses featuring Asian American cultural critics and producers via Google Hangout, my students improve their critical thinking in a collaborative, creative setting. In recognition of my innovative teaching of Asian American studies, I contributed an invited essay for a forthcoming peer-reviewed anthology, Teaching Asian America: Pedagogy, Politics, and Practice, under contract with University of Illinois Press.

From "Stories From the Forgotten War: Korean War Oral History Exhibit." Course project for "Forgotten/Remembered: The Korean War and Asian/American Culture," Prof. Terry K Park, American Studies Program, Wellesley College, Fall 2015. Photos by Rebecca Darling and Terry Park.
From “Stories From the Forgotten War: Korean War Oral History Exhibit.” Course project for “Forgotten/Remembered: The Korean War and Asian/American Culture,” Prof. Terry K Park, American Studies Program, Wellesley College, Fall 2015. Photos by Rebecca Darling and Terry Park.

Finally, my research, teaching, and advising is enriched by my background as an award-winning actor, off-Broadway performance artist, and involvement in a number of community and media organizations, including:

Credit: Tiffany Eng

Credit: Tiffany Eng

 

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