Why Asian American Studies Needs To Be a Menace to the Empire: Dr. Moon-Ho Jung Challenges American Liberal Democracy

Moon-Ho Jung speaking to room

Moon-Ho Jung, Ph.D. is a Professor of History and the Harry Bridges Endowed Chair in Labor Studies at the University of Washington. In 2022, he published Menace to Empire which seeks to reconsider Asians within the American nation-state. 

On February 2nd, as part of the AADS speaker series which elevates critical scholars in Asian American Studies in invited talks, Jung came to East Campus to pose an intervention to the studies as a whole, and largely, to the racialization of Asian/Americans. In this event, titled, “Why Asian American Studies Needs to Be a Menace to the Empire,” Jung powerfully pondered what it meant to put empires and their desires at the heart of the analysis as opposed to the subjects they have attempted to racialize and gender. 

Jung challenged largely Asians/Americans and their pursuit to engage and participate in the American empire. Jung said in his talk, “This[multiculturalism] is not about inclusion, exclusion, or diversity, but rather is an ongoing means by the U.S empire to silence and arrest unruly subjects from articulating and circulating revolutionary ideals and organizing movements.” As such, he argued that we must not be anything but menaces to the empire.  

He foregrounded this experience starting from his home: Michigan. There, he tracked the intricate ways he made sense of his Korean identity within the working-class suburb he lived in as he navigated the start of American liberal multiculturalism. Notably, he identified how these multiculturalisms did not make sense. He faced overt acts of racism in America which directly challenged the liberal multiculturalism taught in mainstream discourses. Liberal multiculturalism could not provide the answer to these experiences. This marked Jung’s origin story, which would unfold decades later in his book Menace to Empire. He holds fast in his book and throughout the talk how America is an empire and and has and always will be an empire. Through this discovery, Jung has impressively defined ways he has disidentified with the empire, with the most pertinent involving this provocation: “Why would you ever align yourself with the American empire?” 

Moon-Ho Jung speaking to room of attendees
Professor of History and the Harry Bridges Endowed Chair in Labor Studies at the University of Washington, Moon-Ho Jung, joined the Duke Asian American & Diaspora Studies Program for a talk on February 2, 2024.

The Q&A after the talk addressed how his research could be applied to everyday situations. One attendee asked how we should consider such a perspective with an anti-racist curriculum or how we should think about these important reformations in relation to the education system that may not directly challenge the American empire.

Other questions seeked to apply his argument beyond the U.S. context: One student asked how we should consider the American empire along other empires, specifically those in East Asia. How should we make sense of these empires, knowing that the emergence of these empires were in direct response to the empires in the West?

Jung responded to these questions with invitations. He reiterates that his work is just the beginning of (re)considering the forces of capitalism, colonialism and imperialism. He acknowledged the unanswered questions in his book, and the talk urged the attendees to “find our collective sense of belonging outside of the nation-state.”