Towards an Asian American Biblical Hermeneutics: An Intersectional Anthology

After the 2021 Cal-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church ended, I drove to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento to please my little children and fulfill my familial duty. Having grudgingly paid the parking fee ($15 flat rate because it was Halloween!) and entered the museum hungry (my son wanted to skip lunch so we could visit the museum right away), I bumped into a famous photogragh of “white men posing at the completion of the transcontinental railroad with not a Chinese face in sight” (p. 113). I looked for signs of the lives of those who had shed sweat, blood, and tears to build the railroad. Not far from the picture, I found a plaque, titled SILENT SPIKE, that states:

In 1865, the Central Pacific Railroad recruited workers directly from China. These workers built the Western portion of the nation’s first Transcontinental Railroad. Chinese laborers comprised 90% of the workforce. They performed the most dangerous work under the most difficult conditions. Many lost their lives to avalanches, explosions and other deadly accidents. The Central Pacific Railroad could not have succeeded without the hard work and dedication of the Chinese workers.

My thought process quickly moved to honorable but horrendous stereotypes of Asian Americans as “model minority” and “perpetual foreigner.” I asked myself, Aren’t Asian Americans called a model minority as long as they serve the well-being and prosperity of White America? Aren’t Asian Americans viewed as perpetual foreigners because they never were, are, or will be part of White America? The disappearance of Chinese workers in the picture was a sign of the dis (negation or dislike) + appearance of Chinese labor in American history. I felt that the picture was telling me that Asian Americans can live in the United States as long as they don’t take leadership in American society and as long as they disappear behind the scenes.

I was delighted to read and review Gale A. Yee’s recent book, Towards an Asian American Biblical Hermeneutics: An Intersectional Anthology, because it refuses to accept the myth of the model minority that can easily silence the voices of Asian Americans in the United States. It also challenges the sign, if not the stigma, of Asian-ness due to one’s appearance, language, culture, etc.

The title of Yee’s book sums up its content. First, it is an anthology, a collection of essays that are both previously published (eight chapters) and new (three chapters). Those who are looking for a manual on Asian American biblical hermeneutics may at first wonder where the A to Z explanation is. Then, they will be invited to the ways in which readers bring their own identities, lived experiences, and interpretive lenses to their reading of the biblical texts. Second, it is intersectional in nature. Yee employs various methodologies in her reading—feminist, postmodern, Marxist/materialist, and cultural as well as historical and literary. Third, it is a book on biblical hermeneutics. Readers with conservative or evangelical backgrounds may sometimes find Yee’s interpretations challenging. For example, Ruth is a model minority but remains a perpetual foreigner, like the Chinese Americans whose “efforts went acknowledged” (p. 105) at the end. Whether readers consider the Bible sacred or not, Yee’s hermeneutical effort brings to the fore how the biblical text can be (mis)used to exclude the foreign Other. Fourth, it is an Asian American endeavor. Yee shares her struggle to read the Naboth vineyard story in 1 Kings 21 from an Asian American perspective and states, “Whatever analysis I do will be an Asian American, feminist, middle-class, sociohistorical, literary-critical, and so forth reading” (p. 143). I deeply appreciate Yee’s last essay, “Jerusalem, Samaria, and Sodom: A Sisterly Urban Triad in Ezekiel 16:44–63,” because her essay does not seem distinctively Asian American or hybrid at first but, when looked at closely, her approach is inextricable from her multi-layered identities. Fifth, it is a working toward. Yee makes this clear on the first page of her book: “An Asian American biblical hermeneutics is still in process, not only for myself, but also for the field” (p. 1). She is a learner and pioneer in the field, and her book inspires readers to join together and go wherever that journey leads us.

I recommend this book to those who study and are interested in theology and the Bible because it will open a new horizon for understanding “the Scripture” in new ways. If we can make our reading of the Bible “about us,” “by us,” “for us,” and “near us” (p. 81), why not read it? If you find more questions than answers when reading the Bible and like to have “Bible talks” on issues like immigration, racism, and gender identity, this is a book for you. I also encourage general readers to read this book and learn how to make their story relevant and compelling in conjunction with their own (con)texts. As an editor of Asian American Theological Forum, whenever I read and review a submitted article or review, I ask, What makes this uniquely Asian American? I think I have found an answer, and I hope you find answers as well in this book.

 

Hyun Ho Park, PhD

First United Methodist Church of Santa Rosa

**The photo by the author, from California State Railroad Museum



Categories: (B) Book Review

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