Five Questions with…Vincent Pham, Willamette University
Vincent Pham is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Pham explores the intersections of critical and cultural studies, media studies, rhetoric, organizational communication, and ethnic studies, with research broadly focusing on the rhetoric of belonging and marginalization circulating throughout public culture. Pham examines the possibilities and perils of media representation in an increasingly digital age, and the notions of citizenship and the limits of its enactments. Pham is co-author of Asian Americans and the Media (2009; Polity Press), co-editor of the Routledge Companion to Asian American Media (2017; Routledge), and winner of the 2017 NCA Critical/Cultural Communication Studies Division Outstanding New Investigator Award.
- What are you currently researching? Is there anything you can share that you have found particularly interesting or exciting?
I’ve been consistently working on projects that center Asian American cultural and rhetorical production as an entry point into interrogating how race and citizenship play out in the public. I just had two articles published – one on deported Khmer/Cambodian Americans and another on the Drive-By Cinema project in San Diego – so I’m a taking a little breather. I’ve been working on a side-project about post-truth claims and its relationship with whiteness. There’s not much to say about this quite yet, except that Breitbart and InfoWars were incredibly popular websites in 2017 and address racial topics in somewhat interesting ways.
- With the success of films such as Crazy Rich Asians, what is your view on the portrayal of Asian Americans in mainstream media?
I think Crazy Rich Asians is such an interesting case. For one, it’s a watershed moment for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) representation in mainstream media. If we’re thinking about the politics of visibility, AAPIs are more visible than ever, having a presence on a variety of shows across mainstream media. Importantly, AAPI actors and actresses are being recognized for their work, such as Sandra Oh’s 2019 Golden Globe award, and others are being given more opportunities, such as Hannah Simone’s father-daughter comedy pilot.
Still, this doesn’t quite override the decades of racist representations that are embedded in our media vocabulary and still get revived. This is even present in Crazy Rich Asians - the representations of South Asians as primarily background characters or ominous threats, or the somewhat cringeworthy scenes with Ken Jeong.
As much as I am intrigued by the representation of Asians and Asian Americans, I am much more interested in the various discourses surrounding Crazy Rich Asians and how they point us to larger conversations about representations of AAPIs. What does it mean for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to have people who look like them on the silver screen in a successful Hollywood summer rom-com? What does it mean for AAPIs to get the massive budget, to be seen on the glamour of the red carpet, and to have the feeling of “making it” in terms of a widespread blockbuster?
It also points to our collective investments in the Hollywood system of mainstream representation. Now more than ever, it is easier to see content produced by and for Asian Americans. With Asian American film festivals, streaming video channels, YouTube produced and distributed content – there has never been this much content that is easily accessible. From Asian American intellectuals doing D.I.Y. podcasts (see Phil Yu’s and Jeff Yang’s They Call me Bruce or Ada Tseng & Brian Hu’s Saturday School) to longstanding Asian American produced content on YouTube by Wong Fu Productions, we might be in peak Asian American (self-)representation.
- Can you tell us about one of your most inspiring mentors in the Communication discipline, and how they have influenced your journey thus far?
First and foremost, Kent Ono is the greatest dissertation advisor and all-around human being. I don’t know who else in the field would have encouraged me to do a dissertation about Asian American media organizations from a rhetorical, media studies, organizational communication, and ethnic studies approach. Nor do I know anyone else who would have had the patience to help me navigate this wonky world of academia. I am extremely fortunate to have him as a mentor and advisor, and I’m excited for his upcoming NCA presidency and look forward to the convention he is planning for Baltimore.
- Do you have any advice for young scholars who are interested in multicultural/intercultural communication?
Read in-depth in the Communication field, but also connect that reading to conversations in neighboring disciplines. Communication has such a unique perspective that gets taken for granted or overlooked in other disciplines. Read scholarship from other disciplines such as ethnic studies, queer studies, critical race theory, and have that scholarship inform the premises that are assumed about multiculturalism.
- What are some of your professional goals for the next five years?
I’m going to enjoy my promotion to Associate Professor in the fall, and then my first sabbatical leave in Spring 2020. During this time, I’ll be working on my book on Asian American media organizations and film festivals. Prior to the digital age, Asian American film festivals were important hubs of community gatherings and media making practice. I’ll be revisiting the period between 2008 and 2013 of four Asian American media organizations. Drawing on my field work during this time, I will examine how these organizations communicate the relevance of their missions and associated activities (including but not solely film festivals) to a diverse Asian American community. I ask, “how do organizations construct a racially conscious community?” by exploring how these organizations make Asian American media matter. I also have a couple of other book projects, notably finishing a follow-up to Asian Americans and the Media. I’ll be finishing up my final year as an elected representative on the NCA Legislative Assembly and hope to refocus some more energy in some of NCA’s other divisions afterward.