Elena Tajima Creef
Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Wellesley College
Engaged in research on Asian American visual histories in photography, film, and popular culture.
Virtually all my work engages with questions of Asian American visual history in photography, film, and popular culture. I am currently finishing a book on Japanese/American women and photography that begins with a look at the small delegation of Japanese Ainu at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and ends with an autoethnographic examination of my mother’s 1952 postwar Japanese warbride family photo album.
I was originally hired by my department to develop courses in Asian American women’s studies—which remains my personal, intellectual, and theoretical passion. It always feels like a privilege to teach my course on Asian/American women in film. I know survey courses are impossible to teach given how much one must cram into fourteen weeks: Currently, we begin with silent films feauturing Anna May Wong and end with MTV’s “K-Town” reality show—think “Asian American Jersey-Shore,” if you dare). I also have devoted myself to teaching courses that interrogate intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality–in a comparative framework. While I think of myself as a cultural studies, women’s studies, ethnic studies type of scholar and teacher, one never knows what direction this will take one. For example, if you asked me what is hands-down the single best teaching experience I have ever had in my career at Wellesley, I would have to tell you it was teaching the “Elvis Presley” seminar in Women’s & Gender Studies. What, you may ask in disbelief, does Elvis have to do with Women’s & Gender Studies? Just ask the fabulous students who were in this first year seminar and they will tell you that they all became experts in reading Elvis’ Las Vegas-style of transvestism–spangly jumpsuits with capes–and early Elvis’ androgynous self-styling, not to mention the insane gender politics that shaped virtually all of his “good” films (and I argue that there are only four of them), and can also leave you breathless with what they learned about “Mexican Elvis” and “Elvis Herselfvis”: oh what kind of world would we live in without Elvis impersonators?
I live and breathe Asian American/African American/Native American and Latino/a studies mixed in one big theoretical, critical, historical pot with cultural studies, feminist theory, and critical race studies. And in my next life, I’m coming back as an interdisciplinary feminist theorist who will add “equine cultural studies” to the sexy emerging field now known as critical animal studies.
When I am not teaching and devoting myself to my work in Women’s and Gender Studies, American Studies, Cinema and Media Studies, and every official and unofficial diversity committee known to mankind at the college, I am studying viola, trying to train a stubborn Corgi, following the Japanese career-path of Kotooshu (best Bulgarian sumo wrestler in the world. Period.), dreaming of beaches in Jamaica, and playing ping-pong at the Keohane Sports Center.