Contemporary American Ethnic Issues

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Contemporary American Ethnic Issues

ASIAN AMERICAN ISSUESNative American Issues Ptml C. Rosier

U.S. Latino IsslIes Rudolji} F Acu1ia


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Contemporary American Ethnic Issues Ronald H. Bayo/j Series Editor


Westport, Connecticut • London






Asian American studies is an interdisciplinary field that examines the differ­ ent aspects and experiences of Asian Americans. This includes the history of Asians in America, from the Filipinos or Manilamen, who came to Louisiana in the eighteenth century, to the Southeast Asians, who arrived atter the end of the Southeast Asian conflict in 1975. It also includes topics that rclate to contemporary Asian American communities, such as the issues of immigrant adjustment, bilingualism, religion, generational changes, employment, edu­ cation, and community building. Furthermore, there arc issLles of social prob­ lems such as hate crimes, poverty, sexism, and homophobia in the Asian American communities to consider, as well. In addition, there is the matrix of race, ethnicity, gender, and class issues that relate to such matters as inter­ ethnic and interracial relations, interethnic marriage, mixed ethnicity identity, gender rclations, and different sexual orientations. At the present time there arc almost 50 universities and colleges with Asian American studies depart­ ments or programs throughout the United States, with another 11 offering Asian American studies courses. l And the number keeps growing. The first Asian American studies programs were t()Lll1ded. in 1969 at San Francisco .,/” State University and the University of California, Berkeley, but today tbere are programs at elite private universities such as Stanford, Cornell, and. New York University. Liberal arts institutions such as Loyola Marymoullt Univer­ sity, Oberlin College, Pomona College, and Occidental College otTer in­ struction in Asian American studies. Public colleges and universities have responded to student interest, and there are now programs at institutions





such as the University of Washington, the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, and the state universities in Cali­

Even some high schools, such as Berkeley High School, Milton Acad­ emy, Jnd Brookline High School, have oHcred classes on Asian Americans to their students.2

“, .


Asian American studies programs emerged as a result of the civil movement of the 1960s and 19705, which gave rise to the ethnic studies movement that included African American studies, Chicano and Latino stud­ ies, and Native American studies. It also encollfaged an interest in-the role of race and ethnicity in America and facilitated the development of Women ‘s studies. The civil rights movement sparked not only the desire for racial equal-

in society, but raised concerns about equity and racial and ethnic repre­ sentation in high schools and colleges around the nation. The question of whether schools and universities should reflect the diverse multicultural makeup of the nation’s Population emerged. Moreover, should not the cur­ riCtllum foster understanding about this social reality and provide an educa­ tion that might be relevant in addressing problems and issues in Asian American and other ethnic communities? San Francisco State College, now called San Francisco State University, gave birth to the ethnic studies move­ ment. Community activists, scholars, and students had ol’ganized to demand an educational program that recognized the voices and history of their com­ munities. They sought a Third-World college that could respond to the need fClr ed Llcation abOLlt people of color and help to solve the problems that these communities faced.

3 In 1955 at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, coun­

tries freed from colonial powers atLernpted to fc,nn a “third world” model through a policy of nonalignment with the United States and Soviet Union.

ethnic studies movement, like other liberation movements, chose this model demanding a colkge educati_Ollji-ee fi:{»)110PErc~sion)_§uch as

hetero~cxisl11, and -colo11-i;lis111. They pushed fc)r self-determination and equality whereby students could be educated about their true history in the COlllltry through the development ofautonomous programs that reflected the needs of each respective community.4 The students’ demands were not

received, however; in fact, students were forced to reSort to acts of civil disobedience, Stich as protests, hunger strikes, and rallies. In response to this, “The authorities [in San Francisco] deplored up to ten thousand armed men almost every day tc)r more than two months to crush the Third World strike, but the students prevaikd~and Ethnic Studies was born. “5 As time PJssed, other campuses on the West Coast and on the East Coast joined the


fight to demand courses th,lt spoke to the experiences of ethnic minorities. The absence of these courses symbolized to many the lack of interest or concern about groups who had helped to shape the history and economy of the United States. While traditional departments such as anthropology, art studio, dramatic art, economics, English, film studies, history, political sci­ ence, psychology, and sociology had offered courses on various minority groups, they often referred to them in the margins and not as the focal point of study. Consequently, students often received a disjointe_~_pi<:ture of the experiences of Asian Americans versus a h~.s~~cJ?i.’:ii~re o{ their experiences and their communities. Asian American studies programs, which had devel­ oped with other ethnic studies programs, were a response to remedy the situation, Asian American programs were devised to offer courses from many disciplines, but the courses dealt with Asian Americans as the central theme of study. Asian Americans would not be marginalized and confined to a single lecture or a passing remark.

The momentum of Asian American studies was drawn fi-om student activ­ ists, many of whom were introduced to activism through their participation in the civil rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War. Inspired by the Black Panthers,6 the American Indian movement/ and the Young Lords,S students of color criticized what they discerned to be the elitist uni­ versities’ support of White supremacy on college campuses. As a broad coa­ lition of students from different backgrounds-Asian Americans, Ati-ican Americans, NaLive Americans, Hispanic Americans, and European Ameri­ cans-they were “people of color” who had enlisted in the campaign to cor­ rect the situation. Activists of color saw the ethnic studies movement as part of the bigger picture to transform the racist educational system from the ground up. As a united front, a coalition of ditlerent ethnic groups demanded an education that reflected the struggles tcx racial justice at home and abroad. They also fought for programs that would encourage student and community organizing and welcomed the idea of interdisciplinary scholarship fc,r and by people of colorY These programs included hlCUlty and students working with community organizations and members, as well as conducting ol1tre~1Ch to the community. In the 19905, university campuses witnessed displays of ac­ tivism by both students and faculty to establish new programs and sllstain older ones. For example, between 1996 to 1998, students at Princeton, Northwestern, Columbia, Stanford, ~ll1d the University of Maryland, to name a ie’w, demanded institutional support tor Asian American studies. They showed their concerns through sit-ins, occupation of administrative build­ ings, hunger strikes, and other public demonstrations. 10

Some would argue that the Asian American studies movement in particular and the ethnic studies movement in general have transf()fIl1ed the aCldemic



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Culture. It has done so by redefining and reshaping the curriculum by in­ the histories and contemporary issues of the diverse Asian ethnic

groups, by changing the nature of scholarship by researching the historical and contemporary issues and experiences of Asian Americans, by employing a more, hands:on approach to the practice and methods of research, and by engaging communities through the use of interviews, oral histories, and ex­ tensive field and participant observation. However, the pursuit of creating more Asian American studies programs on higb school and college campuses can be undermined when educators and administrators cling to the “model minority” myth of Asian American educational success. The myth obscures Asian American interest in struggles for social justice. It gives the appearance, particularly when compared to AfriclI1 Americans and Latinos, that Asian Americans as a group are only concerned with maintaining the status quo, not m.lking waves, and working diligently to achieve the American dream. If university administrators receive this false impression, they may act in ways

are detrimeIltal to Asian Americans. Thinking that Asian Americans are assimilated and have no interest in ethnic programs, they may divert those scarce resources away from Asian American programs. Some may argue that thlTe is 110 need f()J’ 😉 major or a program in Asian American studies, since different disciplines may cover Asian American issues and experiences. For example, some would argue that in history classes, Asian American history is treated as a part of U.S. history, rather than being a field of its own. Moreover, in sociology courses, Asian Americans are often mentioned in race relations classes, but they are only examined briefly with other groups. The complex­ ities of the group arc overshadowed, with little attention paid to aspects of Asian history and how homeland developments aftcct the lives ofAsian A.mer-

All too fi’equently, the enixts to establish an Asian American studies program is often confi’onted by barriers put up by more established programs, which sel: a new program as a threat to their resources and territory. Instead of recognizing a new program as filling a void in the curriculum, established programs view AS!Jn American studies programs as a threat that will compete with them tf)!’ Ill’W bculty, classrooms, and other needed resources in colleges and universities.

There arc questions as to Whcthn ethnic studies programs in general, and A~ian American studies programs in particular, have remained true to their original goals. Are these prog~ams still rooted in community organization and activism, or -Ilave they become more prof~ssionalizeli and institutional-

into the ivory tower by being more concerned about theorv and schol­ ~lrship?Whilcl:ace and ethnic concer;7s’lave been ‘;ddressed, \~hai:-dsc has be-cil ignored in the field? What about issues of gender, sexuality, and class? Are these isslles reflected in Asian American studies or ethnic studies for that


matter? As Asian American studies develops as a discrete field of academic inquiry, it is making important educational and intellectual contributions to American higher education, both in terms of pedagogy and in terms of re­ search. However, some question the viability of specific ethnic programs. Does it promote an understanding of diverse Asian American ethnic com­ munities or does it in tact create ritts and competition among these ethnic groups? While the battle tor Asian Amnican studies programs continues across the nation, there are still debates regarding whether these programs are really necessary. These are some of the propositions related to the viability of Asian American studies that are being discussed:

1. With Asian Americans drawing attention as the second fastest growing ethnic population in the nation, it is desirable that people should have a better under­ standing of Asian American communities.

2. Much has been omitted from U.S. history regarding the import:1l1t role ofAsi:111 American men and women in the development of the United States. The history courses treat Asian Atnerican history as part of U.S. history, but they neglect aspects of Asian history and fail to show how homeland developments affected and continue to influence the lives of AsiJl1 Americans.

3. Asian American studies classes help students to acquire usable skills and to de­ velop a sense of social responsibility. Since its tounding, Asian American studies has placed great emph:1sis on training students to be of service both to their ethnic communities and to the larger society. Thus, educating all students in Asian American studies helps students to learn usable skills :1nd to t()ster :l sense of social responsibility. In addition, the program will help students prl:p,lre tor employment in a multiethnic society.



Asian Americans are the second fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. For example, the 1990 census showed that Calit(Jrnia is now the n:1­ tion’s most racially diverse state with the largest percentage of Asian Ameri­ cans (9.6% of the total Calitomia population). The state also has the largest percentage of Latino Americans (25.8%) in the country and the second largest number of African Americans (2.2 million, second only to New York’s 2.9 million). Its population of Native Americans (242,164) is second only to Oklahoma’s 252,420, Almost 3 million persons of Asian ancestry, represent­ ing abollt 40 percent of all such persons in the United States, live in California today. However, there are significant increases across the United States. Na­ tionwide, Asian Americans consistently represent the second tastest growing





ethnic population. With the increasing number ofstudents leaving their home state for college, and graduates relocating to different states and sometimes

cOlin tries, it is important to address the experiences of this growing ethnic population. Given this demographic reality, students graduating with an inte~discipli.nary knowledge ofAsian Americans, as well as with knowledge about other ethnic groups, will be weIl prepared for employment in many occupations. This could be business and management, education, social ser­ vices, the health professions, law, high-tech industries, and other lines ofwork that involve interaction with coworkers and clients from diverse backgrounds.

Given the increasing visibility of Asian Americans in all walks of life, all students graduating from a college or university, and not just those of Asian ancestry, should know something about the history, communities, and cul­ tures of Asian Americans who are an integral part of American society. Stu­ dents who take classes in Asian American studies programs will have a better understanding about Asian American communities and experiences. Conse­

they will learn to see Asian Americans as active participants in the United States instead of subscribing to the variolls stereotypes ofAsian Amer­ icans as “others” or f()reigners.

students about Asian Americans will sensitize them to diversity and cultural issues that often may impede interactions in everyday life. Fur­ thermore, it will allow students of Asian ancestry to have a better understand­ ing of their own history and mlture, thereby promoting pride in their ethnic identity. One way in which students gain a sense of pride and belonging is

having faculty members w!l~s~rve~<!~_role m(~_~ls. While students in four­ year institlltloi1s–1:eg~I;~lyl~~ve Asian American f:lc~lty members in science, engineering, and math classes, they rarely sec Asian American faculty mem­ bers in the social sciences or humanities. As a result, those disciplines that serve as the core of general education do not present students with the op­ portunity to meet and establish relationships with faculty of Asian descent. Asian American t:1Culty, besides being an asset to Asian American students, also provides an important source of mcntorship f()f other ethnic minority and White students. While education is often gained in the classroom, meet­ ings and social interactions outside of the classroom provide opportunities fiJr int(lr111allcarning. In tact, some may argue that students gain additional

through these venues fiJr advising and one-to-one meetings. III addition to the classroom experience, there are growing efforts to make

variolls Asian American businesses and retail centers more accessible to non­ Asians. Por example, the Los Angeles Koreatown has recently made efforts to make their commercial industry friendlier to non- Koreans. Many argue that signs written in the Korean language deter many potential Customers fi-O!l1 coming to their restaurants, retail stores, and other businesses. Instead


of alienating non- Korean-speaking from Koreatown, there is a push to make it more accessible to all racial and ethnic groups. Asian American studies can help to promote a better cross-cultural and interethnic understanding. Knowledge of Asian Americans is essential in communities where Asian Amer­ ican populations are flourishing. However, it is just as important in areas where Asian Americans are a smaller percentage of the community. As more people recognize that America is a multicultural society, populated by people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, it is essential that there be an attempt to acknowledge, recognize, and understand something about all those who live here. While there has been much written about the European American role in history, politics, and society, relatively little has been said or written about that ofAsian An1ericans. This void in understanding and knowl­ edge only makes Asian Americans distant objects rather than real people who are contributing to the vitality and dynamism of America today. The role of Asian American studies is integral to these efforts. In summary, not only is this field interested in educating students about both the historical and contemporary Asian American experience, but it also works closely with COOl­ munity organizations and groups. Through research and hands-on involve­ ment, Asian American studies can reach out to both students and ethnic populations to strengthen the links between the universities and their neigh­ boring communities.


The 2000 U.S. Census highlights the fact that Asian Americans are a fast growing population in the United States. In almost every state, the public and the media are becoming increasingly aware that Asian Americans are an important part of the An1erican mosaic. With this rapid demographic growth, there has been an accompanying expansion of university and college courses and programs in Asian American studies. Started at only a few colleges and universities in the 1960s and 1970s, Asian Anlerican studics today has its own professional organization, the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS). The AAAS was fcmnded in 1979 to advance excellence in pedagogy and research in the field of Asian American studies. The association also strived to promote better understanding between and among the various Asian ethnic groups who are studied in Asian American studies: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Hawaiian, Vietnamese, Hmong, Cambodian, Lao­ tian, South Asian, Pacific Islander, and other groups. In addition, the asso­ ciation promotes the scholarly exchange among teachers, researchers, and students in the field of Asian American studies_ Housed institutionally at Cor­ nell University, the national organization has an Internet Web site, a national



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and officers, a newsletter, and a publication entitled the Jourrtal oj Asian American Studies. Be!<Jre the journal took form, the organization pub­ lished an annual anthology, often with papers and essays drawn from its an­ llual meetings at difTerent sites across the COuntry. As interest in Asian American studies increased, an East of Calitc)J’nia organization was fc)rmed “in th~ fll1 ot’ 1991 on the campus of Cornell University, where representa­ tives from twenty-three colleges and universities resolved to establish the net­ work. Its purposes arc: (1) to institutionalize Asian American studies; (2) to

regional-specific research and publications; and (3) to provide mutual support to individuals and programs.” j j I t meets twice ann ually, in the fall at a member campus and in the spring at the annual meeting of the AAAS. As a result of the East of Calif()rnia organizational efforts, the AAAS developed a directory of its members, as well as of universities with Asian American studies programs, certificates, and classes. Asian American studies has indeed pros­ pered its initial beginnings when it was taught at only a few institutions of hilIht'” learning.

it is certainly desirable that the public should have a broader under­ standing of Asian Americans in the United States, it is less certain that Asian American studies is the proper vehicle lor this purpose. In other words, it may not be that Asian American studies is the best mode of disseminating information about Asian Americans, fix in many Asian American studies courses, the locus is on the largest Asian American populations. They con­ centrate predominantly on the Chinese and the Japanese. Perhaps this was

of the popular perception that these groups had arrived in this chro­ nological order, and so the studies of these two groups are the most abundant. But it has meant that there is less attention to the Filipinos, Koreans, Asian Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis. The Southeast Asians who arrived at the end of America’s war in the t()J”Jl1er French Indochina receive even less notice. The Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Hmong, Itl-Mien, Cham, and others are marginalized in Asian American studies. Groups such as the Thai, Malaysians, Indonesians, Singaporeans, Bhutanese, Nepalese, and Ti-

arc ill a similar predicament. In Jddition, there is little locus on Pacific Islanders and mixed AsiJI1 Americans or hapas.

Some A~ian American studies programs also include coverage of Pacific and label themselves as Asian Pacific American studies programs.

But this label of “Asian Pacific Americans” or “Asian Pacific Islanders,” which is also sometimes used, has some difficulties. First of all, Pacific Islanders arc a diverse population, encompassing Hawaiians, Samoans, Fijians, Chamorros ti’om Guam, Tongans, Tahitians, and others. With the Asian American popu­

itself being so diverse, it is uncertain that Asian American studies pro­ grams possess the capability or expertise to delve into the subject of Pacific


Islanders. Moreover, much of the attention might be devoted to Native Ha­ waiians, who have been linked to the Asian immigrant experience in Hawai’i. Second, if Asian American studies programs examined the Pacific Islander experience, it probably would be done in a limited fashion. Resources and attention probably would be i(xused first on the major East Asian American groups, such as the Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese and then second to Fil­ ipinos, South Asians, and Soutl1east Asians. For that reason, Pacific Islanders might well have reservations about programs that dubbed. themselves Asian American/ Pacific Islander studies programs with such limited coverage orthe Pacific Islander populations, furtl1ermore, some Native Hawaiian studies scholars and activists would argue that their experiences arc more closely related to Native American experiences than Asian Americans. While Native Hawaiians have interacted with A~ian Americans due to the role of the plan­ tations and Asian laborers, their culture and traditions nonetheless resemble more of Native Americans. Therefore, the label with the words “Pacific Is­ lander studies” would not describe the orientation of the program or de­ partment, and it would be misleading to students and others.

With so many Asian American groups represented in the American kalei­ doscope, what should one do? How does one synthesize the information? Should there be a risk of academic division into smaller mutually hostile units? If Asian American studies courses take on a chronological approach, docs that not mean that there will be greater coverage upon the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, and Asian Indians, at the expense of the groups that ar­ rived after the immigration changes of 1965? These arc the many dilemmas that Asian American studies is still facing as it tries to be representative of its constituency and yet be educational in its objective. With Asian American studies bound by its activist roots in the Asian American movement struggles of the 19608, and still wrestling with identity politics, perhaps the traditional academic disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology, history, and science, can impart a 1110re objective and impartial understanding of the role and Dlace of Asian Americans in the United States.




Ignorance, some say, is bliss. When race relations arc discussed in the United States it is generally easier to not know about the experiences of groups with oppression, discrimination, racism, and even their successes. That way, the problems or successes of other ethnic groups arc simply ignored.



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knowledge of rtSlan f\mencan history. So many youths and young and old adults know very little about the history of Asian Americans in the United States. Unfortunately, it is not only non-Asians who can use as an excuse for being uninformed about Asian Americans. Ail too often, Asbn Americans themselves are also not fully aware of the rc:,ie that Asian American men and women have played in the building of modern America.

How is it that the accomplishments of Asian Americans in building rail­ roads, developing the agricultural landscapes across the nation, fighting in wars involving the United States, and contributing to the success of the Amer­ ican nation are ignored or forgotten? Much of this has to do with the lack of education that is provided to students about the history of Asians in America. When we examine Asian American history, it is that the

States with the intention of who came to the United in hopes of

so that they could provide for their families in China. Wedded to their Confi..lcian values, many believed that being away from their parents and family would not allow them to fitlfill their family obligations and re­ sponsibilities. However, the economic n.:ality caused many to realize that they would not be able to return home financial1y secure. In many ways, the early Chinese laborers recognized that it Was more financially beneficial for their t:lmilies at home if they remained in the United States, and sent money back to them. Many Asian immigrant workers, who followed tbe Chinese, en­ COllntered similar experiences. They met with racial and economic barriers in their Dath so that it was difficult to return home as a financial success. Instead,

in the United States and managed to adapt so that they could while makil1!! ill~t Ft,,-,…~I, to sustain

While 1I11l11igrants of curopean ancestry initially had a difficult time assim­ in America, their physical appearance allowed them to blend in with

the dominant northern European groups. The Italians, the Jews, and the Irish, fIX example, endured discrimination and harsh working conditions be­ cause of their ethnicity. However, subsequent generations lost their accents and were able to integrate themselves into the fabric of White racial identity. For Asian Americans, assimilation Was not an option. In fact, despite the second and later generations of Asian Americans losing their accents and undergoing religious and cultural changes, they were still seen as foreigners. Many of these perceptions had to do with racist ideologies that were prevalent

to the civil rights movement. Antimiscegenation laws did not of color to marry Whites in many states. Moreover, the laws of the States Drohihit,·d flr<r_m>” .. r”~:_.. Asian Americans


Not until World War II and after was it possible for ‘uipinos, Asian Indians, Koreans, and Japanese to receive

World War II also saw the removal of the Japanese from their West Coast communities and their forced removal into concentration camps euphemistically called war relocation centers.

The historical record shows that with so many legal restrictions and obsta­ cles put upon them, Asian Americans could not participate in the everyday life of America. Not only could Asian immigrants not vote, but even their American-born children were instead regarded as foreigners. Predictably, such treatment and attitudes led Asian Americans to maintain close relation­ ships with their families and friends back in Asia. But this, too, became the target of attack, as hostile critics argued that they had misplaced loyalties to Asia instead of America. As immigrants, they could work in the United States, but if they maintained ties with their homeland in Asia then they were seen as spies or threats. Asian Americans were in an unenviable Even tried to assimilate or acculturate in the United States, t!ley were regarded as aliens and foreigners. And if they sought to maintain their filial ties to families back in their ancestral homeland, that only confirmed how alien and foreign they were.

Things changed for Asian Americans and other ethnic minorities in the United States after the passage of the Immigration Act of1965. This measure permitted families divided on two sides of the Pacific Ocean to be reunited in America. The provisions of this act permitted a larger influx of Korean, Filipino, South Asian, and Chinese immigrants. While the pre-1965 il11l11i· grant groups had helped build the agricultural economy ofthe Unitl::d States, the post-1965 immigrants were for transforming U.S. racial and ethnic relations. No longer could race relations be seen as a Black and White issue, for now it was a matter of l1lultiethnic/race rclations. The growing numbers of Asians and Latinos entering the country signaled that a new era in racial and ethnic relations was opening in America.

The post-1965 women along with men entered the workforce. Asian American women in many instances had an easier time finding jobs in assem­ bly lines, in computer companies, garment districts, and as domestic workers. In contrast, many Asian American men, who had professional degrees, had a more difficult time finding jobs for which they were qualified. Institutional barriers made it more difficult for the early immigrants to find positions they were qualified for. Their Asian accents, combined with how people viewed Asians with accents, contributed to their struggles. Specifically, the anti-

sentiments in the United States makes it difficult for anyone who is not “American” to establish themselves. Women, on the other

were hired for their “dainty” fingers being able to J.ssemble small parts



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and components. Thus, sexism played a part in getting the women hired in the U.S. economy. This is one chapter in the labor history ofAsian Americans, but many of the accomplishments and struggles of Asian Americans are still missing in U.S. history books. The glaring omission of a significant group of people who help~d shape the U.S. economy, race relations, and culture has at1cctcd not only Asian Americans, but has helped to perpetuate the old ste­ reotypes and fears about Asians as foreigners who do not truly belong in this

In short, ignoring the role of Asian Americans in the

recycle racist ideologies that infer that was founded and European Americans, and all others merely worked under



As onc of the goals of the Asian American movement, Asian American studies has played an important role in shOWing how Asians played an im­ portant role in the history of the United States. Roots: An Asian American Reader, which Was published by the UCLA Asian American Studies in 1971, was a pioncering anthology. In a single volumc with contributions from lllany scholars and students, it gave coverage to Koreans, Filipinos, Chi­ nesc, lap’dllese, Hawaiians, and Asian women. 12 In the years that followed, other anthologies, compilations, and books tiJl10wed to emphasize that Asians in Amcrica were not passive victims, but independent actors who charted new paths t()r themselves and their descendants. In the process, Asian Americans helped in the building of thc economy of the United States, particularly in

and the American West.

But a llumber of new developments have demonstrated that Asian Amer­ ican studies has limitations that have kept it b’om maintaining its pioneering stance of its carly days. First of all, in the desire to claim America, to proclaim that Asians in the United States were Americans too, the field of Asian Amer­ ican studies tailed to the diasporic and transnational orientation of Asian immigrants, Publications by A~ian American scholars and activists in the 1960s and 19705 Were intent on proving that Asians were here to stay in

States, despite arguments to the contrary. At the present of immigration accept the position that many immigrants to the

States ill the past were sojourners who stayed temporarily in the United States, with the hope of eventual return to their homeland. Other immigrallts were sojourners who moved back and forth to several sites. Still other immigrants hoped to travel to their homeland, but were unable to make the trip due to \’.lrious reasons, such as a lack of funds, a tear that they could


not return to i\menca, or a gradual realization that life in the U nired States offered the prospect of a better lite.

Second, in their attempt to distinguish Asian Americans ti’om i\sians, the practitioners in the young field of Asian American studies of the 19605 and 19705 emphasized that they were interested in Asians in the United States, not Asians in Asia. At the time, they were trying to demarcate Asian American literature as different from Asian literature and trying to separate Asian Amer­ ican history from Asian history. But by arbitrarily separating Asian Americans from Asia, these early activists and scholars were missing the opportunity to show the complex relationships linking Asian Americans, Asia, and the United States. The fact that many of the activists and scholars of the era were not able to use Asian languages in their research probably contributed to this desire for separation. But, unfortunately, several decades later, in the twenty­ first century, the situation has not changed very much. Asian American studies still focuses almost preponderantly on writings and literature in the English language by Asians in the United States. Writings by those Asians who reside in America as residents or citizens of the United States are ignored because of the lack of familiarity with Asian languages. By not being able to read Asian-language newspapers and publications in this country, or even to see and comprehend Asian language programs on television, many students in Asian American studies do not know what is happening in the immigrant or refugee communities. Chinese-language newspapers in the United States, for example, often have commentary about how Japan has tailed to make amends and to apologize for its aggression during World War II.

Asian American studies still carries a great deal of its historical bag­ gage from its activism of thc 1960s and 1970s.1 3 Formed alit of an era when many were critical of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, about American capitalism and business, and distrusttul of government, Asian American studies seems to be trapped in a time warp. For example, Asian American studies does not examine the history of Asian Americans in the military, although that is an important in the experience of Asian Americans. Except for the obligatory rderence to the participation ofJapa­ nese Americans during \Vorld War II, despite the removal of the 1apanese 011 the West Coast to internment camps, there is little research on the partici­ pation in other wars, or the military experiences of other groups, such as the

ilipinos, Chinese, Koreans, and Asian Indians. Related to this is a failure to study the history of Asian Americans, and this is not only the pioneers and kaders, in business, science, technology, and education. Only if there is the specter of discrimination and prejudice, such as a “glass ceiling” restricting the mobilitv ofAsian Americans, is there some treatment of science and tech­

if women are exploited in a garment bctory or workers are




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joining a union is there any examination ofAsian Americans and the economy. By having ideological blinders from its early origins, Asian American studies has missed the opportunity to have a more complete understanding of the role of Asian Americans in the history of the United States. Because of its stance on activism and resistance, Asian American studies tails to appreciate those Asian American men and women who have been pioneers and leaders in the military, in business and industry, in science, technology, and educa­ tion, and even religion. By tailing to move beyond its origins, Asian American studies is contributing to the omission of Asian Americans trom many facets of American history.



Asian American studies was developed with the philosophy of using activ­ ism to help and to promote social change in ethnic communities. It was part of a vision that Asian American studies would serve its ethnic communities and the larger society. In the 1960s and 1970s, many ethnic studies programs initiated and supported innovative community organizing projects. These projects included cooperative garment tactories, farmworker organizing, and fights tor low-income housing. The Asian American studies programs also provided support f<)r the protests against the Vietnam War and tried to ad­ vance the cause of civil rights.14

Today, some critics find tault with Asian American studies programs for losing sight of their original goals as they became professionalized and more academic in orientation. These critics argue that programs like Asian Amer­ ican studies are no longer connected with their grassroots constituencies, but rather have immersed themselves in the ivory tower. They formulate inter­ esting theories about gender, sexuality, and racial hierarchies, but theories have little real impact on the lives and concerns of Asian American commu­ nities. While ethnic studies programs were once a part of an idealistic and service-oriented crusade, they have now become sites for protessional jobs or careers. This is quite a turn of events, tor initially Asian American programs welcomed student participation in governing, planning, and teaching. To have students intimately involved with Asian American studies programs was one of the basic assumptions of community activists. Today, however, tew taculty members are closely involved with community organizations or ethnic community activities. The absence of Asian American taculty participation in community atbirs gives credibility to the charge that the culture on college


campuses perpetuates elitism and trowns upon community and grassroots organizing. However, these Asian American studies programs are still an av­ enue for political activism among people of color. Students continue to look to ethnic studies programs as the cornerstone of radical education change.

On college campuses, students of all ethnic backgrounds are otten surprised to learn about the lack of exposure that campuses provide on ethnic minority experiences. This surprise often turns into frustration and anger as they realize that they are deprived of opportunities to learn about difterent segments of the American population. Consequently, in recent years, students of color have led mass protests, sit-ins, and hunger strikes at universities such as Wash­ ington, Maryland, Pri!lceton, and Indiana. Some actions have been of a de­ fensive nature to protect the integrity and viability of programs. For example, they have protested the issues of unfilled faculty positions, budget cuts, tui­ tion hikes, the end of affirmative action, attempts to end remedial education, and the firing of popular teachers. Other battles have been oftensive in nature. This includes fighting for the establishment of new ethnic studies programs, demands for the recruitment and retention of students and faculty of color, and for the establishment of gay-lesbian-bisexual support centers. For in­ stance, student protests at Rutgers University in 1995 culminated in the take­ over of the basketball court at the halftime of a televised game. The demands of the United Student Coalition were reminiscent of the 1960s. They asked tor the resignation of the president; the rollback of tuition trom $4,500 to $1,350 per semester; the elimination of SAT scores trom admission require­ ments; the restructuring of the Board of Governors to a democratically elected board that reflects the student population; and the inclusion of mi­ nority and women’s studies programs as part of the university’s core curric­ ulum. In 1996, Columbia University students organized the largest protests on that campus since the Vietnam War. They occupied a building and staged a 14-day hunger strike, demanding that Latino and Asian American studies be created to complement the existing Atrican American Studies Center.

As students learn more about the Asian American experience and com­ munities, they become more invested in the idea of serving as agents of social change. They learn how to build coalitions, organize meetings, present public statements, and work through the politics of the university system. These tools not only help in revealing the truths about the state of Asian American studies to the larger community, but they provide students with hands-on skills and the knowledge of how to ask, demand, and/or challenge the power elites for what they desire.

Besides political activism, students who are tortunate to have thriving Asian American studies programs on their college campuses have the opportunity to learn about communities in which they are likely to work, live, and have




16 17


relationships. For the vast majority of students in the United States, it is inevitable that they will have professional, personal, and everyday interactions with Asian Americans. Despite the long of Asian immigration, few

including Asian Americans themselves, understand the complexities of this group. Understanding Asian American history and contemporary is~ slIes, as weil as lea~ning about the culture, will only enhance the relationships

are established and built among Asian Americans, as well as between nOll-Asian Americans. Given this demographic reality, students graduating with an interdisciplinary knowledge of Asian Americans, as well as with knowledge about other ethnic groups, will be well prepared for employment in many occupations-business and management, education, social services, the health professions, law, high-tech industries, and other lines of work that involve interaction with coworkers and clients from diverse backgrounds. They will also benefit by being prepared to participate and interact with their peers ill a diverse and multicultural

Since its fCHlllding, Asian American studies has placed great emphasis on training students to be of service to both their ethnic communities and to the larger society. Asian American studies has always recognized and, wher­ ever resources permitted, tried to strengthen links to Asian American com­ munities. This includes attempts to develop students’ language skills, both in

and in Asian languages. For by being bi- or multilingual, scholars can do COml11l111ity research, and students, as future social service providers, can learn how to of}er more culturally sensitive services. In some Asian American courses, students have participated in community-based internships or learned to write funding proposals for projects that might help an Asian American constituency. Students arc encouraged to think critically not abollt the world around them but also to consider how that knowledge is generatcd, validated, or revised. Asian American studies faculty is very con­ cerned about doing research in a socially responsible way to address the needs of American communities. Faculty members frequently ask themselves, and teach their students to such pertinent questions as: For whom and far what purpose is this research being done? Who will benefit fi-om the findings and in what ways will they benefit?


From its inception, Asian American studies has sought to bridge the uni­ and the community and to link scholarship to action. Given the con­

text of the 1960s and the 1970s, when the United States saw heated about the Vietnal11 War, the civil rights movement, and the development of a counterculture, it is understandable that Asian American studies shou Id have


this concern. After ali, Asian American studies was formed out of the struggle by students and community members for more relevant education that could address the issues in Asian American communities. 15

Asian American studies courses can help students gain useful skills and develop a sense of social responsibility. But students can also acquire the same skills and sense of purpose by taking courses in social work, health sciences, criminology, education, sociology, political science, anthropology, and economics. At the present moment, many universities arc emphasizing voluntarism and service learning, the idea that students should learn to con­ tribute to their society. By engaging in such community activity, the students can earn credit from their colleges and universities. And by participating in such course work, educators hope to restore what many feel is an ebbing sense of civic mindedness and to instill a willingness to volunteer for the social good of the community.

When Asian American studies was formed in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a new frontier and a new field. Drawing from many disciplines, the pioneers advancing this field of study were collecting bibliographies, generating new syllabi, and researching topics about Asian Americans, which had received little attention in the past. Challenging institutional apathy, if not resistance, by colleges and universities that did not embrace a new field of study, Asian American studies was born out of struggle and adversity. But the determi­ nation and commitment of early Asian American activists and scholars achieved success after several decades. Today Asian American studies pro­ grams, departments, and courses are available on many university and college campuses. Students, whether undergraduate or graduate, can enroll in Asian American studies courses. Scholars and faculty in other disciplines can elect to research or focus on subjects that are related to Asian Americans. Their university and community libraries also contain books, reference works, and other materials that are specifically about Asian Americans. The very sllccess that Asian American studies attained has meant that tlle traditional disciplines have incorporated content about Asian Americans into their scholarship and instruction.

This acceptance of the validity of scholarship and instruction of Asian Americans as a legitimate subject for study and investigation has led other disciplines to focus their modes ofinquiry and methodologies on Asian Amer­ ican topics. In many cases, they have developed more specialized knowledge about Asian American communities. As an illustration, students in social work may take courses that acquaint them with pressing isslles with Southeast Asian Americans and how ro assist with community-sensitive and culturally appro­ priate modes of intervention. Or, to take another example, students in nurs­ ing, psychology, and the health sciences can draw upon research from medical





anthropolo!:,’Y and cross-cultural psychology that has been focused on Asian American populations. To extend this further, political science courses can offer detailed analyses of the political behavior of Asian Americans as com­ pared to other groups in the United States. Sociology courses can examine how Asian Americans are similar or different from other ethnic or racial groups in A~lerican society. They may even highlight the contrasting situa­ tions of Asian Americans in the continental United States with those who reside in the state of Hawaii.

The Asian American activists of the 1960s and 1970s deserve accolades f(x their determination and filfSightedness in laying the foundation for Asian American studies. The momentum achieved by the formation of Asian Amer­ ican studies programs and courses generated important scholarship, com­ munity activism, and a broad awareness about Asians in the United States. The success of Asian American studies has meant that its insights and 5chol­

has been broadly disseminated and recognized. The victory that was won has meant that many of the agendas and concerns of Asian American studies have now been incorporated into other disciplines. As a result, it is no longer the only field in colleges and universities that can share intormation and knowledge about Asian Americans. Service learning that involves Asian Americans is now more readily available in other fields of study, so that the service component that was associated with Asian American studies is no longer unique and distinctive.

Ulldoubtedly, taking Asian American studies courses can still help students to be more prepared fix life in a diverse, multicultural society. But students should also take courses to learn about other groups, such as African Amer­

Americans, Native Americans, and European Americans. An on one group to the exclusion of others can lead to ethnocen­

a bias in favor of one group over other groups. As American and universities become much more multiethnic in their composition,

students can become much more knowledgeable about their peers who are ofdiverse backgrounds. Atter all, mllch ora college education comes from outside the classroom when students engage in a dialogue with other stu­ dents. But it also raises the il1leresting issue of whether ethnic studies pro­ grams, American studies programs, or programs in comparative American cultures should be the primary foclls for universities and colleges. Instead of

studies, African American studies, Native American studies, and Chicano/Latino studies programs, perhaps there should be an

on multicultural, multiethnic programs that acknowledge the full and complexity of American Many disciplines give attention

to a broad range of racial and ethnic groups in the United States, unlike Asian American studies. which is primarily devoted to Asian American communities.



1. How fast is the Asian American population in the United States growing? As diversity in American society increases, what role can Asi.lI1 American studies

programs play? 2. Do specific ethnic programs like Asian American studies create rifts between

ethnic groups or create more Explain your answer and discuss the implications on students if they did not have an ethnic specific program.

3. The civil rights movement was the r()f much change. However, has the movement progressed? Has the education system remained true to the initial vision of the civil rights movement or has it sold ollt to silenl:c the kw who still

voice a desire for equality? 4. Students who major in Asian American studies will most likely be asked what

they can do with that major. How would you answer this question?

5. Is it necessary to learn about Asian American communities in the new millen­ nium? What are the advantages and disadvantages of taking courses on Asian American studies when interactine: with oeoDIe on a …..’r<…n~1 nrofessiol1aL and social leveH

6. What is Asian American studies and what is its focus?

7. How is the A~ian American population when compared with other ethnic groups in the United States? Which state has the greatest percentage of Asian Americans? Is this likely to be a trend with the other 49 states? Why or why

not? 8. How might A~ial1 American studies assume a gre,\ter significance because of

population changes in the United States? 9. How has Asian American studies expanded as a field of study since the 1960s

and 1970s1 10. What is the range of Asian groups in the United States that are included in

Asian American studies programs? Have been able to coverage in their courses to all these groups? Why or why not?

11. Should Asian American studies programs include coverage of Pacific Islanders

in their courses? Why or why not?

12. Immigrants often face difficulties initially in adjusting to lite in the United States. What differences or similarities were there for immigrants of European

ancestry and those of Asian ancestry?

13. Were the activist roots of Asian American studies beneficial to its ill1ll1igr:mt and ethnic constituencies? Has this led to Asian American studies ignoring or omitting important aspects of the Asian American experience? Explain.

14. Some critics have that Asian American studies has lost sight of its nal goals of he:ing closelv cOJlnected to vr~ssmob constituencies. Is that claim valid or not?

15. How might Asian American studies prepare students tor service in ethnic com­

munities and in the society?

16. Are students in other disciplines without exposure to Asian American studies



20 21


to be just as successful working with immigrant and ethnic groups? Dis- CllSS.


I. Eric Lai imd Del1nis Arguelles, The New Fllce ofAsia1~ Pacific AmeTica: NumbeTS, D£VCTSity I1nd Change in the 21st Century (San Francisco: AsianWeek, 2003), 206.

2. Ibid. 3. Bob Wing, “‘Educate to Liberate!’: Multiculturalism and the Struggle tor Eth­

nic Studies,” ColorLincs 2, no. 2 (1999). www.arc.orglC_Lines/CLAarchive/story2_ 2_01.html.

4. Third World forum, 5. Ibid., 1. 6. Black Panther Party, http://wv.’W.blackpanther.orgi. 7. American Indian Movement,

.ht1111. 8. “The Young Lords Party 13- Point Program and Platform,” The Sixties Project,

llttp:1I lists. village. virginia. edu! sixtieslHTML_ docs/Resources/Primary/Manifestosl Young_l.ords_platt()rm.btml.

9. Ibid., 1. 10. Eric Lai and Dennis Arguelles, “Introduction,” in 11,e Nelv Face a/Asian Pacific

Amerim, cd. Eric Lai and Dennis Arguelles (San Francisco: AsianWeek and UCLA Asian Allleric,m Studies Center, 2003), l.

I 1. Association t{)r Asicm American Studies, mcnt.html.

12. Amy Tadliki et aI., [toots: An Asian American Reader (Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1971 ).

l3. John M. Liu and Lucie Cheng, “A Dialogue on Race and Class: Asian American Studies and M~rxism,” in The Left Academy: Marxist Scholtlnhip on Americlm Cam­ puscs, Vol. 3, cd. BertcH OHman ami Edward Vernotr (New York: Praeger, 1986), 139-163.

14. Wing, “Educate to Liberate!” 15. K.aren Ume1110to, “‘On Strike!’ San Francisco State College Strike, 1968-69:

The Role of Asian American Students,” Amcrasil! Joztrnal1S (1989): 3-41.


Chang, M.J., and P. N. Kiang. “New Challenges of Representing Asian American Students in U.5. Higher Education.” In T71C Racial Crisis in American Higher Edttcatio1l: Continuing Challenges jor the TWeHtyjirst Century, cd. W. A.

P. G. Altbach, and K. Lomotey. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

Chang” Mitchell J. “Growing Pains.” jOl/mal ofAsian Amerimtt Studies (June 1999); 183-206.

Hirabayashi, L. R., and M. C. Alquizola. “Asian American Studies: Reevaluating for the 19905.” In The State of Asian America: Activism and Resistmue in the 1990s, ed. K..A.-S. Juan. Boston: South End Press, 1994.


Hsia, J., and M. Hirano-Nakanishi. “The Demographics of Diversity: Asian Americans and Higher Education.” Change, November/December 1989, 20-27.

Hune, S., and K. S. Chan. “Special FOCllS: Asian Pacific American Demographic and Educational Trends.” In Minorities i1~ Higher Education, cd. D. Carter and R. Wilson. Vol. 15,39-107. Washington, DC: American Council on Education,

1997. Kidder, William C. “Situating Asian Pacific Americans in the Law School Affirmative

Action Debate: Empirical Facts about Thernstrom’s lUletorical Acts.” Asiarl

Lmv JouY1Ial7, no. 29 (2000): 43. Lai, Eric, and Dennis Arguelles, cds. 11Je New Face ofAsian Pacific America: NumbcI’s,

Diversity & Change in the 2ht Century. San ¥rancisco: AsianWeek, 2003, 206. Liu, John M., and Lucie Cheng. “A Dialogue on Race and Class: Asian American

Studies and Marxism.” In The Lefi; Academy: MarxiJt Scholarsbip on American Campuses, ed. BertcH Ollman and Edward Vernoff. Vol. 3, 139-163. New York:

Praeger, 1986 . Orfield, G., and D. Whitla. “Diversity and Legal Education: Student Experiences in

Leading Law Schools.” In Diversity Challenged: Evidmce OIl the Impact ofAF firmative Action, cd. G. Orfield and M. Kurlaender. Cambridge, MA: Harvard

Education Publishing Group, 200l. Osajima, Keith. “Pedagogical Consideration in Asian American Studies.” jmtY1lal of

Asial1 American Studies (October 1998): 269-292. Suzuki, B. H. “Asians.” In Shaping Hilfher Educati011’S Fllt/lre: Demograpbic Realities

alld Opportunities, 1990-2000, ed. A. Levine. San francisco: Jossey- Bass, 1989. ___. “Revisiting the Model Minority Stereotype: Implications fc)r Student Afbirs

Practice and Higher Education.” In Working with Asian A mcricall College Stu­ dents, cd. Marylu K. McEwen, Corinne Maekawa Kodama, Alvin N. Alvarez, Sunny Lee, and Cbristopher T. H. Liang. New Directions f;x Student Services, no. 97, San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2002.

Tachiki, Amy, et al. Roots: An Asian Amerimn B.eaticr. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian

American Studies Center, 1971. Takagi, D. Y. Retreat from B.ace: Asial1-American Admissions ,md Racitll Politics. New

Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992. Takeda, Okiyoshi. “One Year after the Sit-in: Asian American Students’ Identities .mJ

Their Support for Asian American Studies,” journal ofAsian American Studies

4, no. 2 (2001): 147-164. Trueba, H., L. Cheng, and K. Ima. },-(l’th or Reality: Adaptive Stn1tc.!Jies oj’ Asian

Ame1’icam in Ct~lifbrnia. Washington, DC: ¥almer Press, 1993. Umemoto, Karen. ”’On Strike!’ San francisco State College Strike, 1968·-69: The

Role of Asian American Students,” Amerasia fournal15 (1989): 3-41. Wang, L. Ling-chi. “Asian American Studies.” Amerimn Q!tarterl), 33, no. 3 (1981):

339-354. Wing, Bob. “‘Educate to Liberate!’: Multiculturalism and the Struggle for Ethnic

Studies.” Culm’Lines 2, no. 2 (1999).!

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