Open Letter: Reappropriate Supports the Asian American Studies Working Group at Duke University

Duke University Chapel (Photo credit: Flickr / David Ho)

For several years, students at Duke University have been working tirelessly to implement an Asian American Studies Program for students. The campus, which includes an undergraduate population that is nearly 30% Asian American or Pacific Islander, still does not offer an Asian American Studies major.

Student activists have repeatedly petitioned that the administration do something to address campus climate with regard to Asian American students. The hostile on-campus environment for Asian American students was demonstrated in 2013 when a fraternity, Kappa Sigma, held an anti-Asian themed party which included a really racist publicity email and party-goers dressed in geisha-gear, coolie hats, and other forms of costumed yellowface.

Since 2013 (and indeed, since much earlier), Asian American students at Duke have pointed out that an Asian American Studies program and major would go a long way towards addressing a campus climate that would allow a frat to organize a racist, anti-Asian costume party in the first place.

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900+ Asian American Studies Scholars Issue Collective Statement Decrying Trump’s Proposed Muslim Registry

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Over 900 Asian American Studies scholars from across the United States issued a joint statement today decrying President-Elect Donald Trump’s proposal to create a national registry of Muslims and Muslim Americans.

Trump has repeatedly said that as president he would institute aggressive measures to limit immigration of Muslims into the country and to place Muslims currently within the United States’ borders under close scrutiny. He has promised to halt the entry of Syrian refugees and to also ban immigration from a number of countries — including Pakistan and the Philippines — with large Muslim populations. He is quoted as suggesting the creation of a national database of Muslim and Muslim Americans — a proposal that is likely unconstitutional — and he staffed his White House transition team with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of the highly controversial NSEERS registry system which was used to monitor the movement of Muslim immigrants under George W. Bush and the first half of the Obama administration.

Earlier this month, Trump surrogate Carl Higbie went on Fox News to defend Trump’s alarming proposals to register Muslims and Muslims Americans. In an appearance on The Kelly File, Higbie suggested that Trump’s proposal for a national Muslim registry has legal precedent: Japanese American incarceration during World War II (for a note on language, see JACL’s Power of Words handbook).

It should come as no surprise that Asian American Studies scholars have something to say about that dubious line of reasoning.

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It’s Time to Step The F*ck Up for Asian American Studies | #WeNeedAAPIStudies

Students at Northwestern launch a 23-day hunger strike for creation of an Asian American Studies Program in April 12, 1995. (Photo credit: Daily Northwestern)
Students at Northwestern launch a 23-day hunger strike for creation of an Asian American Studies Program in April 12, 1995. As of 2015, Northwestern University still lacks an Asian American Studies major. (Photo credit: Daily Northwestern / Vincent LaForest)

I would not be who I am without Asian American Studies. This blog would not exist without Cornell’s Asian American Studies Program.

I can trace my genesis as an Asian American activist, writer, and intersectional feminist to one class: Introduction to Asian American History, a class I took in 2002 and which was being taught for the first time by the newly-recruited Professor Derek Chang.

By the time I enrolled for Professor Chang’s history class, I had already become politically aware as an Asian American. I was already a member of Asian Pacific Americans for Action, our school’s on-campus Asian American political student group. I was already aware of anti-Asian racism and gendered violence, and angry as heck about it.

What I lacked was a researched foundation for that anger, a considered self-awareness of our intersections, or a broader context within which I might situate my identity as a contemporary Asian American woman. These are the things that Professor Chang’s class in Asian American History (and later, Introduction to Asian American Studies) gave to me; and, these are all things that continue to inform my writing and activism today.

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Where I’ve been for the last 2 weeks: campus & radio appearances!

Me and the staff of UC Berkeley's Hardboiled!
Me and the staff of UC Berkeley’s Hardboiled!

Regular readers of this blog might have noticed that I’ve been seriously M.I.A. for the past two weeks. For the first week, I was attending a conference in California where I snapped this picture of a nearby state beach; for the second week, I was so busy upon my return that I didn’t even have time to check my (work) email, let alone my blog email or to write blog posts.

There’s a ton of stuff I’ve missed, and I apologize to all of you for leaving you in the lurch like that (I need an intern!). But, during the past two weeks, I did have a chance to do several media and on-campus appearances, which I’d like to tell you guys about!

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10 examples of #AAPI’s rich history of resistance

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The Asian American Movement: protesters protest police brutality and racial profiling during the 1970’s (photo credit: Corky Lee). For a far better description of this photo and associated protests than I could provide, please read the fantastic comment from Gavin Huang in the comments section immediately following this post, as well as his post on the subject here.

In the wake of the #AsianPrivilege response hash-tag to #NotYourAsianSidekick and #BlackPowerYellowPeril, it appears as if (among other misguided ideas) there is a prevailing notion out there that, in contrast to other minorities, Asian Americans “lack a history of resistance” (or that we think we do), and that this invisibility and dearth of civil rights history actually confers upon the Asian American community a form of racial privilege.

Putting aside the second half of that assertion regarding privilege for a minute, there’s one other major problem: any argument that relies upon the assumption that Asian Americans lack a history of resistance is patently ahistorical.

Like really, really, really wrong. Like insultingly wrong.

After the jump, here are 10 examples of Asian American’s history of oppression and political resistance.

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