Congrats Class of 2020!
Credit: Marcus DeMaio/Amherst College
Congratulations to the Class of 2020! While we are unable to celebrate your immense accomplishment in person for the time being, we are so in awe of the resilience, tenacity, and fortitude you have shown in reaching this milestone in the midst of a pandemic. We look forward to news of your successes and accomplishments and are glad to officially welcome you to the Asian alumni community!
Senior Theses of Note
Ariana Lee '20, History
From Fu Manchu to Crazy Rich Asians: A History of Protesting Asian American Representation in Film and Theater
Asian Americans have historically been portrayed in mainstream film and theater as the "nerdy" emasculated male, the evil and menacing villain, or the hypersexual and exotic female. However, recent releases such as "Crazy Rich Asians" and "The Farewell" starring Asian Americans in lead roles have made waves in Hollywood and received critical acclaim for destroying traditional stereotypes of Asian Americans. This thesis examines the movements from the 1960s onward and spearheaded by Asian Americans that protested historically problematic depictions. Throughout these movements, Asian Americans used their own agency to create narratives that reflected the nuances of their Asian American experience and were capable of mobilizing communities to demonstrate that Asian American voices and stories could achieve commercial success. The three movements examined in this thesis include the Asian American independent filmmaking movement, the protests against the Broadway musical "Miss Saigon" and its use of yellowface in the 1990s, and recent hashtag movements on Twitter. By protesting, Asian Americans broke away from the perception that they were the "docile" and "assimilated" model minority. Instead, Asian Americans redefined notions of their experience and challenged pre-existing stereotypes that allowed their representations on screen to transform from Fu Manchu-like characters to the empowering and multi-dimensional characterizations in "Crazy Rich Asians", "The Farewell", and other recent films.
Emily Ye '20, Psychology
Remodeling the Myth: Intergenerational Perceptions of the Model Minority Stereotype Among Asian Americans
The model minority stereotype (MMS) is a pervasive belief that Asian Americans have stronger work ethics (myth of achievement orientation) and do not face barriers to upward social mobility (myth of unrestricted mobility) compared to other minority groups. The internalization of the MMS has been linked to mental health issues and lower levels of help-seeking attitudes among Asian American youth. However, very little research has been conducted on intergenerational differences in perceptions of the MMS. This thesis aims to investigate intergenerational differences among Asian Americans in internalization of the MMS, self-awareness as perpetual foreigners, and levels of acculturation and enculturation. While acculturation refers to adapting to the newer host country’s culture, enculturation refers to retaining the heritage culture. A quantitative survey of 182 Asian Americans found that, compared to 1.5- and second-generation respondents, first- generation immigrants were significantly more likely to internalize the myth of achievement orientation, enculturate, and have proficiency in their heritage culture’s language. First-generation immigrants were also significantly less likely to internalize the myth of unrestricted mobility, acculturate to American society, and have confidence in their English proficiency compared to second-generation Asian Americans. Additionally, generational status provided significant explanatory power in predicting the myths of achievement orientation and unrestricted mobility. Supplemental interviews among 1.5- and second-generation Asian American college students (N = 6) revealed diverse opinions about the MMS and provided nuanced explanations for the survey results. Overall, this thesis provides evidence for generational trends in changing perceptions of the MMS. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of measuring and accounting for generational status in social science research on Asian Americans. Additional implications of this thesis for future research are discussed.
Olivia Zheng '20, American Studies
Living the Broken Dream: Gender, Generation, and Class in Asian American Immigration Family Mobilities
Given the trope of Asian American upward mobility, how do Asian American families actually experience the concepts of social mobility and the American Dream in their lives? My thesis takes an interdisciplinary approach by utilizing oral history interviews with my mother, ethnographic research with second generation immigrant daughters at Amherst, and auto-ethnography to highlight the lived experiences of Chinese American women in immigrant families. I find that while migration is closely tied to pursuits of the American Dream, actual experiences of social mobility are much more complicated than the image painted by statistical trends of upward mobility among Asian Americans. Gender, generation, and class deeply shaped the lived experiences of immigrant families in my thesis, impacting their access to the American Dream as well as what additional challenges they faced in the United States, such as family separation. The Chinese American daughters in my thesis struggled to reconcile their understandings of the American Dream as broken with their parents' perspectives on life in the US. Ultimately, daughters took on the burden of carrying their parents' complicated emotions resulting from migration.
Shawna Chen '20, English
Threading Ambivalence: In, Through, and Across Asian American Lives
What drives the subject formation of second-generation Asian Americans? How do loss and trauma shape their psyche? Ambivalence is so often seen as indecision, but for second-gen Asian Americans, it can be a striking claim of ownership over their space of in-between: in between countries, in between cultures, in between languages, in between races, in between binaries of choice. This thesis traces ambivalence in Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and Weike Wang’s Chemistry, interweaving literary analysis with sociological perspective and personal writing to develop ambivalence as a structure of feeling for second-gen Asian American lives.
We hosted a virtual senior symposium on June 14th, during which Shawna, Ariana, Emily, and Olivia each presented their senior thesis research followed by a discussion moderated by Joon Kim '18. To watch a recording of the symposium, click here!
Reflections on Learning, Distance, and Bias
Biddy Martin, April 3, 2020
"As you know, close colloquy between faculty and students is Amherst’s signature. We are feeling the loss of one another’s presence and we will continue to feel it for some time to come. Nonetheless, our faculty, staff, and students have made a remarkable shift from on-campus to remote education. Students reported relief on the first day of classes after spring break at seeing and interacting with their professors and friends. Faculty members have developed engaging ways of teaching and supporting student learning for the second half of this spring semester, aided by a remarkable staff in Information Technology, the Center for Teaching and Learning, and many other offices. We know the shift has been difficult in a variety of ways, but the short survey we sent to faculty at the end of week one suggests that the technology is working well and that faculty, staff, and students have been resilient, creative, and intrepid. I have no doubt that we will learn from this unbidden experience, both about the uses of online tools and about why residential education and our physical presence to one another matter." Read more here.
Make Solidarity Go Viral
Jessica Jeong '20, Tara Guo '20, and Quinn Kim '20 launched Instagram page #MAKESOLIDARITYGOVIRAL this past spring. They "created this social media campaign in order to provide a template for others to express their support for marginalized communities during this traumatic time of COVID-19." Alumni are welcome to participate! Look for their FAQ for more information.Their project can be accessed here.
CSA Anti-Asian Discrimination Project
In response to increasing incidents of anti-Asian bias and harassment in Amherst and across the country, Amherst's Chinese Student Association has sought to highlight the effects of this racism on members of the community. Their video features Amherst faculty and staff offering their perspectives on the surge in anti-Asian racism and their support of our Asian and Asian American students. Thank you to the students, faculty, and staff who took part in this effort, especially during such a difficult time.
Incidents of Anti-Asian Racism in Amherst
Jiajia Zhang '22 reports on three incidents of anti-Asian racism she experienced in the town of Amherst since the outbreak of COVID-19. These incidents have been reported to police and the administration.
My name is Jiajia, I'm a co-chair of the Asian American Studies Working Group, and I petitioned to stay on campus for the duration of Spring semester. During that time, I reported three racially motivated incidents, detailed below:
1. College Street near Dunkin Donuts on May 2nd around 3 pm.
I was walking back from Dunkin Donuts to Moore on College Street after grabbing one of their new iced matchas. Two boys in a white pickup truck drove by in the lane closest to me. Both looked to be in their early twenties, maybe slightly older than me. Neither was wearing a mask. The one in the passenger seat stuck his head out of the window and shouted something that ended in what I believed was "corona" (I heard "orona"). They both laughed and kept driving.
2. CVS nearest to campus (inside and outside the store) on May 10th around 9 or 10pm.
I was grabbing a bag of chips on a metal stand near the freezer. I barely noticed the man and woman also standing near the freezer as I was focused on choosing a snack and getting back to my art. Both individuals involved in this incident seemed to be in their early twenties. Again, neither was wearing a mask. First, the woman yelled, "Six feet, bitch!" This took me by complete surprise, but I looked up at her while turning around to walk away and said, "What?" or some other verbal expression of confusion. She continued yelling, "Six feet apart, bitch!" followed by a number of expletives, while approaching me. I remember her words really offending me at the time, but I cannot recall the exact expletives she used. I said to her very calmly, "I was just grabbing some chips. Plus, you guys aren't six feet apart." This set her off, and she yelled something indicating that the two of them were together (don't remember the exact wording but the language was harsh) and then came after me calling me the n-word (she is Caucasian) and trying to knock the bag of chips out of my hands. As I recall, she hit the bag of chips, but her partner restrained her before she could hit me. She continued yelling expletives while I stood in the same aisle and she walked all around CVS. After they checked out and left CVS, I told the cashier about the incident, and she suggested that I call the police. When I left CVS, they were both sitting on the bench right outside the store, and she stood up as soon as she saw me, but her partner grabbed her by the waist again and held her back. I went next door to Miss Saigon to pick up a smoothie I had ordered, and as I waited for the smoothie I saw that she kept standing up and attempting to walk towards me while her partner held her down time and time again. After I got the smoothie, I turned around to walk back to campus, and seeing that they had both sat back down and weren't paying attention, I proceeded to walk past them on the sidewalk. But she noticed me, stood up and advanced in front of me to block my path without saying anything. I said, "Excuse me?" and she still didn't move, so then I said, "Six feet apart, like you said" and tried to walk around her, but she shifted and again tried to hit me. Again, her boyfriend came and grabbed her. I don't remember exactly what she yelled at me, or what physically transpired in this moment (she never actually hit me, although she kept trying; I just don't remember exactly what she did with her arms because no matter how hard I try I can't seem to remember the exact details of the two most traumatic parts of this experience) but I do remember her calling me "ugly ass bitch" and saying something about me not belonging here or getting out (one of those "go back to your country" type of comments but not exactly that) and her partner saying, "Why do you keep trying to provoke her? You're lucky. If I wasn't here, she would take you out." I then got pretty angry and told her to get out of my country (a default thing I've been saying when people say something racist/sinophobic to me) as I walked away and called the police.
3. College street near Valentine around 8pm.
I was walking back to my dorm from CVS again after picking up medicine when a bright, orange-ish red SUV-type vehicle drove by me on the lane nearest to me in the direction of Dunkin Donuts and Mom's House. It had two women in it. The passenger yelled something at me which ended in, "Get out of here, bitch!" and both women laughed very loudly. I was shocked for a second and then again responded by telling them to get out of my country, but they had already driven off and were too far for me to see their license plate.
In addition to these personal incidents, I also heard that other students experienced incidents of verbal harassment in town, although I did not have an opportunity to discuss these incidents with them. Beyond anti-Asian incidents directed at individuals, I have also been acutely aware of the dramatic decrease in business in many of the usually popular Asian restaurants in town. By contrast, non-Asian restaurants including Pasta E Basta, Antonio's, The Works, Bueno y Sano, and La Vera Cruzana continue to be busy and sometimes even have a line of customers outside. In response to this, I spent some of my time in quarantine creating a digital photo book/project attempting to humanize these Asian businesses in town.
Screenshot from our April 26th Town Hall Meeting
To promote connectivity and togetherness during these challenging times, we are hosting a series of virtual events open to students, alumni, and friends. We hope this series will lead to engaging discussions, learning, and above all, a closer-knit community.
We kicked off this series on Sunday, April 26th, with a Town Hall-style meeting to introduce ourselves to the AAAN community by sharing our backstory, what we have accomplished over the past two years, and what we hope to accomplish moving forward. This meeting was also an opportunity to hear directly from community members about their ideas for the AAAN, and how it can better serve the College and this community. Approximately 40 people attended the meeting. Among them were Professor Robert Hayashi, Professor Franklin Odo, current Amherst students, and alumni from across the country. A full meeting recap can been found here.
Bethany Li, '03, Director and Senior Attorney
Legal Advocacy Work in the Asian American Community
with Bethany Li '03 and Nancy Tang '14
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Our second event in the series was a moderated Q&A on Legal Advocacy Work in the Asian American Community with Senior Attorney Bethany Li ‘03 and Attorney Fellow Nancy Tang ‘14 of the Asian Outreach Unit (AOU) of Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS).
The AOU uses a community lawyering model to serve the legal needs of Asian Americans by strengthening the impact of community organizing through direct legal services, advocacy and legislative campaigns, and impact litigation.
The discussion touched on issues of immigration, Affirmative Action, and legal advocacy in the Asian American community. Amongst many critical legal servies provided by Ms. Li and Ms. Tang, they both fight deportation in the Southeast Asian community. Recently, they successfully brought back the first Cambodian deportee to the East Coast.
Virtual Event Series
Nancy Tang, '14, Attorney Fellow
Author Talk with Professor Pawan Dhingra
Wednesday May 20, 2020
We held a conversation with Amherst College American Studies Professor Pawan Dhingra regarding his newest book, Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough.
In Hyper Education, Professor Dhingra uncovers the growing world of high-achievement education and both the after-school learning centers and academic competitions that it has spawned for children. Immigrant families vie with other Americans to be at the head of the class, often putting in extra studying beyond normal schoolwork. This is a growing trend in our COVID-19 moment. But can there be too much education, and how should families balance the desire to be competitive without burning out?
Through intensive fieldwork over approximately ten years, Professor Dhingra shares with our group how culture, morality, and survival mindsets affect foundational modes of learning for children and how families should move forward. To view our conversation, check out our video!
Anti-Asian Racism in the Time of COVID-19 with Professors Robert Hayashi and Franklin Odo
Thursday, May 28, 2020
Amherst College Professors Robert Hayashi and Franklin Odo moderated a discussion on the pathologization of anti-Asian racism in our current moment.
This discussion considered the normalization of xenophobic terms like "Chinese virus" and "Wuhan virus" by media outlets and public figures as well as the numerous reports of attacks, beatings, and bullying around the world. By calling attention to the increase in racism experienced by Asian Americans and diasporic Asian, this discussion sought to contextualize our current moment within a much longer history of racism and discrimination directed toward Asian people and marginalized communities. This event also considered allyship, inequality, and anti-Blackness in our communities. To view our conversation, check out our video!
Credit: Steven Senne/AP
Thursday, June 11, 2020
The AAAN stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the movements for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other victims of police brutality and white supremacy. We support folks on the front lines and those committed to this fight. In light of these recent events, and in the effort to educate ourselves on these issues, as well as addressing and renouncing the ongoing racism and violence that the Black community is facing, we hosted a discussion about allyship and anti-Black racism. This virtual discussion provided a space for alumni to collectively discuss and organize in reflection and solidarity. We did not record this event due to the sensitivity of the topic and the structure of the discussion.
Credit: Jama Abdirahman/The Seattle Globalist
AAPI STUDIES @ AMHERST: FALL 2020 COURSES
Pawan H. Dhingra, Professor of American Studies
AMST-204: The Asian American Experience
How do race, immigration, and the state not only shape people’s access to resources but also delimit who belongs to the nation, self-conceptions, and personal relationships? How can ethnic minorities at times be “out-whiting whites” but still be denied full citizenship by the state? What does it mean to grow up within a culture but never fully identify with it? We will answer these questions and more by examining Asian Americans' efforts for belonging and social justice as full members of the United States. Substantive topics include how race, gender, sexuality, and class intersect to influence life chances; immigration laws and trends; how people form ethnic and racial identities while becoming “good Americans”; educational experiences of youth and so-called “Tiger parents”; how family and relationship formations are shaped by race and immigration; media portrayals; inter-minority solidarities and tensions.
Franklin Odo, John J. McCloy '16 Visiting Professor of American Institutions and International Diplomacy, and Wendy H. Bergoffen, Lecturer in American Studies
AMST-345, SOCI-345: Model Minorities: Jewish and Asian Americans
The United States has long struggled with challenges created by the need to absorb ethnic and racial minorities. In the face of seemingly intractable problems, one solution has been to designate a “model minority,” which then appears to divert attention from the society at large. Earlier in the twentieth century, Jewish Americans played this role; today, Asian Americans are the focus. This course examines specific instances in which Jewish Americans and Asian Americans both embraced and rejected the model minority stereotype. Course units will also examine the underside of the model minority stereotype, quotas imposed to limit access to education and employment as well as social and legal actions taken in response to such restrictions. The course will feature a range of materials, including plays, fiction, journalism, and visual works. Students will read scholarship in the fields of American Studies, Sociology, History, and Critical Race Studies.
Franklin Odo, John J. McCloy '16 Visiting Professor of American Institutions and International Diplomacy
AMST-372: Asian American History: Key Turning Points
This seminar examines six major events that fundamentally impacted the history of Asians in the United States. Several of them involved egregious actions by the US government that prompted official apologies from later administrations, the only such cases in American history: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, and the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans in 1942. The others events include Asian Americans and the Cold War, the Asian American Movement of the 1960s and 70s, and the Model Minority Paradigm from the 1960s to the present. Throughout, this seminar examines the ways in which memory is made or obscured and the ways in which public history institutions, especially the important national agencies, including the Smithsonian, the National Park Service, Library of Congress, and the National Archives along with documentaries, historic landmarks, and websites, have played a role in public understandings of the events included in this course.
Lili M. Kim, Center for Humanistic Inquiry Fellow and Visiting Lecturer in History
AMST-380: Women of Color and the Emergence of U.S. Third World Feminist Left
This research seminar investigates the active role taken by Asian American women and other women of color in the emergence of the U.S. Third World Feminist Left during the 1960s and 1970s. This movement saw ending imperialism and colonialism as a necessary part of their fight against racism, sexism, and capitalism in the United States and beyond and drew inspiration from Third World feminism and decolonization activities. Third World feminism posits that women's activisms in the Third World do not originate from the ideologies of the First World and specifically centers Third World women's radicalism in their local/national contexts and struggles. Organizations such as the Third World Women’s Alliance (TWWA) in New York City, which grew out of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), brought together Black, Puerto Rican, and Asian American women in the socialist fight to end imperialism, sexism, capitalism, and racism. The images of revolutionary Third World women engaged in anti-colonial struggles in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, especially during the Vietnam War era, inspired U.S.-based feminists of color and helped them embrace leftist Third World solidarity politics. Students will utilize the rich archival sources found in the Sophia Smith Collection (TWWA records, Miriam Ching Yoon Louie papers, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum papers) as well as the Triple Jeopardy newspapers found in the Marshall I.
Asian Americans have been present in this country for so long, and yet they remain invisible in our curriculum. College is often the first time students can take ethnic studies courses. For many Asian Americans, college presents an opportunity to learn about themselves and their history for the first time. Amherst prides itself on its open curriculum that allows students to shape their own education and intellectual growth. Establishing an Asian American Studies program at Amherst reaffirms students that the College not only values a diverse curriculum but also supports a diverse student body.
-Emily Ye '20