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Asian American Studies

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We are interested in how second-generation Asian American students at the University of Illinois feel about being Asian American, particularly those who are not of Chinese, Korean, Filipino or Japanese descent. In other words, we are focusing on students whose background ethnicity represents Southeast Asian (Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian, Indonesian) and South Asian (Indian, Bengali, Pakistani) and so forth. We want to explore how various Asian ethnic groups identify socially and culturally with the term Asian American. We asked for written responses from Asian American students, who have these background ethnicities, to describe in their own words what being Asian American means to them. In addition, we walked around campus and interviewed several second-generation Asian Americans. In their explanations, we encouraged the students to explain if it was a struggle growing up in America, whether they have ever been a victim to stereotypes or discrimination and how they have dealt with it. We took these statements and compared them to the stereotypes placed immigrants of the 1900s. In addition to the interviews, we analyzed our finding with an article published by Jerry Park of Baylor University titled, “Second-Generation Asian American Pan-Ethnic Identify: Pluralized Meaning of a Racial Label” who did a similar study in four public universities, along with other readings from class.
The term, Asian American, was formed as a significant symbolic move in constructing an ethnic identity for the pan-Asian community in the 1960s (Espiritu, 33). The term was created to identify the majority of Asian American immigrants, mainly Japanese, Chinese and Pilipino (Espiritu, 32-33). The beginning waves of Asian immigration in America stared in the mid-1800s to early-1900s, of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Filipino and Korean descent (Hing, 28-50). These immigrants were used for hard labor in the West. With conflicts on the horizon, the Asian American population would endure hardship, discrimination, exclusion laws, deportation and more. The second big wave of Asians in America came after the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965, elimination racial language and discrimination from immigration quotas ( With this second wave, a more diverse group of Southeast Asians came to America. The Immigration Act of 1990s increase the number of Asians coming into the US by raising total quota and implementing a system of preference for certain professional groups ( With these preferences, Asians with specialties in medicine, high technology or a prestigious education were able to enter the Unites States more easily. From 1990 to 2009, the number of Asian immigrants has more than doubled to 10.6 million (Batalova). Since the term, Asian American, was established, the post-1960s immigration waves have increasingly diversified the Asian American community. With this diversity, perceptions of the model minority and second-generation Asian American experiences have significantly changed in the last 50 years. As Park points out, “the term’s original meaning as a racial political identity has diversified into a plurality of meanings.” We see how Asian American sometimes does not fit second-generation college students during our interviews. We used Omi Winant’s description of racial projects to set out our goal: with these interviews our group seeks to “connect what race means in a particular discursive practice and the ways in which both social structures and everyday experiences are racially organized,” for second-generation college Asian Americans (Winant, 56). Through our interviews, we found that two racial stereotypes have been placed upon them. First, those from South Asian countries say that they are not a part of the Asian American community because they are not from East Asia. As we have learned in class, South Asians share similar histories and hardships that come with being Asian American. Second, second-generation Asian Americans feel targeted for racial jokes about education and are held to a certain standard to be smart and obedient. The students who are placed with Asian American stereotypes might feel misrepresented as an Asian American or their country of origin. The 1960s model minority stereotype of the East Asian community does not accurately represent second-generation Asian American students. A common response during our interviews was that students felt like they were racially stereotyped as being smart. We know that these stereotypes stem from immigration laws of highly skilled workers in the late 1900s. Not only does this leave out working-class and impoverished Asian Americans, but it also puts an unrealistic expectation on middle-class Asian American students. Second-generation Asian American students have grown up with the association of this stereotype and the term, Asian American. Jerry Park suggests that in today’s society, being “Asian American” overrides the structural advantages one might have. If an Asian American is of the working class, they are expected to rise above their social class because they are stereotyped as being smart and hard working. Similarly, a Taiwanese girl we interviewed said that in school projects, she is always the one left with all of work because her group members think she is smart and hard working. It is in situations like these, where the term, Asian American, is a misrepresentation of its’ true social and cultural meaning. Through our findings, we suggest that the 1960s definition the term, Asian American, does not correctly represent second-generation South Asian Americans today. In the article by Nazli Kibria, she argues that persons of South Asian origin in the United States have an ambiguous racial identity, but also feel a sense of connection to the pan-Asian movement of the 1960s. Kabria, along with the students we interviewed, do not feel a true identity in the Asian American community, predominantly made up of East Asians, because of their phenotype differences (Kibria, 82). Kibria suggests pan-ethnicity in Espiritu’s “Asian American Pan-Ethnicity” is racial lumping, and that the geographic location of South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia does not represent the many different cultures and histories of these ethnicities. A conversation needs to spark among the Asian American community about the term, Asian American, and if it fits in today’s Asian American diversity. This ambiguous term does not only affect students at the University of Illinois. Jerry Park conducted a similar research study using second-generation Asian American student leaders in four public universities. He found that the students of these public Universities “emphasized the racialized otherness of being ‘Asian American’ and … the cultural diversity within this racial label” (Park, 1). Our research, along with Park’s, suggests a movement for a new representation of the diverse Asian Americans in the United States. In order to facilitate these differences in cultures, we suggest that Asian Americans use their country of origin as a better representation of their culture than the term, Asian American. The process of bringing this project together was difficult with the time constraint placed upon a four-week class. Aliyea and Vik conducted the interviews, emailing numerous University of Illinois students for an interview and walking around campus for interviews. Even though we were turned down numerous times for an interviews, we continued our search. Our group met together as a whole and Thomas decided to lead the class presentation and activity. Vik and Aliyea wrote the paper and edited the video that will be shown during class. We worked very well as a team, regularly emailing and contacting one another. We also took this time together for regular group discussions about the topic and to share our individual experiences with each other.

Bill Ong Hing, “The Undesirable Asian,” Defining America through Immigration Policy (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004), 28-50.
"Immigration Act of 1990." U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. U.S. Governmet of Homeland Security, n.d. Web. 3 June 2013. < 4176543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=84ff95c4f635f010VgnVCM1000000ecd190aRCR D&vgnextchannel=b328194d3e88d010VgnVCM10000048f3d6a1RCRD>.
Kabria, Nazli. "Not Asian Black or White? Reflections on South Asian American Racial Identity." AMERASIA JOURNAL 222 (1996):77-86 (1996): 77`-86. Print.

Keith Osajima (2000) “Asian Americans as the Model Minority: An Analysis of the Popular Press Image in the 1960s and 1980s” in Contemporary Asian America: A Multidisciplinary Reader. New York: New York University Press. Edited by Zhou, Min, and James Gatewood, 449-458.
Michael Omi and Howard Winant, (1994) “Racial Formation,” Racial Formation in the 
 United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge, 53-76.
Park, Jerry Z. Sociological Perspectives. N.p.: n.p., 2008. Print. Vol. 51 of Second- Generation Asian American Pan-Ethnic Identity: Pluralized Meanings of a Racial Label. 3 vols.
"The Immigration Act of 1965." N.p., 3 Apr. 2008. Web. 3 June 2013. < english/2008/April/20080423214226eaifas0.9637982.html>.
Zhu, Karin. "What Does It Mean to Be Asian American." What Does It Mean to Be Asian American | The Cornell Daily Sun. Cornell Daily Sun, 22 Feb. 2012. Web. 04 June 2013. <>.

* Introduction (Thomas)
What does the term, Asian American, mean in today’s society? Does it fit everyone?

Some people do not feel that they are American because of the racial stereotypes places upon them.

Think of your Asian American peers.

We interviewed second generation Asian Americans on this topic. Before we begin, we would like to know what you think their reaction was to the 1960s term, Asian American? Does that fit in with the 21st century?

* Video * Analysis (Vik) * How does this fit into the greater picture? (Aliyea)

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