Pacific Ties asked graduate students who are majoring in Asian American Sutides to talk about why they chose the major, what their research interests are, and what they hope to gain from the field. Below are the responses.
Ger Xiong; 1st year
Asian American Studies has provided me interdisciplinary analytical lenses to explore the historical and cultural experiences of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States. I chose the program because of its exciting and dynamic community of students and scholars who are committed to student empowerment. Moreover, I saw that the program’s astounding history of activism, innovation and interdisciplinary research could advance my research interests and learning experience. The program has been an amazing phenomenon and it is an utmost privilege to be a part of it. The faculty as really challenged us to deepen our talents, to think critically, and analyze laws not only from a theoretical perspective but also from the perspective of ethnic communities affected by them.
My research interests revolve around examining reproduction control among underprivileged and marginalized communities. I am interested in examining reproduction control within the Southeast Asian community—in particular the Hmong, who have very high rates of fertility in the United States. I want to look at how reproductive sterilization affects Hmong women’s notion of motherhood, gender identity and sexuality. I desire to conduct qualitative research that asks questions about contemporary reproduction injustices, to systematically investigate institutions that envelop them, and to understand how and why its mundane control has persisted underneath the public eye.
Through the Asian American Studies MA program at UCLA, I seek to engage in extensive learning and fieldwork that will cultivate my intellectual growth to become an Asian American Studies scholar, and ultimately a professor. My career goal to become a university professor reflects my inspiration for student learning. I believe it is at the university level that academics can uplift spirits and political consciousness of our youths—to power student to think critically, to ask relevant questions, and to organize and collaborate on solving difficult problems in our society.
Daisy Kim; 2nd year
I am a Bruin for Life, having completed my BA majoring in Women’s Studies and minoring in Public Policy. Immediately after receiving my undergraduate diploma, I parted ways with my background in non-profits and joined the corporate world at a large-scale pharmaceutical device company. As I settled into the corporate world structure and what it entailed, I realized that everything I learned of in my interdisciplinary undergraduate courses was playing out in the real world in front of my eyes: transnational flows of capital, geopolitical negotiations and its impact on policies that affect people of color, genders, and the various socioeconomic classes disproportionately became evident beyond reams of paper. It was a mild awakening, but it was enough to have me leave my job and apply for graduate school to explore the systematic structures more critically.
I ultimately settled on UCLA’s Asian American Studies program because it was the top program of its kind in the nation and had an extensive list of faculty members that I would want to work with. More importantly, it encouraged students to engage with and build upon resources outside the classroom and with community organizations and under-represented/under-served populations.
I entered the program wanting to focus my thesis projeect on the issue of the high percentage of uninsured and underinsured API communities and their alternative, transnational ways of accessing and negotiating for healthcare access outside of the U.S. From literature-based courses to studying adolescent psychology and mental health, I have been exploring widely in theory and in practice. My thesis project has made a sharp turn and I’m now examining Asian pop cultural crossovers (KPop) and its impact on existing and emerging Asian American (sub)cultures and the negotiations of transnational space and capital.
If my divergence can explain anything about the program, it is that students will be welcomed to explore various areas of research within Ethnic Studies, Cultural Studies, Transnational/Global Studies, and American Studies. I recently completed and returned from an internship program at a U.S. Embassy abroad and have yet to decide what I will be doing after completing the M.A. program later this year. most likely, I will be working on a research project or a career track that focuses on transnational geopolitics and trying to uncover ways to minimize the disparities and exploitations that often occur as a result.
Sophia Cheng; 1st year
Asian American Studies was my undergraduate major at Pomona College and now I’m at UCLA continuing my studies in the MA program! As an undergraduate, I originally wanted to study English or Philosophy—English because I like stories and Philosophy because I like to think about the Big Picture. I had never heard of Asian American Studies, or any Ethnic Studies, but I found that Asian American Studies is actually an ideal space to combine stories with “big picture” analysis. You link the experiences of your family and friends to a “big picture” view of immigration, labor, trade, and war. you understand how policy and large institutions affect your daily life—and at the same time, you learn our community’s history of struggle to challenge, and build alternatives, to these institutions.
After college, I worked at the Los Angeles Unified School District, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and Southeast Asian Community Alliance. I returned to school to learn more about policy and regulatory processes affecting immigrant communities, like housing and jobs, and also to gain stronger research skills. My research is on the intersection of economic and environmental just organizing. As a case study, I’m looking at urban redevelopment in Los Angeles Chinatown and Lincoln Heights.
So far I’m very happy with the flexibility and support that the MA program offers. The cohort is small (our year has nine students), and my classmates and I support each other on basic things, from how to write a CV to more complex situations, like how to balance personal relationships and school.
After I finish the program in 2013, I would like to work for a community-based organization or worker center, and also teach at a community college or CSU. To anyone who is considering Asian American studies for undergraduate or graduate school — I say go for it! Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies are unique because they were founded through student activism, with a commitment to social justice. UCLA has one of the top departments in the nation, and it’s important not only to take advantage of this resource, but to also push its sustained commitment to student activism and socially relevant teaching and research.
by Deanna Hoang-Yen Tran
Labs. Science Classes. Research opportunities. Layhannara Tep came into UCLA as a “hardcore” biology major, as some students would call it, taking on the whole stereotypical pre-med package. However, she was confronted with that realization that the path she had set out on was not a path that she had chosen for herself. Shewasn’t happy and this reflected in her grades.
Like Tep, many students feel indebted to their parents. They fed us. They raised us. They taught us. They put so much into our well-being, and it’s only right for us to pay it back in some way. Many times we find ourselves making our decision based on this mindset, yet it calls into question the decisions that we want to make.
Conflicted with the wish to fulfill her parent’s or her own wishes, Tep found guidance from a program called Southeast Asian Campus Learning Education and Retention (SEACLEAR) during her freshman year. She has been involved with it ever since.
The goal of SEACLEAR, a Retention Project of the Vietnamese Student Union, is to help students face academic and personal challenges and successfully graduate from UCLA. The point of retention is keeping students at UCLA at an academically strong level, and making sure that they graduate rather than drop out.
The Vietnamese Student Union officially founded SEACLEAR in 1998. The people at VSU discovered that many members of the community were experiencing academic troubles. These members included student leaders who found themselves placed on academic probation and subject to dismissal.
SEACLEAR’s main target student population is Southeast Asian studentswho have been dismissed from the university or are on academic probation. The first focus is bringing these high-risk students back up. The second focus is prevention.
Since its inception, SEACLEAR has developed into a project with four different components: Mentorship, Internship, Peer Counseling, and Wellness. It has also recently introduced a new component: Transfer Component.
The mentorship program entails the pairing of an upperclassman or alumni to a student. SEACLEAR focuses heavily on the pairing process, and considers student preferences ranging from gender to academic field of study. The goal is to find a mentor that will be ideal for the personal support and professional growth of the student. Once a pair has been selected, the mentor engages in one-on-one meetings with his or her mentee. Through these one-on-one interactions, the mentor and mentee build a support system together.
The peer counseling component is for the students who would prefer a person who is experiencing college as they are. There are one-on-one counsel services that are holistic in nature, which are centered in three meetings each quarter. Discussion topics range from academic plans to more personal issues.
The new transfer component will focus primarily on transfer students who face a different experience from the typical undergraduate who began at UCLA as a freshman. Many Southeast Asian students are accepted as transfer students, and despite the many other programs UCLA offers in assisting transfer students, there is a lack of retention geared services.
The wellness component focuses on addressing taboo topics such as gender, sexuality, mental health, and spirituality. Students who share similar backgrounds in being familiar with the refugee experience can share their stories and expand their mindset.
Students who use SEACLEAR’s services can also give back to their community through the internship component, bringing the service around full circle. The internship component is for students who wish to take a step further in being involved with the Southeast Asian community and take the opportunity to gain experience and develop their skills as a leader. Interns find themselves participating in fun and creative topics, small group discussions, and challenging the taboos and misconceptions in the community concerning their background, culture, and education.
That’s what SEACLEAR comes down to: the act of giving. The idea of rising above the challenges that poverty and pressures can weigh on a student, and then helping another student.
`”Some of the students that are most rewarding to work with are students who were previously dismissed or who struggled on academic action and who find a way to make it back,” Tep says. “[They] work hard and end up giving back because they understood how significant the community was in helping them to graduate and helping them to get back in.”
Tep graduated UCLA last year with a double major in Asian American Studies and English with a Creative Writing Concentration. She continues to be involved with SEACLEAR as the full-time Project Director. She has no regrets.
by Ashley Truong and Tony Le
Jeffrey Kho, a second year at UCLA, has come to expect the looks of surprise when he tells his fellow students that he is double majoring in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology and Asian American Studies. They question why he is majoring in Asian American Studies, a field which many students consider impractical, with no real career opportunities.
As a freshman at UCLA, Kho had the same belief about Asian American Studies. In high school, he was a science person who excelled in his courses. He studied hard and received good grades. The next logical step was to pursue a career in the hard sciences, which made him declare MCDB as an incoming freshman. Asian American Studies as a field of study had not even been on his list of possible majors.
Kho is clearly not the only student who thought it would be unlikely for him to major in Asian American Studies. In a survey done by Cal State LA’s Asian and Asian American Studies (AAAS) Department, 50% of the students surveyed answered that they were “unlikely” to major in AAAS if an Asian American Studies option was included. More than half of the students surveyed answered that they were “unlikely” to pursue an M.A. in AAAS as well.
It wasn’t until he took Asian American History for his History G.E. that his viewpoint changed. He says that his high school had a very Euro-centric history education, but the Asian American History class taught him the history of Asian Americans. “[Asian American Studies] is a really powerful way to get in touch with the history that’s been forgotten,” Kho says.
The class also discussed the model minority myth, which suggests that Asian Americans are successful academically and socioeconomically simply because they are “Asian,” rather than because of their hard work and dedication. Before taking the class, Kho had also bought into the model minority myth. “Things were good [for me],” he says. “Why should I care?”
But now, Kho considers majoring in both MCDB and Asian American Studies as the natural step towards his future career. The two majors complement each other, especially since Kho is interested in pursuing a career with public health. He cites higher cancer rates among Asian Americans, as well as lower access to health care for Southeast Asian Americans, as areas of interest for him. For Kho, MCDB gives him the tools to understand the science behind health, and Asian American Studies provides the perspective with which to understand the social issues behind disparities in health as well as health care.
Professor Jinqi Ling, head of the Asian American Studies Department at UCLA, also emphasizes the highly complementary and interdisciplinary nature of Asian American Studies. He says that the faculty has many areas of expertise, like public health, anthropology, urban planning, psychology, public policy, and literature. Asian American Studies is not merely a field of theory, but a practical one that is heavily imbued with a sense of community and service. After all, the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA was founded in 1969 as a way for Asian American students to give back to their communities by conducting research focused specifically on their communities.
In addition to service, Asian American Studies is also a tool for students to understand their identity in the world. Before the term “Asian Americans” was coined, they were known as “Orientals.” According to Professor Lucy Burns of the UCLA Asian American Studies department, the intellectual knowledge that the major provides students with an understanding of themselves in the national and global context.
Moreover, it helps students develop their own identity as well. Professor Ling says, “One of the things Asian American Studies does is raise the students’ Asian American consciousness and make them more aware of history, community, and the relevance of this kind of education to the potential transformation of society.”
For Jeffrey Kho, reaffirming his own Asian American identity through the major became directly linked to his community, and he encourages others to take the same approach. “Ethnic Studies really helps to awake people to the need for getting involved in the community and getting involved politically,” he says.
Not only that, but Asian American Studies affects students on a much more personal, microscopic scale as well. Natasha Saelua, an Asian American Masters student at UCLA, said that the self-knowledge that Asian American Studies, and ethnic studies in general, gives students the ability to reflect that knowledge out to their friends and family, pushing their assumptions and norms.
Armed with this knowledge, students and professors involved in Asian American Studies today still strive to not only to define themselves, but to give back to their communities. The ways in which they do this are unique and diverse: Professor Robert Nakamura makes documentaries about the Asian American community; Ninez Ponce, an Associate Professor at the UCLA School of Public Health, serves on the Executive Board of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus of the American Public Health Association; Natasha Saelua researches the long-term impacts of the education access group Pacific Islander Education & Outreach (PIER).
The intersections within Asian American Studies with other fields, such as film-making and public health, may come as a surprise to some people. But for students like Kho, Asian American Studies unlocks pathways to different careers. Kho says that he could have gone into research, but he now sees the possibility of going into public health and addressing the concerns and needs of Asian Americans, where there is a higher rate of cancer.
“Knowledge is one thing,” Kho says, “but application is another. Asian American Studies gives me the critical perspective to see what I’m going to do with the biology I’m learning.”
By Robin Chang
It is easy to forget, in our study of the APIA community, that we are just one fold in the larger cloth of this world. Discrimination, prejudice, and racism faced by Asian and Pacific Islander Americans is felt by other persons of color as well. This is more than evident when studying the recent events on the UCLA campus.
For those not in the know, there was a hate crime on campus involving graffiti on a university apartment; the apartment door was marked with racial slurs aimed at members of the Chican@ community. This crime has not been handled by the campus administrators and the law enforcement in the way that students want. Several emails to the chancellor and campus law enforcement went unanswered and the crime remains unchecked, with the effects and causes of such an event still clearly resonating throughout the campus.
To protest these actions, or lack thereof, students on the UCLA campus took action this Thursday. MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano Azteclan) organized a rally on Bruin Plaza to show the chancellor, as well as the rest of the student body, exactly what they want to happen on this campus as a consequence of this hate crime. In support of MECha, there was a diverse group of students who gathered at Bruin Plaza, with signs and fliers in hand. Only after the mobilization of these students did the chancellor, as well as the President of the University of California, send word to the students, addressing the acts of intolerance and hate on our campuses.
While participating at the rally, it became clear to me. “This is not a Chican@ issue,” one student said, “but an issue affecting people of color.”
Exactly. This is an issue affecting people of color. Oppression does not exist within a vacuum, wherein separate persons of color are discriminated against exclusively from other persons of color. Intersections are more than simply a reoccurring concept in our textbooks, and we never exist as an island unto ourselves.
While it is important to recognize and celebrate the differences that exist between different ethnic groups, it is crucial that we realize our similarities and learn to come together in order to take a stand against the common oppression that binds us all. The issue does not end once it leaves the boundaries of our community, and neither should our interest in how thoughts, speech, and acts of intolerance are perpetuated daily all throughout our lives. Solidarity comes foremost in fighting these acts of intolerances. There is strength in numbers, and in this fight, we need all the strength we can get.
Because this time, it was a hate crime against the Chican@ community, but next time the target could very well be someone in the African American community, the Arab American community, or even the Asian American community. If and when that time comes again, we want to send the message loud and clear: that it is never okay to promote xenobigotry, and that attacking one person in the community equates to attacking every person in the community.
In the end, we are one. If one falls, everyone falls. And if one rises, so similarly does everyone else. Whether we fall or rise, we will be in solidarity, doing it as one.
And so let’s say, all together—
By Ashley Truong
A few weeks ago, I went to Quiet Imprint, a ballet piece featuring legendary Vietnamese singer Khanh Ly and the Ballet Austin Company II. It was my intention to take notes and write a quick, informal review for Pacific Ties. But when the performance started, I quickly realized that even the most informal of reviews was beyond my reach. Instead, all I have to contribute here is an introspective post that has little to do with the technical aspects of song and dance, and much more to do with language, and history, and culture: all those complicated, tangled things that leave an imprint, quiet but indelible, on us.
The main reason why I’m unable to write a review is actually a little embarrassing: I didn’t understand the songs well enough. I know enough Vietnamese to be able to communicate with my family, but technically, I have the grammar and vocabulary of a first grader (maybe even worse). My dad had to translate the lyrics of the songs, typing them onto his phone and then showing them to me.
If I had to talk about the emotional effect those songs had on me, though, I would have to say that they made me…sad. Not just because I was unable to understand them that well, but because they were about Vietnam: my parents’ homeland, and, in some strange way, my country of origin. So much of my sense of self is bound up in Vietnam. I wasn’t born there, but being the child of immigrants, I feel a lot of nostalgia for the country. The last few years of my parents’ residence there were marked by war and death, but before that there was laughter and hope–an entire childhood and adolescence, left behind when they fled with hundreds of other boat people.
On another level, the performance saddened me because it reminded me how little I know about Vietnam. My history books in high school spent two paragraphs on the War, and focused more on the U.S. government’s attempts to halt Communism than on the devastating effect the war inflicted on civilians like my parents and grandparents. My dad says that of course the history books would only talk about the U.S. government and soldiers–it was their war, an American war. But what am I but an American? I might be Vietnamese American, but that doesn’t make me less of a citizen.
It’s an isolating feeling for your family and community history to remain unacknowledged by the history books. No history, no self. It’s like being invisible. I do ask my parents about their experiences during the war, but when they tell me, it only emphasizes how little I know and how few opportunities I have in my “official” education to learn.
After the performance, my dad tried to explain to me why Khanh Ly and the songs she sang are so popular in the Vietnamese community. The songs’ composer, Trinh Cong Son (who died in 2001) was, according to my dad, the Bob Dylan of Vietnam. Although he was long rumored to have Communist sympathies, the refugee Vietnamese community loved his songs because they were anti-war and called for peace, something which they could relate to.
“The war was complicated,” my dad explained. “It was brothers against brothers, fathers against children.” Things were not was black and white as my history books made them out to be, with a clear line drawn between the Communists and those who opposed them. Victory for someone could have meant the death of a loved one. Blood blurred and complicated the lines between two sides.
So between those blurred lines and my lack of language, I feel as if I’ll never be able to truly understand the Vietnam War, which, in some ways, is two wars for me: the U.S.’s war against Communism, which I’m a part of because I’m an American; and my parents’ war, which forced them to flee their home. They’re linked, and I know it, even if I can’t articulate it that well. But the way history has been constructed here in America means that there’s a disjunction between those two wars. I’m left always holding the pieces of a bigger picture, poignant but incomplete.
by Deanna Hoang-Yen Tran
The Asian-American and Pacific Islander community’s label as the model minority is detrimental to the well-being of the community.
In response to the topic of the model minority myth, a female Asian UCLA pre-med student majoring in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology stated, “I believe that a lot of Asians come here in the United States with already some kind of stability, some kind of financial or economic upper hand that other racial groups may not have when they come here. In terms of the model minority myth where they work hard and pursue high education and climb the social ladder, I believe it goes hand-in-hand with the Asian values that are ingrained in us where you have to work hard, thinking about your family so that you have to find good jobs and be able to support them to provide stability.”
The model minority myth is believed by both non-Asians and Asians, posing an even greater danger towards future advances in the community. Marjorie Kagawa-Singer, PhD, MA, MN, RN, FAAN Faculty Associate, UCLA Center for Health Policy Research professor, UCLA School of Public Health and Department of Asian-American Studies, revealed the facts of the model minority myth in an interview.
● The “model minority” is a term coined by the government, implying that if the other minorities followed the example of Asians, the other minorities wouldn’t have any problems that required federal aid or assistance.
● The model minority claims Asians are (1) healthy (2) wealthy (3) highly educated. This stereotype for the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community has proved detrimental for members of the community who seek aid from the government. Other minority groups, primarily African-Americans, Latinos, and American Indians, claim that their communities lack these three traits and therefore require more governmental assistance. This has resulted in more fighting between the minority groups since Asians are being set up against the other groups.
● In reality, Asian-American and Pacific Islanders do need aid in health care. Members of the community are ineligible for many health care programs, but their health issues are becoming worse. Asian-American and Pacific Islanders have one of the lowest amounts of federal aid in cancer, which is the number one cause for death for the community. The community is one of the only groups where breast cancer rates are rising. Concerning the obesity epidemic in the United States where 2/3 of the people in this country are overweight or obese, Asian-American youth between the ages of 12 and 17 have the highest rates of obesity of all of the ethnic population groups.
● More research needs to be done on the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community’s health problems. The statistics that do exist aggregate all of the subgroups of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, of which there are more than 50 different nationalities.
● In studies that compile the subgroups of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, which number to be more than 50, much of the needs of the smaller groups become invisible. The community also has the highest level of limited English proficiency of the ethnic population groups, and 67% of the population is composed of first-generation immigrants. Therefore, the statistics from English surveys are not representative of the entire population and the numbers obtained are called insufficient for analysis.
● A study in PubMed revealed that only 0.01% or 0.02% of funding for grants was related to Asian Pacific Islanders.
Why these needs are not being met:
● The needs of the community are not being recognized. Asian-Americans believe the model minority myth themselves, as well as the power structure that would fund the required grants. Without support and awareness, the issues are being left untended.
● The required statistics and research necessary to justify the claims of the advocates for more funding and assistance to the community is not being done. There is still a significant miscommunication concerning the needs of the community, resulting from a language and cultural barrier.
What actions should take place:
● More awareness and attention of the needs of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community is needed to promote advocacy for government aid to resolve the health issues of the community.
● The people in positions of power should implement action and display more concern for the community
● Research needs to be done to determine the actual numbers of the community, and the data collection must be done in a manner that regards the diversity of the nationalities and the high percentage of immigrants in the population.
● Asian-Americans have the right to be eligible for the programs and governmental aid provided to other minority groups. Funding from the government should be allocated to tackle the rising health issues of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community.
● The miscommunication problems between the community, researchers, and policy makers need to be resolved. In order to discover the true numbers within the community, services such as translators should be established.
Professor Kagawa-Singer teaches a class on API health at the School of Public Health. This class is open to undergraduate UCLA students.