IDSEM 1998: Asian American Politics and Contemporary Issues

Jan 28 · 13 min read

Instructor: Diane Wong

What does the growing population of Asian Americans mean for the landscape of American politics? What are the contours of Asian American political consciousness and movement? Using the lens of comparative racial formation, this seminar investigates Asian American political participation around contemporary issues such as immigration, multiracial coalitions, affirmative action, data disaggregation, detention and deportation, Islamophobia, intergenerational relations, and gentrification. This course will explore the political developments that gave rise to “Asian America” in the 1960s and probe deeper theoretical questions about the complexities and pluralities of the contemporary Asian American experience. We will also consider the role of American political institutions including the federal, state, and local governments, and how public policies at all levels come to shape the political lives of Asian Americans in the United States. Texts include Claire Jean Kim’s Bitter Fruit: The Politics of Black-Korean Conflict in New York City, Eric Tang’s Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the New York City Hyperghetto, Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do and Monisha Das Gupta’s Unruly Immigrants: Rights, Activism, and Transnational South Asian Politics. As we read these texts, students will be exposed to intersectional, comparative, and emergent approaches to the study of race, culture, power, place, and politics.

The course has four main objectives: 1) to create space for students to think critically about past and contemporary issues that face East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander diasporic communities 2) to provide a comprehensive overview of Asian American involvement in politics and to investigate the role of race in American political thought development 3) to familiarize students with key concepts and terminologies in American politics from multiple disciplines including but not limited to political science, ethnic studies, history, anthropology, geography, and literature 4) to have students learn about diverse research methods including qualitative, quantitative, experimental, and community-oriented research and how to produce academic research that extends beyond the campus audience.

Required Texts

  1. Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do
  2. Eric Tang’s Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the New York City Hyperghetto
  3. Monisha Das Gupta’s Unruly Immigrants

Course Requirements

Attendance​: This seminar is designed to be participatory and collaborative in nature, attendance is necessary for you to understand the course material. I ask for regular attendance and will keep track of absences. You are allowed one unexcused absence from class. Each additional unexcused absence will reduce your participation grade by one third of a letter. If you are unable to attend due to illness or emergency you should notify me before class begins.

Reading​: The weekly readings for this seminar will range from 100 to 150 pages. It is expected that you will complete all assigned reading before class on the day for which it is assigned. Bring the texts with you to class so that we can refer to them when you or your classmates discuss the respective readings.

Participation​: I foster a relaxed classroom environment and hope that students will come to class prepared to share, listen, and challenge each other in a respectful manner. You should be ready to discuss the readings assigned for each week, actively engaging the material will help make this course more interesting and relevant for everyone. I understand that everyone has different comfort levels in terms of speaking up in the classroom. If you find yourself feeling this way at any point, I encourage you to come to office hours so that we can discuss strategies for increasing your class participation.

Assignment Overview:

Weekly Memos: Each week you will be required to write a short reflection memo about the readings that will be uploaded to the blog section in NYU Classes. Your reflections should cover the major arguments and respond with initial thoughts or questions that will provoke a substantive discussion. The purpose of these reflections is not to summarize the readings but to help you keep up with readings and to generate thoughtful discussion in class.

Family History Zine: There are many different ways to record and tell our family histories, through oral interviews, photographs, shared meals, rituals, and much more. For this assignment you will create a zine that explores the various themes in Asian American politics as we have discussed in class through a particular family recipe. There are several steps to this project. The first step is to go back in time, record the smells, sounds, and sights that come out of the kitchen for this particular family recipe. The second is to reach out to your family, call your relatives to ask them about the recipe, where they learned to make the dish, how the recipe has changed over time, where they go to buy the ingredients, what memories they associate with the flavors, etc. have them tell you stories that are linked to the recipe. The third is to write it all down, what are the larger themes in Asian American political history that the recipe reveals? In addition to the recipe itself, the zine can incorporate a variety of genres and forms including poetry, quotes from your conversations, illustrations, photographs, short essays, etc. You will turn your zine in along with a half to one page project statement that analyzes the zine in the context of the course. The zine is due in class on Monday, March 25. I will also ask each of you to put together a short presentation to share your process and be in conversation with each other. The slide slam presentations should be five minutes long and feature five slides at most.

Research Essay: We will spend the first several weeks of the seminar learning about various Asian American immigrant neighborhoods in New York City. In a series of collaborative brainstorming sessions, each of you will be asked to identify a neighborhood of interest to write about. As part of this project, you will be required to visit the neighborhood in your own time and focus on a particular issue pertinent to the lives of residents in the area. Throughout this process, we will consider these questions: What are ethical ways to conduct in depth neighborhood research in immigrant communities? What are your responsibilities to community residents? What are the ways in which your individual research projects can build community power? You are expected to draw from academic sources and discuss relevant themes from the assigned readings or other course materials. The paper is broken down into two smaller parts: 1) 1–2 page research proposal and bibliography due on Wednesday, April 24 and 2) an in class peer review session three weeks before the final version is due. The final paper is due on Monday, May 13.

Grading Policy

Weekly Memos………………………………………………..20%
Family History Zine……………………………………….…..25%
Research Paper………………………………………….…….25%

Other Course Information

Email Policy​: Feel free to email me with questions or to set up an appointment outside of office hours. Longer discussions and all conversations about grades must take place in person. I will check my email more frequently during the school week and before assignments are due. Please do not wait until the last minute. There is no guarantee that I will receive, read and respond to last minute requests or questions.

Electronic Devices:​ The success of our seminar rests largely on active participation. Laptops and tablets will be allowed for tasks relevant to the class. If laptops are misused, students will lose points from their participation grade and be prohibited from bringing laptops to future class meetings. I expect that you will abstain from texting, sending emails, and doing other work during class.

Campus Resources

Students with Disabilities​: ​Academic accommodations are available for students with disabilities. Please contact the Moses Center for Students with Disabilities (212–998–4980) or email for more information. Students who require academic accommodations are encouraged to reach out to the Moses Center as early as possible in the semester for assistance​.

Statement of Nondiscrimination: ​New York University is committed to maintaining an environment that encourages and fosters appropriate conduct among all persons and respect for individual values. The University enforces non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy and complaint procedures at all levels in order to create an environment free from discrimination, harassment, retaliation and sexual assault. Discrimination or harassment based on race, gender and/or gender identity or expression, color, creed, religion, age, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status, citizenship status, or on any other legally prohibited basis is unlawful and will not be tolerated.

Academic Integrity

As a Gallatin student you belong to an interdisciplinary community of artists and scholars who value honest and open intellectual inquiry. This relationship depends on mutual respect, responsibility, and integrity. Failure to uphold these values will be subject to severe sanction, which may include dismissal from the University. Examples of behaviors that compromise the academic integrity of the Gallatin School include plagiarism, illicit collaboration, doubling or recycling coursework, and cheating. ​Plagiarism means knowingly misrepresenting someone else’s work as your own. This includes offenses like buying a paper off the Internet, as well as appropriating another author’s words or ideas without citation. ​If uncertain, you can consult the Gallatin website:​.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Introduction

Monday, January 28

Wednesday, January 30
-Ishle Park (2004) The Temperature of This Water, “Turtles”
-Gary Okihiro (1994) Margins and Mainstreams, “When and Where I Enter”
-Ronald Takaki (1989) Strangers From a Different Shore, “Overblown Hope”

Week 2: Immigration, Inclusion, and Exclusion

Monday, February 4
-Ronald Takaki (1989) Strangers From a Different Shore, “A Different Shore”
-Gary Okihiro (1994) Margins and Mainstreams: Asians in American History and Culture, “Family Album History”

Wednesday, February 6
-Thi Bui (2017) The Best We Could Do

Week 3: When and Where I Enter

Monday, February 11
-Nellie Wong (1983) This Bridge Called My Back, “When I Grow Up”
-Gary Okihiro (1994) Margins and Mainstreams: Asians in American History and Culture, “Is Yellow Black or White”
-Angelo Ancheta (2006) Race, Rights, and the Asian American Experience, “Neither Black Nor White”

Wednesday, February 13
-Michael Omi and Howard Winant (1986) Racial Formation in the United States, “The Theory of Racial Formation”
-George Lipsitz (1998) Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics, “Possessive Investment in Whiteness”
-Claire Jean Kim (1999) “The Racial Triangulation of Asian Americans,” in Politics and Society

Week 4: Inventing the Model Minority

Monday, February 18
-No Classes

Wednesday, February 20
-Vijay Prashad (2001) The Karma of Brown Folk, “Of the Origin of Desis and Some Principles of State Selection”
-Yuko Kawai (2006) “Stereotyping Asian Americans: The Dialectic of the Model Minority and the Yellow Peril,” in Howard Journal of Communications
Gary Okihiro (1994) Margins and Mainstreams: Asians in American History and Culture, “Perils of the Body and Mind”
-Lisa Ko (2019) “Harvard and the Myth of the Interchangeable Asian” in New York Times
Soya Jung (2014) “What a Model Minority Mutiny Demands” in RaceFiles

Week 5: Third World Liberation Front

Monday, February 25
-Karen Ishizuka (2016) Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties, “Living in B&W”
-Glenn Omatsu (2000) Asian American Studies Reader, “The “Four Prisons” and the Movements of Liberation: Asian American Activism 1960s -1990s”
-Karen Umemoto (1989) “On Strike!” San Francisco State College Strike, 1968–69: The Role of Asian American Students” in Amerasia Journal
-Karen Ishizuka (2017) “When Asian America was a Movement,” in Culturestrike
-Film: Agents of Change

Wednesday, February 27
-Daryl Joji Maeda (2011) Rethinking the Asian American Movement, “Key Organizations”
- Ali Mir (2013) “Songs of Revolt” in Asian American Writers Workshop OpenCity Mag.
-Diane Fujino (2008) Afro Asia, “Black Liberation Movement and Japanese American Activism: The Radical Activism of Richard Aoki and Yuri Kochiyama”
- Jaeah J. Lee (2018) The Forgotten Zine of 1960s Asian American Radicals” on Off Topic.

Week 6: The Making of Asian America

Monday, March 4
-Yen Le Espiritu (1992) Asian American Panethnicity, “Coming Together: The Asian American Movement”
-Daryl Joji Maeda (2009) Chains of Babylon: The Rise of Asian America, “Black Panthers, Red Guards, and Chinamen”
-Karen Yamashita (2010) I-Hotel: A Novel, “I-Hotel: 1977”
- Rona Akbari (2017) “How to Create a Zine” in Creative Independent.
-Film: Fall of the I-Hotel
- Sing Yin Khor (2016) “Say It With Noodles: On Learning to Speak the Language of Food” on Catapult.
-Zine Making Workshop with Emily He

Wednesday, March 6
-Helen Zia (2000) Asian American Dreams, “Detroit Blues: “Because of You Motherfuckers”
-Elaine Kim (2007) Asian American Studies Reader, “Home Is Where the Han Is: A Korean American Perspective on the Los Angeles Upheavals”
-Claire Jean Kim (2000) Bitter Fruit: The Politics of Black-Korean Conflict, “The Red Apple Boycott”
-Ishle Park (2008) Afro Asia, “Samchun in the Grocery Store”
-Film: Gook or Vincent Who in class

Week 7: What is Politics?

Monday, March 11
-Don Nakanishi (1985) “Asian American Politics: An Agenda for Research” in Amerasia Journal
-Jane Junn, Janelle Wong, Karthick Ramakrishnan, and Taeku Lee. (2012) Asian American Political Participation, “Making Visible Participation”
-Janelle Wong (2006) Democracy’s Promise, “Institutional Mobilization in an Era of Party Decline”
-Don Nakanishi (2001) Asian Americans and Politics, “Beyond Electoral Politics: Renewing a Search for a Paradigm of Asian Pacific American Politics”

Wednesday, March 13
-Robin Kelley (1993) “We Are Not What We Seem,” in Journal of American History
Cathy Cohen (2004) “Deviance as Resistance,” in DuBois Review
-Eric Tang (2015) Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the NYC Hyperghetto, “Introduction: Refugee in the Hyperghetto” and “War/Time”
-Monisha Das Gupta (2006) Unruly Immigrants: Rights Activism and Transnational South Asian Politics, “Introduction: Encounters”

Week 8:

Monday, March 18
-No Classes

Wednesday, March 20
-No Classes

Week 9: Asian American Cultural Politics

Monday, March 25
-Lisa Lowe (1998) “Work, Immigration, Gender: New Subjects of Cultural Politics” in Journal of Asian American Studies
-In class zine slide slam presentations

Wednesday, March 27
-Rachel Kuo, (2018) “Building an Asian American Feminist Movement,” for the Asian American Feminist Collective
-Tiffany Diane Tso (2018) “14 Powerful Portraits Showing the Diversity of Asian American Feminism
-Monisha Das Gupta (2006) Unruly Immigrants: Rights Activism and Transnational South Asian Politics, “Contests Over Culture”
-Guest Lecturer(s) Asian American Feminist Collective

Week 10: Wedge Politics and Racial Inequality

Monday, April 1
-Frank Wu (1995) Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, “Neither Black Nor White: Affirmative Action and Asian Americans”
-Mari J. Matsuda (1996) Where Is Your Body, “We Will Not Be Used”
-OiYan Poon (2018) “Racism, Immigration, Wechat, and Chinese Americans,” in Reappropriate
-Kimberly Reyes (2018) “Affirmative Action Shouldn’t Be About Diversity,” in The Atlantic

Wednesday, April 3
-Charmaine Runes (2017) “Invisibility is an unnatural disaster”: Why funding the 2020 Census matters for Pacific Islanders
-Hansi Lo Wang (2017) “Chinese Immigrant Protest Effort to Collect Asian American Data,” in NPR
-Christian Edlagan and Kavya Vaghul (2016) “Data Disaggregation Matters,” in Equitable Growth
-Guest Lecturer Rachel Kuo

Week 11: Pasts and Futures of Labor and Resistance

Monday, April 8
-Eric Tang (2016) Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the NYC Hyperghetto, “Workforce Encampments” and “Sweatshops of the Neoplantation”
-Xiaolan Bao (2006) Holding Up More Than Half the Sky, “Women in Chinatown Garment Industry”

Wednesday, April 10
-Miliann Kang (2003) “The Managed Hand: The Commercialization of Bodies and Emotions in Korean Immigrant–Owned Nail Salons,” in Gender & Society
-Tiffany Diane Tso (2018) “Nail Salon Brawls and Boycotts: Unpacking the Black Asian Conflict in America,” in Refinery 29-Monisha Das Gupta (2006) Unruly Immigrants: Rights Activism and Transnational South Asian Politics, “Know Your Place in History: Labor Organizations”

Week 12: Islamophobia and Post 9/11 Asian America

Monday, April 15
-Vijay Prashad (2012) Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today, “The Day Our Probation Ended”
-Deepa Iyer (2017) We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future, “Disruptors and Bridge Builders” and “Undocumented Youth Rise Up”

Wednesday, April 17
-Deepa Iyer et al. (2011) “On the Desi America-Asian America Split” in Asian American Literary Review Special Issue
-Sunaina Maira (2010) “Citizenship and Dissent: South Asian Muslim youth
in the US after 9/11,” in South Asian Popular Culture
Adriana Carranca (2019) “She Was Forced to Marry in Bangladesh. In Brooklyn, She Made Her Escape” in New York Times
-Listen to Taz Ahmed and Zahra Noorbakhsh’s #GoodMuslimBadMuslim

Week 13: Displacement, Detention, and Arresting Citizenship

Monday, April 22
-Warsan Shire (2015) “Conversations About Home” and “Home
-Betty Yu (2018) “Displaced in Sunset Park: A Interactive Multimedia Project
-Eric Tang (2016) Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the NYC Hyperghetto, “Housed in the Hyperghetto”
-Adwait Patil (2019) “Punjabi Deli: New York’s Favorite Rest Stop,” in Roads and Kingdoms

Wednesday, April 24
-Eric Tang (2016) Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the NYC Hyperghetto, “Motherhood” and “Conclusion”
-Daniel Gross (2018) “Cambodian Refugee Fights Deportation,” in New Yorker
-Kimberly Yam (2018) “The Forgotten Asian Refugees Fed Into the Prison System” in Huffpost
-Livia Luan (2018) “Profiting from Enforcement: The Role of Private Prisons in U.S. Immigration Detention,” in Migration Policy Institute
-Film series: Deported or Sentenced Home
- Research proposal and bibliography due in class

Week 14: Asian Americans in the Movement for Black Lives

Monday, April 29
-Movement for Black Lives, Platform and Demands
-Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (2016) From Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation, “Movement Not Moment”
-Letters for Black Lives (2017) “An Open Letter to Our Families About Black Lives Matter
-Guest Lecturer: Laura Li from 18 Million Rising

Wednesday, May 1
-Angela Y. Davis (2003) Are Prisons Obsolete, “Introduction — Prison Reform or Prison Abolition”
-Kayan Cheung-Miaw (2016) “Dear Brother” on Colorlines
-Mark Tseng Putterman (2017) “On Vincent Chin and the Kind of Men You Send to Jail,” in Asian American Writers Workshop’s The Margins
-Watch “Mutual Accountability, Mutual Liberation,” on 18 Million Rising Youtube Channel

Week 15: Grassroots Organizing

Monday, May 6
- Shahana Hanif (2018) Shahana Hanif on Intersectional Advocacy and Decolonizing Wellness,” in JournalNYC
- Jai Dulani (2016) “Jackson Heights: Unearthing the People’s Struggle,” in Asian American Writers Workshop’s Opencity Mag
- Clement Lai (2013) “The Scalar Politics of the Asian American Movement,” in Society and Space
-Rinku Sen (2018) “How to Organize Asian Americans,” in Reappropriate
-Film: American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs

Wednesday, May 8
-Esther Wang (2016) “Pleasures of Protest: Taking on Gentrification in Chinatown,” in Longreads
-Frances Huynh (2017) “Gentrification of Los Angeles Chinatown,” in Medium
Diane Wong (2019) “Shop Talk and Everyday Sites of Resistance to Gentrification in Chinatown,” in Women’s Studies Quarterly
-Ryan Wong (2017) “A Brief History of the Art Collectives of NYC’s Chinatown,” in Hyperallergic.

Week 16: Future of Asian America

Saturday, May 11
-Gloria Anzaldúa (1981) This Bridge Called My Back, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers”
-Robin Kelley (2003) Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, “When History Sleeps” and “When History Wakes”
-Grace Lee Boggs (2011) Next American Revolution, “Detroit: Place, and Space to Begin Anew”
-Meet at Wing On Wo & Co (26 Mott Street) at 11:00 am

Diane Wong

Written by

Educator, multimedia storyteller, and cultural organizer in NYC.

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