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FEATURE Asian American Studies: Surprising Intersections PROFILES of Asian American Studies professors PLUS Myths and Facts about AAS and more

Table of Contents

Volume 34, Issue 2 Editor-in-Chief Ashley Truong Managing Editor Deanna Hoang-Yen Tran Business Manager Elaine Lieu Social Media Director Robin Chang A&E Editor Ray Luo Copy Editors Priscilla Yap Janelle Yee Olivia Tran Design Editors Jonathan Carmona Deanna Hoang-Yen Tran

Letter from the Editor Dear readers, What do you think of when you hear “Asian American Studies”? What do those words, that major, mean to you? For us at Pacific Ties, Asian American Studies, whether we major, minor, or simply take GE courses in the field, is a way for us to answer one of the most central questions: Who are we? What does it mean to be “Asian American”? Students in the 1960s fought to install Asian American Studies programs at universities across the nation, beginning with San Francisco State University. In 1969, the Asian American Studies Center was founded at UCLA to conduct research geared towards the Asian American community, and in 2004, the Asian American Studies Department was created, But now that those fights have been fought and those movements have become a part of history, there’s another question to ask: “Why take Asian American Studies?” And that’s a question that this issue tries to answer. Why take Asian American Studies? Because it helps us answer the first and most important of question about our identity. Because it teaches us how to serve our communities. Because it gives us the tools to understand the hatred and discrimination that have distorted our images of ourselves. In this issue, Pacific Ties has documented the lives and motivations of several professors who teach Asian American Studies here at UCLA. Our feature article explores the interdisciplinary nature of AAS and how it can be applied to fields as diverse as literature and medicine. We break down the myths obscuring the major, and show what possible career paths branch from it. Hopefully, Pacific Ties will inspire our readers to take an Asian American Studies class next quarter, or to begin asking (and answering) their own questions about identity, culture, and history. Sincerely, Ashley Truong Editor-in-chief

Story Editors Tony Le Carol Lee Online Editor Jimmy Zhou Photographer Jessica Juwono Illustrator Keli Arslancan Writers Ashley Truong Deanna Hoang-Yen Tran Robin Chang Priscilla Yap Olivia Tran Jonathan Carmona Tony Le Carol Lee Jimmy Zhou Blogger Robin Chang Student Media Director Arvli Ward

Illustration by Olivia Tran

Cover Art This issue’s cover was drawn by design editor Jonathan Carmona and edited digitally by illustrator Keli Arslancan. The images on the scroll depict various stereotypes about Asian Americans. The figure beneath the scroll is painting over the stereotypes and erasing them. It is our hope at Pacific Ties that this will inspire our readers to take Asian American Studies courses in order to learn how to combat and eventually “paint over” the stereotypes that they have encountered in their daily lives, and to begin creating true images of the diverse and vibrant Asian American community.

Student Media Adviser Amy Emmert © 2011 UCLA Communications Board All columns, cartoons and letters represent the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board. The UCLA Communications Board has a media grievance procedure for resolving grievances against any of its publications. For a copy of the complete procedure, contact UCLA Student Media at 118 Kerckhoff Hall, 310.825.2787, or The UCLA Communications Board fully supports the University of California’s policy on non-discrimination. The student media reserves the right to reject or modify advertising portraying disability, age, sex, or sexual orientation. It is the expectation of the Communications Board that the student media will exercise the right fairly and with sensitivty. Any person believing that any advertising in the student media violates the Board’s policy on non-discrimination should communicate complaints in writing to the Business Manager: 118 Kerckhoff Hall, 308 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90024

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Pacific Ties is published with support from Campus Progress, a division of the Center for American Progress. Online at

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VICTOR BASCARA: Research, Teaching, and Service By Jimmy Zhou

You may have seen him around campus near Fowler or Rolfe wearing his bright orange socks. He is, ladies and gentlemen, the one and only, Professor Victor Bascara of the Asian American Studies Department.

By Tony Le

Bascara was born in New Jersey, in what he describes as an average “college town,” so his career choice as a faculty member of academia comes as no surprise. Bascara obtained his B.A. in English (with a minor in Ethnic Studies) at UC Berkeley, but would head back to the East Coast to receive his PhD from the Department of English and Comparitive Literature at Columbia. As a student at Berkley, he met faculty mentors such as Dr. Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong and Dr. Elaine Kim who sparked his current interest in studying Asian Americans in the 20th century and the effects of imperialism and colonialism on the United States. Eventually, this interest led to the publication of Model Minority Imperialism, a book that covers 20th century Asian American cultural works in respect to the repression that Asian Americans have had to face. Bascara is also working on a new project that will continue to expand on the topic of the study of imperialism in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippines. Bascara defines three main goals in the near future: Research, Teaching, and Service. Bascara has proposed advocating more venues for other scholars. In addition, he has been a proponent of a seminar on technology in relation to new social movements and the advent of new media. Bascara is also giving back to the community by serving as the vice chair of the Asian American Studies Department. As vice chair, he will be responsible for creating future policy within the department.

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LUCY BURNS: Performing Risk

kylpyamme @ stock.xchng, edited by Tony Le

His goals for the near future involve expanding the department into a “center of strength” and addressing issues with Asian Americans as a whole, such as that of workers’ rights and organized labor as a means of obtaining social economic justice. In addition, another key focus has been his attempts in opening people’s eyes to the concept of different genders and how people gender others. Bascara’s Asian American Literature and Culture Class (Asia Am 30), usually offered during fall quarter, includes readings on primary sources from the 19th to 20th century. In addition, the class is also full of unique films created by Asian Americans that have not received much mainstream recognition. Bacara also teaches the upper division course Asian Americans and War (Asia Am 111), which is usually offered during winter quarter. This course covers the period from the late 19th century to the current day. Just like his other course, Asia Am 111 will continue to offer students a variety of multimedia options, such as listening to important propaganda and speeches that were made, rather than just reading chapters after chapters from a textbook. Students also examine various literary works written during this period, and of course, watch relevant movies that have affected the culture and history of Asian Americans. So, ladies and gentlemen, what are you waiting for? Don’t miss out on experiencing one of UCLA’s most unique lecturers!

As the snow came down in torrents in the city of Amherst, Lucy Burns found herself in a bookstore, wandering the shelves. She was attending the University of Amherst—Massachusetts as a grad student and was ready to return to a seasonal job back in California. But as she walked down the aisles of the bookstore, a single volume caught her eye: Unbroken Thread compiled by Roberta Uno. Taking a risk, she pulled it off the shelf and opened it. She discovered a treasure: Unbroken Thread was one of the first collections of plays by Asian American playwrights. In a stroke of luck, Roberta Uno had a joint appointment professorship at the University of Amherst. Burns sought her out and spoke to her, and she discovered that Uno was running a professional theater company, New World Theater. New World Theater was a theater by and about people of color. Burns had been interested in theater while living in the Philippines, but when she was thirteen, her family immigrated to the United States; because of this interruption, she was unable to explore her interest further. However, as Burns started working full-time at New World Theater with Uno, Burns found that she was able to return to her interest in the theater and imagine herself in that space—not necessarily as a performer, but as an integral part of the process. She worked for Uno in a wide range of jobs, including Literary Manager and Education Outreach Coordinator, which involved bringing the theater’s works to the surrounding communities of color within Amherst. For Burns, her involvement with New World Theater was not separate from her academic career, but intertwined with each it. In the classroom, Burns was learning complex theories about race; she learned to apply those theories to the communities she outreached to during

her time at New World Theater. At the time, the University of Amherst did not have an Asian American Studies major. Midway through her graduate program, however, Burns and a group of students, in conjunction with New World Theater, were able to have professors hired through several departments to create an Asian American Studies department, not only at the University of Amherst, but in the surrounding colleges as well. After completing her dissertation in Santa Cruz, Burns received the UC PostDoctoral Fellowship. With the support of the fellowship, she applied to UCLA and was hired to the World Arts and Culture department. Following the establishment of the Asian American Studies department in 2004, Burns is now under the Asian American Studies department. Burns teaches a variety of classes under the Department, from FilipinoAmerican Experience, to the Art of Protest, to Exploring Asian American Theater. She designs each class with open class activities so that anyone can have a point of entry, not just Filipino-Americans or Asian Americans actors and actresses.

Each class is a mixture of theory and application and helps the student relate to historical and current events. Specifically, Filipino-American Experience explores not only the Filipino-American Experience, but global Filipino diaspora. The Art of Protest examines several different social movements and how they relate to the world. In Exploring Asian American Theater, the class not only reads and acts out plays: the students write their own plays, as well. Although the content of each class is clearly different, Professor Burns still applies the same philosophy that she used that snowy day in Massachusetts: risk. She advises students who are unsure about taking Asian American classes—or any classes in general—to consider moving out of their comfort zone. “I feel like moments of learning don’t always happen when you’re comfortable,” Burns said. “Outside of the comforts of a college education, there may not be as much risk-taking that you’ll be able to make.” PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012 | PAGE 5



ROBERT A. NAKAMURA: Film, Photography, and Social Change

GLENN OMATSU: In Service to Community

By Ashley Truong

By Grace Yim Photo taken by Tony Le

For Robert Nakamura, the first few years of his life were an idyllic time when the American Dream of wealth and assimilation was possible for anyone, regardless of their race. “We were very naive at that time in the ‘40s,” says Nakamura. “Anyone could become President. All we had to do was work hard and we’d assimilate into [mainstream] society.” But this optimistic view of American life quickly changed after the events of Pearl Harbor, as his father burned all their family albums, destroying anything that could link them to Japan: the enemy. Close friends and neighbors whom Nakamura had had dinner with turned against him and his family overnight. Nakamura was 6. The experience left him traumatized, unable to understand why any of this was happening. Nakamura and his family were interned at Manzanar. Oddly enough, the experience in camp itself was insulated; the adults attempted to make life seem as normal possible. But after leaving Manzanar and coming back to LA, Nakamura would encounter people on the streets who hurled “Jap” and other racial slurs at him. Parents forbade their children to play with him. He and his family were not served in restaurants, and other public areas, such as swimming pools, were off limits to “Orientals.” It was a shock to re-emerge into such a “raw, racist society.” Born on July 6, 1937 in Venice, California, Nakamura grew up in what he describes as the “buffer zone” between a Latino area and a more middle class white neighborhood. He didn’t notice race very much growing up because his friends were mostly from the same socioeconomic class as him. It was only later in life that he became conscious of the racism underlying American society. In hindsight, Nakamura says, it was the periods right before and after internment when racism was most obvious to him. Nakamura went on to high school after the war, where he worked on the school newspaper and interned at the LA Examiner. His original ambition was to become a journalist, but he eventually realized that he was more visually oriented and decided to pursue photojournalism instead. He went to Art Center College of Design, where he obtained his B.A. Nakamura credits the early photo essays of Walker Evans and other photographers who documented the Dust Bowl and Great Depression with inspiring him to use visual mediums such as photo essays for social change rather than just art. One of Nakamura’s first photo essays was about a day in the life of his father, who worked PAGE 6 | PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012

as a gardener after World War II. He no longer had family photo albums because his father had burned them all. It was this lack of documented family history that led Nakamura to create the photo essay about his father, and to later document the Asian American movement in the 1960s. His experiences with internment and the racism behind it have influenced his work since. “I think the camp experience, the racism I faced coming back from camp to L.A., all those things helped me decide that I want to do something more political, more social change oriented, as opposed to using photography as an art,” he says. Nakamura became involved in the Asian American movement in the 1960s and worked for Gidra, a radical Asian American magazine. Prior to the Asian American movement, Nakamura had not realized that he felt frustrated about the lack of visibility for Asian Americans. The movement helped him discover that frustration, which he had repressed. His work for the movement became an outlet for him to explore the isolation he felt as an “other” and the ques-

“We’re not making media to express ourselves. We start with ‘How can we use media to serve [our] community?” tion of who he was as an Asian American. While working with the movement, Nakamura was also recruited for the film program at UCLA, which sought to bring in more filmmakers of color. There, he joined other students who were interested in community-oriented filmmaking, and received his M.F.A. from the School of Theater, Film, and Television in 1975. In 1996, Nakamura founded the UCLA Center for EthnoCommunications in order to continue the work of community-oriented filmmaking. His courses are very practical and aim to give students the tools they need to make videos. There is an emphasis on serving the community by documenting it, because according to Nakamura, media is important in determining how

we feel about ourselves. “I feel that film and video do that so well because I can express my personal experiences to you and you can learn something from my experience, and vice versa,” he says. It is Nakamura’s hope that his students will take the skills learned in his class and continue that tradition of community-oriented filmmaking. For Nakamura, using visual mediums is very important for social change, especially in regards to racism, because racism is built on the ways in which people look different. “Regardless of whether we [were] here for five or six generations, I still look like the Oriental, the other, and I don’t think this particular society will ever get over that,” he says. We have to develop our own sense of who we are.” Art for social change, not for art’s sake. That is the core of Nakamura’s work, formed from his experiences in Manzanar during World War II and solidified when he joined the Asian American movement in the 1960s. “We’re not making media to express ourselves,” Nakamura says. “It’s not for [art’s sake]. We start with ‘How can we use media to serve [our] community?’” Nakamura is officially retiring in July of this year. When asked which accomplishments he is most proud of, he lists founding Visual Communications--now the oldest communitybased media arts center in the United States--as well as the Center for EthnoCommunications at UCLA. He is also proud of some of the films he has made, such as “Manzanar”--a retrospective exploration of World War II internment from a Japanese American point of view--and “Looking Like the Enemy.” Although he is retiring, he doesn’t plan on stopping his documentary work. He is currently working on documenting the early Asian American Movement, particularly the visual life histories of the people who were involved in it. Nakamura is also thinking of teaching courses similar to EthnoCommunications, except for community workshops instead of universities. Of course, the goal of those course would still be the same as UCLA’s EthnoCommunications: to provide people with the tools to go out into their community and document histories that have been forgotten by the majority of society, and to present those histories in order to re-define the images of themselves that have been distorted by racism and discrimination. In short, Nakamura says, “[I’ll] just continue on doing what I’m doing.”

“You will always need to be ready to ask questions, and feel the need to interact with the Asian American community.”

Walking into Public Affairs room 210E, one might feel a bit intimidated: rows of chairs are crammed from one end of the room to the next; piles of paper litter the desks; a multitude of announcements and lecture notes highlight the blackboard that hangs on the wall. Sounds like the lecture room of a typical professor, right? But while Professor Glenn Omatsu occupies this room every Friday afternoon, he isn’t your typical professor: he does more than teach. Professor Omatsu is passionate about teaching Asian American Labor Studies in the classroom, but he is even more passionate about bringing his students out of the confines of the classroom and on to political tours around the API community. “I want to redefine learning and empower students through political tours,” Omatsu says. “Political tours give the students the opportunity to interact directly with the communities and the ability to witness issues such as immigrant rights and workers’ struggles.” Political tours were resurrected by

Omatsu about ten years ago in order to deal with the lack of student involvement. Unlike tourist and community tours, Omatsu’s political tours uncover problems such as corporate crimes, police abuse, homelessness, political corruption, workplace exploitation, and domestic violence. Omatsu is a professor in the Asian American Studies Department. His areas of teaching include Asian American labor studies, community education, Asian American social movements and other classes relating to student and community activism. His insistence in bringing his students into direct contact with the issues troubling many Asian American communities and inspiring student activism reflects his vast experience in campaigning for immigrant rights and social justice. He is among a few professors with direct experience in union organizing with undocumented immigrant workers. While working at a factory for several years, he led his fellow workers in a successful negotiation of the terms and working conditions. Omatsu developed his role as an activist shortly after completing his undergraduate years at East Los Angeles College and University of California, Santa Cruz. Instead of finishing his graduate studies in Psychology, he focused his attention to activism in the San Francisco Japanese community. “I worked as a columnist for a newspaper for the Japanese community,” says Omatsu. “It was a great learning experience and training for community activism. I learned how to write well, think fast and most importantly, to be receptive to the reactions of the members of the community.” After writing for the paper for seven years, Omatsu focused his attention on becoming heavily involved in labor work and organizing the community for protest. “The experience working in factories

and campaigning for justice for my fellow workers really gave me first hand insight into the power of community movements, union politics and its complexity,” says Omatsu. Combining his role in community activism and his role as a teacher, Omatsu works hard to educate and involve his students in the Asian American communities of Koreatown, Little Tokyo and Chinatown in Los Angeles. “I want my students to remember what they learn about the economic, social and political issues that impact the people who live and work in the community,” says Omatsu. “Harsh realities should not be ignored and students learn to become more than visitors.” His efforts do not go unappreciated. His class has been widely praised and his students have even called it an eye opening experience. “He makes us connect our lives with our history and inspires us to work towards understanding the important issues that are happening in our community,” says Vincent Chou, a second year Sociology and Asian American Studies double major. Recently, Omatsu took on the role of guest speaker at the 27th Annual Asian Pacific Conference at UC Irvine. “I want to focus on the ‘then and now’ theme [in my keynote speech],” says Omatsu, “I will touch on student activism [at] UCI and how their protests led the way for the right departments to be established and justice for racial crimes that occurred in the Orange County area.” When asked what advice he would give interested Asian American activists, he replied, “Never think that there was ever a golden age of activism. You will always need to be aware, always be ready to ask questions, and feel the need to interact with the Asian American community.” PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012 | PAGE 7


Professor Profiles: Quick Facts

OIYAN POON: Fighting for Empowerment By Carol Lee Sucker punched at the age of three. Called “chink” and “gook” on a regular basis. Growing up an hour and a half away from Boston, OiYan Poon experienced this intense racism because she was the only Asian American in her school. “Go back to China!” her classmates would shout. Her teachers told her to ignore the name-calling and racist remarks, but Poon was a fighter. “I had to be,” Poon explains. “There’s only so much you can take of someone spitting in your hair.” Without the financial means to move away, she dealt with the bullying and harassments with the mindset that there was simply nothing she could do about it. Acceptance of racism was ingrained in her mind because she had learned to survive the hard way. “To survive means to shut the hell up,” Poon describes it now. “To survive means to go with: white people are better.”

The course towards her current career in education was set. After four years of marketing at Boston College, Poon enrolled in the University of Georgia’s master’s program for student affairs. Two years later, with a master’s degree in hand, she became the first director of Asian Pacific American student affairs at George Mason University in Virginia, creating programs to address API students’ needs and to encourage leadership development. A few years later, Poon finally arrived on California soil when she accepted the first Student Affairs Officer (SAO) position in Asian American studies at UC Davis. The job had been created under pressure from the community due to a long history of anti-Asian hate crimes at Davis. “It was always heavy on my mind that the reason why I’m here in California is for community activism, for social justice,” she says. “I always

Five years of doctoral studies and a dissertation later, Dr. Poon received her PhD from UCLA. Nostalgic for home, she returned to the East Coast to conduct research at the Institute for Asian American Studies (IAAS) at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her research there hit close to home (literally) since she felt like she was giving back to the local API community. This was especially true when Poon was working on a research project about Chinese elderly needs, the implications of which directly concerned her parents. The research associate position at IAAS was also fulfilling, but Poon still wanted the faculty position that would allow her to conduct her own research. Thus, she applied for the postdoctoral fellowship offered by UCLA’s Institute of American Cultures. With it, she would be able to choose her own research topics and have full support for an entire academic year. As you may already know, Poon did receive the fellowship and is currently teaching

...ultimately, the purpose of my life is... to be able to

empower communities...

Professor Poon is currently a visiting researcher at UCLA. She is conducting her postdoctoral studies at the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and Institute for American Cultures for the 2011-2012 academic year. However, that’s not to say that she knew the specifics of what she wanted to do from the start. It was during her undergraduate years at Boston College, amidst pursing marketing because it was the practical, financially-stable thing to do, when the most cliché and yet remarkable thing occurred. Poon took a class that blew her mind. She chose to take Asian American Identity and History to fulfill her major’s diversity requirement, not anticipating the life-changing effects it would have. With the class came a sense of healing, as she confronted her repressed childhood feelings of anger and sadness. The results were extreme, shifting her entire perspective on the Asian American experience; she could not simply accept the racism any longer. “It was everything I had been looking for that I couldn’t really articulate,” says Poon. “This class finally helped me make sense of it.” With that, her career path veered sharply toward her true passion: sociology, social justice, and youth empowerment.

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reminded myself: this is why I’m here. It was much deeper than just a job.” Though the job was incredibly empowering, Poon wanted to exert more influence on a greater scale. She asked herself, “How do I become more effective in being a social justice advocate?” The answer hit her hard and fast when she realized that the people with power and freedom of speech are the faculty. In other words, it was time for a PhD. Poon describes it as a “necessary tool” to advocate for social justice, since people want hard evidence, such as professional research, about the problems being brought to the table. Seeing as there were only two professors at the time conducting research intimately tied to Asian Americans in the field of higher education research, she was not going to wait for them to come out with the research she needed. ‘I’m very ineffective without evidence as an advocate,” she jokes. “Otherwise, I’m just a screaming crazy woman.” Even now, she estimates that there are only twelve, at most fifteen, Asian American scholars in the research field of higher education. Within that group, only about five focus explicitly on Asian American experiences in higher education.

Asian American studies 187B (Education, Equity, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) and conducting various research projects centered on the API community. So far, Poon’s life has been an eventful one. She certainly did not know the extent of how much she would travel to pursue her dream. She has been all over the country and in and out of universities, searching for what she wanted in life. Instead of planning out every single step, she lived by values and knew her ultimate goal was to effect change. “Someone once told me to write a mission statement for my life,” she says. “I’ve edited it along the way but ultimately, the purpose of my life is… to be able to empower communities and work with [them] for social justice. To fight back.” Since the point of research is to spread awareness and spur reparative actions, Poon has indeed, in a sense, achieved her lifelong goal. Just as her college diversity class healed and empowered her, she is healing and empowering the community with her work. Dreams are attainable, and Dr. Poon is the perfect example: her journey proves that you need only have a passion and a general idea of where you want to go. The rest soon falls neatly into place.

PROFESSOR NAKAMURA Selected List of Films: Manzar (1972) (Writer/Producer/ Director) Wataridori: Birds of Passage (1975) (Writer/Director) Hito-Hata: Raise the Banner (1980) (Writer/Co-Director) Fools’ Dance (1983) (Co-Producer/Director) Through Our Own Eyes (1992) (Director/Editor) Something strong Within (1994) (Director/Editor) Looking Like the Enemy (1995) (Director) From Bullets to Ballots (1997) (Director) For a complete list of films and awards, go to: http://www.aasc.

PROFESSOR BASCARA Professor Bascara is currently the Vice Chair of the Asian American Studies Department. This is his first year serving as Vice Chair. His research interests include the Philippines, cultures of United States imperialism, critical race theory, Asian American and U.S. ethnic literatures, and gender and sexuality. Next quarter, he will be teaching HipHop Dance and Asian American Cultural Politics (Asia Am M98T).

PROFESSOR POON Did you know? Dr. Poon is particularly passionate for affirmative action issues since she is a direct beneficiary of an affirmative action program. In fact, it was how she was able to obtain her Master’s Degree! She made a national TV appearance with Stuart Varney on FOX Business, regarding UC Eligibility Policy. Her research interests include K-16 college access policies and inequalities, college choice and access, and how the immigrant experience shapes participation in education.

“Well, what can I do with Asian American Studies?” “You need to just figure out your passions and where you want to go. Maybe if you listen to your heart, there’s something else. Maybe it’s been there all the time but you’ve just been ignoring it.”

Her current research: Dr. Poon has been working with the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association (VAYLA) in New Orleans on their community project, which exposes the vast inequalities experienced by lowincome students of color, though their charter schools boast educational equality and are hailed as miracles within the education system. As a participatory action researcher, she examines the impacts of these school reforms on college access from the perspectives of low-income youth of color. She’s also assessing racial inequalities in education access, focusing on the experiences of Asian Americans.

What’s on the horizon of Dr. Poon’s future? “One final move,” she says. Poon has accepted an assistant professor position at Loyola University Chicago in the Higher Education program next year, and she is excited to get settled after years of moving from place to place and filling out change of address forms.



Professor Burns is an Associate Professor in Asian American Studies at UCLA.

Professor Omatsu has edited several journals and anthologies, including Amerasia Journal,” the leading research publication in Asian American Studies, and “Asian Americans: The Movement and the Moment” with

Her research intersts include Filipino American Studies, culture in social movements, race and performance, feminist performance theory, and Asian American cultural critique. Next quarter, she will be teaching Culture Of/Against Empire (Asia Am 123).

Steve Louie. In addition to lecturing at UCLA, he also teaches classes at CSU Northridge. PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012 | PAGE 9


Surprising Intersections

Jeffrey Kho, a secnd year at UCLA, is double majoring in Asian American Studies and MCDB.

By Ashley Truong & 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 con-

clare 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

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.

Part of the Asian American Studies Mural in Campbell Hall, painted by Darryl Mar.

siderimpractical, 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 dePAGE 10 | PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012

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 Kho took Asian American History for his History

Photo by Tony Le.

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. Before taking the class, Kho had also bought into the model minority myth. “Things were good,” 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 field 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

Photo by Tony Le.

Studies department, the intellectual knowledge that the major provides gives students an understanding of themselves in the national and global context. Moreover, it helps students develop their own identity. 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.” PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012 | PAGE 11

Myths and Facts about Asian American Studies Compiled by Grace Yim Asian American Studies is often subject to many misconceptions. Here, staff writer Grace Yim has demystified some of the most common misconceptions about the field.


MYTH: I’ve been eaten and shopped at LA’s Koreantown, Chinatown, and Little Tokyo and haven’t found anything significantly wrong with the communities.

FACT: It has become evident that many Asian Americans are uninvolved and ignorant in respect to the API community in Los Angeles. Nearly half a million Asian immigrants live and work in the Los Angeles County. The new immigrants typically have no knowledge of U.S labor laws and often do not have immigration papers. More than one of us has shopped at markets where workers are paid wages as low as $2.20/hour. Being aware of the harsh realities that exist in these communities is an important step in helping the community.


MYTH: Society places more value on the practical value of math and sciences than on the social sciences.

FACT: The social sciences facilitate social change by teaching students critical thinking and questioning. The sciences fix only some of the issues concerning society. For example, we can produce all the vaccines that we want, but if communities that need these solutions (such as the API community) are not receiving the benefits, then there is no benefit. If certain communities are not getting access to the scientific discoveries, then society is not truly making progress.

PAGE 12 | PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012

Myth: Asian American classes concern only the issues of Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders. Fact: Asian American labor classes focus on unfair and illegal labor practices that are being isued to exploit both Korean and Latino workers. The fact that 85% of the Korean and Latino restaurant workers are undocumented allows employers to instill fear and intimidation. The issue of labor practices affects all immigrants regardless of race.


MYTH: Asian American Studies is about writing papers or reading about Asian American history. FACT: A critical component of Asian American studies is advocating for our communities. A portion is spent on studying why people behave and think the way they do. However, a significant portion is also spent redefining learning and teaching beyond the confines of a classroom. This is done through political torus, community outings and student campaigns.


MYTH: I can’t do anything after college with a B.A in Asian American studies. FACT: Following your passion and applying it to fields such as law, education, non-profit work, journalism, and social work can lead to important careers. For example, Jane Kim is the President of the Board of Education and a civil rights attorney in the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. As an undergraduate, she double majored in Asian American Studies and Political Science at Stanford. Kim is an example of someone who followed her passion and used her Asian American Studies major to advocate for the API community in San Francisco.


Sources: Glenn Omatsu, “Linking ‘Book Knowledge’ to Lived Experience: Incorporating Political Tours of Our Communities into Classrooms,” in Activist Scholarship: Antiracism, Feminism, and Social Change, edited by Julia Sudbury and Margo Okazawa-Rey (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2009);

Expanding Horizons: UCLA Ethnic Studies Centers By Deanna Hoang-Yen Tran People run into it each and every day. Checkboxes on college applications. Cultural holidays. Daily conversations with friends. It is our ethnicity. Call it a melting pot or call it a salad bowl: Los Angeles is a place where people of different backgrounds converge. In 1969, UCLA realized the importance of having research centers geared towards particular ethnic groups, and thus the four research centers--Asian American, African-American, Chicano/Chicana, and American Indian-- were founded. Currently, UCLA is the only university with four separate ethnic studies centers.

Each research center is an organized research unit that executes applied research, or research that is geared toward solving practical problems in the community. In addition, community outreach programs and continual partnerships with community-based programs have provided positive and more intimate connections between the centers and the minority populations. From their inception, the research centers have been gradually proving their value to the university and demonstrating the great need for people to learn more about them-

Chicano/Chicana Studies Research Center

Ralphe J. Bunche Center for African American Studies

Located in Haines, the Chicano/Chicano Studies Research Center has been working hard since 1969. It possesses the only freestanding library dedicated to Chicano/ Chicana studies in the country and hosts an expansive archive of images and research materials. The center has become widely regarded as a place where scholars from around the nation can find resources for their own research, and also possesses its own research journal called Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies. The center undertakes multiple research projects as well, such as a recent one which analyzes hate speech occurrence in talk radio. Community outreach is an ongoing goal for the research center. These actions concern issues as diverse as art and healthcare. The administrators have made a conscious effort to not only provide exhibitions of artwork from local artists, but to also demonstrate what the community has done to support the artwork. Partnerships with the Spanish-speaking Psychosocial Clinic at UCLA and Mission Community Hospital have enabled many members of the community to find the health care they need and to become educated about the talent that surrounds them within their own community.

The Ralphe J. Bunche Center for African American Studies also possesses a library specialized for texts and resource materials relative to African American ethnic studies. Like the other research centers, it provides a special collection of unique works that are garnered towards research materials. One of the main research projects of the Bunche Center is the College Access Project for African-Americans, which reviews the admission processes in public schools and compares the use of a holistic process versus a process based on statistics without proper standardization or normalization. Portrayals of minority groups in the public are another point of research for the center who are looking at what type of portrayals mass media displays to the public and how public attitude is shaped by such portrayals. The Center has been committed to changing the premature conclusions that society is beyond race and that it no longer plays an issue in a person’s opportunities and perception. It continues to offer a critique of the mainstream, perform research identify evidence, and make the case for looking at different ethnic experiences.

selves and their peers. By understanding the ethnic identities of minority groups other than their own, students can gain a comprehensive understanding of the world and the reason for such differences, as well as the similarities people share. “The centers have become of age,” says Javier Iribarren, Assistant Director of the Chicano/Chicana Studies Research Center. “[They] have a proven track record of having contributed to the university…There is a sense of confidence. There is a sense that we are contributing to the vision of the university.”

American Indian Studies Center The American Indian Studies Center also possesses a library and collection which can cannot be found in other places. In addition to providing resources geared towards research in American Indian Studies, the American Indian Studies Center runs a journal called the American Indian Culture and Research Journal. Ongoing research projects in the center include Project HOOP. Project HOOP works with Native Theater and explores the art form with the goal of establishing Native theater as a subject to study and progress creatively in academic institutions. Through events and community partnership, the center has tackled issues such as increasing recognition among members of the American Indian community about the importance of higher education. Issues unique to the American Indian community have included the repatriation of American Indian bones and the legal and political implications of being sovereign nations inside the United States of America. These activities are not merely targeted towards the American Indian Community. The center has also actively promoted the understanding of people, despite their ethnic background, about the wide range and diversity of American Indian experiences.

PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012 | PAGE 13

SEACLEAR: Retaining Our Community 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 the realization that the path she had set out on was not a path that she had chosen for herself. She wasn’t happy and this reflected in her grades. 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. 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. The goal of SEACLEAR, a Retention Project of the Vietnamese Student Union, is to help students face academic and personal challenges like these 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 stu-

PAGE 14 | PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012

dent population is Southeast Asian students who 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-onone 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 is 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.

Vietnamese Culture Night: Communicating Hidden Messages By Ashley Truong Photos taken by Ray Luo

This year, the Vietnamese Student Union’s Vietnamese Culture Night started off with what one would usually expect at the end of the story: a marriage proposal. But for this year’s VCN, held in Royce Hall on January 16th, the marriage proposal was only the beginning of a complex, difficult journey for the main character, Mai, her fiancée, and her family. Vietnamese Culture Night, which is an annual play written and produced by the Vietnamese Student Union, has always been a medium through which VSU explores themes and issues that are usually not discussed in Vietnamese American communities, and this year was no different. The themes explored this year were interracial marriage (Mai’s fiancée is white) and gambling addiction. John Le, a third year Psychobiology major, has been a part of every VCN since his first year at UCLA. He initially became involved because he thought of VCN as a gateway to gaining stage experience, something that he would not have had much chance to do as a science major. Over time, though, VCN not only drew him to other extracurricular activities in the art--it also became a way to portray certain messages that may not get much attention otherwise. “It’s a great way to…[tell] a story that’s specific to a family and to what’s happening to the family,” says Le. “But [also to tell it] to the point where every audience member that is Vietnamese or even non-Vietnamese can relate

to and understand the story of [that] Vietnamese American family.” For Theresa Phan, Vietnamese Culture Night was an opportunity for to “do something for [her] culture.” Phan, a fourth year Spanish major, said that her mother asked her to do something involved with her Vietnamese culture. Because Phan is a Spanish major, her mother worried that she would lose her speaking and reading abilities, and her overall culture. Thus, Phan auditioned to be a cast member of VCN, and was eventually casted as Mai’s mother. When asked about the importance of culture to her, Phan says, “I think [culture] makes me who I am a little bit, because without learning about my culture I feel like I would be missing a piece of me…[Culture] is a piece of

who you are and who you’ll be for the rest of your life.” VCN has always drawn a large audience, not only from UCLA but from members of organizations that are part of the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations (UVSA), a network of college and high school Vietnamese Student groups. In addition, older members of the Vietnamese community—including family members of the students involved in organizing VCN--also come to watch the play. Vietnamese newspapers such as Nguoi Viet also provide coverage of the show. These older members of the community have expressed both their enjoyment of the show and their appreciation of it as a way for both the younger and older generations of the community to communicate with one another. “The fact that we can have these older folks that aren’t necessarily adjusted to the English language come to this show and even sit in the audience and have some semblance of understanding of the issues is a big deal,” Le explains. “They’re older folks, but they’re still there to try to understand the stories [of the Vietnamese American community].” Le estimates that about 2000 people came to this year’s Culture Night. Ultimately, Vietnamese Culture Night is a community effort. VSU draws on the support of a wide community of students and family members, and pays back that support by bringing to light subjects that affect the community but are not necessarily discussed. When asked how they felt now that VCN is over, both Le and Phan expressed a sense of relief, and, more importantly, accomplishment. Le says, “Seeing 200 plus participants [produce] the event, and to have 2000 people coming out, that’s just a big, big reward.”

PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012 | PAGE 15

In Their Words: Asian American Studies Grad Students speak about why they chose the major

After Asian American Studies: Possible Career Paths

Pacific Ties asked graduate students who are majoring in Asian American Studies 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.

Because Asian American Studies is such an interdisciplinary field, it can lead to many possible careers. Below, we have listed a few suggestions. The illustration, which depicts several career options growing from the roots of Asian American Studies, was drawn by staff member Olivia Tran.

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 has 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

Sophia Cheng; 1st year PAGE 16 | PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012

can 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 project 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

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.

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 the spirits and political consciousness of our youths – to empower students to think critically, to ask relevant questions, and to organize and collaborate on solving difficult problems in our society.

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.

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 justice 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

DAISY KIM; 2nd Year

I am a Bruin for Life, having completed my B.A 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 largescale 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 Ameri-

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.

JOURNALIST: We at PacTies have a special affinity to this career path. Journalists who majored in AAS are aware of the issues that affect their communities and can bring experience to their coverage of those stories. RESEARCHER: Like Professor Poon, researchers who have had exposure to AAS may choose to research API communities in order to shed light on issues that may not be well-known. SOCIAL WORKER: Asian American Studies provides the perspective to help social workers recognize why certain problems in API communities exist, and to see how they can begin to alleviate those problems.

ARTIST: To create art is to create the truth. With a background in AAS, artists can add dimensions and nuances of reality into their work. Be it in their acting, their poetry, their films, or their paintings, artists can use AAS not only to add depth but to attract a broad audience to their creative endeavors.

EDUCATOR: From kindergarten to university, educators help shape new generations of young people. Educators who have a background in AAS can assist young API students in understanding their identities and histories.

PUBLIC HEALTH: In a world where health resources are already stretched thin, AAPI communities are underserved and often stereotyped in their health problems. Those aspiring to work in public health can better serve these communities with the understanding and knowledge that AAS provides of the historical and current health issues surrounding AAPI populations today.

ACTIVIST: In order to bring issues facing the API community to light, activists take political action. By working with not only fellow API activists but other marginalized groups as well, the voices of many are heard to improve the lives of countless members of the API community.

WRITER: Whether it be for fiction or not, there is always need for more writers who can give a voice to an API perspective. Writers can raise awareness of API issues, bring to life API characters, and promote media representation of API figures in a manner that goes beyond the model minority myth.

PUBLIC POLICY: Those with knowledge about law in intersection with the API community can take action in a legislative setting. By working with the government, there can be judicial reforms for equal treatment of API persons in the eyes of the law.

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 to not only take advantage of this resource, but to also push its sustained commitment to student activism and socially relevant teaching and research.

PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012 | PAGE 17

Word Power: Book Reviews It is often literature and pouplar media that perpetuate stereotypes about marginalized communities such as Asian Americans. But those forms of storytelling can be re-appropriated by Asian Americans to present our own narratives that combat those stereotypes. Below, members of Pacific Ties’ staff, as well as contributors, have reviewed several books and comics by, for, and about Asian Americans.

The biography and description of the art pieces have been provided by the artist.

Fox Girl (Nora Okja Keller) Review by Diana Aquino Price Fox Girl is a story of survival on the margins. Set in 1950s, post-war Korea, this work of historical fiction imagines the experience of a young girl, Hyun Jin, whose discoveries about her parentage lead her to a gritty, often violent life in “America Town,” the neighborhood where U.S. soldiers come for ‘recreation.’ Hyun Jin and her makeshift teenage family, namely Sookie and Lobetto—mixed race youth abandoned by their American GI fathers, grow up fast as they learn to survive in an U.S. military-driven economy that exploits Korean women and children’s bodies. This is a raw narrative of struggle and endurance, victimization and empowerment, love and hate—a book that will stay with you long after you finish it.

Vietnamerica (G.B. Tran) Review by Tony Le For the children of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants in the United States, the generational gap can be difficult to cross. Partners, friends, spouses, children, and even the simplest moments in time are lost not only in war and strife but in the struggle to survive across different countries. When someone tries to close the gap, what happens? G. B. Tran’s book illustrates--literally--the results, giving life to a beautiful and poignant graphic history of three generations within his family as they survive through the Vietnam War and beyond to the U.S. If the stark contrast of black words on white pages has become repetitive and boring, try picking Vietnamerica up from the bookshelves and read and watch as G. B. Tran’s artwork carry the tale of occupation, war, and immigration.

PAGE 18 | PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012

This quarter, Pacific Ties decided to do an art challenge with the theme “Asian mythology.” Although we seek to challenge the “myths,” or stereotypes, surrounding the Asian American identity, we also want to honor and acknowledge the rich mythology that comes from the diversity of the Asian/Asian American community. The art featured below was submitted by Danielle Shen.


American Son: A Novel (Brian Ascalon Roley) Review by Diana Aquino Price

Tomas is a biracial white/Filipino American teen who has made himself—via tattoos, dress, affiliation, and more—pass as a Latino gang member. He makes a living out of training and selling attack dogs to rich Los Angeles residents. We learn this through the narration of his younger brother, Gabe, the Abel to Tomas’s Cain. The story that unfolds is a hard-hitting narrative of Gabe’s coming-of-age, a process punctuated by his brother’s influence and his Filipina mother’s racial and socioeconomic marginalization. Set in 1990s southern California, the book is just as much a dynamic commentary on the weight of race in contemporary society as it is a provocative tale of two brothers not just finding, but making a sense of self.

Art Challenge: Mythology Danielle Shen is a first year art major at UCLA. She is Chinese American and comes from East Lyme, Connecticut. Interested in art at an early age, she took drawing and painting lessons from the 3rd grade until the end of middle school. She has received various honors in the arts from local to international awards. A few titles include: national winner of the 1st American Academy of Pediatrics art competition, CAS (Connecticut Association of Schools) Outstanding Arts Award, co-winner for the Third Arts Olympiad Statewide Competition, and 1st Place for the Beijing Olympics 2008 International Juveniles and Children’s Competition of Calligraphy Painting and Photography. Shen has also taught

private and public art lessons for children for 6 years, at her home in Connecticut, as well as in East Lyme High School, and Connecticut College. She did not initially fathom even studying art or even going to school in the West Coast until she was accepted to the selective UCLA art program. She hopes to pursue a future career in art, animation, or art education after graduate school.

Lotus Heart | Medium: Watercolor/Acrylic

Guanyin is the bodhisattva of compassion within East Asian Buddhism. She is seen as a source of unconditional love. She is also the protector of women and children, as well as the goddess of fertility. Her vase represents her pouring compassion into the world, while her willow branch symbolizes being able to bend but not break.

American-Born Chinese (Gene Luen Yang) Review by Olivia Tran Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese earnestly captures the Asian-American experience in a cleverly plotted comic. Opening with a modified version of the Monkey King’s backstory from the epic Journey to the West, Yang goes on to introduce two other narrative threads, one featuring a second-generation Chinese American boy named Jin Wang, and the other an overthe-top, racist caricature. In the slow revelation of how these three seemingly unrelated stories come together, Yang depicts a genuine exploration of identity and reconciling it with a culture that seems intent on erasing it. Throughout the book, Yang’s art is appealingly simple, stylized, and especially effective in the sections featuring the Monkey King. American Born Chinese is a quintessential look at the struggle of a young Asian American individual and his coming to terms with himself, his race, and his place in society.

Lunar Deity | Medium: Watercolor/Acrylic This piece is based on the Chinese myth of Chang’e, goddess of the moon. Chang’e and her husband Houyi were immortals in Heaven banished to live on earth. Houyi, seeing that his wife was miserable living as a mortal, went on a quest to search for the pill of immortality. Finally granted the pill by Queen Mother of the West, Houyi brought it back in a case to Chang’e, telling her not to open it until he got back. Chang’e could not contain her curiosity and opened the case. Afraid that her husband would discover her, she accidently swallowed the entire pill and began floating to the moon. Houyi could not bear to shoot her down so Chang’e remained on the moon for eternity with only a jade rabbit for company.

Pele | Medium: Watercolor/Acrylic Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of fire, lightening, wind, and volcanoes who is believed to dwell inside the crater of a volcano and cause eruptions. According to Hawaiian mythology, Pele’s home is a fire pit called Halema‘uma‘u crater in Kīlauea. This is one of the most active volcanoes on earth. Every volcanic eruption is said to be an expression of Pele’s wish to be with her one true love, who is believed to be a young chief named Lohiau. PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012 | PAGE 19

Questions? Comments? Too many dragons? Find us on the web!



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PAGE 20 | PACIFIC TIES | winter 2012

Photo originally taken by ozzieadria@flickr, used and remixed under Creative Commons License B.Y.-S.A. 2.0.

Pacific Ties Winter 2012: The Asian American Studies Issue  

Pacific Ties' second issue of the year is now out! This time around we've focused on Asian American Studies, profiling various professors, w...

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