Apr 6, 2008

Support the Fight for Asian American Studies at Hunter College

I'm writing this in response and in support of the righteous students and organizers at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York, who are organizing and pushing to protect and expand Asian American studies at their school. I stand with these students and urge any reader here to check out their information (here's an article to start) and see how you can be supportive of their cause. I'll post more information up as I get it about how allies and supporters around the nation can show them love and let them know that we stand with them in this struggle. Though some of the private schools in NYC such as NYU and Columbia have been able to maintain and expand Asian American studies program and initiatives, the City University sites at Hunter and Queens College have not had the resources or the support from Administration to do as well. They are struggling, and with them, students from families throughout NYC, many of whom grew up in the city and know the communities well, have fewer opportunities to connect those communities to larger struggles in the way that only solid and resourced Asian American studies courses and programs can do.

I came up through public schools, up until this stint in graduate school. The fight for Third World Studies and curriculum came out of righteous struggle in public schools, with the partnership of the broader community, recognizing that we needed our peoples' struggles to be represented in the classroom for a lot of reasons. It is really serious if history is taught devoid of the specific activist and organizing legacies that have been at the root of social change, from the hard-fought labor victories that gave us the 40 hour work week, benefits, minimum wage and the right to organize to the civil and immigrant rights gains that the conservative movement is trying to roll back.

Ordinary and extraordinary people, far beyond the few known individuals like Dr. King and the others chosen by the mainstream to represent these mass movements, committed their lives and risked everything to move things forward. By ignoring or simplifying this context, the people - specifically the oppressed and powerless - are expected to stay in their place and play by the rules in place. They do this without knowledge that there has always been a strong and present resistance in the United States, and one that has made progress, even if it hasn't reached the revolution.

The prominent narrative in America is that the founding documents were all we needed to get the "freedom" and "liberty" we live with: the importance of peoples' power, and movements, are frequently undercut or actively contradicted. Why else would labor unions, which were so critical in so many ways, suffer from mediocre celebration and membership (though I'm not saying internal corruption is not also a factor).

This is even more pressing for communities of color and immigrant communities. Feeling powerless, they often don't know that there have been generations of struggle led by immigrants -- in the fields, in the factories, and on the streets -- that have changed this country. Asian American community contributions are one such place for these histories, which still remain hidden within the canon of American civil rights and resistance thought, literature, and studies.

While I think that Asian American studies can be a space that is self-indulgent, detached from the real community connections that it should have, and far too theoretical when there's a world outside for it to engage, it is also a space for reflection, revelation, and resistance. Asian American studies that engage the local communities, and that open up a dialog with those communities -- literally, and through the texts and pedagogy -- are our only hope to moving beyond simple identity politics to something more transformative.

I applaud the students at Hunter for saying "hell no!" and for holding on and fighting for Asian American studies. Hunter has had a long and difficult tradition with its Asian American studies programs, and I know there are some alumni out there who were part of earlier struggles, and should plug back into what's happening on campus.

To the students, your struggle is our struggle. Your struggle is a struggle that many of us forget is still going on at campuses where it matters. Your organizing is not in vain, nor is it lost on those of us who believe in the struggle and in the cause. It's not just about finding ourselves in the curriculum - it's asserting that we belong there, that our stories and community members should be in these institutions, and we should have the ability to learn from the past so that we can be connected to those struggles as we move forward.

Keep ya head up, and let us know how we can help.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful and well written article.
I support the students of CRAASH as well and want to hear more about their progress.

Rage said...

Thanks for reading and your kind comment. I'll post up more as I hear about it, and thanks for bringing me back to the site after a bit of a hiatus.

Olivia Lin said...

Hi Rage, my name is Olivia and I am the founder of CRAASH. Thank you for your wonderful words of support. You have no idea how much this means to us at CRAASH - it's a lot of hard work for us 8 students, but we keep going because of supporters like you. If you would like to help some more, please write a letter or forward your piece to Hunter administrators (president@hunter.cuny.edu [President Jennifer Raab] and shirley.scott@hunter.cuny.edu [Dean Shirley Scott]) to let know about your concerns.

Keep spreading the word! Thank you!

Rage said...

Olivia,

Thank you for reading and for your kind words. But far more important than what I write here is the work that you and the other sisters and brothers at Hunter have been doing. It really is inspirational.

I'll definitely get people to write to the Hunter Administrators - I'll look to your information about what I should emphasize. Thanks again, and stay strong.