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AASP Students Speak!

 

Students in our program - minors and students who have taken individual courses - speak about the difference Asian American studies course work has made in their academic, professional, and personal lives.

 

Ianna Hawkins Owen (Valedictorian of Hunter College Class of 2008, Africana/Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Major)

Now a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley in African Diaspora Studies, I can say with unshakeable confidence that the AASP has left its mark on me.

As an undergraduate, I chose to enroll in Professor Jennifer Hayashida’s “Nation, Self and Asian Identity” course due to my interests in the study of the co-constitutive ideologies of race and sexuality and roles of academics and activists. Through this AASP evening class, I stretched and grew my capacity for critical and persuasive dialogue, developed lasting intellectual and personal friendships, and produced work of both publishable and conference quality. Not only this, but the syllabus also exposed me to texts that would become my some of my favorite novels (most notably, Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia).

The AASP curriculum surpasses the traditional disciplinary rhetoric of equity and inclusion and as such, beautifully and fluently complemented my major in AFPRL. Through a commitment to diaspora studies, Hayashida’s course became an essential component of my preparation for graduate school, aiding in my facility to think in excess of the nation, which I would later encounter in the work of scholars like Paul Gilroy. Had I been exposed to the AASP earlier in my undergrad career, I would have minored in a heartbeat.


Olivia Lin (Macaulay Honors College Class of 2009, Media Studies Major, AASP Minor)

I decided to become an Asian American Studies minor after I took my first AAS course during freshman year. It blew my mind away! I never realized how little I knew about our unique history and the Asian American activists who shaped our nation. There is so much left out of our public school system curriculum! I was so immersed in AAS that I focused my Media Studies honors thesis on cyberactivism in the Asian American community, and how Asian American activist groups mobilized before and after the advent of the Internet. It is vital that students take as many AAS courses as they can, and definitely become a minor if possible. There is so much that we don't know about Asian American history and current events, and college is really about learning more about unexplored areas. Taking AAS courses also led to my involvement in various Asian American student groups. I currently volunteer for Kollaboration New York, which is an annual talent showcase that highlights aspiring Asian American artists in New York City.

 

Jackie Mariano (CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies Class of 2011, Immigrant Community Organizing Major)

I would not be who I am today without Hunter College's Asian American Studies Program. Even after graduating, what I experienced in the program continues to shape my personal, academic, and political goals. I was politicized on campus by a grassroots Filipino women's organization based in NYC called Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE). In 2007, I attended a workshop conducted by FiRE during a Pilipinos of Hunter (POH) club meeting, where we discussed our community's vibrant, intertwined, and systemic migration history. A FiRE member and Hunter student introduced me to a member of CRAASH, the Coalition for the Revitalization of Asian American Studies at Hunter. CRAASH, in its mission to reinstate funds that were cut from the already small program, created a space where I felt empowered on campus. I was surrounded by students and faculty who were dedicated to reaching out to the Asian American community at Hunter and beyond, simply to make our individual academic careers much more well-rounded and just. I am forever grateful for their support. I also joined FiRE off campus, actively organizing local, national, and international campaigns for migrant Filipino rights, and against violence against women.

I bridged my academic and political lives through the CUNY Baccalaureate Program for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies. CUNY BA made it possible for me to design my own multidisciplinary major called Immigrant Community Organizing. Since the AASP did not offer an option to major in Asian American Studies (which I would have rather completed), I filled my CUNY BA course load with AASP classes including "Asian American Civil Rights and the Law,", "Asian American Social Protest Literature," "Nation, Self, and Identity," and a graduate course called "Current Issues in Asian American Communities" taught by Paul Ong of UCLA, a Thomas Tam Visiting Professor. I was mentored by Professor Lina Newton from the Political Science Department who taught "Immigration Policy." In addition, AASP Director and CRAASH Advisor Jennifer Hayashida served as my mentor, friend, and source of inspiration.

For years, I grappled with my place in the broad Asian American Movement for social justice. In classes like "Civil Rights", I explored the legal, economic, and social implications of discrimination and racism. In "Nation", I explored the generational traumas of colonialism on our people. In "Social Protest Literature," I learned how we have resisted oppression and built resilient communities worldwide, and in "Current Issues" I put all of that into practice in a research project about Filipino American activism. The AASP complemented my organizing work in the Filipino community, where we emphasize solving root problems in the homeland to better the conditions in the diaspora. After working on several campaigns supporting the cases of trafficked Filipino workers, and thinking back on my academic life with the AASP, I have decided to pursue the study of law. I will be starting my first year at the CUNY School of Law in the Fall of 2013. I am also serving as the national Deputy Secretary General of BAYAN USA, an alliance of progressive Filipino organizations fighting for national liberation in the Philippines, where I am leading the education committee to inform our communities about our just place in society. I am still involved with the AASP, working as a research assistant for Professor Angela Reyes on projects exploring "Conyo English", a dialect of the Philippine elite class, and other subjects in Philippine linguistics.

What shook me throughout my whole process was the realization that Philippine history, and Asian American history as a whole, is largely absent and even invisibilized in the overall American Narrative. My subsequent journey to unearth that narrative, connect to my heritage, and actively serve my communities, was made possible largely by the AASP.

 

Iman Rimawi (Hunter College Class of 2013, Psychology Major, AASP Minor)

Initially, the only reason why I had decided on taking an Asian American studies class was to satisfy a general education requirement. I was not aware of the Asian American mark on American history - it was not something mentioned or discussed in typical history classes. The minor in Asian American studies instills critical thinking skills which allow you to search for more than one side of an argument. In the process, you also become a more well-rounded person. These classes give a voice to the experiences of many different people who otherwise would not have been heard. All students should at least take one of these classes!

 

Christopher Eng (Macaulay Honors College Class of 2010, English Major, AASP Minor)

I was first introduced to Asian American Studies through Olivia Lin and Jennifer Hayashida as the student group CRAASH and the leadership of Professor Hayashida worked to create a vibrant academic program for Asian American Studies at Hunter. Our efforts at effecting institutional change allowed me to experience the intimate relation between the academic and the activist in the efforts of democratizing the university. Taking "Asian American Literature" and "Asian American Memoir" fundamentally changed my approach to my primary field as an English major and motivated me to join the minor. These two classes encouraged me to consider a number of questions that I hadn't contemplated before in relation to literature: how does race and ethnicity factor into our conception of what is "great" art? What are the different values placed on genres such as fiction and memoir and why are ethnic writers pressured to write about themselves and "their culture"? How and why do we judge literature written by authors of color in terms of its "authenticity"? The course "Nation, Self, and Asian Identity" solidified my passion for the field and was a turning point in my academic career: I began taking more classes in Asian American Studies and eventually crafted all my coursework to continue exploring the connections between literature, race, sexuality, and the nation-state. In conjunction with my academic studies, my diversity work with CRAASH, experience interning at the Asian American International Film Festival, and conversations with AASP faculty mentors motivated me to enter academia through an English PhD program at the CUNY Graduate Center with my primary field in Asian American literature and critical ethnic studies.

These are my beliefs: To be someone who is a good citizen and someone who is truly anti-racist requires that we not passionately defend against the existence of race and pretend that it does not matter. We need to examine not only how race is socially constructed by a collection of histories, processes, conditions, and policies but also how these histories around race materialize structurally in our present, creating uneven forms of access and qualities of life across different groups. It takes time and energy to carefully attend to how race matters. This process requires us to learn and grapple with historical and existing conditions that are neither easy nor pleasant--exclusion, imperialism, internment, labor exploitation, detention, deportation, hate crimes. Learning these things is not always easy or pleasant. If you get angry, do not fight it or lash out at the person telling you about these conditions: instead, treat it as an opportunity. Use your anger and this knowledge to ask yourself: what am I going to do about it? Use it as a source of inspiration, a starting point for dialogue, a necessary part that you take with you throughout your personal life in your daily decisions, social interactions, and your professional field. Regardless of your what your field is--be it finance, public relations, law, journalism, medicine--thinking through race is vital for not only gaining a richer, complex understanding of the world that we live in, but also continuing the unfinished project of social justice. These are the critical skills that I have learned from Asian American Studies, from the histories and realities of Asiatic racialization to the forms of activism, movements, resistance, and cultural productions that demand otherwise.

 

Ryan Baxter (Macaulay Honors College Class of 2012, Urban Studies Major)

It is far too easy to discount the importance of Asian American Studies, one of the most rewarding subjects offered at Hunter. "Asians in the US" helped me realize that who I am now is subject to change based on the experiences I will have in the future - and that the same is true of every person and every group in the world. No other area of study has shaped me as greatly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jonathan Joa (Macaulay Honors College Class of 2012, Economics and Political Science Major, AASP Minor)

When I was younger, I thought that that life was simple and straightforward: do well in school, get into a good college, graduate with honors, and get that high paying office job. Afterwards, everything else would fall into place. Thus, I spent the larger part of my adolescence with my nose buried in books, striving for that 100% on the next test or that unattainable SAT score. The only thing of importance was just getting good grades; spending my energy on anything else was just an inefficient waste of time.

However during college, I came to realize that life is a bit more complicated than that. Doing well in school is important, but in no means does it ensure everything. When I took “Asian in the US,” I came to learn about the existence of the bamboo ceiling in corporate America. Then, after taking “Asian Americans and the Law,” I learned about the legality of affirmative action, and how it affects young Asian Americans like myself today. This newfound information that there could be heavy implications on my future just due to my ancestry and race blew me away. I had always thought that by just studying and keeping my head down, I would be able to reap what I had sown, and nothing else could change that. This newfound interest in Asian American Studies continued with me throughout my undergraduate studies, and culminated into a minor in AAS as well as a Political Science honors thesis on affirmative action’s effect on Asian acceptance rates in law schools in California. By taking a minor in AAS, I was able to broaden my understanding of the world as well as challenge my own ideals. I only hope that others will take advantage of this same opportunity and sign up for as many AAS courses as possible.

After taking the LSAT but rethinking my career path, I applied to the Peace Corps and am currently working in West Africa as an Economic Development agent. Pending the economic state of the legal industry, I plan of pursuing a law degree when my service ends in 2014. You can follow my experiences in Africa at www.yaaaga.blogspot.com.

 

Melissa Cruz (Macaulay Honors College Class of 2014, Pre-Med/Biology Major, AASP Minor)

I declared my minor in Asian American Studies at the end of my sophomore year while taking "Asians in the US," essentially the intro course to the minor. I was initially drawn to the Asian American Studies Program (AASP) because of the uniqueness of it. I wondered why the AASP only had a minor and later found out that it is because there is not enough awareness of the field. I immediately wanted to support the minor and benefit from it while I had the chance. The AASP gave me the opportunity to learn about the history of Asians in America, something that is often skimmed over in history books and something that I can relate to as an Asian American. I was especially able to connect with my own culture and the experiences of my immigrant ancestors when I took "Filipino American Literature." 

AASP courses enable me to discuss Asian culture in the context of many of the stereotypes Asian Americans still encounter today. Being an AASP minor has made me aware of such issues and is preparing me to face them, even in the field of medicine that I am pursuing. The minor really is a unique field of study that sets me apart from others in my intended field because it teaches me about the cultural competence needed in these increasingly diverse communities. I am especially looking forward to taking "Asian American Communities and Mental Health" because of the connection it has to both my major and minor. I plan to continue taking insightful classes like these and garner support for the minor to keep it alive for future Hunter students and Asian American activists.


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