NEH seminar 2015
HUNTER COLLEGE AASP RECEIVES $104K GRANT FROM THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES FOR "ASIAN AMERICANS IN NEW YORK: LITERATURE & FILM," A 2015 SUMMER SEMINAR FOR K-12 TEACHERS FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY
CO-DIRECTORS: JENNIFER HAYASHIDA & CHI-HUI YANG
ABOUT THE SEMINAR
Immigrant communities in the US, whether first or fifth generation, with homelands from Africa to Asia, face the challenge and promise of defining what it is to be “American” – a dynamic term understood both on mythic national-historical levels, but on intimately personal ones as well. Indeed, this negotiation is, in fact, at the heart of what it is to be American. Given the transnational and domestic emphasis on Asian American identity formation – how it is generated, how it is contested – we also regard this seminar as exemplary of the ethos and objectives of the NEH’s Bridging Cultures initiative.
Contemporary Asian American filmmakers and writers are on the frontlines of chronicling this experience. The multitude of stories told by the children of immigrants, or by immigrants themselves – international students, refugees, adoptees, or simply those looking for a better life – are a microcosm of how American society generates itself, and these stories define what it is to be Asian American today.
With the backdrop of generation-shifting conversations around immigration reform, demographic change, and the ascendancy of Asian American writers and filmmakers, our proposed 2015 summer seminar “Asian Americans in New York: Literature & Film” seeks to provide participants with a relevant 21st century perspective on Asian American cultural production and communities, all through the lens of New York City – that multicultural urban social laboratory which has for centuries acted as the crucible from which American identity has been shaped and challenged.
New York City is today home to the largest and most dynamic Asian American population of any city in the U.S, representing more than 20 countries and speaking at least 45 languages and dialects (http://asian-health.med.nyu.edu/about-us/asian-americans-us). Although the state of California continues to be home to the nation’s largest population of Asian Americans, New York City has in the past two decades seen a 110% growth in its Asian American population. With approximately 1.2 million Asian American New Yorkers, constituting more than 13% of the city’s population, the rapid and ongoing transformation of New York City’s Asian American population provides a unique illustration of contemporary Asian America, one that looks to the present and future to define itself (Moy, Joyce. (2014) Asian American New Yorkers Count New York: CUNY Asian American/Asian Research Institute). The hallmarks of New York City’s cultural identity; multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-disciplinary, combined with perhaps the highest density of working artists of any American city, presents an engaging and useful setting to understand the contemporary identity of Asian America and the transformation of the faces of America.
The Asian American canon in both film and literature historically has been built around Asian American experience on the west coast. Although that area continues to warrant scholarly and artistic attention, an emerging area for Asian American scholars across disciplines is the terrain termed simply “East of California.” As a result of 19th and early 20th century migration patterns, formative Asian American communities settled in Hawai’i and the west coast of the U.S. mainland; consequently, cultural production extending out of those communities was, and to a degree continues to be, at the center of the field of Asian American Studies. Seminal works of Asian American literature and film emerged from these communities, including the first anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American literature, The Big Aiiieeeee!, and Wayne Wang’s San Francisco film noir Chan Is Missing.
However, since the early 21st century, and in particular after 9/11, an emergent area of examination has been the so-called “new demographics” working from New York, which has opened up new ways of addressing Asian America, from the frameworks of Muslim and South Asian communities, urban studies, and economic rights. With this scholarship has come dynamic new literary and moving-image based work, exemplified by Bushra Rehman’s novel Corona as well as ManSee Kong's in-progress documentary about the death of Private Danny Chen.
Drawing on contemporary film, video, and literature produced by Asian American New Yorkers, this seminar is intended to provide a 21st century update to an increasingly inaccurate mainstream narrative around Asian American experience – upwardly mobile, California-centric, of East Asian ancestry. The stories of contemporary Asian America represent a broad cross-section of countries of origin – Bangladesh, Nepal, Trinidad, the Philippines – and intersect with pressing cultural and socioeconomic concerns – citizenship status, poverty, human trafficking, gang violence. New York’s Asian American cultural producers contest normative conceptions of “Asian America” in new and critical ways, and this seminar provides participants with an important opportunity to examine this emergent work and return to the classroom equipped with new tools and understandings of U.S. multicultural literature and film.
We will be posting updated information as the planning process progresses. For information about applying to the seminar, please visit www.neh.gov