Representation for Asian Americans

August 23, 2019

Imagine moving to a new country where you do not speak the language fluently, and therefore you cannot communicate properly with others. You must not only seek out work, but raise a family and provide better opportunities for them. Your children face racism and discrimination because they are different from others, and you experience many hardships that make you question your decision to immigrate to this new country. Your children struggle to understand their identity. 

Although many steps have been taken and challenges overcome to increase the representation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, there is still work to be done to educate people on the hardships that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have faced. Specifically, this fall, Brandeis welcomes a new course titled “Asian American History” (AAPI/HIS 163a) taught by Professor Yuri Doolan (HIST/WGS), which allows students to understand the contributions that Asian Americans have made to society and the challenges that they have faced. In addition, this course will also allow Asian American students to connect with their heritage. 

Professor Doolan explains his own experience as an Asian American whose mother married a military officer based in South Korea and then immigrated to the United States. He highlights that while in school, he was “othered,” or treated as a foreigner that didn’t fully belong. In high school specifically, he describes an instance in which, while asking about how the Jim Crow laws pertained to the Asian Americans, his teacher told him that “there were no Asians back then and if there were there weren’t enough to matter.” As a result, Professor Doolan believed that “[h]istory taught me that Asians were insignificant and that we didn’t matter—I believed my teacher.” This displays the way in which Asian American history is often times ignored in schools and as a result, Asian Americans feel a sense of isolation from others.  

Now Professor Doolan realizes that “before I took Asian American History as a college student, I lacked the language and critical thinking skills necessary to fully articulate or understand my own marginalization in U.S. society.” As a college student, Professor Doolan was able to understand the fact that Asian Americans were not properly represented in school or in society, which is why he previously thought that he was unimportant in society. He no longer believed that “Asians were insignificant.”

Professor Doolan believes that the most difficult aspect of Asian American history is the diversity of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Every Asian American has a different story, which makes it difficult to include everyone’s story in the syllabus. Therefore, he plans to tailor the class towards the students who enroll in the class. He hopes that his students understand and feel connected to their heritage. 

The course ends with a digital oral history project in which students interview an oral history narrator, record the interview in writing, and then create a digital archive for the interview. The archives will be put online so that other individuals may read them. Professor Doolan is most excited about the energy that the students will bring to the class. The addition of this new class is due to the students’ dedication and persistence for the representation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the community. Professor Doolan is thrilled to be educating students who are so passionate about Asian American history.

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