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Madeline Y. Hsu, Director BUR 480, Mailcode A2200, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-232-6427

Asian American Studies Course on Race, Identity & Politics in Asian America

By Lesley Varghese

Posted: December 18, 2012
Lecturer, Lesley Varghese, with her students that helped with the Islamophobia event

Lecturer, Lesley Varghese, with her students that helped with the Islamophobia event

This fall the Center for Asian American Studies offered a course titled “Race, Identity & Politics in Asian America”. The course explored identity politics and select topics in Asian American jurisprudence and Asian American history, focusing on the interplay between pan-ethnic Asian American identity, racial formation and public policy. The semester began with an exciting visit from New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner. In connection with a New York Times article on Asian Americans and affirmative action, Bronner covered a class debate concerning the merits and policy implications of the Fisher vs. UT case, a pending constitutional challenge to affirmative action at the University of Texas.  The New York Times article quotes several students, and can be found here.

It was not the last time the students would be asked to speak up in class. After studying the historical sources and harmful effects of Asian American stereotypes in politics, students were challenged to create and enact responsible and ethical political campaign ads addressing job creation and the outsourcing of jobs to Asia  - “without race-baiting.”  Following a survey of US immigration and deportation policy, teams of students acting as “Republican
strategists” negotiated and proposed comprehensive immigration reform strategies that they argued would be politically viable in a GOP primary, and attractive to Asian American and Latino voters in the next general election. Students also developed questions for and moderated a “mock” presidential debate featuring Republican congressional candidate Robert Thomas and Obama campaign worker/law professor Aron Mujumdar in a “live town-hall debate" staged in class.

Perhaps most importantly, the course promoted political participation and community activism outside of the classroom. Using a class social media page, students tracked the historic campaigns of the record number of Asian Americans running for U.S. Congress, and where possible, conducted and reported back on interviews with campaign
officials. In addition, each student completed a community service project with a political campaign or social justice nexus. Several students campaigned for bond finance and redistricting propositions during Election Week. Other students helped organize a December 5, 2012 panel on Islamophobia at the Nueces Mosque in West Campus. The Islamophobia event was attended by over 100 community leaders, students and faculty, and for many students, constituted their first visit to a Muslim place of worship.  View photos from the event here.

Lesley Varghese is the executive director at the Asian American Resource Center.

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