As the events of the past few years have shown us––such as I.C.E. putting immigrants into detainment facilities inspired by Japanese internment camps––we can no longer overlook the importance of teaching the history of Asian America. Moreover, the March 2021 shooting in Atlanta, GA of six Asian American women––whose work cannot be disentangled from the sex work that women of the Global South participate in––calls us to reckon with the complex and compounded ways that racism and histories of U.S. imperialism affect the most vulnerable and marginalized people in the United States. These biographies are crucial to understanding the complex history of America and must be taught.
We also want to acknowledge the context of Asian Americans in North Carolina, specifically. Between 2000 and 2010, North Carolina’s Asian American population increased by 85% and rose beyond the nation’s 46% growth; in fact, North Carolina was the state with the third largest percentage growth. This trend continues as the population grew almost 30% between 2010 and 2015. As of 2017, Mecklenburg County had North Carolina’s second largest Asian American population, at 61,859. This rapid population growth in North Carolina, and even Mecklenburg County, only heightens the relevance, importance, and need for Asian American representation and studies within the state and at Davidson College. At the same time, Asian American issues do not deserve our attention solely because of statistical presence, but because understanding Asian American history and culture is crucial to the project of antiracism in the U.S.
The history of Asian American student consciousness, community, and activism at Davidson College is fairly recent. The earliest Asian or Asian American student activists were in 2002 and advocated for the creation of an Asian student organization. This was a starting point for creating a space for Asian students at Davidson College––work that we are still building on today. These students, such as Sean Chan, Ying Zhang, Joey Chow, Min Nguyen, Nafisa Isa, were the pioneers of the Asian Cultural Awareness Association, which is still the largest Asian student organization we have on campus. Since 2002, the Asian population at Davidson College has grown exponentially, yet cultural consciousness around Asian history, politics, and discourse remains small.
Starting in 2016, a new group of students––including Tian Yi, Helen Mun, and Tabassum–– began designing a prototype for Asian American Studies at Davidson College while working with Dean Tae-Sun Kim, the then-director of the Multicultural Affairs Department, and Dean Fuji Lozada to create an independent study for spring 2016. This student working group developed an Introduction to Asian American Studies course that was taught by Dean Lozada and assisted by Dean Kim. Course syllabi and assignments can still be found on their website, ExpectAsian.
This student group worked with Dean Lozada and other faculty of color to propose new hires and a new Asian American Studies program at Davidson College, following a process similar to the one that was used to build the Africana Studies department. They focused on working with faculty and administration, but were unable to build popular support among the student body. This lack of widespread student support meant that when the administration disapproved of their proposals, organization around their demands were hindered and ultimately ceased. We, the Asian American Initiative (AAI), are building off of past student activists’ work to intentionally build an interdisciplinary and coalitional Asian American Studies program and campaign.