Asian American studies emerged from student activism in the 1960s & 1970s. Students who were inspired by the civil rights movements of the 1960s advocated for the creation of ethnic studies and Asian American studies courses at San Francisco State and UC Berkeley. Today, this interdisciplinary field can be found at colleges and universities across the country where students learn about historical and current experiences of people of Asian descent in the United States.
Some key moments in Asian American activist history that have shaped Asian American studies include:
Image credit: "WSP Vigil for Asian Americans" by Andrew Ratto
In the 1960s, activists worked to form a multi-ethnic and multi-racial coalition of people of Asian descent in the US to fight back against shared experiences of injustice. While each Asian ethnic group has been subject to varied, specific histories of xenophobia and discrimination in the US, building a coalitional identity helped communities gain greater political recognition on a larger scale.
It is important to remember that the terms "Asian American" or "Asian American & Pacific Islander" (AAPI) as markers of racial identity include a heterogenous group of people. Indeed, the term “Asian American” encompasses at least 24 distinct groups, and “Pacific Islanders” includes at least another set of 24 unique communities. In 1976, the US federal government first adopted “Asian Pacific Islander” as a racial category for data collection purposes; since 1997, this categorization has been split in two on the US Census with the options “Asian” and “Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.” When conducting Asian American studies research, it is important to consider both the similarities and distinctions between various communities that fall within the Asian American/AAPI umbrella category.
The following articles discuss the limitations and possibilities of an AAPI umbrella category: