AARC Research Grant Awardees 2021

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Faculty Awardees

Julian Chun-Chung Chow, Social Welfare, and Khatharya Um, Ethnic Studies, “Being, Caring, & Giving: Reimagining the Post-pandemic Economic Futurity among Low-Wage Asian and Pacific American Workers”

Since the onset of the COVID pandemic, Asian and Pacific American (APA) communities have faced the triple crisis of health vulnerability, anti-Asian violence, and widespread economic insecurity. Though much has been written about the health effects of the pandemic, relatively little is known about the social and economic impact of COVID on APA and, even less, on the vulnerable sub-groups such as Pacific Islander or some South Asian communities (e.g., Nepali Americans). The few studies that exist indicate that, throughout the pandemic, as a group APA suffered one of the highest unemployment rates across racial groups. Though significant, these findings are insufficiently disaggregated, and yield little insight into the differential impact among communities, especially the smaller and harder to access APA groups.

This project aims to assess the challenges facing lower-skill and low-wage APA workers who have been economically impacted by COVID, and to gauge their perceptions of the future that they envision for themselves. The ultimate goal is to explore potential pathways for economic recovery and advancement for vulnerable APA populations after the pandemic. We propose the cooperative business model as a viable solution for those looking for safer, higher-paying, and more empowering economic alternatives. Members of worker-owned cooperatives, which are found to be less likely than conventional firms to lay off workers during economic downturns, would acquire more security, autonomy, and social capital. The APA communities will also be strengthened by our multigenerational, culturally-informed cooperative model that provides opportunities for first and second-generation immigrants to work together collaboratively.

Hannah Michell, Ethnic Studies, “A Space for (All of) Us: BTS and Asian American Activism during the Black Lives Matter Movement”

The absence of positive and empowering representations of Asians in American popular culture has meant that many Asian American youths have turned to Korean popular culture for self-identification and meaning; hence it is no surprise that Asian Americans comprise a significant share of BTS’ fandom, also known as Adorable Representative MC for Youth (ARMY). The proposed research project will investigate Asian American ARMY’s digital mobilization of support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd to illuminate how digital spaces and strategies are used to allow marginal groups to resist dominant conceptions. How have Asian American youths’ participation in these acts of interracial solidarity challenged historical myths of Asians as a politically inactive ‘model minority’? An investigation of ARMY’s digital activism will serve as an important case study, demonstrating new forms of agency, possibilities for activism and opportunities for cross community coalitions in the future.

Lisa Hirai Tsuchitani, Ethnic Studies, “On Experiential Inclusion: Asian American Student Wellness at UC Berkeley”

This research project builds upon past and current efforts to document and assess educational equity and belonging issues for Asian American undergraduate student communities at UC Berkeley. This study is guided by the following research questions:

  • How are Asian American undergraduate students faring in the wake of unprecedented shifts in instructional praxis, residential life, and campus life?
  • How are they making sense of their identity as Asian Americans amidst increased incidents of racialized violence against Asian American communities locally, nationally, and globally?
  • How do they understand their identities and social positions in relationship to other undergraduate students of color on campus in the wake of the Black Lives Matter Movement and increased attention to the ways in which systemic racism operates in their lives?

Collaborations with campus partners such as the Asian American & Pacific Islander Standing Committee, the Asian American & Asian Diaspora Studies Program, and the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues will be of critical importance in helping to identify interview subjects, inform areas of research focus, and develop and realize actionable recommendations for campus leadership to address the diverse and complex needs of Asian American undergraduate students at UC Berkeley.

William White and Laurie Wilkie, Anthropology, “Point Molate Shrimp Camp Artifact Analysis”

In the San Francisco Bay Area, sea level rise threatens hundreds of archaeological sites that are integral to our understanding of the past. The threatened loss of heritage is particularly important for BIPOC communities, such as the Bay Area’s Chinese Americans, who struggle for the recognition of their historical contributions to United States history. During the nineteenth century, Chinese immigrants came to this region to start businesses and participate in the growing West Coast economy. Chinese entrepreneurs and laborers started a shrimp processing facility at Point Molate in Richmond. The community they created on the coast would be home to dozens of Chinese immigrants for over 50 years. What remains of their homes is now an archaeological site that will soon be lost due to climate change, meaning we will have one fewer opportunity to study Chinese historical contributions. 

Currently, a campaign led by the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA) is being waged to save and reinterpret the site by leading Chinese American scholars. Previous archaeological excavations at the site were conducted in 2008 but they were done without cooperation from the Chinese American community. We are seeking funding from the Grants in Asian American Research to reevaluate the previously excavated items. The resulting data will go far to prove the importance of this site to the Chinese American community and is a chance to redress the cultural harm caused by digging sites like this without consulting the descendant community.

Chunyan Yang, Education, “Social Network Analysis on Asian American Educators’ Risks and Support Systems Related to Anti-Asian Racism and Violence”

In response to the anti-Asian racism and violence during and following the coronavirus pandemic, this project aims to advance our scientific understanding of Asian American educators’ risk and resilience experience with anti-Asian racism and violence and how they utilize their social and professional network systems to cope with these negative experiences. To achieve this goal, social network analysis will be applied in the proposed project to expand the ongoing Asian American Educator Resilience Project, a short-term longitudinal mixed-method study conducted among educators in northern California, to understand and promote the resilience of Asian American educators in face of anti-Asian racism and violence during and following the COVID-19 pandemic. This project's ultimate goal is to develop a comprehensive framework of best practices detailing how schools can leverage professional and social support systems to promote the psychological and professional well-being of Asian American educators and other educators who are experiencing discrimination and violence based on their group membership during and following the pandemic and subsequent social crises.

Graduate Student Awardees

Joshua Acosta, Ethnic Studies, “Island of Isolation: The Culion Leprosarium at the Center of Empire in the American Colonial Philippines, 1900-1940s”

In 1906, the U.S. government established the world’s largest leprosy colony on Culion Island in the Western Philippines to contain the spread of Hansen’s Disease, also known as leprosy. By examining public health through a colonial framing, this project inquires what it means to “eradicate disease” as a social and hierarchical construct by interrogating the following: How did the medicalization and racialization of Hansen’s Disease work in tandem to construct Filipina/o bodies as subjects to advance public health infrastructure in the United States? How does quarantine make visible the intimacies of community-making for Filipinas/os living on Culion despite being in isolation? Finally, how does the colonial framework of public health inform us about COVID-19, specifically the legacies of racializing disease on Asian bodies and the global role of the United States to combat the pandemic? This project examines how Filipinas/os confined on Culion Island navigated their carcerality to reclaim sovereignty over their own bodies in a shifting terrain of public health policy and colonial governance. Moreover, I center the Philippines at a crucial juncture with American imperialism, the domestic institutionalization of public health departments in the Progressive Era (1890s-1930s), and the global restructuring of U.S. hegemonic ascendancy in the 20th century. As COVID-19 makes visible stark inequities, the history of Philippine public health offers a vital historical case study to contextualize how the U.S. has constructed disease along racial lines and has deployed public health measures to save lives while advancing empire.

Eduardo Bautista Duran, Jurisprudence & Social Policy, “The Frontier Is All Around Us: The ‘Chinatown Squad’ and the Transition from Colonial to Modern Policing in Nineteenth Century San Francisco”

U.S. histories of policing mostly follow a regional approach that highlights England’s influence on the emergence of modern and professional police forces in East Coast cities such as Boston and New York in the early-to-mid 1800s. The standard narrative suggests that the ideas from the London model of policing ultimately traveled to California during westward expansion and were adopted in San Francisco and other western frontier locations. This project disrupts this narrative by emphasizing the legacies of colonization and racial ordering in early statehood California following the Gold Rush period where Indigenous, Latinx, and Chinese populations were targeted as enemies by European-American white settlers who sought to impose a new racial and economic order following California and San Francisco’s tumultuous early years. The project is based on archival research including the analysis of primary and secondary source materials to uncover the impact anti-Chinese racism had in the expansion of policing in San Francisco. The “Chinatown Squad” specialized police unit within the San Francisco Police Department emerged in the late 1870s in response to anti-Chinese riots and laid the groundwork for new strategies of policing including undercover operations, building entry, and deep surveillance of racialized communities. This project adds a new dimension to histories of policing by bringing attention to the policing of Chinese persons in San Francisco and the major influence this has had on urban policing strategies still employed today on Black and Brown communities.

Quennie Dong, School Psychology, Graduate School of Education, “The Impact of Anti-Asian Discrimination and Violence on Asian Americans Educators: Exploring and Validating Racism-Related Stress Measures”

The alarming increase in anti-Asian discrimination and violence has generated concern, fear, and grief across Asian American communities nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. More so, our educators within school systems face additional occupational stressors due to the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g., schools reopening, changes to instruction and routine). Occupational stressors coupled with racism-related stress warrant the examination of the impact of anti-Asian discrimination and violence on Asian American educators’ professional and personal wellbeing. This study aims to measure the impact of racism-related stress on Asian American educators' professional and personal wellbeing. The project will further explore validation of the American Racism-Related Stress Inventory (AARRSI) and utilize cognitive interviews among Asian American educators to better understand the varying experiences of anti-Asian discrimination and violence. These findings could inform the betterment of support systems and broaden our understanding of factors that mitigate the impacts of racism-related stress for Asian American educators.

Victoria Huynh, Ethnic Studies, "When We Fight, We Win: Southeast Asian Anti-Deportation Organizing in Oakland, CA"

My research project uses Southeast Asian anti-deportation organizing to expand the theoretical framework of healing justice, the intertwined work of addressing individual trauma and organizing against state violence. Using interviews with lead organizers at the Asian Prisoner Support Committee (APSC) and the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants (CERI) in Oakland, my research has two primary concerns. First, I seek to understand intergenerational trauma in Southeast Asian refugee communities as the result of interconnected systems of violence: military imperialism, displacement, poverty, and criminalized deportation. Second, I attend to the everyday work of survival in refugee communities. Both APSC and CERI mend the fractures of trauma by celebrating their cultural traditions and building life-affirming relationships. CERI bridges generations of Southeast Asian families, while APSC fights for incarcerated & deported refugees to return home to their communities in the East Bay. Their work challenges the intergenerational silences of war and the isolation of incarceration and deportation.  My research asks: how might these intimate practices of reconnection and resilience help us to subvert the violences of U.S. immigration policy and the prison industrial complex? How might healing justice become an organizing strategy towards abolitionist futures? This project will culminate in a multi-media zine and form part of my Ethnic Studies dissertation, Resilient Roots: Healing Justice in Southeast Asian Communities. I seek to understand how healing practices can help address the very systems responsible for trauma. As a scholar-activist, I see community knowledge as a tool to shift us towards lifeworlds free of displacement, captivity, and scarcity.

Crystal Song, Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, “Covid-19 and Asian American Monstrosity”

While the perceived link between immigrant bodies and epidemic disease is well established in this country’s history—as the ongoing surge in anti-Asian violence can attest—the deeply corporeal anxieties provoked by Covid-19 have reanimated something even stranger: the fear of a zombie apocalypse. Finding purchase in all political corners, the figure of the zombie has suggestive staying power in pandemic times and beyond. My project draws together two viral imaginaries—the persistent association of epidemic disease with diasporic Asianness as well as zombieness—to ask what theoretical and political possibilities exist at their intersections. What does it mean that the “China virus” has been consistently envisioned as a “zombie virus”? What does Asian Americanness share with the zombie—a creature evacuated of individuality or agency, merely part of a mindless horde, the ultimate ontologically unassimilable Other? I explore monstrous constructions of the diasporic Asian body within a U.S. cultural context. Tracing a genealogy of the Oriental zombie within popular literary, media, and performance narratives, I hope to illuminate the ways in which this figure, and the anxieties it serves to mediate, continue to inflect contemporary anti-Asian violence. In a time so preoccupied with bodily intimacy and contagion, the zombie offers a generative site for examining the stakes of this anxious preoccupation for Asian Americans—those of us imagined as the monstrous Other within.

Amanda Su, English, “Liberal Exemplarity and the Chinese Woman, 1935 to 2010”

Towards the end of her long career, Pearl S. Buck published a fictionalized biography of Empress Dowager Cixi, Imperial Woman (1956), following her trajectory from lowly concubine to indomitable ruler of China. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Imperial Woman was the way in which – according to her biographers Peter Conn and Hilary Spurling – Buck conveyed a sense of “symbolic affiliation” with the empress in the novel, such that one might be able to allege that it is not fully a biographical, but rather autobiographical work. Why does Pearl S. Buck, the Nobel Prize-winning advocate of liberalism and depicter of Chinese humanity to the West, come to identify so closely with a famously authoritarian and inhumane figure such as Empress Cixi, and what does it reveal about the uses of Chinese femininity as political allegory during this particular juncture of the Cold War, particularly as Buck’s own stance on the Cold War veered notably hawkish? My dissertation examines writings by and about Chinese women – including Eileen Chang, Nieh Hualing and Yiyun Li – who have been famously touted as exemplars of liberal humanity in the cultural campaign against Communist China, but whose lives and works reveal ambivalent and dissonant undercurrents that belie these facile categorizations. Reading alongside key moments in immigration law and women’s rights movements, I seek to understand how the avatar of the Chinese woman as liberal exemplar becomes mobilized as metaphor, and how the writers I survey engage and complicate that characterization.

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