In this class we have read excerpts from two immigrant memoirs, and we will read a number of other Asian American memoirs as the semester progresses. Indeed, memoir is an important genre in Asian American history. Write a short (6 pages.) mini-memoir of your life growing up and as a student at MIT. Specifically, I would like you to reflect on what experiences shaped your understanding of the term "Asian American," and how this understanding changed (or didn't change) after arriving at MIT.
Start by considering the term "Asian American." Who are Asian Americans? (think about what groups you would/would not include in this category - Indians? Pacific Islanders? Eurasians? Afro-Asians? Why or why not?) What does it mean to be Asian American? Do you yourself identify as Asian American?* Why or why not? Think about the particular regional/historical context that shaped your ideas and identifications. How did the particular institutional/local context of MIT affect your thinking? What experiences motivated you to take this class? What do you hope to get out of it?
In order to do this assignment well, you'll probably need to write much more than six pages, and then cut back in your revision(s). Remember, we don't want random jottings, but a carefully considered piece that traces the trajectory of your thinking. Think about how Lee and Kang shaped their life stories. What messages were they trying to convey through narrating their lives? What message does your piece convey?
*Please note that this assignment does not necessarily assume that you consider yourself "Asian American" or any other ethnicity.
Imagine it is 1911 and the renewal of the Chinese Exclusion Act is up for discussion in Congress again. Craft an argument (in six pages) either in favor of or against Chinese Exclusion. In presenting your case, make sure to cover the ethical, social/cultural (including religious) and economic grounds. Make sure to rebut the main points of your opponents' case. In other words, if you are in favor of Chinese Exclusion, present the arguments of those who are against it; if you are opposed to Chinese Exclusion, present the arguments of those who are in favor of it, and rebut these arguments.
In order to position your argument, imagine that you are a fictional historical character and speak in his/her voice (examples might include: merchant, missionary, Chinese Christian convert, industrialist, skilled worker, unskilled worker, domestic worker, etc.). Think about what motivates you in making your argument either for or against Chinese Exclusion. In making your argument, consider what it means to be an American and how immigration affects the definition of America. What impact will Chinese immigration or its exclusion have on this definition? (Keep in mind that it is 1911.)
Use the sources covered in class as well as one of the sources you found on your own at the library workshop (see Part 2) in crafting your argument. Cite actual historical figures (for example, Fu Chi Hao or Samuel Gompers) as your opponents in this debate.
We want to see a thesis in the first paragraph.
Find one additional primary source through the libraries or the Internet concerning the question of "Asiatic exclusion" or the "Chinese Question" in the 19th or early 20th centuries. This text may relate directly, or indirectly to the "Chinese Question" (you might find a document arguing that Japanese are superior immigrants, for example). Use this source to supplement the other sources you have chosen from the class readings. You may base your fictional persona on this source, or on other material discovered through the library workshop.
In addition, write 1 page describing your primary source material. How did you find it? How did you evaluate the reliability? What is the source? How does it shed light on the historical question we are exploring?
Print out the primary source document and attach as an addendum to your paper.
Yen Le Espiritu (Asian American Panethnicity) and Eric Liu (The Accidental Asian) present different perspectives on the issue of "Asian American identity." You might say that Espiritu is a "believer" in Asian American panethnicity (that is, she accepts the viability and usefulness of this concept), while Eric Liu is a "skeptic." Yet, in some ways, what they have to say about Asian Americans is not so different: both emphasize the diversity of the Asian American community, and both acknowledge that Asian Americans have shared political interests. A central difference between the two arises from the fact that Espiritu focuses on institutions, while Liu focuses on culture. Another difference arises from the fact that Espiritu equates the term "Asian American" with the panethnicity concept, while Liu equates the term with the concept of race. Espiritu emphasizes the notion of "constructing and sustaining" Asian panethnicity, while Liu emphasizes the "accidental" nature of this identity. Therefore, because they take the term "Asian American" to mean different things, they arrive at different conclusions regarding the viability of "Asian American identity."
Which side of the debate do you support? Do you agree with Liu or Espiritu? Is Asian American identity feasible in the face of diversity, or not? Are there any drawbacks to this panethnic concept? Any benefits?
Detailed Instructions (PDF)