University now offers an Asian-American studies minor

Amy Horst

This fall, undergraduate University students could work toward Asian-American studies minors for the first time.

Students and faculty said they hope the minor will increase education about Asian-Americans’ experiences at the University and nationally.

Currently, the University offers majors and minors relating to Asia, but until fall semester, none dealt specifically with Asian-Americans. Some students and faculty said the change is long overdue, given the history of Asians in the United States.

“We’ve been working together for a number of years now trying to get a minor,” said Josephine Lee, an English professor and director of the Asian-American studies minor. “Now we’re working on getting a program going, and we’ve hired some really wonderful faculty members whose primary teaching or research interest has been in Asian-American studies.”

The University officially approved the curriculum last spring, and this spring a number of students will graduate with Asian-American minors. The minor is offered through the American studies department.

The minor defines Asian-Americans as people from North or South America whose heritage is East Asian, South Asian or Southeast Asian.

Lee said because the Twin Cities area has the largest Hmong population of any metropolitan area in the United States, the curriculum will probably focus more on the Hmong-American experience than schools on the East or West coasts.

Hmong people are generally from the mountainous areas of southern China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

The 2000 U.S. Census reported that 41,800 Hmong people live in Minnesota, but most nonprofit agencies estimate that number at over 60,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Web site.

Adopted Koreans’ experiences will also be important in the Asian-American studies program, Lee said. There are about 20,000 adopted Koreans in Minnesota, more than any other state.

Kong Vang, an American studies junior, said he was often embarrassed to tell prospective students the University had no Asian-American studies program.

Vang, the first student to sign up for the minor, founded a group called Students for the Asian- American Studies Initiative. The group hopes to push the University to add a major in Asian-American studies.

Vang said taking classes in the minor has increased his self-confidence.

“I’m not the type who usually talks in class, but (in Asian-American classes) I can talk about things that are relevant to my experience,” Vang said.

Vang said Asian-Americans often do not speak up in class as often as their peers.

“With these classes it allows us to have a voice,” Vang said.

The minor has also already affected the University in a positive way, said Joyce Mariano, an American studies graduate student with an emphasis on Asian-American studies.

Mariano said the minor has attracted many faculty members and teaching assistants who are raising awareness of Asian-American issues through research and education.

Juliana Pegues, a University graduate and principal administrative specialist in the art history department, said the minor would have made it easier for her to get a self-designed degree in comparative ethnic studies.