Gaping Hole in Curriculum - Still No Asian American Studies

By Vu Hong Pham

For years now, there have been many attempts to establish Asian American and Southeast Asian Studies programs at UCI, yet the Administration has mostly neglected the Asian American students on campus.

UCI boasts the largest percentage of Asian American undergrads of all nine UCs, and this number has continued to increase over the past few years. However, few courses dealing with Asian Americans have been offered. When classes are offered, there is an extremely high demand, with waiting lists as high as 200-300 students.

There tends to be the common mistake of grouping both Asian Studies and Asian American studies together, but there are many distinctions. Whereas Asian Studies (like UCI's East Asian Studies program) focuses on the history and culture of Asia, Asian American studies focuses on the experiences of Asians in America.

Asians in America have vastly different experiences than those in Asia. Asians who live in America are torn between their heritage and caving into the Anglo culture, and also between sacrificing for the "American Dream." yet held back by the dominant power structure.

Asian Americans students are not the only ones who long for their own studies program. Many faculty, staff, and non-Asians also echo that sentiment.

Despite the need and desire for the program, UCI is the only campus of the nine UCs that does not offer an Asian American Studies program.

What is being done to meet our needs? Very little. Although the Administration has formed a research committee for the establishment of an Asian American Studies program, it has not approved a substantial amount of funding. The small amount of funds is quickly exhausted in administrative costs such as stipends for the recruiters and researchers, as well as on the actual recruiting process.

The bottom line on funding is that administration has not granted enough for the committee to gain any concrete plans for forming an Asian American Studies program.

Another problem is that there is no set deadline for the establishment of the program. This means that the Administration can procrastinate and delay efforts. New students won't be exposed to an Asian American Studies program, the ones considering UCI may discount it because of the lack of attention to Asians, and the ones already here will graduate without their needs being met.

There are only two full time Asian Americanists, (professors specializing in the field) at UCI. Administration will refute this fact by stating that there are other professors researching Asian American issues. Yet, they are not Asian Americanists, since they have never extensively studied or researched Asian American issues before, and they have not researched in this field.

Despite the fact that UCI does have an East Asian Studies program, it is greatly lacking in the presentation of a Southeast Asian curriculum. It is necessary to understand one's own Asian culture and history in order to comprehend Asian American issues.

Southeast Asians represent a large number at UCI, with the majority of them being Vietnamese. In fact, Orange County has the largest number of Vietnamese in California (roughly 120,000) with approximately 1500 at UCI alone.

Despite this fact, there is no established program within East Asian Studies concerning Southeast Asian history, culture, and languages. The large number of Vietnamese students suffer most because their needs are not met, and their numbers are not properly represented. For several years now, there has been a push to have a Vietnamese Studies program introduced in different departments, but no concrete results have been reached.

The Vietnam War had an enormous impact on American culture and history, yet there are no steady classes being offered concerning that event. It is time that UCI offered courses dealing with this pivotal point in America's history. Specific courses like these will direct and allow students to view the Southeast Asian Archive, a resource few know about.

UCI definitely has not done enough with their curriculum to meet the needs of Asians. There are many other colleges and universities which offer Asian American and Southeast Asian Studies programs, yet UCI has neither.

The increasingly diverse multicultural and foreign language requirements and courses at UCI will not be complete without diversifying education with Asian representation.

Vu Hong Pham is co-editor of Ricepaper, UCI's Asian/Pacific Journal.