Asian American Women: Gender, Race and Immigration

Course Information

Professor Miliann Kang
Women's Studies Program, UMass Amherst
Office Location & Number Bartlett 73 (basement), 577-0710 or 545-1922 (Women's Studies Office)
Office Hours Tuesday, Thursday, 9:30-10:30 or by appointment
Class info Fall 2003, Tuesday, Thursday, 2:30-3:45, Bartlett 212

C o u r s e D e s c r i p t i o n

An Asian American feminist movement is vital for the larger project of uncovering the social structure, with its built-in injustices and inequities, that affect us all. In today's global economy, in which nothing is certain for anyone save the most elite of the elite, this is a project that vitally concerns the majority.
Sonia Shah, Introduction, Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire, p. xix

Chinese-Americans, when you try to separate what things in you are Chinese, how do you separate what is peculiar to childhood, poverty, insanities, one family, your mother who marked your growing with stories, from what is Chinese? What is Chinese tradition and what is the movies?
Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior, p. 5-6

What are the categories of "Asian American" and "woman" and how are these cross-cutting social positions integrated in the lived experiences of women who claim these identities? How do the experiences of Asian American women vary by ethnic group, and how do they compare to those of white women, other women of color, and Asian American men? What can we learn about broader systems of power and inequality by examining the historical and contemporary locations of Asian American women? In exploring these questions, this course examines Asian American women's identities, educational achievement, economic incorporation political participation, and social positions within their ethnic communities and the U.S. mainstream. Analyzing the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, class, nation and sexuality, we will examine Asian American women's immigration experiences, families, work and sexual politics. Topics will include: immigration and settlement; labor history and contemporary employment patterns; dating and marriage; family and career choices; inter-generational relations; the representation of Asian female bodies; violence against women; militarized prostitution and sex tourism; and movements for social change The course material will incorporate social science research, literature, political essays, film, poetry and art. The course has a strong comparative focus between women in the U.S. and women around the world, emphasizing transnational linkages and the processes of globalization.

R e a d i n g s

Required Texts: The following books are available at Food for Thought Books, 106 East Pleasant St. 413-253-5432 in Amherst Center and are also on reserve in the library. Additional readings will be distributed.

G o a l s & O r g a n i z a t i o n


  1. to gain an understanding of the major intellectual concepts and debates in the study of Asian American women
  2. to apply the insights of an Asian American feminist analysis to comprehend the social forces that shape economic, political, social and cultural life in the U.S. and globally.
  3. to master the basic tools of feminist inquiry - including the ability to identify gendered processes, to pose theoretical questions and engage with current debates, and to learn methods of research, criticism and advocacy.
  4. to engage actively with concerns in the college and local community related to Asian American women.
  5. to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and more intimate relationships with Asian American women in our own lives.
  6. to envision social institutions, policies, relations, ideologies and practices that foster respect, health, safety, equality, esteem and empowerment of all women.
  7. to develop written and verbal skills for developing ideas, exchanging ideas with others, and presenting these ideas to a broader audience
  8. to create a learning environment that instills confidence in your abilities to articulate and interpret your own experiences, and to empower you to take action as agents of personal and social change.

This course aims to give you an understanding of Asian American women's experiences through an integrated feminist perspective that acknowledges numerous cross-currents and debates across interdisciplinary boundaries. There are two readers for the course, Making More Waves: New Writing by Asian American Women (referred to as Waves) which introduces a broad array of theories and topics and Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire (referred to as Dragon), an anthology that focuses on activism and resistance. The book, Issei, Nisei, War Bride: Three Generations of Japanese American Women in Domestic Service, will provide background of historical patterns of labor migration and settlement as well as an in-depth case study of Japanese American domestics in the Bay Area. We will also read a novel, The Woman Warrior, which will allow you to examine a classic work of Asian American feminist fiction and relate it to arguments in other readings. Rather than completing one section and moving on to another topic, we will weave and layer the many different strands of feminist thought, drawing connections and contrast between different authors and analytical approaches.

R e q u i r e m e n t s

We all have intense feelings about our gender, racial, ethnic, sexual and class identities and the social practices and institutions that shape them. Thus, I ask that we work together to create a space that honors the sensitivity and privacy of the issues we will discuss. I ask each of you to take responsibility for building a classroom environment based on mutual trust, confidentiality and a sense of community while at the same time engaging in intellectually rigorous and challenging discussions.

This course follows a seminar format, which means that it is based mostly on class discussion and interactive learning exercises rather than lectures. This requires that you come prepared to think critically, articulate ideas coherently, listen attentively and respect the diversity of experiences and perspectives of your classmates. Because active class participation is so important for the success of this class, I have designed the assignments to facilitate deeper engagement with the readings and richer discussions. The class is structured around frequent, shorter assignments which allow me to provide you with regular feedback. In other words, this is not a course that you will be able to "cram" for. In order to do well in this course, you must take time to digest and integrate the course material.

Academic Honesty
Academic dishonesty, in any form, will not be tolerated and you are responsible for educating yourself about the University's official policy on academic honesty>: If an instructor finds that a student has violated the University's Academic Honesty Policy, the instructor has the right to lower the student's grade, or even to fail the student for the course. Students have the right to appeal such a grade penalty by an instructor. The University Academic Honesty Board, which must be notified by instructors of any grade penalty, reviews all student appeals. The Board may sustain or recommend modification of the penalty given by the faculty member, or may recommend sanctions exceeding those originally given, such as suspension or expulsion from the University. The Board may also recommend sanctions for offenders who have committed multiple violations of the Academic Honesty Policy but who have not appealed the faculty members' decisions.

Summary of Assignments and Due Dates (all assignments are due at the beginning of class)
Sept. 30 - Analytic Paper #1 Due (15%)
Oct. 2 - Evaluations Due (5%)
Oct. 16 - Critical Autobiography/Life History Paper Due (15%)
Nov. 25 - Final Research Report Due (15%)
Weeks 12-13 - Group Presentations (10%)
Dec. 11 - Analytic Paper #2 (15%)
Class Discussant and Memo (10%) Sign up for dates.
Class Participation and In-Class Assignments (15%)

Course Schedule
( I reserve the right to make changes in the schedules as I see appropriate.)

Part I - Asian American Feminist Theory and Historical Background (Weeks 1-4)

Week One

Sept 4 Introduction to the Course

Week Two
Discussants: 1)_______________________________ 2) ______________________________

Sept. 9 Re-visioning Contemporary Asian American Women

Sept. 11 Race, Gender, Class and Nation and Asian American Women
How have the experiences of Asian American women been shaped by the structures of race, gender and class in American society? How do Asian American women challenge existing models of race, gender, class and national formations? How do national identities and transnational linkages with countries of origin influence Asian American women's lives?

Week Three

Discussants: 1)_______________________________ 2) ______________________________

Sept. 16 Asian American Feminism: Local, Transnational and Global Linkages
Does Western feminism address the needs of Asian American women? Does it make sense to even speak of a category of "Asian American women" when there are as many differences as commonalities? How have Asian American women articulated their own experiences and organized themselves as feminists? What are the incentives and obstacles to creating an Asian American feminist movement?

Sept. 18 History of Labor Migration, Immigration and Settlement
How have gendered patterns of international migration influenced the position of Asian American women with regard to Asian American men, families, and ethnic communities? What was the experience of "war brides" who immigrated during the post-WW II period? Preface, Chap 1 and Chap 2 in Issei, Nisei, War Bride

Week Four

Discussants: 1)_______________________________ 2) ______________________________

Sept. 23 Asian American Women's Work: Case Study of Japanese American Domestics

Sept. 25 Work and Social Identity

Part II - Asian American Families and Identities (Weeks 5-8)
Week Five

Discussants: 1)_______________________________ 2) ______________________________

Sept. 30 Gender Politics in the Family
Has the post-1965 immigration experience undermined traditional patriarchal structures and produced more egalitarian gender relations, or has it fostered greater instability, inequality and violence in Asian American families? Chap 8 and 9 inIssei, Nisei, War Bride

Oct. 2 Military Prostitution and Sex Trafficking
How have the legacies of war in Asia contributed to the sexual exploitation of Asian women? <>

Week Six

Discussants: 1)_______________________________ 2) ______________________________

Oct. 7 Autobiography and Life Histories of Asian American Women
How do the narrative forms of autobiography and life history capture the experiences of Asian American women? What are the challenges of writing in each of these forms?

Oct. 9 Re-discovering Homelands: Women Narrating Mother/Self
How are our stories tied to our mothers and our homelands? What are the tensions between expressing loyalty to family and ethnic identity and resisting patriarchal culture? What aspects of these tensions are particular to Asian American women and which are universal to all women?

Week Seven

Discussants: 1)_______________________________ 2) ______________________________

Oct. 14 Transplanted Families and Identities
How do second-generation Asian American women respond to the expectations and pressures of their parents? How do they negotiate the contradictory messages to assimilate and hold on to their cultural identities?

Oct. 16 Talking New Stories, Charting New Paths
How do Asian American claim their own identities, write their own stories and direct their own futures? How do our pasts constrain, define and empower us? How do our stories converge and diverge with those of Asian American men?

Week Eight

Discussants: 1)_______________________________ 2) ______________________________

Oct. 21 Domestic Violence
What are the various causes of domestic violence in Asian American families? How have Asian American women organized against violence in their lives, and what obstacles confront them?

Oct. 23 Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Identities and Communities
How do lesbian, transgender and bisexual Asian American women define identity and community? What factors explain homophobia in the Asian American community, and how can they be confronted?

Part III - Representations, Culture, and Media (Weeks 9-10)
Week Nine

Discussants: 1)_______________________________ 2) ______________________________

Oct. 28 Deconstructing the "Model Minority"
What are the challenges facing Asian American youth, and how are these concealed by stereotypes of high-achieving students and devoted families?

Oct. 30 Forging New Identities, Resisting Labels: Adopted and Multi-racial Women

Week Ten

Discussants: 1)_______________________________ 2) ______________________________

Nov. 4 Representational Practices and Artistic Production
How has Hollywood depicted Asian American women, and what are the social consequences of these cinematic stereotypes? How have Asian American artists, writers and filmmakers constructed their own images?

Nov. 6 Beauty Culture: Commodifying the Body
Why do Asian American women seek "double-eyelid" surgery and alteration of "flat" noses? How do the motivations and consequences of cosmetic surgery for Asian American women compare to those for women of other racial and ethnic groups? What are the politics of Asian American beauty pageants? (handouts)

Part IV - Sharing Our Research: Group Presentations (Weeks -11-13)
Week Eleven

Discussants: 1)_______________________________ 2) ______________________________

Nov. 11 Veteran's Day - No Class

Nov. 13 Sharing Our Research: My Case Study of Korean-Owned Nail Salons in NYC
How can our understanding of Asian American women be enriched by presenting and critiquing each other's work? What does your professor do outside of class? (I research the following issues.) How have Asian American women engaged in entrepreneurial activities, and what are the consequences for relations with diverse customers, particularly African Americans? How are Asian immigrant women transformed by the performance of service work and the everyday interactions with their customers?

Week Twelve

Discussants: 1)_______________________________ 2) ______________________________

Nov. 18 Group Presentations

Nov. 20 Group Presentations

Week Thirteen

Discussants: 1)_______________________________ 2) ______________________________

Nov. 25 Group Presentations

Nov. 27 Thanksgiving (no class)

Part V - Resistance and Change (Weeks 14-15)
Week Fourteen

Dec. 2 Sexual Harassment and Anti-Asian Violence

Dec. 4 Movements for Social Change: Linking the Local and the Global
How have Asian American women contributed to movements for social change? What factors encourage or inhibit their involvement? How are they transformed by participation in collective political action?

Week Fifteen

Dec. 9 Asian American Women's Health: Physical, Mental, Emotional and Spiritual
What are the challenges to Asian American women's health and how are their needs addressed or ignored? How do "disabilities" and "disease" influence the lives of Asian American women with regard to their identities, relationships, political involvement, and socio-economic status?

Dec. 11 Course Summary and Evaluation