Perspectives on Covid-19 and Anti-Asian Bias and Xenophobia

September 23, 2020 from 12:00-2:00pm
Part I: Faculty Panel and Q&A (12:00-1:00pm); Part II: Students, Staff, and Community Members and Q&A (1:00-2:00pm)
Registration Required

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a rise in harassment, bullying, verbal assaults, and violence directed at Asian Americans and those within the Asian diaspora.  These incidents connect to a long history of anti-Asian racism that has been supported by laws, institutions and representations, along with a long history of resistance by Asian Americans in solidarity with other communities of color. This panel presents various perspectives from a diverse groups of UMass Amherst faculty, professional staff, graduate and undergraduate students, and community members. 

Through brief presentations and Q & A with participants, we hope to foster deeper understanding of current events and examples of how Asian American scholars, artists, and movements have responded, drawing connections to recent activism for racial justice by Black communities. The panels and Q&A will be moderated by Miliann Kang, Associate Professor and Director of Diversity Advancement, College of Humanities and Fine Arts.

Organized by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Co-sponsored by the Asian & Asian American Studies Certificate Program, the Department of History, the Labor Center, the Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, and the Asian & Asian American Arts and Culture Program, the Fine Arts Center, the College of Education, and the Massachusetts Society of Professors, the UMass Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success, and the Department of Sociology

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Part I: Faculty Panel

“The Larger Context of Anti-Asian Racism”
C.N. Le, Senior Lecturer II in Sociology and Director of the Asian & Asian American Studies Program at the University of Massachusetts

Description:  Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Asian Americans have faced harassment, bullying, verbal assaults, and even violence.  How have these recent instances of anti-Asian racism been examples of Asian Americans stereotyped as the Yellow Peril -- economic, military, and cultural threats against the U.S., particularly White society?  How has the Asian American community responded and how can Asian Americans build solidarity with the Black community and other minority communities of color to fight back against institutional injustice?

C.N. Le’s research focuses on race/ethnicity and society, immigration, and socioeconomic / cultural dynamics within the Asian American community.  He has been interviewed and quoted by media outlets and organizations such as the New York Times, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, CNN, PBS, and the Huffington Post.

“How Would an Inclusive Community Talk about China?”
Sigrid Schmalzer, Professor of Chinese history and a Vice President of the Massachusetts Society of Professors

Description: The mainstream media has to some extent recognized the overtly racist and xenophobic character of recent US political discourse on China. This brief presentation will ask us to consider how more routine, apparently innocent statements reinforce the enduring prejudice in the US that sees China as fundamentally alien—a place to avoid “traveling to” rather than a place that is home for many in our community. What message do such statements send about inclusivity? And how would a truly inclusive community talk about China?

Sigrid Schmalzer is a Professor of Chinese history and a vice president of the MSP. Her research interests include the history of US travelers to China and their contributions to political discourse.

“U.S. Empire-building and Anti-Asian Racism: A Historical Perspective”
Richard T Chu, Five College Associate Professor of History

From the Chinese exclusion laws to anti-Chinese/China discrimination during the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. has historically treated the Chinese and other Asians as a racialized “other,” both within American society as well as in the global stage. The lecture demonstrates how such xenophobia against Blacks, Indigenous Peoples, and other peoples of color, stems from a racist ideology based on the principles of “Manifest Destiny,” “White Man’s Burden,” “American exceptionalism,” capitalism, and neo-liberalism to form the foundation of the U.S. nation-state and sustain its position as the global hegemon today.  

Richard Chu’s research focuses on the history of the Chinese in the Philippines during the Spanish and American colonial periods. He is author of Chinese and Chinese Mestizos of Manila: Family, Identity, and Culture 1860s–1930s, and is co-editor of an anthology of LGBTIA+ studies in the Philippines entitled More Tomboy, More Bakla Than We Admit that is coming out this year

“Recuperating Multiracial Labor Solidarity as a Meaningful APA Politics: Lessons from the Filipino ‘Essential’ Workers of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee”
by Cedric de Leon, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Labor Center

What is to be done in light of anti-Asian racism in the age of Covid? Drawing on the example of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, a Filipino farm workers' union that began the Delano Grape Strike in California in 1965, I argue that Asian Pacific Americans should recuperate a politics of multiracial solidarity as a way to confront contemporary white supremacy.

Professor de Leon has written five books including Crisis! When Political Parties Lose the Consent to Rule (Stanford 2019) and The Origins of Right to Work: Antilabor Democracy in Nineteenth-Century Chicago (Cornell 2015). In a previous life, Cedric was an organizer and local union president in the American Labor Movement. He grew up in the working-class Filipino community of St. Jamestown in Toronto, Canada.

“Creative Responses to Anti-Asian Racism during the COVID-19 Pandemic”
Michael Sakamoto, Interim Director of Programming and Director of Asian/Asian American Arts and Culture

Sakamoto will speak about Viet Thanh Nguyen (writer) and Kristina Wong (performance artist) as public figures addressing the current situation through their practice.

Michael Sakamoto (MFA, PhD) is an interdisciplinary scholar-artist, educator, and arts manager with a career spanning three decades. His creative work has been presented in 14 countries worldwide, and he publishes regularly in journals and anthologies. Michael is former faculty at University of Iowa, CalArts, Goddard College, and Bangkok University. He currently serves as Interim Director of Programming and Director of Asian/Asian American Arts and Culture at the UMass Fine Arts Center.

“Anti-Black Racism and Anti-Asian Racism: Bridging Divides, Renewing Solidarities”
Sangeeta Kamat, Professor of Comparative and International Education, College of Education.

The South Asian diaspora offers a unique vantage point into the uneven terrain of racism where on the one hand South Asians face racism but South Asians also perpetrate anti-Black racism and colorism. This duality or contradiction can only be understood through the lens of caste and caste hierarchies that travels from the subcontinent to the U.S. but also as Isabelle Wilkerson writes in her groundbreaking book “Caste: The Origins of our Discontents” it underlies the structure of race in the U.S. with Blacks and Whites as the two ‘poles of the American caste system’ and multiple racialized ‘others’ occupying places in between. The struggle to end racism therefore must confront how racial ‘others’ are divided and pitted against one another, in particular Asians against Blacks and must work to revive old solidarities and build new ones in times of global supremacist politics.

Sangeeta Kamat is Professor of Comparative and International Education in the College of Education and has published on Hindu nationalism in India and the diaspora, on the NGOization of social movements, and on neoliberalism, educational inequality and issues of inclusion

Part II with Graduate and Undergraduate Students, Staff, and Community Representatives

Hwei-Ling Greeney is the founder and executive director of Amherst Community Connections (ACC, which basically addresses the issue of homelessness in Amherst. ACC has been particularly active in helping Asians/Asian Americans securing permanent affordable housing, food, assistance, etc. in this time of CoVid-19. 

Jay Wong, Program Director and Brooke Kamalani Yuen, Western MA Coordinator of the Asian American Commission of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (AAC). The AAC has provided assistance and support for these communities affected by COVID-19, such as financial assistance, educational panels, anti-Asian community action guide toolkit, voter registration, participating in the census.

Sonia Lindop, Project Director for Auxiliary Enterprises Career Ladder Program.  Ours is a collaborative program that provides career advancement opportunities for food service employees at UMass. In the recent years, our program has provided training in Mandarin, Vietnamese, Nepali, Spanish and English.

Lily Tang is a rising Senior at UMass Amherst studying Political Science and Asian/ Asian American Studies. She founded UMass' first-ever Asian American Film Festival and brought to campus popular filmmakers and actors like Mike Bow and the Wongfu Productions. Throughout her time at UMass, she advocated for the Cultural Centers and worked to secure additional funding and staff for the centers. She strongly believes in the importance of culturally sensitive support programs for students of color. Under her leadership, the Yuri Kochiyama Cultural Center increased its programming capacity and student engagement. Lily is the Director of Outreach for the Commonwealth Seminar, a nonprofit dedicating to opening the doors of government to marginalized communities. Lily is also passionate about advocating for the Asian American community and pushing for diverse political representation.