Graduate Interest Group Spotlight: Asian American Studies Research Collective

Asian American Studies Research Collective Graduate Interest Group.

On December 7, 2011, UW faculty, undergraduates, graduate students, and community members crowded into a standing-room-only classroom to hear Marie Hilao-Enriquez speak. As chairperson of the Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights in the Philippines, Hilao-Enriquez documents cases of human rights violations in the Philippines and assists victims and their families in seeking justice. In her talk, she not only provided an update of the current situation of human rights abuses in the Philippines but shared her own story as a survivor of state repression as well.

Hilao-Enriquez’s visit to the UW was the result of a collaboration in honor of International Human Rights Day between the Philippine-US Solidarity Organization (PUSO) and the UW’s Asian American Studies Research Collective (AASRC). The AASRC is an interdisciplinary group of UW graduate students who meet regularly and engage with the cultural, social, historical and political manifestations of Asian America. The International Human Rights Day event was just one of the many activities they have coordinated this year.

The AASRC is funded as a graduate interest group by the Simpson Center. The Center supports graduate interest groups as a way to encourage crossdisciplinary collaboration among graduate students through activities such as organized reading discussions, screenings, and dissertation working groups. The AASRC’s core organizers include ManChui Leung (Sociology), Christopher Patterson (English), Chong Eun Ahn (History), and Nobuko Yamasaki (Comparative Literature). As the UW does not have an Asian American Studies program at the graduate level, group members feel the AASRC fills that void.

Leung says that participating in the group has dramatically impacted her own research: “Personally, it’s a great community, very supportive. But we also challenge each other and hold each other accountable for the work we’ve agreed to do, whether it’s preparing for a book discussion or helping to make arrangements for a visiting speaker. Intellectually, it allows me the opportunity for real interdisciplinary conversation – to acknowledge the boundaries of my own discipline and academic language, and to consider ways of crossing those boundaries, or rethinking them. Practically, participating in the AASRC gives us an opportunity to practice interdisciplinarity, something our group members seek to model when we work with people beyond campus and out in the community.”

Leung, whose research interests include Asian American health policy, community organizing, and health care disparities, also says that energy of the AASRC is special: “The motivation for being a part of this group is different than for signing up for a class. The work we’re doing and the topics we’re exploring together aren’t for a grade or to fill a requirement. We are mainly involved in the work to build a critical community and incorporate new perspectives into our research. Because of this, everyone seems to set their own personal levels of investment and engagement. ”

Last year, the AASRC members focused their discussions on Asian American networks and geographies.  This year, the group has continued to explore Asian histories, experiences, and memories. For Fall Quarter, they opted to focus on the Filipino diaspora. In addition to holding reading group discussions with UW faculty, they secured additional funding from other campus units to host Robyn Rodriguez (Sociology, Rutgers).  The AASRC organized several events with Rodriguez, including a lecture, a microseminar focused on her recent book Migrants for Export: How the Philippine State Brokers Labor to the World (2010), and one-on-one discussions in which members presented and discussed their graduate papers and projects with her.

This May, the AASRC will hold their first symposium. Open to students, faculty, and community members, it will advance the themes of diaspora, experience, history, and memory. Leung says that the AASRC envisions it as an opportunity to explore the foundations of organizing and deepen conversations between Asian American communities and academia.

For more on the AASRC, to find out about upcoming events, and how to participate, visit: http://depts.washington.edu/uwch/projects/graduate-interest-groups/asian-diasporas