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Rith Nou Maldonado '12 and Soramy Le '12 check out current student work at a 30th anniversary celebration for the Asian American Studies Program.
December 11, 2017

UMass Boston’s Asian American Studies program celebrates 30 years

  • Boston
UMass Boston’s First Asian American Studies Class Reactivated in 1987

UMass Boston's Asian American Studies Program celebrated 30 years last week with a showcase of past projects and current student work.

Current students and recent alumni organized the event, which included 30 stations covering topics such as oral histories; Asian American health disparities and Asian American mental health research, training, and advocacy; and the care of Mt. Hope Cemetery’s Chinese Burial Grounds that began in 1994.

Alumni at last week’s celebration said their involvement with the program has proved to be invaluable.

“They taught me everything I know about the Asian community, my culture, and my identity,” said Rith Nou Maldonado ’12. “I remember when I first came to college here I was so overwhelmed. I was going through a huge identity crisis because I grew up in Malden but all my friends were Indian and all my Cambodian friends didn’t like it because they thought I was a confused Cambodian. Coming here, it was a whole mix.”

UMass Boston’s original Asian Minorities in America course was created in 1973 and reactivated by Asian American Studies Program Director Peter Kiang in 1987. In 1989, with funding from the William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences, three other courses were added to form a four-course cluster in Asian American Studies, including one of the few courses in the nation dedicated to the Southeast Asian refugee experience.

Today, the Asian American Studies Program is housed in the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development and offers the largest selection of Asian American Studies courses, faculty, and community resources of any university in New England. 

“It’s something really great to embrace,” Soramy Le ‘12 added. Le is an interior designer who wants to do interior architecture design in Asia while Maldonado is a financial advisor for New York Life.

One of the stations gave visitors the opportunity to watch interviews with alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends of the Asian American Studies Program and digital stories produced by students during the 14 years Associate Professor of Asian American Studies Shirley Tang has taught the Asian American Media Literacy course.

“In that course, students learn how to tell stories and find meaning in their own experiences, especially as Asian American students on an AANAPISI campus,” said alumna Kim Soun Ty ’14 ‘17, who took the course in 2012 and is now an instructor in Asian American studies.

“There’s this model-minority myth about Asians being able to do things really well, to succeed academically, to just be stellar students, but that’s not the case for every Asian American student,” she said. “Students coming from the local communities, they struggle with poverty, trauma, mental health issues, domestic violence, there’s a lot of different struggles going on in these students’ communities, so this is one of the ways for them to be able to tell their own stories the way they want to tell it for a public audience.”

UMass Boston is the only research university in New England designated and funded by the U.S. Department of Education as an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI) and minority-serving institution. UMass Boston’s Asian American Studies Program has been featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education and highlighted by the Association of American Colleges & Universities as a national model.

More events celebrating UMass Boston’s Asian American Studies Program are planned for the spring. Digital stories from the Asian American Studies Program will be on view at the Pao Arts Center at 99 Albany Street in Boston through January 12, 2018.