Jan Term Course Considers Changing Perspectives of Asian-Americans

Students looking to learn about the Asian-American experience in the workplace turn to business professor Diana Wu.

It's fair to say she wrote the book on the subject.

Wu's 1997 Asian Pacific Americans in the Workplace presents case studies that illustrate Asian-Americans' negotiation between family-centered cultures and America's individually oriented workplace.

In Wu's Jan Term class on "Changing Perspectives towards Asian Pacific Americans," 18 students from different ethnic backgrounds hold seminar discussions with Wu about her book and share observations about how Asian-Americans perceive themselves and are perceived in American society.

"We've learned a lot about the transition to life in the U.S. at different times in history and about the major differences between cultures that create challenges," says junior Harald Vaernes.

The class also considers the interplay between immigration law, U.S. economic cycles and foreign political developments and how these factors have brought Asians to the United States in increasing numbers over the last four decades.

"Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing immigration group in American since the immigration law was amended in 1965," Wu says.

Asian-Americans make up 5 percent of the U.S. population. In the Bay Area, a traditional immigrant destination situated along the Pacific Rim, the figure is closer to 20 percent.
Wu points out the U.S. census category of "Asian-American" includes a variety of communities ranging from fifth-generation Chinese- and Japanese-Americans to first-generation immigrants who fled the Vietnam War or were drawn to jobs in the Silicon Valley.

In addition to looking at the similarities and differences between Asian-American groups, the students consider how generational and gender differences shape perspectives about and among Asian-Americans.

"Most younger Asian Pacific Americans have no memory of a distant homeland," Wu writes. "Such recollections cannot even be compared to the fond reminiscences of home and a peaceful, loving family life that most older immigrants treasure."

The course also serves as a primer on Asian-American history, and students say they've learned a lot about topics that often don't make it into high-school U.S. history textbooks.

"The U.S. government banned Asians from coming to the United States for almost 100 years," says sophomore Marco Navarro, referring to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and 1924 Asian Exclusion Act. "That's something I didn't learn in high school and it surprises me how little was ever mentioned about it."

--John Grennan
Office of College Communications