October 2, 2008
Written by C.N.
Many scholars and students of ethnic studies know firsthand that when it comes to studying the history and experiences of different groups of color in American society, much of the work involves filling in the gaps perpetrated over time by focusing our attention almost exclusively on our own racial/ethnic group, such as Asian American Studies.
While this “parochial” focus on our own community certainly has its benefits, the main drawback is that it ignores the interconnections that exist between communities of color, both historically and in today’s contemporary society as it continues to become ever more globalized and transnational.
But as Diverse Issues in Education reports, there is a burgeoning movement in ethnic studies to bring greater attention to the historical, cultural, and political connections between Asian Americans and Latino Americans:
The notion of Asians living and thriving among U.S. Hispanics as well as the Asian diaspora in the Caribbean, Mexico and South America is by no means unfathomable. Nor is it new. Take world politics, for example. Peru elected Alberto Fujimori its president in 1990, an office he held for 10 years. Fujimori’s parents had emigrated from Japan before World War II.
Only about 20 years ago did U.S. scholars begin taking a closer look at the stories of how and why people left the Far East for countries such as Brazil, Cuba and Peru, says Dr. Evelyn Hu-De- Hart, a Brown University professor of history and ethnic studies who is considered a pioneer in the study of Asian-Hispanic intersections. She is also director of Brown’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. . . .
Yet scholars examining such transnational communities and relationships often fend off skepticism from peers in longer-established, clearly defined academic disciplines who wonder about the relevancy of their pursuits, novelty aside. . . .
López, for example, has traveled to Cuba almost annually since 1999 to document the revitalization of Havana’s Chinatown district. Nowadays, Cuba’s regime encourages the Chinese, whose ancestors worked alongside African slaves on 19th-century plantations, to get in better touch with their heritage. The opening of schools teaching traditional Chinese dance, language and art is viewed as an investment in boosting tourism, López says.
As these scholars explore and describe in much more detail in their work, thousands of Asian immigrants came to and eventually settled in countries in Latin and South America, in many cases before the first large-scale immigration to the U.S. started in the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Asian Americans aren’t aware of these historic patterns because we’re focused on the U.S. and its history.
But as these scholars again describe for us, there is a very rich and vibrant history of the interconnections between Asians and Latinos here in the western hemisphere. Not only that, but as American society, this hemisphere, and the world in general continue to become more globalized and transnational, these connections are likely to become even more significant for years to come — culturally, economically, and politically.