What is Asian American Studies?

Asian American Studies as a formal course of study in American colleges and universities was initiated some three decades ago to recover, document, analyze, and reconstruct the history, lived experiences, cultures, identities, and contributions of peoples of Asian and Pacific Islander descent in the United States from the perspectives of Asian and Pacific Americans.

Asian and Pacific Americans are persons who call the United States their home and trace their ancestry to countries from the Asian continent and subcontinent and islands within the Pacific Rim. In referring to persons and groups, Asian Americans, Asian Pacific Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders, and Asian and Pacific Americans are used interchangeably in research literature. Asian American Studies is the common usage for courses of study in higher education institutions covering these groups.

Asian American Studies is an interdisciplinary field that is primarily drawn from and contributes to the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts. It chronicles the aspirations, struggles, and accomplishments of one of the nation's fasting growing and most diverse racial/ethnic groups in the creation of their own communities and in their participation in American life. It provides opportunities to examine the multiplicity of values, visions, institutions, and cultural formations that contribute to a new synthesis of U.S. society as a multicultural nation. It also analyzes the socio-economic, cultural, and political impact of Asian Americans on the making and re-making of American society and culture. In recasting scholarship from an Asian American perspective, Asian American Studies informs, challenges, and reconstructs traditional theories, perspectives, and knowledge in almost every field of study, but especially history, the social sciences, literature, and the arts. Ultimately, the field is rooted in the delineation and advancement of community.

Asian American Studies also draws upon and advances theoretical perspectives and methodologies in ethnic, feminist, and cultural studies. As part of the "new" scholarship, Asian American Studies extends standpoint theory and theories of the social construction of knowledge, including critical race theory, critical race feminism, and cultural and literary critiques. From a historical perspective, for example, it views Asian Americans as subjects of history, not objects, and as active agents in the creation of community and nation. In its application of oral histories, community studies, ethnographic studies, and other methodological approaches, Asian American Studies broadens conceptions of race and racial/ethnic relations in the development of the United States. From a literary and cultural studies perspective, it analyzes the Asian American voice and standpoint in imposed and self-representations in American cultural productions.

© California State University, Asian American Studies Department (CSUN). "What is Asian American Studies?"