Cindy Cheng’s class on the history of immigration and citizenship was never quite as popular as another course she teaches on representations of Asians in media, culture and movies. But lately that pattern flipped, and now her 8 a.m. immigration class, Asian American History: Processes of Movement and Dislocation, is always packed.
“In the current political climate, there’s not one day you can wake up and the news isn’t … some debate about immigration reform,” says Cheng. “Students are desperately hungry for a space to talk about everything they’re hearing.”
They come in with questions about today’s immigration policies involving deportations and family separations. They leave with a more nuanced understanding of how we got here — and why.
Cheng, an associate professor of history and director of the Asian American Studies Program, delves into previous U.S. refugee policies, colonization efforts, calculated exclusions of Asian and other minority groups and the War on Terror to provide students with critical background that will help them “step back and make sense of what we’ve done in the past, think about what we’re repeating and ask, ‘Are there other choices we can make?’”
Eric Zhao, a senior in Cheng’s immigration class, says that learning about Asian immigrants’ experiences in the U.S., information his high school history lessons glossed over, has opened his eyes to how often the debate over who’s allowed to seek asylum and citizenship here has revolved (and roiled) around the “effectiveness and morality of excluding minorities based on race,” he says. “Looking back on immigration history, you can see this is not a new issue. But if we can learn from our history, we can better understand why we react in certain ways and how we can improve our situation.”
They want to be able to talk about it in a way that’s informed, and I can say, in earnest, that I’m providing what they need. It’s phenomenal.”
– Cindy Cheng
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