Stanford scholars reflect on contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during heritage month and a period of increased racial violence

Professors Gordon Chang and Priya Satia article in the Stanford Report

Every May, the nation honors and recognizes Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. This year’s celebrations come in the midst of an increasing number of anti-Asian hate incidents in California and across the country, but the scourge of anti-Asian violence is not new, Stanford scholars note.

Here, scholars from the School of Humanities and Sciences reflect on historical and recent anti-Asian violence. They also discuss the many contributions of AAPI communities to California, the Bay Area and Stanford and how those communities have shaped their work.

In addition, scholars share their suggestions for books, articles, films and other resources where people can learn more about the contributions and history of AAPI communities.

Gordon H. Chang

Professor, History

Stanford, on the edge of the great Pacific Ocean, is an Asia Pacific university, though we need to be reminded of it. The founders of the school appreciated that reality, but we have inconsistently pursued that vision through the years. We should recommit ourselves to realizing its [Stanford University’s] educational, social and intellectual possibilities.

The Stanford community must also confront the ugliness of anti-Asian hatred that has recently swept the country, including here on campus and in Palo Alto. Incidents of violence, including murder, right on American streets remind us of the dark undercurrent of anti-Asian racism. Asian Americans have gone from being stereotyped as model minorities to becoming model targets for brutalization.

Many have been shocked by the mounting incidents accompanying the terrible violence against other communities of color. The surprise that many have expressed over the outbreak is itself a sad commentary, as the history of racism and anti-Asian violence in America is as endemic as it has been continuous. It is time to acknowledge that reality, too, and stand against it.

Priya Satia

Professor, History

The history of people of Asian and Pacific descent in America is local, national and global history. It is the history of American imperialism abroad, of labor in the Bay Area, of the vice-president.

Growing up in California as the daughter of Punjabi immigrants whose lives had been shaped by British colonialism, I was keenly aware of the persistence in my time and place of the very stereotypes about Asians that had sustained colonialism and that continued to justify colonial actions. As a historian of the British Empire, I emphasize the way the empire bridged the history of North America and Asia, from Aaron Burr’s Bengali mistress to American drone policing in areas of earlier British aerial policing. I have also explored the important role of American Asian communities in global anticolonial and antiracist movements, such as the revolutionary Ghadar Party formed by Punjabis in California early in the 20th century.

Asians have been integral to American history since the start, and yet their presence is continually erased or questioned, making narration of it both urgent and empowering. The PBS documentary series “Asian Americans” (2020) is a ground-breaking recent account.