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Panel of professors discusses Asian-American identity, unity

Asian+American+studies+Prof.+Nitasha+Sharma+%28left%29+speaks+at+an+event+Tuesday.+Sharma%2C+Prof.+Shalini+Shankar+%28center%29+and+Prof.+Ji-Yeon+Yun+%28right%29+discussed+what+it+means+to+be+Asian+in+America.
Asian American studies Prof. Nitasha Sharma (left) speaks at an event Tuesday. Sharma, Prof. Shalini Shankar (center) and Prof. Ji-Yeon Yun (right) discussed what it means to be Asian in America.

Asian American studies Prof. Nitasha Sharma (left) speaks at an event Tuesday. Sharma, Prof. Shalini Shankar (center) and Prof. Ji-Yeon Yun (right) discussed what it means to be Asian in America.

Keshia Johnson/The Daily Northwestern

Keshia Johnson/The Daily Northwestern

Asian American studies Prof. Nitasha Sharma (left) speaks at an event Tuesday. Sharma, Prof. Shalini Shankar (center) and Prof. Ji-Yeon Yun (right) discussed what it means to be Asian in America.

Mark Duanmu, Reporter

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A panel of three professors discussed racial identity at an event on Tuesday sponsored by more than a dozen Asian-interest student groups, encouraging greater dialogue between subgroups within the Asian-American community.

More than 150 people attended the event, titled “But Where Are You REALLY From?,” which coincided with Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month.

Much of the discussion revolved around the question of what it means to be Asian American, which panelists agreed is a complicated identity, as many people identify more with their specific ethnicity and culture rather than race.

“We need to recognize that segregation within the AAPI community is very real,” Asian American Studies Prof. Nitasha Sharma said. “We have Korean groups, Chinese groups, Indian groups. But I would caution us to see that segregation is not just something that minorities do to themselves, but that white students also do, such as in the form of fraternities and sororities.”

Asian American Studies Prof. Ji-Yeon Yuh, one of the panelists, said Asians suffered under decades of discriminatory laws preventing them from becoming full citizens in the United States. These laws, she said, are one of the main reasons Asian Americans continue to be seen as outsiders and “perpetual foreigners.”

The panelists — Sharma, Yuh and fellow Asian American Studies Prof. Shalini Shankar — comprise the tenured faculty of the Asian American Studies program. McCormick senior Justice Pettigrew, who helped organize the event, said the panel was especially timely due to the recent news that Weinberg will add an Asian-American Studies major.

The event was sponsored by 12 Asian-interest student groups.

“We wanted this event to be accessible to all Asian Americans and even non-Asians, so we took a general approach instead of focusing on any one specific issue,” Weinberg freshman Anna Li, one of the event’s organizers, told The Daily. “Hopefully, this will increase the social-academic dialogue among students on campus and lead to more events like this in the future.”

Bienen freshman Johnathan Orr said although it’s important to have pride in one’s own individual culture, understanding what unites all Asian Americans is also important.

“I’m part of Asian Intervarsity, and right now we’re primarily Korean and Chinese, so the discussion about bringing other kinds of Asians to the table was interesting to me,” Orr told The Daily. “It made me think about how our group could be more inclusive.”

Pettigrew said students are often unaware of how race plays a role in their daily lives, and she said she hoped the event prompted students to think more about that.

“Our goal wasn’t for people to have all their questions answered,” Pettigrew told The Daily, “but for people to leave with even more questions.”

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Twitter: @mduanmu

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