Art and activism have long worked in tandem. In its 15th year, University of Minnesota's Asian American Studies Program is bolstering that connection.
By establishing a literary journal and opening a poetry contest, the program allows students, faculty, staff and community members to explore their own forms of creative expression.
“Asian Americans have always used creative outlets as a form of resistance to challenge … systems of domination because it’s a tool for us to uplift our voice, but also be politically charged,” said June Kuoch, an Asian American Studies student ambassador and a senior studying sociology.
The Asian American Studies Program Journal’s first issue is centered on the theme “CTRL+F: Identities, Places, Connections,” which reflects one of the program’s goals on campus.
Submissions for both initiatives will be accepted through April 6.
“The focus is on finding your identity and placing connections. … We thought this would be a really great way to get students involved with this journal and Asian American Studies,” said Amanda Nguyen, an Asian American Studies student ambassador and senior studying biology. “It helps a lot of students who come from this background. … [With the journal,] maybe they can share what they’ve learned about themselves.”
The student-led journal will reflect a variety of work, ranging from fiction to poetry to visual art, and students, faculty, staff and community members are all encouraged to submit.
“It’s important to be student-led because a lot of students on campus don’t have an outlet … for creative work. … We want to produce this horizontal idea that ‘yes, you are a student, but your voice is as valued as a professor's,'” Kuoch said.
The program’s poetry contest accepts entries inspired by Janice Mirikitani’s poem “Yea, She Knows.” The poem incorporates Mirikitani’s reflection on the Third World Liberation Front strikes of the late 1960s, which were influential in establishing ethnic studies programs in California universities, and the experiences of Mirikitani’s daughter 20 years later.
“I thought it really captured both the spirit of what happened in the 1960s and, maybe after 20 years, the soul searching of where we have come since then,” said Josephine Lee, a professor of English and Asian American Studies. “The poem itself is retrospective. … There’s a lot of feelings in this poem about what’s going on, feelings about anger and frustration, but also the joy of doing something that you feel is politically progressive.”
Anyone, from students to community members, is encouraged to submit to the contest, which will reward the winners with prizes. By looking to Mirikitani's poem for inspiration, entrants will spark their own creativity and learn more about Asian American history.
“To do the contest, you have to read the poem … and you have to know about the … Asian American student movements that led to the rise of ethnic studies. … It’s a historical bridging that I feel like, for me, is necessary for us to understand the ways in which Asian Americans have been oppressed in the past and how our struggles are interrelated,” Kuoch said.
Along with the journal and poetry contest, the Asian American Studies Program continues to support other creative interests, like hosting visual artist talks on campus.
“We’re really interested in the ways in which Asian American experiences are not just about historical experiences and everyday things, but the ways in which arts and culture can make that a bigger space,” Lee said.