Students are invited to register for the University of New Mexico’s Introduction to Asian American Studies class being offered for the first time, this spring.

Asian American Studies examines topics related to history, literature and identity pertaining to the U.S. Asian diaspora. The introductory course is being offered as an American Studies topics class.

The class will cover key moments in Asian American history from the 1800s to the present, geopolitics, migration and more. Students will reflect on Asian American identity through the study of contemporary literature, pop culture and events. It is scheduled to take place Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12-12:50 p.m. 

Shebati Sengupta, a Ph.D. student in American Studies, will teach the class. Her focus is Asian American Studies in relation to the study of nation-states and Asian American futurisms as seen through speculative fiction written by South Asian diasporic authors. Sengupta came to UNM to ground her study of colonialism in Critical Indigenous studies. Previously, she has taught Intro to Politics and Pop Culture.

“With topics like Asian American Studies, you get the privilege of seeing people who are learning their history and who can bring their own lived experiences to the table and that really makes teaching it something special. This is exactly why I wanted to teach.” – Shebati Sengupta

The class will look at the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act, post-Japanese internment relocation, U.S. involvement in the Asian-Pacific, historical trauma, migration and geopolitics post-9/11 and during Covid-19. Students will also explore how Asian Americans represent themselves through activism and art through the review of work by Cathy Park Hong, Jess X Snow and others. 

Intro to Asian American Studies

“One of the really cool things about classes like Intro to Asian American Studies is it takes something that you think you don’t know about and it shows you how present it is in your life,” she said. “It’s in your bookstore, it’s in the things you watch and listen to, it’s in the migration history of the country where you live, and so, it’s important to take classes like this because it helps you focus in on something that is already in your life.”

Farah Nousheen, director of the Asian American Pacific Islander Resource Center (AAPIRC), helped advocate for the creation of the course and said it is the first step in rounding out academic offerings in ethnic studies. UNM currently has three ethnic studies departments  –– Chicana and Chicano Studies, Africana Studies and Native American Studies. Nousheen understands that it will take time for a program or department in Asian American Studies to form, but she hopes the University can find a way to offer enough classes in Asian American Studies so that undergraduate students can include a concentration or minor in their degree plan. 

“It’s important for all students to understand their identity in the broader nation and their identity in the world,” Nousheen said. “By not having an Asian American Studies class, we are really closing opportunities for Asian American students and all students interested in critical race studies. We are missing a big piece when educating students about race, racism, colonialism, imperialism, and other such critical topics.” 

New Mexico has a long, often forgotten, history with Asian peoples, according to Nousheen. The state had four Japanese internment camps during WWII and was the site of the Manhattan Project. Earlier this year, two Asian American women were killed in separate attacks at massage studios in Albuquerque. Yet, there has been little academic focus on Asian communities in the state. Nousheen said she believes this is the only Asian American Studies university course being offered in the state. 

“It’s not that Asian America exists somewhere else in the United States. It’s here and been here in New Mexico." – Farah Nousheen

Development of the course comes less than a year after AAPIRC’s grand opening. One of Nousheen’s goals after the center opened was to host events about Asian American studies a few times a year. The first of those events, a workshop on the racialization of Asian Americans, took place in September and was met with such high demand, Nousheen decided to pursue creating an introductory class.  Collaborative effort between University departments including the College Enrichment Program and American Studies helped get the class on the Spring 2023 schedule.

Students are eager to see the class added to the University’s offerings. Bethany Brundage, a sophomore majoring in psychology with a minor in criminology, said she looks forward to having a space to learn about the events that have informed Asian America.

“It will be good to have a class open to Asian Americans who didn’t have an opportunity to express their identity when anti-Asian hate crimes began in the pandemic,” Brundage said.

Lujayn Ghweir, a senior majoring in Biology and minoring in chemistry and dance, was not able to register for the class due to scheduling conflicts, but will be attending when she is able to and participating in a complimentary study group at AAPIRC. As an Arab American, Ghweir has been glad to see UNM develop a center that is inclusive of all parts of Asia, including the Middle East, and would like to see class offerings grow.

“I sincerely hope that UNM expands the introductory class into a major area of study,” Ghweir said. “New Mexico has a long history with Arab Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Japanese Americans and others. The history has always been there and now UNM is acknowledging that.”

Registration for the class is still open. It is listed as AMST1996 and cross-listed as POLS1996 and SOCI398. Interested students unable to add the class can participate in the study group to be offered by AAPIRC. Details on the group will be forthcoming on their website and social media. Students with questions are invited to email AAPIRC.