Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 8, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 8,
Number 2

Download our print issue (PDF)
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
The Lasting Legacy of Brown
University of South Carolina Upstate:
A Model of Excellence and Diversity
Fifty Years after Brown v. Board of Education: Reflections from an Activist-Administrator
Faculty Involvement
A Search for Deep Diversity in the Communication Classroom
Making Diversity News
The 1954 Brown Decision: Fueling the Torch of Liberation for Asian Pacific Americans
Brown v. Board’s Legacy and Contemporary Black Higher Education
Student Leaders Reflect on the Legacy of Brown
The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice: Education and Empowerment for an Engaged Citizenry
Diversity at Middlesex Community College
Books on Brown v. Board of Education

The 1954 Brown Decision: Fueling the Torch of Liberation for Asian Pacific Americans

By Daniel Hiroyuki Teraguchi, office of diversity, equity, and global initiatives, AAC&U

An Asian Pacific American (APA) perspective on the impact of Brown v. Board of Education usually starts by comparing historical scars of segregation instead of considering the liberating effect thE decision had on their community. The 1954 Brown decision propelled the APA community to move beyond interethnic differences and to define how they might affect the changing American landscape. According to Glenn Omatsu (1989), senior lecturer in Asian American studies at California State University Northridge, the Asian American movement embraced fundamental questions of oppression and power and adopted liberation as an ultimate goal. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Asian Americans had joined the black liberation movement, which then was leading the charge for racial minorities fighting for social justice.

Part of that charge reached San Francisco State University in 1968 and 1969. After a five-month strike by student leaders of the Third World Liberation Front, San Francisco State University gave birth to the first school of ethnic studies in the nation. For Asian American students who participated in the strikes, this momentous event marked a “shedding of silence and an affirmation of identity” (Umemoto 1989). Since that strike, ethnic studies and women’s studies programs have challenged U.S. institutions of higher education to honor democratic principles of equality and opportunity by designing curricula to reflect the experiences and contributions of marginalized communities.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Brown decision marks another momentous point in racial minorities’ march toward social justice. For APAs, it is also time to thank the Asian American studies (AAS) pioneers, such as Jim Hirabayashi, Yuji Ichioka, Elaine Kim, Don Nakanishi, Ling-chi Wang, and Jean Wu, for transforming APA students into political activists, community leaders, and a new generation of committed AAS faculty. This new generation of faculty inherits the fruits of the labor that marginalized community movements began fifty years ago—the experience of those who were involved in desegregation is now a rich educational resource.

Today Asian American studies classrooms are pedagogically rich environments because of the diversity of non-Asian Americans and the significant expansion of the APA student body. In particular, the APA college population has been dramatically enriched by immigration after 1965 legislation opened U.S. borders, the Southeast Asian refugee resettlement since 1975, and the increasing presence of multiracial APAs.

But with the expansion of the Asian American profile also come new challenges within the Asian American community. Most pernicious has been the reckless use of the “model minority” myth as evidence that affirmative action is no longer necessary. Because it focuses on the educational and economic success of Japanese Americans and Chinese Americans, the “model minority” myth has rendered Cambodians, Laotians, Hmong, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders nearly invisible.

Even though desegregation enabled some to use Asian Americans inappropriately as a generalized success story, the combination of racial discrimination and the socioeconomic polarization of the Asian American community has created important topics of investigation for AAS faculty. For example, the complex profile of Asian Americans has spawned new research within AAS on the discriminatory practices that occur even when educational credentials are impeccable. New investigations include how Asian Pacific Americans can break through the glass ceiling, or how the limited mental health services for APA students, who often need help even when they are succeeding academically, can be remedied.

In the end, the Brown decision helped unite Asian Americans in the name of justice, equality, and democracy. Remembrance of the fiftieth anniversary should lead Asian Pacific Americans to unite with even more vigor and fuel the torch of liberation lit by pioneer faculty and community leaders. AAS faculty have a responsibility to help youth understand their complex world and empower them to be responsible citizens committed to serving their communities and alleviating the inequalities of our society. Brown’s effect on APAs is a prime example of how benefits intended for one group can have a powerful influence on others.

Works Cited

Omatsu, Glen. 1989. The “four prisons” and the movements of liberation. Amerasia Journal 15 (1).

Umemoto, Karen. 1989. “On strike!” San Francisco State College strike, 1968-69: The role of Asian American students. Amerasia Journal 15 (1).

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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