Women in the Asian American Movement: the Importance of Identity (by Sebastian Ojeda)

Overview

The purpose of this lesson plan is to have students learn about the importance of identity and background in relation to women in the Asian American movement.  Hopefully, they will be able to learn that you cannot capture what it means to be an Asian American woman, and by extension any person, by focusing on a single aspect of her identity.

Framework

This lesson plan will require two days to finish.  Students will be lectured about key concepts such as the history of the Asian American movement, the concept of gender roles, and intersectionality, which will be used to frame the place of Asian American women.  By reading and analyzing two stories from the January 1971 issue of GIDRA, students will learn how different aspects of these women’s identities had an impact on their roles in the movement.  They will also compare how focusing on certain characteristics compares to an overall understanding of who these women are.  In order to apply what they have learned, students will perform an activity where they must explain each others’ identities based only on a small fragment of information.

Essential  Understanding

Women’s roles in the Asian American movement depict the way different aspects of identity interact and create a more complex understanding of people.

Essential  Questions

1.  What is intersectionality?
2.  What was the Asian American movement?
3.  How did other members of the Asian American movement and feminist movement react to Asian American women?
4.  How did women respond and react to sexism and racism?
5.  How did Asian American women walk the boundary of their complex identities – as Asian Americans and as women?

Glossary

Gender roles – composites of the behaviors actually exhibited by a typical male or female in a given culture; the reflection of a gender stereotype in everyday life.

Intersectionality – the theory that there are various ways that categories such as race, gender, and class intersect, interact, and overlap to produce systemic social inequalities

Introduction

Although the Asian American movement was not extensively organized, it was a social movement of national importance – particularly in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and New York1.  It consisted of various groups that were involved with campus activism, community volunteering, or political campaigns all for the sake of improving the lives of and achieving equality for Asians and Asian Americans in the United States.  Despite the myriad groups that arose, they all recognized racism and U.S. imperialism as the source of Asian American issues2.

Gender was a complicated issue within the Asian American movement.  Sexism was an extensive issue within it.  On the other hand, it was a vehicle women used to challenge sexism and practice leadership3.  For Asian American women, it was necessary that freedom from oppression come from working with the men of the organization4.  They were so adamant about their position because racism and sexism were both part of the reason they were repressed.  These two forces interacted.  Thus, liberation was not possible by simply addressing each problem individually.

One of these reasons Asian American women were hesitant to form their own groups was that, although they realized they held inferior positions in male-dominated groups, they felt considerable amounts of ethnic pride and loyalty5.  Asian American women experienced tension between their various identities.  Oftentimes, they placed more emphasis on the Asian American aspect of who they were.  This poses the question then of why this was the case.  A possible reason may be that, at the time, many Asians in the United States were recent immigrants.  For many of these women, being Asian was more salient.  However, it was not possible to simply disregard the fact that they were women.  When Asian American women did speak out, they were criticized6.  They were accused of emasculating men, wasting time and resources, and dividing the Asian American community.  Men may have responded in such drastic manners for several reasons.  In a culture where men are valued more than women, the opinion of men should not be contested.  Control over power may also have been a factor.  It is no surprise that after reactions like these the women felt compelled to create their own organizations.

The groups that were formed had very specific goals in mind which served to support both aspects of these women’s identities7.  By working on education, employment, legislation, and general information, they served their Asian communities.  Hopefully, these improvements would provide a positive impact.  On the other hand, building sisterhood and increasing their role in society served to further feminist goals.

Materials

GIDRA Video
GIDRA Story 1 – Movement Contradiction
GIDRA Story 2 Part 1 – G.I.’s and Asian Women
GIDRA Story 2 Part 2 – G.I.’s and Asian Women
Pieces of paper with outlines of a body drawn on them
Markers, pencils, glitter, and other decorative items

Activities
Day 1

Lecture
The teacher starts the lesson by lecturing about the key points that will provide background and necessary understanding of concepts for the following day.  Topics that are covered should include a brief overview of the history of the Asian American movement, the concept of gender roles, and intersectionality.  Since these topics can be dense, ample time should be left over for students to ask questions.  It is important that any confusion be clarified.

Video
In order to break up the pacing, the day should end with a short five minute video explaining the origins and purpose of GIDRA.  This is especially important since students will have to read two stories from its January 1971 issue.

Homework
Students should read “Movement Contradiction” and “G.I.’s and Asian American Women” and write 1-2 paragraphs about how the different aspects of these women’s identities had an impact on their roles in the movement.

Day 2

Group  Discussion  and  Presentations
Students should be placed into small groups (no more than four) and discuss what they wrote for homework.  The teacher should then assign groups to present about the way women’s identities as females or as Asians had an impact on their role in the movement.

Identity  Drawing
Each student should receive a piece of paper that has an outline of a person’s body on it.  They should fill the bodies with words or drawings that represent aspects of their identities.  Students should be as thorough and personal as possible as long as they are comfortable sharing what they have done.  Once everyone has finished, the outlines should be cut out and then cut into several pieces.  The teacher should then collect one piece of each student’s identity.  Then, each student should receive a piece of another’s identity.  Once they have had time to analyze what they were given, they must describe who this person is based solely on what they can gather from this small portion.

Reflection
The day will close off with students writing a short reflection about what they have learned and how this applies to their own lives.

Sources

Chow, Esther Ngan-Ling. “The Development of Feminist Consciousness Among Asian American Women.” Gender and Society 1, no. 3 (September 1, 1987), http://gas.sagepub.com/content/1/3/284.full.pdf+html (accessed March 4, 2013).

Maeda, Daryl Joji. 2012. Rethinking the Asian American Movement. New York: Routledge.

Standards

1.  Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
2.  Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
3.  Students interpret past events and issues within the context in which an event unfolded rather than solely in terms of present-day norms and values.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

1 Maeda, Daryl Joji. 2012. Rethinking the Asian American Movement. New York: Routledge.
2 Maeda 2012
3 Maeda 2012
4 Maeda 2012
5 Chow, Esther Ngan-Ling. “The Development of Feminist Consciousness Among Asian American Women.” Gender and Society 1, no. 3 (September 1, 1987), http://gas.sagepub.com/content/1/3/284.full.pdf+html (accessed March 4, 2013), 287.
6 Chow 1987, 288
7 Chow 1987, 290

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