“I always had an interest in Asian American Studies, but there were no courses in Asian American Studies when I was in college,” Linus Yamane, professor of economics and Asian American Studies explained. “I always had a lot of questions about the experience of Asian Americans, but I never had the opportunity to explore them.”
One of Yamane’s first priorities upon arriving at Pitzer College in 1988 was to expand the curriculum in Asian American Studies. Although there had been courses and departments in both Black Studies and Chicano/a Studies at The Claremont Colleges for more than twenty years, there were no courses in Asian American Studies. With the help of a Ford Foundation grant, Yamane was able to read most of the scholarship in Asian American Studies during the summer of 1989. Among other things, he went to the University of California, Berkeley, and bought all the reading packets for all the Asian American Studies courses there.
Based on his accumulated readings, Yamane, along with Associate Professor of International and Intercultural Studies Joe Parker and Jack Ling (dean of students at the time), taught an interdisciplinary course that covered Asian American history, psychology, sociology and more in the spring of 1990. It was the first course in Asian American Studies at The Claremont Colleges in about a decade. While this course is no longer offered in the same form, it has been replaced by a breadth of Asian American Studies courses offered through the Intercollegiate Department of Asian American Studies established in 1998. “Since 1990 the field of Asian American Studies has exploded, and I can no longer keep up with everything in the field,” Yamane said. “There are graduate programs in Asian American Studies, and you have to focus on your subfield.”
Yamane’s desire to further Asian American Studies has always been a personal quest. While previously seeing himself as a self-confessed geek with a penchant for science and mathematics, his focus on Asian American Studies has allowed him to explore his identity and grow as a human being.
“In the late ’90s I was sitting in on one of Garrett Hongo’s readings, and I began feeling really jealous,” Yamane recalled. “Why does he get to write about his life, and I just write about numbers?” But he realized that he was tenured, and could really write about anything he wanted to write about.
As an example, Yamane wrote a short essay titled “Model Minority,” an autobiographical account of his undergraduate experience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that concludes with his later discovery of another Asian American who, under incredibly similar conditions, killed herself. The title is of particular importance to Yamane as a myth he seeks to eliminate.
The “model minority” stereotype is dangerous because many Asian Americans do not fit the stereotype. So you see some Asian Americans wearing T-shirts that proclaim “I suck at math.” But even for the Asian Americans who seem to fit the stereotype, the stereotype is dangerous because it suggests that everything is fine. “Many assume that because Asian Americans do well in school there’s no problem,” he said.
Despite his personal interest in the field of Asian American Studies, lately Yamane has strictly taught economics courses. “At heart I’m just an economist,” Yamane concluded. Nevertheless, his scholarship in economics still focuses on Asian Americans. He has recently completed a paper on Asian Americans and their rates of promotion, and his most current work compares non-English-speaking immigrants from both Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, hoping to isolate cultural and racial differences in the study of the experience of American immigrants.
Yamane’s hope is that his contributions have allowed the field to grow at the College, but for the most part he now entrusts the evolution of Asian American Studies curriculum to his younger colleagues. “The senior faculty have to make way for the junior faculty,” he said. “We have to grow or die. We always have to be hiring new junior faculty like Kathy Yep and we have to ask them: ‘Where do you want to take this field? Where should this field go?’ The vision I had when I came here is complete.”
—Sam Greene ’10