Who should teach Asian American Studies? Should we make an effort to hire faculty and staff who reflect the demographics of the communities we research an serve and come from? I think that Asian American Studies should make an effort to hire Asian American professors for a number of reasons.
First, when someone says “Shouldn’t you just hire the best person for the job?”, there’s an underlying assumption that well-qualified, brilliant Asian American professors are in short supply. I’ve been looking around, and that’s definitely not the case. Especially in Asian American Studies. The majority of people who go into Asian American Studies are Asian American. Affirmative action started because people of color couldn’t get jobs no matter how qaulified they were, not because all people of color were lacking qualifications and weren’t good enough to succeed on their own efforts.
Second, there is something valuable for Asian American students to have role models who come from similar ethnic/cultural backgrounds. The first time I met an Asian American mixed race adult, I was shocked. It had never occured to me that there were adults who looked like me. And there really is a sense (rational or not), that if someone like you managed to do something, then you can, too.
Third, Asian American faculty and staff have some advantages to doing the interpersonal work that Asian American Studies demands, both with students and community constituents. The personal nature of Asian American Studies often means that Asian American researchers and teachers have a personal investment in the work that they want to transfer to their students. Working with Asian American communities can be easier if people can already communicate with the community members linguistically and culturally.
This isn’t to say that I would disregard non-Asian (American) candidates. I don’t mean to say that only Asian Americans can understand Asian American communities or that Asian American students can only look to other Asian Americans role models.definitely want non-Asian Americans to take classes and work within in the field because it’s not just about studying ourselves with ourselves. There are important connections to make across communities. Other community groups share a lot of our concerns (sometimes more than other Asian American ethnicities) and even when they don’t, it’s important to build understanding between non-like peoples. What I am saying is that there are reasons, ideological and practical, that give Asian Americans a leg up.