Q & A with Monica M. Trieu – Professor of Asian American Studies at Purdue

As part of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month, we connect with Purdue’s first professor of Asian American Studies, Monica M. Trieu, an associate professor of American Studies and Asian American Studies in the College of Liberal Arts. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology, with an emphasis in Asian American Studies, from the University of California, Irvine. Her research primarily examines the post-1960s Asian immigrants and political refugees, and the adaptation of their children (1.5 and second-generation) in the United States. She joined the Purdue faculty in 2011.

Monica M. TrieuIn this Q & A, Professor Trieu discusses her early influences and her passion for racial equality.

Q: What early experiences influenced you and drew you to Asian American Studies?

A:  I was drawn to Asian American Studies for very personal reasons. I am an Asian American and a refugee from Vietnam. My family fled Vietnam via a small fishing boat as a consequence of the Vietnam War. We were a part of the “boat people” movement of the 1970s-80s. As a young child growing up in the 1980s in the Bay Area, California, I never had access to Asian American history in my K-12 education. I did not know the linkages between the United States and Vietnam that brought my family to the United States. As such, I never really understood my placement in the history of the United States of America, or in the scope of transnational Asian American history. It was not until I took an Asian American Studies course in college that I began to learn about the transnational history of Asians in the U.S. It is a history that goes beyond Chinese working in the railroads or the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. I learned about, and was inspired by, 1960s Asian American movement leaders such as Yuri Kochiyama. I learned about the  Mississippi Chinese and 1960s Delano Grape Strike and Boycott movement (I attended the University of California, Davis, so this was local California history for us). I was moved to action from learning about the murder of Vincent Chin. It was in these classes that I finally found a place and sense of belonging because I saw myself in the history books for the first time ever. At the same time, I also took sociology courses that opened my eyes to the glaring (and vast) social problems and inequities that existed in this nation, and globally. After taking these courses, I knew that this was something I wanted to learn more about and be able to teach to others one day.

Q: You teach an Asian American Popular Culture course. What other topics/issues are a part of your courses? What majors/minors do you see in your classes?  

A: The Asian American Popular Culture course is about race, representation, and resistance by, for, and about Asian Americans in the realm of popular culture. In the class, we critically examine the historical and contemporary representation of Asian Americans through various popular culture mediums (e.g., film, music, TV, print media, social media). Through a critical lens, the class addresses how these interactions reflect race, class, and gender power dynamics in the United States and abroad. Some issues or topics that we address include racist and gendered stereotypes (e.g., hyper-sexualization of Asian women), model minority myth, orientalism, etc. Students who take my courses come from all over the University.

Q: What has been the student response to your Asian American Studies courses?  

A: I get a lot of students telling me that they do not expect to learn what they did in my class. I think some students expect to learn about “Asian culture” when they take my course. Not that there is anything negative about these expectations. However, my course is really about, very broadly, racial inequality in the United States. I don’t just teach about Asian American history. I also teach and encourage students to build linkages across all marginalized communities. I tell students often that the history of Asian Americans is U.S. history.

Q: How have the pandemic and recent events influenced the topics explored in your class work and research? 

A: This is an interesting question to respond to because I have always taught and conducted research on discrimination, racism, and various forms of violence against Asian Americans. The only change during this period of the COVID-19 global pandemic is that there has been a dramatic increase in anti-Asian violence, fueled by racist and xenophobic political rhetoric (e.g., labeling COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus”). So, I do find myself having to make clear the importance of what the students are learning in my classes and how they matter in real life, and in real-time. That words have dire consequences.

Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching? 

A: Learning from my students! The most enjoyable part of my job is when I hand students course materials, and they take that material, process it, and then share something that becomes a learning moment for me. I am constantly learning from my students.

Monica M. Trieu – select publications:

Trieu, Monica M. "‘It Was about Claiming Space’: Exposure to Asian American Studies, Ethnic Organization Participation, and the Negotiation of Self among Southeast Asian Americans."  Race, Ethnicity and Education 21.4 (2018): 518-39. Web. 

Trieu, Monica M. "The 'isolated Ethnics' and 'everyday Ethnics': Region, Identity, and the Second-generation Midwest Asian American Experience."  National Identities 20.2 (2018): 175-95. Web.

Trieu, Monica M, and Lee, Hana C. "Asian Americans and Internalized Racial Oppression: Identified, Reproduced, and Dismantled."  Sociology of Race and Ethnicity (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) 4.1 (2018): 67-82. Web.

Trieu, Monica M. "Understanding the Use of “twinkie,” “banana,” and “FOB”: Identifying the Origin, Role, and Consequences of Internalized Racism within Asian America."  Sociology Compass 13.5 (2019): E12679-N/a. Web.

Read more about Professor Trieu’s courses and research here.



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