Asian Pacific American Labor Studies
Asian American Studies 197B; class ticket number: 121-856-200
Mondays, 4:00 – 6:50 p.m.
Bunche 2168

Course Description:

This course is a continuation of AAS 197A in Winter Quarter 2002, although enrollment is not based on taking the previous course. The Spring Quarter course focuses on student internships with community-based labor projects.

Both historically and today, grassroots labor struggles by immigrant workers are central to defining the Asian Pacific American experience. Immigrant labor struggles bring to the forefront issues of human rights, interethnic and interracial alliances, racism and gender oppression, the impact of globalization, and the ongoing efforts to expand democracy in America. However, despite the central significance of labor struggles, the curriculum in Asian American Studies has virtually no classes focusing on labor.

This class addresses this vacuum and examines Asian Pacific American labor, both historically and today. Among historical issues to be covered are the exclusion of Asian immigrant workers from mainstream labor unions, the resulting reliance of immigrant workers on community-based strategies for fighting for workplace rights, and the close connection between labor organizing and other community movements such as support for independence of former homelands from colonialism, women’s rights, and movements for human rights. Among contemporary issues to be covered are current organizing campaigns by low-income immigrants in the garment and restaurant industries, the ways these community-based labor struggles are redefining labor organizing strategies in mainstream unions, and the impact of labor struggles and immigrant worker centers on reshaping politics in Asian Pacific American communities.

This class emphasizes the key role that Asian Pacific American students can play in supporting labor struggles of low-income immigrants. This class provides students with hands-on activist training to help them confront class polarization, which increasingly is becoming a major feature of Asian Pacific American communities. Students will receive training in ways that they can use campus resources, including their academic skills, to support immigrant labor struggles.

This class was initiated by Rena Wong, a recent UCLA graduate who is now working as a union organizer in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Course Staffing:

Instructor: Glenn Omatsu, (310) 825-2974 (messages only)
e-mail: glenn.omatsu@csun.edu or gomatsu@ucla.edu

Office hours: time and place to be announced

Special Assistant from UCLA Labor Center: Erin O’Brien, (310) 206-1965
e-mail: geobrien@ucla.edu

Course Readings:

The Course Reader is required and is available from Course Reader Materials, 1141 Westwood Blvd., (310) 443-3303

  • 15% Political tour of one L.A. or Southern California community where Asian immigrants work and live — e.g., Koreatown, Garment District, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Pilipinotown, Little Saigon
  • 25% Reflection papers, including final internship project report
  • 10% Attendance
  • 50% Internship and project related to internship

Description of Internships with Community-based Labor Projects:

Each student will participate in a team with other students in one of the following community-based labor projects. Part of each student’s grade for this course will be based on an assessment provided by community representatives associated with each project.

  1. Market Workers Justice Campaign (Koreatown)
  2. Garment Workers Center (downtown L.A.)
  3. Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO
  4. Chinatown Mural Project (Note: Approval of project coordinator Steve Wong needed for participation; e-mail for Steve Wong: wong@astrobuddha.com)
  5. Visual Communications video documentary on labor struggles (Note: To participate in this internship, a student must have taken AAS 197A in Winter Quarter, received a grade of A in that class, and have the approval of project coordinator Leslie Ito-Wong from Visual Communications.)

Class Goals:

  1. To provide students with internships with community-based labor projects and to have students carry out a project that will materially help the community group;
  2. To understand the ways that labor struggles by low-income immigrants are central to defining the Asian Pacific American experience, both historically and today;
  3. To highlight the significance of community-based labor organizing strategies in Asian Pacific American communities, both historically and currently;
  4. To analyze the significance of today’s Asian Pacific immigrant worker campaigns in relation to critical social issues, especially globalization, immigrant rights, human rights, and women’s and children’s struggles against trafficking
  5. To examine class dynamics in today’s Asian Pacific American communities, with a focus on labor struggles of low-income immigrant workers in Los Angeles;
  6. To highlight the importance of interethnic and interracial alliances created by Asian Pacific immigrant workers in their labor struggles;
  7. To emphasize the key role that students today armed with Asian American Studies can play in supporting struggles of low-income Asian Pacific immigrant workers;
  8. To provide activist training for students to work with community groups, community-based labor groups, unions, and immigrant workers; this training will address the class privileges of students in elite institutions such as UCLA and the ways that they can use campus resources to support the struggles for justice by immigrant workers.

Student Responsibilities for this Class:

  1. Make sure this is a class you really want to take (look over the syllabus and assignments). This class takes students out of the "safe zone" of the traditional classroom. Notice, for example, that there are no tests, and grading for the class will be partly based on an evaluation given by members of community organizations. This does not mean that this class will be easy. On the contrary, students who are used to traditional academic standards will experience high levels of anxiety by 7th week. Please carefully consider whether you want to take this class and accept the responsibilities listed below.
  2. By enrolling in this class, each student is making a commitment to attend class sessions, to do the assigned readings and reflection papers, and to carry out an internship that will materially help a community-based labor project.
  3. This class requires a considerable amount of work outside the classroom.
  4. Grading for this class is based on each student’s performance; I will not grade on a curve. Some students come to this class with extensive experience in campus activism and familiarity with off-campus communities; I will expect more from these students than those with less experience.
  5. Finally, a key goal of this class is to encourage students to share what they are learning with others and to learn from immigrant workers in our communities. In the late 1960s, the movements that created Ethnic Studies began with a vision of education that linked classroom learning to issues in the community. This vision continues today. Students have a special responsibility to share their knowledge and resources with others in their communities, including other campuses. Knowledge is too important to stay within the classroom. In addition, students at elite institutions such as UCLA have a special responsibility to develop the necessary humility to effectively teach and learn from those in our communities.

Class Sessions:

Note: Each class session will be divided into three parts: a lecture and discussion on a topic relating to Asian Pacific American labor, a student activist training component, and in-class work related to students’ internship projects.

Monday, April 1 Overview of the significance of immigrant labor struggles for defining the Asian Pacific American experience, both historically and today; description of class projects

Monday, April 8 Selection by students of community-based labor projects

Monday, April 15 Beginning of students’ community-based labor internships

Monday, April 22

Monday, April 29

Monday, May 6

Monday, May 13

Monday, May 20

Monday, May 27 Memorial Day Holiday — no class session

Monday, June 3 Internship project written reports due

Readings (in Course Reader):

Glenn Omatsu, "Asian Pacific American Workers and the Expansion of Democracy"

Glenn Omatsu, "Racism or Solidarity? Unions and Asian Immigrant Workers"

Philip Vera Cruz, "Profits Enslave the World"

Philip Vera Cruz, "Human Dignity"

Julie Su, "Heed the Call of the Dreamer"

Linelle Mogado, "From the Bottom Up: The New Asian Pacific Islander Labor Activism"

Edna Bonacich, "Reflections on Asian American Labor"

Rena Wong, "Political Tours: L.A. Garment District and Little Saigon"

K. Connie Kang, "Koreatown

Workers Speak Out so That Others May Benefit"

Tram Nguyen, "Showdown in K-town"

Alyssa Kang, "Rags for Riches: The Exploitation of Immigrant Women Garment Workers"

Vijay Prashad, "The Day New York Stood Still"

Arun Venugopal, "Invisible No More"
"Poor Quality Immigrants?"

Patrick McDonnell, "UC Interns Plunge into Labor Movement: Program Gives 28 Students Hands-on Experience with Unions and Workers’ Groups"

Peter Kiang and Man Chak Ng, "Through Strength and Struggle: Boston’s Asian American Student/Community/Labor Solidarity"

Doug Brugge and Lydia Lowe, "Asian American Workers in the New Economy"

Wen-ti Sen, "The Garment Worker’s Story"

Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking, "Fact Sheet on Trafficking"

Happy Lim, "Organizing Chinese Workers in the 1930s"

Him Mark Lai, "A Historical Survey of the Chinese Left in America"

Philip Vera Cruz, "An Interview with Philip Vera Cruz"

Karl Yoneda, "One Hundred Years of Japanese Labor in the U.S.A."

Carlos Bulosan, "Letter"

Philip Vera Cruz Interview

Lilian Galedo and Theresa Quilenderino Mar, "Filipinos in a Farm Labor Camp"

Chris Braga and Barbera Morita, "Agbayani Village"
"Letter from a Manong"

Web Resources: Asian American Labor and Related Community Issues Training Materials for Student Activists

Excepts from David Werner and Bill Bower, Helping Health Workers Learn: A Book of Methods, Aids, and Ideas for Instructors at the Village Level

"Leadership Training Workshop"

"Power to the People! Empowerment and Democracy for Asian Americans in the New Millennium"

"Democracy in Small Groups: What Is It? Why Is It So Important?"

"Community Education: A Guide for Asian American














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