Since the 2016 election, differences in American politics have earned a media spotlight that sheds light on larger social issues, such as multiculturalism in the U.S. Following Trump’s election, Asian studies professor Steve Roddy found an opportunity to compare America’s current political climate with some of Asia’s political histories. On Saturday April 29, Roddy and the Asian studies program hosted a symposium titled, “Dialogue, Understanding & Tolerance: Lessons from Asia, Past & Present” in Lone Mountain.
The event aimed at emphasizing the need for open-ended dialogues that have emerged from the conflicts in some multicultural regions of Asia over time, and how that understanding these conflicts might be transferable to navigating America under Trump.
The discussion featured six scholars, presenting an arrangement of histories from regions in China, Pakistan and the Partition of India. Among the presenters, several were professors from USF, while others were from schools around the country and even China. The presentations included studies of moments in history regarding the Chinese Communist government, and the previous government of Nationalists, the treatment of a Chinese ethnic group, the Mughal Empire, the displacement of millions in India and the trading of goods in and around Asia.
During his introduction, Roddy said, “I think we want people to understand the diversity of cultures and views in Asia, and how those differing and often conflicting cultures both come into contact but also find ways of resolving [their conflicts].”
The first half of the symposium was filled with stories centered around China’s history. The event was split by a Q&A that focused on the Chinese government’s current disposition concerning ethnic diversity. Jiang Sun, a professor of history at Nanjing University of China, responded with the help of USF professor Yanshuo Zhang’s translation, “Today the situation is kind of different. As of present, the Communist party is actually advocating for ethnic diversity within the nation.”
Sun shed light on Muhammad Amin Bugrha’s alliance with Chinese nationalists during the Sino-Japanese war, and his failure to admit his “submission.” The word “nationalist” has become a popular term to describe some of Trump’s narratives during and after his election, and the idea of assimilation in both China and America was a thread throughout the event.
Before Johan Elverskog from the Southern Methodist University at Dallas began his presentation on the limited exchange on the Silk Road, he told a story from his immigration to the U.S. as a child.
Elverskog noted the regressive notion of the “nostalgia for the good old days,” that has been alive in America for years. After coming to the U.S. from Sweden, Elverskog and his family found their mailbox thrown out into the street with the words, “Go home! America is for Americans” written on it.
USF professor and Stanford Ph.D. candidate, Yanshuo Zhang, posed the question of how a marginalized ethnic group like the Qiang people of China can rise to power in a culturally anxious society.
The question could be asked of American identities as the acceptance of the U.S. as a cultural “melting pot” has been challenged with acts of anti-Semitism, anti-Islam and police brutality. Zhang’s presentation also focused on the contemporary tourism culture of the Qiang identities and heritage.
Rohini Ramkrishnan, the Oral History program manager at the 1947 Partition Archive office at Berkeley gave a small summary of the division of India in 1947. The organization finds witnesses of the Partition and records their stories. Ramkrishnan focused on the displacement of around 14.5 million people during the partition, and the refugee crisis that unfolded during the split.
Erkin Abdulla concluded the event by performing flamenco, which is now popular among China thanks to Abdulla and other early flamenco artists. The flamenco is a Turkish variation of a Spanish-style guitar that has grown to popularity in Chinese music since performers like Erkin Abdulla have begun performing mastering it.
Photo by Chloe Bennett/ Foghorn