Alan Yeh ’18 blended his interests in food and Asian American history this summer by researching how food and foodways affect Asian racialization in the United States. His research, undertaken with literature and creative writing professor Steven Yao, was funded through an Emerson Summer Research Grant.
Majors: Literature and French
Hometown: Bellevue, Washington
High School: Oliver M. Hazen High School
Yeh, a second generation Korean-Chinese-Vietnamese American, said he was drawn to the topic because he was fascinated by the prospect of learning about his heritage. He noticed a paucity of available literature on the topic of food and Asian racialization; most of it was written solely by authors of Chinese, Japanese and Filipino descent. “My research, then, focuses specifically on how the arrival of other ethnic groups in large waves following the Immigration Act of 1965 affected Asian racialization,” he explained. “I’m trying to understand the circumstances (the pushes and pulls) of immigration for each of these groups and how, as ‘strangers,’ their arrival was received in the U.S.”
To do this, Yeh started his research by looking for patterns in how the available texts depicted their characters and their interactions with both food and each other. He added, “I then proceeded to analyze literary works by writers of Korean, Southeast Asian and South Asian descent. I’m also exploring ethnic communities in the greater Seattle area and learning about APIA (Asian and Pacific Islander American) history specifically in the Pacific Northwest.”
His research had its obstacles, however. For instance, he commented, “I had hoped to find some key differences between the ethnic groups of pre- and post-1965, but as I looked further into it, I realized just how difficult that was going to be. All Asians were essentially excluded from immigration at one point or another, and each group has experienced similar forms of hostility upon arrival, whether in the form of physical violence or legislation.” With that in mind, he added, “I’m looking back through everything to try to understand the hybridization strategies of each of these groups as they figure out their lives in the U.S., keeping the similarities in mind but essentially attempting to find key differences.”
Yeh’s aspirations for his research were modest. He said that most of his work is foundational; his goal was to lay the groundwork for future research on an understudied topic rather than make a groundbreaking discovery.
Yeh’s research this summer may be a first step in his future plans. After Hamilton, he is interested in going into academia. Yeh also intends to become more involved with the APIA.