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Campus Roundup: New AAPI Dorm Floor at USC , Protest Fails to Stop Mikado at Harvard

Mikado at HarvardIt’s been a busy week in the news for Asian American students on campuses across the country.

The University of Southern California has announced the creation of a dorm theme floor for Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans, while at cross town rival UCLA an interim director for the Asian American Studies Center has been named.

On the East Coast, the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players is staging the Mikado, despite calls to shut it down due to what protesters call exaggerated stereotypes of Japanese culture.

The Harvard Crimson reports the production tries to sidestep some of the issues over yellowface by moving the setting from Japan to the Oriental Hotel in Las Vegas. The hotel’s owner is a Mafia don fascinated with Japanese culture.

“Thus, we have taken the show’s original concept—western actors playing Japanese—and reified it in the staff members of the Hotel Mikado, in an effort to expose and critique the commodity racism and racial impersonation in Gilbert’s original Mikado, wrote Kathleen Zhou, president of the Gilbert & Sullivan Players.

Despite her defense of the show, Zhou admits some of the criticism of the show is valid.

“We have chosen… to work within a problematic framework,” Zhou said. “I don’t think we think it’s perfect.”

Fellow student George Qiao, called for the production to be shut down after seeing a rehearsal Wednesday night. The show opened Friday as scheduled and will run through next weekend.

“The characters in the new version of the play are not ethnically Japanese and are only employees in a Japanese-themed Las Vegas hotel,” wrote Qiao in an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson. Though this is not traditional yellowface because the characters are not Japanese, this meta-structure is a distraction from the fact that the employees in this Japanese-themed hotel are themselves yellowfaced in their jobs. This is an embellishment of yellowface, reflective of the euphemized racism of the modern day. The characters still channel shallow, diminutive, and exoticized interpretations of Japanese people. Yellowface is not just a concoction of yellow make-up and kimonos; it is a manifestation of a social force. The racism in the play has been merely updated for a more sensitive 21st century audience.”

Quio also called out the productions depiction of transgender people problematic.

At the University of Southern California, student senator Kate Oh announced the creation of the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Leadership Floor, a new residential theme floor in Birnkrant Residence Hall, reported the Daily Trojan.

The floor was originally considered for Fluor Tower where there are already floors targeting African American and Latino students.

“Initially, what I was thinking was to have the APIDA Floor also be in Fluor Tower just because I think there’s always an intersection of these identities, and it would be nice to create an identity of West area as a multicultural area that emphasizes identity development,” Oh said. “But at the same time, I want us to encourage identity development in all spaces.”

Ultimately it was decided to set up the floor in Birnkrant due to logistical issues with Fluor.

At UCLA, Marjorie Kagawa-Singer has begun her new role as interim director of the Asian American Studies Center. She is scheduled to stay on through June.

“We’re thrilled about professor Kagawa-Singer joining our center,” said Melany de la Cruz-Viesca, assistant director of the AASC told the Daily Bruin. “She has a strong sense of what it means to bridge research and community building.”

Kagawa-Singer has taught Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Island studies and public health at UCLA since 1990.

The search for a permanent director continues.
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