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High school students sample scholarly life

October 12, 2005

Photo of one of the high school students who attended the conference reading a poster on how to get into collegeFifty San Francisco high school students had the rare opportunity to see the world through scholars' eyes when they attended a full day of sessions at the 2005 Chinese American Studies Conference on Oct. 6 in San Francisco. The event, titled "Branching Out the Banyan Tree: A Changing Chinese America," was co-sponsored by the Asian American Studies Department of SFSU's College of Ethnic Studies and the San Francisco-based Chinese Historical Society of America. The SFSU Office of the President sponsored the young students' participation.

Representing Abraham Lincoln, Balboa, Galileo, George Washington, Leadership, Lowell, Phillip and Sala Burton and Thurgood Marshall high schools, the students met with leading Asian historians, scholars, politicians and filmmakers and were guests at a luncheon that featured a talk by Charles B. Reed, California State University chancellor. The students applied for conference scholarships by composing essays that addressed the question: "Why is history important to identity?"

In one essay Pearl Chen, a native of Texas and senior at Galileo, said she felt embarrassed and guilty about not speaking Chinese while on a recent visit to Hong Kong. "Why should people know my language when I was so ignorant of theirs?" she said. Feeling like "a tree devoid of its roots," Chen said she spent most of the past summer at the public library reading books and studying photos of early Chinese immigrants and the history of San Francisco's Chinatown. Afterward she wrote, "In their almond eyes, narrow faces and tan skin I saw a reflection of myself and my past."

SFSU students acted as mentors and guides to the younger scholars throughout the conference.

"Having the high-school track in the conference with CSU and SFSU support helped to open the eyes of the high-school students about what CSU offers," said Lorraine Dong, acting chair of Asian American studies and a co-chair of the event. "By the end of the conference, many of them said CSU is definitely on their college-bound list."

Dong added that eight of the high school students appeared on panels to speak about their experience in local youth development and employment programs. Other panel topics were migration and emigration history, ancestral origins, race and language in public education, and mass media.

A highlight of the program was a session led by prominent documentary filmmaker and SFSU graduate Arthur Dong. SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan introduced the Oscar nominee and three-time Sundance award-winner before a sneak peek at Dong's latest project in which he examines American cinema through the lens of the Chinese American experience. Students discussed how the American film industry has been both uninformed and sensitive in its treatment of issues regarding race.

Gary Locke, a former governor of Washington and the first Asian American governor in U.S. mainland history, delivered the conference's keynote address at an evening banquet, which honored renowned historians Philip P. Choy and Him Mark Lai.

-- Denize Springer
Photo: Lui Gino De Grandis


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Last modified October 12, 2005 by University Communications