National Background

National Background - 1960s-2020s


This timeline documents national, regional, and Indiana University events that led to the creation of Indiana University Bloomington’s (IUB) Asian American Studies (AAST) program and its activities through 2020, Indiana University’s Bicentennial Year.  National and regional events influence decisions made locally. We include these three levels of history to provide the fuller context of IUB AAST’s origin story and trajectory.  This timeline recounts how Asian American Studies has grown from its activist roots into a public-facing interdisciplinary field willing to question, adapt, and re-imagine solutions to contemporary social issues. 


1968—Birth of the Asian American Movement

Inspired by Black Power and the opposition to the Vietnam War, the Asian American Movement takes off in the late 1960s and lasts through much of the 1970s. Across the country, people of Asian ancestry energetically denounce racism and imperialism at home and abroad. They champion solidarity with “Third World” peoples everywhere, and they push for more equitable and just ways of living. The Movement is “one struggle, many fronts”: it generates a robust press and vibrant artistic production. Activists campaign for affordable housing for the poor and elderly, community-relevant education, accountability for police brutality, affirmative action, and an end to U.S. military invention in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

“Asian American” identity itself emerges from this grassroots mobilization. Even as they condemn the nation’s ugly practices of denigrating and exploiting people of color, Movement participants unapologetically claim a rightful place in America.(3) 


Across the country, people of Asian ancestry energetically denounce racism and imperialism at home and abroad.  

March 9, 1979—President Jimmy Carter Declares the Nation’s First Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week

In the first presidential proclamation (#4650) for Asian/Pacific Heritage Week, President Jimmy Carter addresses the significant role that several generations of Asian/Pacific Americans have had in shaping American social, historical, and cultural history. “We have not always fully appreciated the talents and the contributions which Asian-Americans have brought to the United States…. Yet, Asians of diverse origins—from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia—continued to look to America as a land of hope, opportunity, and freedom,” Carter states. “… Their successful integration into American society and their positive and active participation in our national life demonstrates the soundness of America’s policy of continued openness to peoples from Asia and the Pacific,” Carter expresses. Following the President’s proclamation, universities nationwide—including IUB in 1994—begin creating campus events dedicated to celebrating Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.(8) 



June 23, 1982—Vincent Chin’s Murder Sparks New Phase of Asian American Activism

Vincent Chin, a twenty-seven-year-old Chinese American engineer, inspires nationwide protests for Asian American civil rights.  U.S. labor unions and politicians launch anti-Japanese campaigns after the 1978 oil crisis kills market demand for gas-guzzling American-made cars.(12) This anti-Japanese resentment culminates to the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, who is out on the town for his bachelor party.  Robert Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz, exchange heated words with Chin in a Detroit bar.  Witnesses claim that they heard Ebens call Chin a “Jap” and yelled, “It’s because of you motherf—ers that we’re out of work!”  Ebens and Nitz then chase down Chin and beat him to death with a baseball bat. 

Ebens and Nitz claim Chin’s death as accidental and plead guilty to manslaughter.  When they receive only three years’ probation and a $3,800 fine with no jail time, Asian American civil rights group protest nationwide, sparking a significant phase of Asian American activism and political awakening.(13) As historian Shelley Lee writes, “An event like the Chin killing and trial were particularly powerful because it demonstrated not just the vulnerability of all Asians, regardless of their specific ethnic background, but also how devalued their lives were in the legal system.”(14)


An event like the Chin killing and trial were particularly powerful because it demonstrated not just the vulnerability of all Asians, regardless of their specific ethnic background, but also how devalued their lives were in the legal system.

1990s—Asian American College Student Enrollment Doubles Within a Decade

Asian American student enrollment at U.S. universities and colleges nearly doubles within a decade, jumping from 3% of the 1984 undergraduate population to about 6% in 1994. In 1996, Asian American undergraduate and graduate enrollment totals 828,200 at U.S. post-secondary institutions. This growing critical mass of Asian American student enrollment is a key factor propelling the increase of student activism for Asian American Studies during the 1990s.(18)


3%Asian American undergraduate student enrollment at U.S. universities and colleges in 1984.

6%Asian American undergraduate student enrollment at U.S. universities and colleges in 1994.

April 29-May 4, 1992—1992 Los Angeles Uprisings Highlight Anti-Blackness in Asian American Communities

Rebellions in Los Angeles erupt on April 29 following the acquittals of police officers who brutally beat African American motorist Rodney King. The violence against King comes on the heels of the high-profile murder of African American teenager Latasha Harlins by Korean shopkeeper Soon Ja Du in Los Angeles on March 16, 1991.  The 1992 LA rebellion is a response to rampant anti-Blackness deeply rooted in U.S. history and society, including Asian American communities.  It highlights the systematic social, economic, and political injustices against African Americans. Finally, the uprising focuses on the inability of the American justice system to punish police officers, other state actors, and individuals guilty of violence against Black people.(22) 


Uprisings in Los Angeles during 1992 highlight systemic anti-Blackness in U.S. culture.

September 11, 2001—The 9/11 Attacks

September 11th, simply known as 9/11, sparks an epidemic of Islamophobia, hate violence, and civil liberties violations targeting South Asians, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh American communities.(28) Al-Qaeda terrorists hijack and fly three American passenger planes into the World Trade Towers in New York City and into the Pentagon in Virginia. The fourth—intended for the White House—crashes in Pennsylvania.  Within days after 9/11, the South Asian Americans Leading Together organization reports 645 incidents of racial profiling, discrimination, and hate crimes against these ethnic South Asian groups.(29)  9/11 spurs the swift passage of the 2001 USA Patriot Act and other state measures that grossly disregards basic constitutional and civil rights of these communities.(30) 

One egregious example is the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, implemented by the Department of Justice and a linchpin of the War on Terror between 2002-2016. NSSERS requires all non-citizen men at least 16 years of age arriving in the U.S. from one of 25 countries (nearly all with significant Muslim populations) to register with federal authorities. The Department of Justice mandates each registrant to check back in periodically and to report any changes of residence, employment, or school. Those who fail to register risk fines and removal. NSEERS does not produce any terror-related convictions. But more than 13,000 of the total 83,000 who comply end up deported on charges of immigration status violations.(31)

The 9/11 Memorial for the attacks in New York City

May 2020—The Murder of George Floyd Sparks Nationwide Protests

The murder of George Floyd fuels the Black Lives Matter global movement. Protests erupt in nearly 2,000 U.S. cities in all 50 states, 5 permanently inhabited territories, and nearly 60 countries after four Minneapolis police officers use excessive force while arresting George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man accused for using a $20 counterfeit bill at a convenience store.  Despite pleas from onlookers and George Floyd pleading, “I can’t breathe,” a White officer keeps his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, choking him to death.  Floyd’s death is an all too familiar reminder that law enforcement brutalizes and murders Black people, rather than “serving and protecting” them. Black Lives Matter supporters call for federal, state, and local governments to divest from police budgets and redirect money to social services. Many Asian American individuals and organizations, including IUB’s AAST, express their solidarity with Black people and vow to take action to dismantle white supremacy.(38)