AHA Member Spotlight: Madeline Hsu
Madeline Hsu is a professor of history and Asian American studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She lives in Austin, Texas, and has been a member since 1995. She is currently a member of the AHA’s Committee on Committees.
Alma maters: BA, Pomona College, 1989; MA, Yale University, 1993; PhD, Yale University, 1996
Fields of interest: Asian American, migration, transnationalism, modern China, US immigration, international
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?
I now wear many hats and am now mostly associated with Asian American and US immigration history. However, my graduate school training was in modern Chinese history with Jonathan Spence and Betsy Bartlett, along with a field in US immigration with the labor historian David Montgomery. It is safe to say that my dissertation project, on the native-place villages of Chinese men working in the US during the throes of Chinese exclusion, was very much an outlier for all of my committee members, but each generously provided support and encouragement. Thus, as a graduate student, I had tremendous independence to frame and develop my dissertation research and arguments, mostly in dialogue with anthropologists working on what was then a new approach known as transnationalism. As my research has continued exploring global migrations of Chinese, its regulation, and its implications as key aspects of international relations, I have migrated into these modern US history fields as well. I am grateful to have had the freedom and institutional support to pursue these intellectual and career moves.
What projects are you currently working on?
I have been developing a website, immigrationhistory.org, that provides nuanced and factual teaching modules intended for use by high school teachers of US history and civics courses. The website is my response to the increasing likelihood that college students will not learn their US history from history professors, but opt out with AP and dual credit courses. The website offers a chronology of key events regarding citizenship and immigration; summary overviews of key themes such as policies regarding labor, how the immigration bureaucracy operates, and family and chain migration; and lesson plans covering a week of curriculum. It is suitable for general users as well and provides reliable information about immigration history that is highly relevant to the heated debates presently roiling our political landscape.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?
I learned the significance of the photograph that appears on the cover of [my book] The Good Immigrants: How the Yellow Peril Became the Model Minority (Princeton, 2015) a couple of years after I came across it at the Hoover Institution. The 1959 image of Chinese refugees boarding a plane in Hong Kong bound for the US was produced as propaganda by Aid Refugee Chinese Intellectuals, Inc. (ARCI), an ostensibly nongovernmental refugee relief organization that was actually closely aligned with the State Department. The photo publicized US support for fellow anti-Communist Chinese by highlighting what was in practice very limited aid to Chinese. When I presented my research at a 2012 conference in Hong Kong, my fellow presenter, Evelyn Hu-Dehart, was the first to raise her hand and announced that ARCI had been responsible for her family’s immigration, but that she had never known how to fit their story into the larger arc of Asian American history. Once I learned the date she came to the US, I was able to locate the photograph including her family. Princeton University Press selected it for my book cover, transforming Evelyn into a “cover girl.”
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
Eat a Bowl of Tea, directed by Wayne Wang and based on the novel by Louis Chu, vividly and humorously presents New York’s Chinatown at a key moment of change. World War II has just ended, and the War Brides Act makes it possible for veterans to bring wives to the United States and dismantle the long-standing bachelor society. The movie inevitably features the turbulent romance between handsome Russell Leong and his pretty bride Cora Miao as they shoulder the anticipation of the entire community for her pregnancy and birth of children. What I particularly appreciate about the movie, and novel, is that they also lovingly depict the lives of the old bachelors in human terms, and honor the long-standing friendships and homosocial bonds that constituted their key relationships and shaped their daily lives. When studying Chinese, we too often focus on “family values” and overlook the importance of fraternal values and social systems that also have deep roots in Chinese culture.
AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.
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