Hinnershitz talks history

As part of the Impact Leadership Conference put on by Student Life, Author and Professor Dr. Stephanie Hinnershitz from Cleveland State University led a guest lecture covering some of the topics in her book, “Race, Religion and Civil Rights: Asian Student Activism on the West Coast,” at Los Medanos College Thursday, Oct 13. in L-109.
Before she began her presentation, history professor Josh Bearden introduced Hinnershitz and gave background information on who she is and how they know each other.
“We both attended graduate school together at the University of Maryland. We came in together in the same cohort — in the same group of students. Before the first year that we were students there, we never met, but I kept hearing stories about this person named Stephanie Hinnershitz,” said Bearden.
He delved into her experience as a professor and the numerous awards she has won. Afterward he turned the stage over to Hinnershitz.
She began her lecture with a story she found while doing research for her dissertation, which would later become her book.
“When I was in the archives at Washington State University in Pullman, I found this write-up in the student newspaper about a student who came to Washington State from the Philippines,” said Hinnershitz. “His name was Felipe and he had saved up all the money that he could.”
She explained how he, like many other foreign students, could not afford housing because he spent most of his money on the ship fare to the United States and tuition. However, because he identified as Christian, he figured that Young Men’s Christian Association would let him stay there for free or relatively cheap.
“Later that year the local townspeople in Pullman heard about the increasing number of Filipino and foreign students who were staying at the YMCA on campus and they were very concerned,” said Hinnershitz. “So, these elites got together and they met with the directors of the YMCA and some of the other organizations in town that funded the YMCA and basically said if your don’t kick the foreign students out, we’re going to pull money that you would get from us.”
In the end, money won out and the YMCA kicked the students out with no place to go.
“That is one story, and it takes place in Washington, but it happened all along the West coast,” said Hinnershitz
Afterward, Hinnershitz began to speak about some of the other stories that went into her work specializing in Asian American and immigration history.
“Their governments were looking for ways to modernize, as they called it, or westernize so they wanted to learn more about western ways of doing things,” said Hinnershitz. “There [was] a drive for students to leave and to go get a western education.”
However, at this time the United States was experiencing a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. While they wanted to enrich their own understandings of other cultures through Cosmopolitanism with what they considered to be the best kind of immigrants — the educated at the affluent — they were concerned with unwanted immigrants entering the U.S.
In order to fit in with their American peers, Christian Asians would join these student subgroups at the YMCA.
At first, most of the students who came to America were rich or wealthier Asian students and it surprised them when they came to America and were treated just as bad as poor people.
There were many accounts of discrimination during this time such as the man who was so excited to join the debate team when he got to America, but was disappointed to find out that he could not join because they “don’t take Orientals.”
Even when students did bring up their concerns to the Committee on Friendly Relations among Foreign Students, the only advice they were given was to be nicer.
“The response of the committee further disillusioned them,” said Hinnershitz.
The prejudice and oppression they faced had caused many Asian Americans’ views on America and Christianity to shift. This caused the idea of what was called “sham Christianity,” which is what many Asian-Americans felt due to the discrimination they faced, which they felt went against their Christian beliefs.
“All of a sudden [when they came to the U.S.] they were racialized,” said Hinnershitz. “They’re going to build these networks that are very important and speak to some of the issues that they share. They wanted organizations that would be responsive to their needs.”
Prior to her talk, Hinnershitz also visited Bearden’s Honors History class to answer their questions on her book, which they’ve been reading in class, and share her experiences interviewing and researching for her book.
After the discussion, she gave people the opportunity to have copies of the book signed. Hinnershitz next book “A Different Shade of Justice: Asian-American Civil Rights in the South” will be published Aug. 2017.