Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, 38
Associate Professor, History Department, Ohio State University, 2004-present
I became a historian because I got arrested in college. Or, perhaps I got arrested because I believed in the power of history.
I was born in Taipei, Taiwan and immigrated with my family to Spokane, Washington when I was six years old. I helped my family run a restaurant and then a convenience store until I left to attend college at Stanford University.
When I was a sophomore, I became involved in a campaign to lobby for ethnic studies and ethnic student services. There had been a racially motivated attack against the African American theme dorm at Stanford. I thought such behavior was inappropriate, and it reminded me of the harassment and discrimination that my family experienced in the predominantly white community of Spokane. In response, I became a student activist. I worked with people of varying backgrounds to advocate for more courses that examined race and inequality. We also called for more institutional support for ethnic student service centers so that students of color might feel more at home on the college campus. I believed that if all students were exposed to the diversity of American society, they might learn to treat each other with more respect. Through meetings, petitions, rallies and eventually a protest at the president's office which led to our arrest, we succeeded in persuading the university administration to hire the first faculties in Asian American Studies, conduct a review of the African American Studies Program, provide more funding and a full-time dean for the Chicano Student Center, and reexamine the eligibility of Native Hawaiians for affirmative action programs. I subsequently decided to major in American Studies so that I might learn more about the history, politics, and culture of the U.S. After completing an honors thesis on the 1960s social movements in San Francisco Chinatown and working at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, I eventually enrolled in the History Ph.D. program at Stanford.
Although these events occurred almost half of my lifetime ago, they remain formative for my intellectual, political, and personal development. Both my research and teaching foreground the analysis of race, gender, class, and nationality in the study of American history. I am particularly interested how categories of social difference and inequality are constructed and intertwined. I also pay close attention to how individuals create meaningful identities and interact with their lived environments. Because my goal is to promote greater understanding of the diversity of American history, I encourage students to think about various ways to study the past and to think about the connections between knowledge gained in the classroom and their experiences in contemporary society.
My current research project is very much influenced by my background as a student activist. In"Radicals on the Road: Third World Internationalism and American Orientalism during the Vietnam Era," I explore the travels of American peace activists who criticized the U.S. war in Viet Nam. I am particularly interested in how the experiences of being outside of the U.S. and meeting non-Americans shaped the identities and political beliefs of diverse American activists.
My first book, Doctor Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity (University of California Press, 2005) is a biography of a colorful yet largely unrecognized historical figure. Dr. Margaret Chung (1889-1959) was the first known American-born Chinese female physician. She established one of the earliest Western medical clinics in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1920s. She also became a prominent celebrity and behind-the-scenes political broker during Sino-Japanese and Second World Wars. During this period, her home was the place to be in San Francisco. Soldiers, movie stars, and politicians gathered there to socialize, to show their dedication to the Allied cause, and to express their affection for their"adopted" mother. Chung's surrogate sons numbered in the thousands and included well-known figures such as actor Ronald Reagan, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, and musician Andre Kostelanetz. Chung even used her fictive kinship network to recruit pilots for the Flying Tigers and lobby for the creation of WAVES, the U.S. women's naval reserve. Because she never married and could not provide a"legitimate" father figure, her"sons" became known as the"Fair-Haired Bastards." Although Chung publicly adopted a maternal identity, she experimented with her gender presentation and developed romantic relationships with other women, such as writer Elsa Gidlow and entertainer Sophie Tucker. My book capitalizes on Chung's uniqueness to examine how American race relations, gender roles, and sexual norms shifted over the course of her lifetime.
By Judy Tzu-Chun Wu
About Judy Tzu-Chun Wu
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Daniel Ford - 3/17/2008
"Chung even used her fictive kinship network to recruit pilots for the Flying Tigers"
It would have had to be fictive, I'm afraid. No member of the 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force (later known as Flying Tigers) was recruited by a woman, never mind a Chinese or Chinese-American woman.
The AVG was formed in the summer and fall of 1941, with former US military officers signing up the pilots, all active-duty or reserve army, navy, or marines--and all Caucasians, needless to say. There were few or no minorities flying for the US military in 1941.
Toward the end of the 1930s, a number of Chinese-American civilian pilots did volunteer to fly for China, most often in a regional air force based at Canton, later merged into the Guomindang Chinese Air Force.
More about all this in "Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers", published last fall by HarperCollins. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford
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