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Building coalitions for labor, social justice focus of ASU Ethnic Studies Week

September 24, 2013

The American labor movement is at a crossroads. Union density is at a 50-year low, economic inequality is staggering and corporate power dominates American politics and economic policy. Yet new and creative coalitions are challenging the status quo and forging new partnerships for social justice.

Kent Wong, noted labor attorney and director of the UCLA Center for Labor and Education, will be at Arizona State University on Oct. 8 to discuss these issues in his keynote address as part of ASU’s fourth annual Ethnic Studies Week celebration, Oct. 8 -16.

This year’s theme for ASU Ethnic Studies week is “What does it mean to be an ally? What does coalition-building look like?” In his talk, Wong will address the new American labor movement and the exciting seeds of resistance that are bringing unions, immigrant communities and communities of color together to achieve social change. His 5 p.m. lecture will be held in the Memorial Union, Cochise Room, on ASU’s Tempe campus, culminating a full afternoon of events to kick off the annual celebration.

Professor Wong, who teaches courses at UCLA in labor studies and ethnic studies, is founding president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (AFL-CIO) and a vice president of the California Federation of Teachers. Wong has written widely on the labor movement, union organizing, popular education, immigrant workers and undocumented students. An active supporter of the immigrant youth movement, he is the author of the books "Underground Undergrads" and "Undocumented and Unafraid." 

As part of his visit, Wong will also be leading an open student discussion the afternoon of Oct. 8 about the immigrant youth movement and students as leaders for social transformation. Undergraduate and graduate students are invited to join the session from 3-4:30 p.m. in West Hall 135, ASU's Tempe campus.

This year’s coordinating theme, “What does it mean to be an ally? What does coalition-building look like?” also is the focus of the panel that will open the week of events, beginning at 12 p.m., Oct. 8 in West Hall 135.

Beth Blue Swadener, professor of Justice and Social Inquiry and associate director of the School of Social Transformation, will facilitate a discussion with activists including Tia Oso, Arizona organizer, Black Alliance for Just Immigration; Daniel Rodriguez, founder, Arizona Dream Act Coalition and Arizona Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project; Ileana Meary Salinas, director of operations, Arizona Worker Rights Center; and Caroline Picker, social justice worker, Showing Up for Racial Justice.

The official Ethnic Studies week events will close out Oct. 16 with a conversation with Arlene Dávila, professor of anthropology and American studies at New York University. “What is critical about ethnic studies?” will be the focus of her session, to be held from 4-5:30 p.m. in West Hall 135.

But this year’s organizing committee has, in addition, identified a range of affiliated events going on at ASU and in the greater community that tie into the Ethnic Studies theme and celebration – from a Comparative Border Studies Colloquium by professors Rudy Guevarra, Jr. and Lily Welty at ASU on Oct. 4, to events with artist Wendy Maruyama at the ASU Art Museum and the Burton Barr Central Library on Oct. 29 and 30, to musical Performance in the Borderlands events in Downtown Phoenix Nov. 14-16.

“Critics of ethnic studies argue that the field teaches people to associate only with their own ethnic groups to the detriment of civil society,” says Karen Leong, associate professor of women and gender studies and faculty coordinator for this year’s events.

“In actuality, however, ethnic studies provides frameworks by which people may recognize and respect the different experiences of diverse communities while also finding ways to work collectively to achieve social justice based in common concerns or in solidarity for a particular community facing social injustice,” Leong says.

“We invite the ASU community as well as the larger Arizona community to attend these events and consider how we may participate in working together for sustainable change.”

The 2013 Ethnic Studies Week @ ASU events are co-sponsored by the School of Social Transformation, an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Asian American Faculty and Staff Association.