University of Iowa Asian American Oral History Archive

The following is written by Asian Alumni and Student Oral History Project Intern Jin Chang

Asian Alumni and Student Oral History Project Intern Jin Chang

Since the start of the pandemic, prominent leaders have stood in front of crowds of American people calling COVID-19 the “China Virus” and “Kung Flu.” As a result, Chinatown businesses closed as tourists continued to avoid Chinatowns across America and racially charged attacks increased against Asian elders, including a mass shooting in Atlanta specifically targeting Asian Women in the massage industry. Unfortunately, all these moments had precedents in the past. The Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882, which barred the Chinese from immigrating to America, was one of many policies motivated by Yellow Peril, a racist characterization for the fear of Asian people. This racist belief that East Asia and their people pose an existential threat to America influences the belief that Chinatowns are a uniquely dangerous spot of disease. Before COVID-19, Chinatown and Chinese people were blamed by many Americans for smallpox and cholera in the late 1800’s, the bubonic plague in the early 1900’s, and the SARS epidemic as recently as 2003. For the direct violence against Asians in America many of the wars in Twentieth Century American history have been against Asian countries, teaching Americans to view Asians as the enemy.

This longstanding history of Sinophobia, anti-Chinese sentiment, and the belief in Yellow Peril reveals the racism following COVID-19 is not some bizarre aberration. It is America’s history. While many of these notable early instances of racism against Asian people came from areas with heavy Asian populations such as California, Asian and Asian Americans have long lived in Iowa, and the population continues to grow in the present. As a Korean-American myself, I believe our experiences with navigating race and racism here in Iowa follows national trends, but I also believe there are many unique elements that come from reconciling race and racism as an Asian or Asian American in Iowa that is missing from the national discourses of today.

Directory from the Korean Student Association folder in Organizations & Clubs vertical files of University Archives

For the University of Iowa specifically, we are lucky to have the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center (APACC) as a space of community, healing, and empowerment for Asian Americans in the University. However, APACC began in 2003, and Asian and Asian Americans have long been forming communities in the University of Iowa. One group established in 1999, the Asian-American Coalition, served as a consolidated voice for many Asian Americans, and as one of the leading voices in the founding of APACC. Another group, the Asian American Women’s Group sought to address the specific needs of Asian American Women and predates the Asian American Coalition as it was established in 1993. Prior to the 1990s, many Asian international student groups existed on campus such as the Korean Student Association, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and PERMIAS an Indonesian Student Association.

decorative
A brochure found in University Archives for Asian-American Law Students Association, a current student organization

Many of these student groups are underrepresented in the University Archives. The lifecycle of student organizations also means that new iterations exist on our campus to serve Asian and Asian American students today, making it a challenge to capture organizations that have come and gone. While collecting materials from Asian and Asian American groups’ is a priority for the University Archives, the Special Collections & Archives team has also recognized the importance of collecting the stories of communities through oral history. Thus, over the course of the next year, the University Archives will be collecting oral histories of Asian and Asian American students and alumni from the University of Iowa. By capturing our stories and narratives through oral history, we have an opportunity to have our histories recognized and to create a genealogy for future Asian and Asian American students here at the University of Iowa.

If you wish to have your story included in the oral history archive, please contact Jin Chang at jin-chang@uiowa.edu.

Political Cartoons: A “Darling” Reminder to Vote

The following post comes from Olson Graduate Assistant Rachel Miller-Haughton.

Political cartoons are more fraught and relevant today than ever. The New York Times ended their political cartoons in July 2019, after they pulled an image that was widely perceived as anti-Semitic. Other publications have gone the same way in order to be perceived as more serious, or less controversial. At the same time, cartoonists and their supporters write about the loss of the visual medium. Patrick Chappatte, a New York Times political cartoonist, says, “Political cartoons were born with democracy. And they are challenged when freedom is.” No matter whether you like them or not, the impact of political cartoons cannot be denied. The most extreme example of this in recent memory are the attacks on the offices and contributors to French magazine Charlie Hebdo in response to their portrayal of Islamic prophet Muhammad. The response to a political cartoon, and subsequent conversations over free speech, is something that has colored our understanding of what they look like. 

Almost 100 years ago, a cartoonist was illustrating his view of the current election. Jay N. “Ding” Darling was a cartoonist who spent much of his life in Sioux City, Iowa, and spent most of his career at the Des Moines Register. Born in 1876, he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924 and 1942. He was disillusioned with many of the political groups he worked with, but his life’s passion was wildlife conservation. The University of Iowa Libraries now holds many of his works. The “Ding” Darling Papers in Special Collections are a large group of the political cartoons the artist was best known for, as well as other art forms he created over the span of his life. Two images from the 1924 election stand out, even today. That year, Calvin Coolidge, the Republican candidate, won, helped by a divide in the Democratic party where many liberal Democrats left the party and backed third-party Wisconsin Senator, throwing the majority of the rest of the votes to Coolidge. A three-party election with a divided majority party was highly contentious

“The citizens will soon go forth and vote their calm, dispassionate judgement. [also titled] the citizens will now go forth and vote their calm, dispassionate judgement” by Ding Darling, 1924
The first image is captioned, “The citizens will now go forth and vote their calm, dispassionate judgement.” It features two voters clutching their ballot, pursued by huge ballooning figures carrying signs saying, “campaign lies,” “beware of chaos!” and “the government is run by a bunch of crooks,” among others. Anyone who has spent a few minutes watching TV, or on social media, has been blasted by similar messages around the 2020 election. Darling shows us that voters in the early 1900s were obviously feeling a similar strain, albeit with different names (“red peril” from the newly formed Soviet Union is reflected now as Russian cyber agitation)

 

“It`s a wonder there aren`t more serious accidents” by Ding Darling, 1924

 

The second cartoon, also from 1924, says “It’s a wonder there aren’t more serious accidents” and is commentary about nonvoters. Meant to either galvanize or shame “non voting voters” to be more like “the small percent who take their voting duty seriously,” it is certainly interesting to reflect on today. Already, the 2020 voter turnout is breaking records. Darling hoped this piece would encourage those who were able, and had the right, to vote, while also telling those who didn’t they don’t get to complain about “the gov’t machinery.” This may have been his way of encouraging participation in democracy. 

The 2020 election is weighing on all our minds as Americans. Looking in Special Collections, it is almost comforting (albeit frustrating) to look back at history and know this is not the first time we’ve felt bombarded by groups telling us how to vote. Political cartoons have always done a good job of showing us what is important, and cutting through the noise of words with a single image. Who we listen to is up to us. But the importance of voting, although portrayed in a humorous manner by Darling, is no less pressing today than it was in 1924. 


For more information on “Ding” Darling, check out the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society