OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Judy Tzu-Chun Wu

Portrait of Judy Tzu-Chun Wu

Judy Tzu-Chun Wu is a professor of Asian American studies and the director of the Humanities Center at the University of California, Irvine. She specializes in Asian American, immigration, comparative racialization, women's, gender, and sexuality histories. She is the author of Dr. Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity (2005), a biography of the first American-born Chinese woman physician, and Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam Era (2013), which examines the international travels of American antiwar activists during the U.S. War in Viet Nam and the political inspiration that decolonizing Asia offered to American radicals. She coedits a book series with Brill Press, Gendering the Trans-Pacific World: Diaspora, Empire, and Race, and its inaugural volume Gendering the Trans-Pacific World (2017). She also coedited Women's America: Refocusing the Past (8th edition, 2015). She is the current coeditor of Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000, a major online resource in U.S. women's history, and the editor for Amerasia Journal, the oldest journey for the field of Asian American Studies. With Gwendolyn Mink, she is currently writing a political biography of Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color in Congress and the namesake for Title IX.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This multi-media presentation examines the significance of immigration and exclusion in defining American identity. Emma Lazarus' poem on the Statue of Liberty the U.S. as a place of refuge, a "golden door" for the "huddled masses yearning to breathe. This talk will explore historical as well as contemporary trends of immigration and how the U.S. has become a country focused upon gate-keeping and border enforcement.
From 1967 to 1971, Patsy Takemoto Mink – the first woman of color to become a United States congressional representative –introduced a series of bills to create comprehensive childcare in the United States. The legislation would have mandated government sponsored educational programs for pre-school children, regardless of their economic backgrounds. Such programs would have helped to rectify educational inequalities, which are sharpest along the lines of class and race in the U.S. In addition, comprehensive childcare would also have assisted working parents, particularly mothers who are the presumed caretakers of children. Despite Mink’s repeated efforts, the comprehensive childcare bills did not succeed. After four years, the legislation finally passed both houses of the U.S. Congress in 1971, but President Richard Nixon vetoed the proposal. This presentation examines how Mink conceptualized and argued for government responsibility for pre-school education and childcare. Child rearing and early education are commonly regarded as women’s obligations to be carried out within the private sphere. Mink, however, advocated for publicly funded programs to equalize the responsibilities of education and childcare between class, racial, and gender divides. She drew inspiration from her personal experiences as a working mother in the 1950s, an era that celebrated female domesticity. In the context of the civil rights and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, Mink also observed how these political developments inspired experimentation in childcare and educational programs in her home state of Hawaii and her adopted political home of Washington D.C. Furthermore, while engaging in developing federal programs as part of the “War on Poverty,” Mink participated in fact-finding trips to Europe and Asia to observe social welfare and educational programs. My presentation focuses on how the local and the global shaped Mink’s visions for restructuring the relationship between the private and the public, between the family and the state. By reevaluating Mink’s call for comprehensive childcare, it is possible to have a better understanding of the resistance against government responsibility for early childhood education. An exploration of the rejection of comprehensive childcare provides an opportunity to understand how gender, racial, class, and neoliberal politics undergird U.S. state formation.
This talk argues for the importance of globalizing the study of U.S. feminism. International events such as war and colonization as well as the transnational movement of people, ideas, and goods have shaped who becomes a feminist in the U.S. and their ideas about feminism. The interconnections between the global, national, and local will be analyzed by focusing on U.S. women's activism in relation to political citizenship, economic equality, and sexual liberation.
This talk examines the historical formation of Asian American feminisms in the late 1960s and 1970s. It explores the role that Asian American women as well as Asian women played in fostering a radical women of color critique of U.S. capitalism, patriarchy, and empire. This emergence of Asian/American and women of color feminism occurred in the context of the racial liberation movements in the U.S. as well as global decolonization movements during the post-World War II era. In addition, the talk also will analyze Asian American women’s involvement in liberal feminism. Although scholars have debated the liberal/radical divide in understanding feminism, Wu uses the descriptor of liberalism to consider Asian American women’s involvement in gaining equal access and equal opportunity within U.S. society. The talk conclude by considering the relationship between these radical and liberal strands of Asian American feminisms and also analyze why Asian American feminisms are often overlooked in the historical and contemporary understandings of U.S. feminism.
In 1972, Patsy Takemoto Mink, a third generation Japanese American and the first woman of color U.S. Congressional representative, ran for the U.S. Presidency. This paper analyzes her decision to run for the highest elected office in the land in the context of Mink’s racial liberalism in the midst of the Cold War and the Viet Nam War. A committed pacifist yet loyal Democratic Party member, Mink attempted to both support President Johnson, particularly because of his Great Society anti-poverty initiatives, and also criticize U.S. militarized intervention in Viet Nam. Mink’s efforts to balance these conflicting political agendas led to her support for Robert F. Kennedy in the 1968 elections and her own presidential campaign in 1972. This talk addresses an aspect of Asian American Studies that has been understudied, namely Asian American engagement with formal politics. Mink’s campaigns drew upon grassroots support, particularly from liberal and radical activists in Hawaii and elsewhere. However, her presence in the U.S. Congress also meant that she had access to national arenas of political influence and power. This presentation analyzes how Mink sought to navigate conflicting political agendas in the context of cold war racial liberalism.
Patsy Mink (1927-2002), the first woman of color to become a U.S. congressional representative, had a long history of protesting nuclear testing in the Pacific. A third generation Japanese American lawyer in Hawaii, Mink began her legal and political career defending pacifist activists on the Phoenix, a private boat that attempted to sail into a nuclear testing zone in 1958 to protest detonations in the Pacific Islands. After the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty prevented above ground testing, Mink persisted in her anti-nuclear activism against underground testing. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, she was a key critic of the Cannikin test, which detonated a 5 megaton weapon with 400 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb on Amchitka Island, Alaska. Because the testing site was located in one of the most seismically active regions of the world, the detonation had the potential to generate a tsunami that could devastate islands throughout the Pacific, including Japan and Hawaii. In order to obtain U.S. executive branch documents studying the proposed test, Mink organized a group of thirty-three representatives and senators to sue the White House and its federal offices for access to information deemed off-limits for security reasons. The court case, Mink v. EPA, et al. (1973), eventually led to the strengthening of the Freedom of Information Act and set a precedent for public oversight over the federal executive.In fact, Mink v. EPA provided justification for the release of President Nixon’s secret tapes for the Watergate Hearings. Wu's presentation examines Mink’s anti-nuclear activism in three ways. First, how Mink’s Japanese ancestry and Hawaiian background shaped her understanding of nuclear testing as a Pacific world issue. The U.S. Cold War mindset divided the world between communism and capitalism, with the U.S. alternately disciplining or wooing “third world” countries and peoples for their allegiance. Instead of accepting this either/or framework, Mink emphasized that multiple locales throughout the Pacific Ocean were ecologically connected to one another. Second, Wu frames Mink’s activism within a national context. Elected to the U.S. Congress in 1965, Mink was a key advocate for civil rights and feminist initiatives. She identified with and helped to define a tradition of U.S. political liberalism. For example, she defended civil liberties to protest and set limits on government power. Her personal inclusion into the U.S. polity signaled a larger process of incomplete yet increasing civic inclusion for Asian Americans during the U.S. Cold War. Third, Wu examines how Mink, as an Asian American advocate for Hawaiian statehood and a congressional representative with a particular investment in Pacific Islander trusteeship, positioned herself in relation to indigenous Hawaiian, Alaskan, and other Pacific Islander claims for sovereignty. The furor and fears concerning nuclear testing provided opportunities for alliances as well as divergences between Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. This presentation will examine how Mink navigated these complex global, national, and local relationships and positionalities to protest environmental and biological annihilation.
In the winter of 1975, eleven U.S. congressional representatives, all of them women, visited the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This talk examines the goals, experiences, and outcomes of this trip, with a particular focus on Patsy Takemoto Mink (1927-2002), the deputy leader of the delegation. Mink was the first Japanese American female lawyer in Hawaii and the first woman of color elected to the U.S. Congress. She had a long-standing interest in U.S.-China relations and had advocated for détente and the political recognition of the PRC in the midst of the Cold War. In addition, Mink, along with many other members of this delegation, were inspired by and engaged in the women’s and civil rights movements in the United States. By utilizing archival sources, this presentation focuses on female political leaders and their international travels to foreground how the local, national, and global shaped gender politics in the U.S. in the 1970s.
In 1970, Black Panther Party Leader Eldridge Cleaver led a delegation of American journalists and activists on a tour of North Korea, the Peoples Republic of China, and North Vietnam. Critical of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, these self-described anti-imperialists sought direct, people-to-people, contact with America’s cold war enemies. This talk focuses on the four people of color on the delegation, specifically Eldridge Cleaver and Elaine Brown of the Black Panthers, Alex Hing of the San Francisco-based Red Guards, U.S.A., and Pat Sumi from the Movement for a Democratic Military. The backgrounds of these individuals, their experiences in and perceptions of Socialist Asia, as well as their relationships with one another shed light on the ways in which people and ideas traveled across national borders to shape political subjectivities and inspire social movements. The anti-imperialist delegation offers a case study of how the experience of travel both confirmed preexisting beliefs in and promoted new forms of Third World internationalism among black and Asian American activists. Also, the composition of the delegation provides a window onto the frequently complex multi-racial dynamics of 1960s activism, particularly between African Americans and Asian Americans, two groups who ostensibly appeared to be on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Third, the anti-imperialist delegation constitutes an opportunity to examine how gender and sexuality shaped inter-racial and inter-national encounters. Finally, this tour of socialist Asia allows for the exploration of a phenomenon that I have identified as "radical orientalism." Delegation members continued the practice of cultivating visions of the East as the polar opposite of the West and using that dichotomization to more clearly define themselves. To critique the perceived corruption of western society, they highlighted the differences between revolutionary Asia and mainstream America. However, instead of denigrating the East, they sought inspiration from Asian countries and peoples. As a source for alternative cultural and political values, the radical Orient assisted black and Asian American activists in imagining the creation of new identities and new societies.
In April of 1971, female activists throughout North America gathered in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada to meet female liberation fighters from Viet Nam and Laos. Some North American protestors had traveled to Southeast Asia to witness firsthand the U.S.-initiated wars in that region. Canada also had served as the site for previous international gatherings devoted to discussions about how to promote peace. However, the Indochinese Women’s Conferences of 1971 represented the first opportunities for large numbers of American and Canadian women to have direct contact with their “Asian sisters.” Commonly depicted in activist literature as peasant figures, holding a baby in one hand and a gun in the other, Asian women served as the primary symbol of third world resistance against the most powerful and technologically advanced nation in the world. This talk examines the goals, events, and outcomes of the Indochinese Women’s Conferences of 1971 as a case study to understand how North American women sought to build an international and multi-racial movement based on anti-war politics. This study seeks to expand on existing scholarship on social activism of the long decade of the 1960s in three ways. First, it highlights the activism of women in the peace movement, even after the turn towards gender “separatism.” Second, the conferences offer an opportunity to analyze the opportunities for and obstacles against the formation of multi-racial and transnational alliances, i.e. “global sisterhood.” Conference organizers, guests, and attendants faced the challenges of how to communicate and work across national, racial, ideological, and cultural boundaries. Finally, the talk examines how North American activists both challenged and were influenced by orientalist understandings of Asia and Asian women. Specifically, the presentation will explore how idealized projections of revolutionary motherhood framed North American women’s understandings of their own lives, goals and strategies for social change.
African American economist Robert S. Browne (1924-2004) is not widely recognized among the pantheon of black liberation movement leaders. However, during the 1960s, he was among the first to criticize American involvement in the Viet Nam War and became a major spokesperson for black separatism, reparations and decolonization. This talk draws attention to the underrecognized political vision and career of Robert S. Browne. Perhaps more importantly, a focus on Browne provides an opportunity to examine the global and personal influences on the emergence of black nationalism and internationalism during the 1960s. From 1955-1961, Browne was stationed in Cambodia and Vietnam as an economic advisor under the auspices of the U.S. government. Thus, he witnessed first hand the decolonization of these former French colonies, even as he served as an agent of American Cold War policies. In addition, Browne married a woman of Vietnamese ancestry during his stay in Southeast Asia. He and his wife subsequently raised a multi-racial family of four children in the United States as Browne transformed into an antiwar and black power advocate. Browne also developed close political ties with Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. This case study of Robert S. Browne provides an opportunity to interrogate how travel, race, and gender (specifically black masculinity and Asian femininity) shape political sensibilities and personal identity.
Margaret Jessie Chung (1889-1959), the first American-born woman of Chinese descent to become a physician, became a war-time celebrity during World War II. She adopted over a thousand U.S. military personnel, politicians, and entertainers. This talk examines the historical significance of her life, not in terms of her accomplishments in the public realm of work and politics, but by focusing on her private choices. Chung decided not to marry or have children during a time when the social pressure for Chinese American women to do both was intense. Instead, she developed erotic relationships with white women. She also experimented with gender presentation, adopting masculine and feminine personas. This talk explores Chung's gender identities as well as her homoerotic interracial relationships, expanding the existing understanding of Asian American sexuality during the first half of the twentieth century and revealing the ways in which women of color negotiated shifting gender, sexual, and racial norms from the late Victorian through the modern eras.
During World War II, Mom Chung’s was the place to be in San Francisco. Soldiers, movie stars, and politicians gathered at her home to socialize, to affirm their dedication to the Allied cause, and to express their affection for their adopted mother, Dr. Margaret Chung. Born in 1889 in Santa Barbara, California, Chung would become the first known American-born Chinese female physician when she graduated from the University of Southern California in 1916. She established one of the first western medical clinics in San Francisco Chinatown in the 1920s before achieving celebrity status during the international conflicts of the 1930s and 1940s. This talk examines Chung’s interracial surrogate family and her own orientalized motherly persona as symbols of the selectively expanded American nation during World War II. It also traces Chung’s use of maternalist strategies for racialized female empowerment to the complex legacies of white female missionary reform movements among Chinese and Chinese American peoples during the late Victorian era.