Four graduates were honored for their academic accomplishments in the field of ethnic studies during the University’s residential college diploma ceremonies on May 20, 2019. Jaden A. Morales of Pauli Murray College and Jesús Yañez of Trumbull College received the Justice Carlos R. Moreno Prize, awarded annually to the best senior essay focusing on the field of Latina/o Studies, or on the Latina/o experience in the United States. Jacob Ly of Ezra Stiles College and Oriana Tang of Saybrook College received the Henry K. Hayase Prize for the best student paper or senior essay dealing with a topic relating to Asian American experiences in the United States. The Moreno and Hayase awards are administered by the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration (RITM), and winners are selected by a faculty committee.
Jaden Morales’s essay provides one of the first scholarly examinations of Puerto Rican migration, settlement, and community building in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Based upon an impressive range of primary sources, “Los Pepinianos de San Sebastián: Puerto Rican Diaspora and Reconciling Liminality Through Political Mobilization and Placemaking in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, 1960s-80s” connects disparate historical developments by focusing on the role that urban riots, bilingual education activism, and local agencies played in shaping the Latino community. Attentive to issues of gender, class, and education, Morales offers an important contribution to debates in history, sociology, ethnic studies, and many other fields, drawing new attention to the vibrant connections between Perth Amboy and San Sebastián, Puerto Rico.
Jesús Yañez “Building Familial Capital: Towards a Trans Latinx Knowledge of Family” offers a theoretically sophisticated, richly empirical account of the experiences and perspectives of trans Latinx folk. Grounded in oral histories, Yañez’s study engages a wide range of scholarship, carefully considering how subjects define and engage with definitions of “queer Latinx familia,” and how diverse populations have been shaped by transnational migration, generational change, and dynamics surrounding class and race. “Building Familial Capital” is both an exciting history and a forward looking analysis of the future of kinship and emotional ties.
Jacob Ly’s essay entitled “The Red Ransom: The Alleged Communist Extortion of Chinese Americans in the 1950s” explores the effects of a 1951 event in which Communist China putatively imprisoned select individuals with the aim of extorting ransoms from their Chinese American kin. Ly’s interest is not the truth of the Red Ransom, but rather how an obscure controversy with a limited archival trail can shed light on the broader landscape of US Cold War racial governance as well as Chinese American resilience and activism. The lurid sensationalism of the Red Ransom narrative affected the flow of economic transactions between the United States and the PRC, halting not only ransoms but also remittances. Instead of yielding to these restrictions, Chinese American citizens and Chinatown leftist organizations hatched strategies to bypass them. Ly’s innovative approach to analyzing surveillance records provides a fascinating story of how Cold War Chinese Americans actively responded to and intervened in the restrictive conditions thrust upon them.
Oriana Tang’s “’Live Greek Female Torso Sitting Still at a Cello’: Race as Perception in Nam June Paik & Charlotte Moorman’s Opera Sextroni” examines Nam June Paik’s collaborative performance piece Opera Sextronique (1967), in which a topless white American female cellist (Charlotte Moorman) appeared in the spotlight while the Korean American male artist (Paik) hovered offstage. Exploring “race as perception,” Tang challenges readers to understand how race structures ways of seeing and comprehending the world. Here, race is not necessarily an empirically locatable attribute, but it does motivate Paik’s interpretation of white femininity, inflecting the aesthetic and moral values ascribed to Moorman’s “bust.” Tang reconstructs Paik’s and Moorman’s unfinished performance—it was interrupted with the arrest of both artists—through deep research in eclectic archives. By analyzing legal and other responses to the performance, Tang provides a compelling account of norms and transgressions during a period of large-scale social change in the United States.