1/May/07

Asian Studies at Columbia University: Where Asia and New York Meet 
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INOUE Mika š

The Law Library, symbol of Columbia University.
Today it is used as a lecture hall rather than as a library.

Manhattan and People of Asian Origin

Manhattan is a graphic representation of the United States as a gmelting poth of people of diverse origins. The driver of the taxi I happened to be riding in one day was a middle-aged man who, unusually for his profession, had been born and raised in Manhattan. He told me that he had never traveled outside the United States (with the exception of Canada). gI have never needed to,h he explained, gbecause people from all over the world come to me and tell me lots of different things.h Manhattan is fairly clearly divided along ethnic lines geographically, as people of the same race tend to live close by one another. In many places you can tell from those using a particular subway station what nationalities and groups live in the area around. Certain districts are actually called Chinatown and Korea-town and so on, so it is relatively easy to come into contact Asian people living in Manhattan, especially Chinese and Koreans. There is even a small-scale India-town of a couple of streets, though most people from the subcontinent tend to live in Queens. The Manhattan Chinatown has now even overtaken its counterpart in San Francisco in size. It certainly seems more active and energetic than the Chinatowns in Yokohama and Kobe, though less defined. I often came across groups of primary and secondary school students from Manhattan visiting the area for social studies or sketching, and whereas usually there were one or two Asian children gmixedh within predominantly children of Caucasian or African descent, near Chinatown all the pupils appeared to be Chinese. People in nearby subway stations too almost all spoke Chinese.

A good proportion of the Japanese in Manhattan live in the East Village, in the southeast of the island. That is where I lived as well. Certainly there is a greater concentration here of Japanese stores and restaurants, and there are many Japanese on the streets. However unlike other ethnic areas, there are more links between people living here and those in other areas. The Japanese are in fact spread out all over New York, both in Manhattan and beyond and most who go to live in the East Village, like students, seem to do so (at least initially) because it is somewhere temporary to stay. I think their intention is different from those who migrate to New York and want to live in an area dominated by people of their own background, where they can settle down and find a job.

I had heard before I went to New York that it was very interesting how certain work there tended to be divided among members of specific ethnic groups, and I definitely found that observation to be accurate. Of course I also found that across the broad spectrum of the professions, like medicine and teaching, and the service industry in Manhattan that all kinds of races and ethnic groups were represented. All the same, taxi drivers tended to be black, with people from the Indian subcontinent the next largest group, while managers of, and workers in, delicatessans and small food stores were most often of a Korean background. Also I was very interested to find that shops identified in some way as gJapaneseh were generally run by Chinese or Koreans. They were the main groups who operated sushi restaurants and food delivery services in Manhattan, often combining the provision of Chinese and Japanese food into combined gChinese and Japanese Restaurants.h It was not strange for clearly non-Japanese actors to appear as Japanese on television commercials and in other types of advertisement. There is some doubt then about how accurately the image of Japan is being presented. In this sense too, the Japanese in New York are a minority within a minority. On the other hand, in department stores and such places if you mention you are Japanese the clerk, even an imposing looking black man, will immediately say garigatoh (thank you), and the female clerks often ask how to say a certain thing in Japanese. You often see what appear to be groups of Chinese or Korean tourists in Manhattan, but it is the Japanese tourists who are considered the ggood customersh par excellence.

Columbia University and Asian Studies
Columbia University is located in the northwestern part of Manhattan. It conducts a continual and wide-ranging program of symposia, public lectures and exhibitions, and in September 2005 for example, addresses were given there by the Pakistani President, General Musharraf, President Talabani of Iraq, President Yudhoyono of Indonesia and the Dalai Lama. The university is very active in inviting world leaders to speak when they are in New York to attend the General Assembly of the United Nations.

There are twenty-five libraries belonging to or affiliated with Columbia University, and all possess materials related to Asia and Asian Studies to a greater or lesser extent. Two in particular have large collections of Asian works. These are the Lehman Library and the C. V. Starr East Asian Library. The Lehman Library has books and materials related to Area Studies, and the offices of the various librarians associated with each area are located here. The C. V. Starr East Asian Library is more than a hundred years old and was donated initially to house the universityfs Chinese collection. Today it contains books and other materials from China, Japan, Korea and other Asian countries, as well as newspapers, dictionaries, statistical material and academic journals for the use of researchers. Large numbers of people of Asian descent and well as students and scholars of Asian Studies use the library.

C. V. Starr East Asian Library.

I was attached to SIPA (School of International and Public Affairs) at Columbia. It was founded as a Graduate School in 1946, offering a masterfs degree in International Affairs (MIA). A quick look at the 2004 register reveals that there were around 1300 students enrolled that year. (The total student population of Columbia is between 24,000 and 25,000.) About fifteen percent of them would, I judge, be Asian, including students from Western Asia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS, the republics of the former Soviet Union). Chinese, Japanese and Korean students are particularly conspicuous. Even more students from both within and without Columbia attend lectures at SIPA as auditors or as part of their postgraduate training.

Entrance to SIPA.

SIPA offers two masters programs, MIA (Master of International Affairs) and MPA (Master of Public Administration), as well as, since 2004, a doctorate in Sustainable Development. In Autumn 2005, for example, students were offered, besides language courses, a wide variety of subjects concerning Asia (lectures given within Columbia both inside and outside SIPA are counted as individual units). These included:

EKorean Foreign Relations
EChinafs New Marketplace
ETraditional Japanese Architecture
EFilm and Television in Modern Tibet
EPopular Religion in East Asia
EAdvanced Study -South Asian History and Culture
EThe Economic and Social Geography of Central Asia
ENationalism in the Arab World
EUS Relations with East Asia
EChinese Politics
EPolitics of Southeast Asia
EChinese and Tibetan Relations in History
EThe Persian Gulf in the Twentieth Century
EIslamic Law and Middle Eastern Legal Institutions

SIPA lobby.
The painting on the central wall is influenced by traditional East Asian art

Organizations connected with Asian research at SIPA consist in the main of the following:
The Russian Institute (now part of the Harriman Institute): An academic center to study Russia and the Soviet Union in an interdisciplinary way, first set up in 1946.
The Middle East Institute of Columbia University (established 1954): Covers the Arab countries, Armenia, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Central Asia and the Muslim Diaspora Community.

The Weatherhead East Asia Institute (established 1949): Deals with China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Korean Peninsula, and the countries of Southeast Asia.
The Southern Asian Institute (established 1967): Incorporates India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives.

Many SIPA graduates work for international bodies like the United Nations, NGOs, and the governments of their own countries. This is a natural consequence of SIPAfs emphasis on international affairs and public administration. From a researcherfs point of view, an interesting question is how SIPA, which deals equally with business practice and research, will in the future strengthen the relationship between international relations and public administration, with their attendant topics and issues, on the one hand, and studies of Asia and other areas, on the other.

¦The information in this article was collected by the author while studying at Columbia University in the academic year 2005-2006 under a Fulbright scholarship (Doctoral dissertation program).



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INOUE Mika , Tsuda College