Critical Asian American Education: Racial Identity Development in Chinatown Youth

by Nora Li

Mentor: Penn Loh: Urban and Environmental Planning; funding source: Rosenfeld Family Summer Scholars Fund


Being a youth program coordinator while also being a researcher this summer was a really challenging but rewarding experience. The balance of educator and researcher was quite natural since I think most educators want to know if their program is effective and how students learn, which were the research questions I was interested in. As a program coordinator, I think we definitely accomplished our main goals of giving youth knowledge and experience with grassroots community organizing in Chinatown and building intentional community. In the span of 7 weeks, the students and coordinators gradually got closer by bringing our whole selves into the space – all of our experiences as Asian Americans were important in understanding Asian American history and political identity. In addition, the firsthand accounts of our guest speakers (ranging from founding members of CPA, tenant organizers, and CPA members impacted by predatory landlords) were impactful stories that illustrated the past and present of Asian American organizing in Boston Chinatown.

CYI turned out really well this summer but a lot of changes happened over the course of the planning and program. We (the program coordinators) were worried that the youth would not want to do the program anymore because it was completely online, that they would be disengaged, that they would not be able to make friends with each other, that it would be hard to learn about community organizing online, among other things. For myself, I was not looking forward to spending entire days on Zoom. But to my surprise, through a combination our intentional program design and luck, none of those things ended up happening. We had 10 youth participate in CYI this summer and they were incredibly engaged. We built strong connections with each other and the youth were able to learn about and experience organizing in Chinatown and beyond. As for Zoom, little did I know that I would not be sitting in front of my computer all day, but that I would be learning how to do a 360° roundhouse kick, making fried eggs, and playing Among Us (before it got big).

2 thoughts on “Critical Asian American Education: Racial Identity Development in Chinatown Youth

  • October 23, 2020 at 1:40 pm

    The care you put into being both an educator and researcher is evident in the relationships you built with the youth! Love the red panda.

  • October 23, 2020 at 7:01 pm

    Phenomenal work – shows you so clearly as a skilled researcher and a warm and focused educator. And exactly your sense of humor.

Leave a Reply