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Last modified: Thursday, September 2, 2010

Scholar to receive IU's Distinguished Asian Pacific American Alumni Award at citizenship conference

Sept. 2, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, of Sunnyvale, Calif., professor emeritus of ethnic studies at the University of California at Berkeley and a scholar on the Chinese Diaspora and Chinese-American literatures, will be the 2010 recipient of the IU Asian Alumni Association's Distinguished Asian Pacific American Alumni Award.

This award recognizes outstanding professional achievements and community service of Asian and Pacific American Alumni of IU.

"I am very surprised, and feel extremely honored. Coming on the heels of my retirement, the award feels like an affirmation of my career as an Asian American literary scholar and teacher," Wong said.

Sau-ling Cynthia Wong

Sau-ling Cynthia Wong

Wong will receive the honor during a conference, "Citizenship in the United States: Integrating Domestic and International Horizons," Sept. 9-10 at IU Bloomington. The conference is being co-hosted by the Asian American Studies and Latino Studies programs in the College of Arts and Sciences and is open to the public. Registration is free and required.

"This conference focuses on citizenship in the United States, with the understanding that domestic issues are always informed by global connections, whether through diasporas that connect communities in the United States with kin communities elsewhere around the world, or through the broader geopolitics of sovereign states that often take the form of international conflict and terror," said Joan Pong Linton, associate professor of English, who recently completed her term as interim director of Asian American Studies.

"The changing make-up of the U.S. citizenry is reflected in the domestic and global horizons of the conference and the cultural diversity among our panelists," added Arlene Diaz, associate professor of history, former director of Latino Studies and the other conference organizer.

Funded by a New Frontiers/New Perspectives grant from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, the conference will feature two keynote speakers: Leo Chávez, professor of anthropology at the University of California at Irvine; and Mae Ngai, the Lung Family Professor of history at New York University. Complete details about the conference are available online at

Wong, who will be honored at the conference banquet on Sept. 10, has gone on to become a pioneer in Asian American Studies since graduating summa cum laude from IU in 1970, with degrees in English and American literature. She also was a member of Phi Beta Kappa at IU. She went on to earn degrees at Stanford University and San Francisco State University.

Writing on a broad range of subjects with a focus on immigrant experience, autobiography and language education, Wong has had a dual focus on literature and language. Her work has placed Asian America within an inclusive vision of cultural diversity in the United States. She also has oriented Asian American studies toward issues of trans-nationalism and globalization.

Wong said her own life personifies what the IU conference is about. She arrived at IU in 1968 as an "international student" from Hong Kong.

"For some years I considered myself a Chinese person who happened to be living the U.S.," she said. "Then I was exposed to Asian American studies and found the concept of the 'Asian American,' as proposed in the ethnic consciousness movement of the 1960s and 1970s, to be very enlightening.

"In this view, American history shows that even political citizenship has not guaranteed full cultural citizenship for certain minorities of color, so Asian Americans must address issues of civil rights, education, identity and community formation and cultural production in this context," she added. "In my work, as in my own life, 'integrating domestic and international horizons' has always been a central concern."

Her field-defining 1993 study, Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance, was hailed as "the first comprehensive theoretical praxis for Asian American literature" since scholar Elaine Kim published her ground-breaking work in 1982. The book won the 1994 Outstanding Book Award in Cultural Studies given by the Association for Asian American Studies and was translated into Chinese in 2007.

Two of her essays -- "Necessity and Extravagance in Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior" and "Middle-Class Asian American Women in a Global Frame: Refigurations of the Statue of Liberty in Two Late Twentieth-Century Texts" -- won the MELUS best Essay of the Year Awards in 1992 and 2005.

Her co-edited volume, Language Diversity: Problem or Resource (1988), focused on Asian and Latino immigrants' native languages as cultural resources at a time when educators were focusing on immigrant language deficits. Ethnicity, Nationalism, Cyberspace (2003), a co-edited interdisciplinary volume, provides a timely mapping of Asian America's virtual communities and politics.

"Her influence in the field is reflected by her appointment to the advisory boards of scholarly journals -- including Hitting Critical Mass, which she co-founded -- by the number of scholars who have benefited from her mentoring, by the wide range of academic journals and presses which have sought her editorial advice, and by the large number of dissertations she has directed," said John Eakin, IU professor emeritus of English, who had Wong as a student and was one of those who nominated her for the honor.

"We are thrilled that our nominee has broken ground in the field of Asian American Studies," said Sophia Travis, president of the IU Asian Alumni Association. "This is also an emerging field of study here at Indiana University, and it is wonderful to bring Professor Wong back to her alma mater.

"By presenting this award, we are recognizing the significant achievements of Professor Wong and her profound contribution to the greater community of Asians and Asian Pacific Americans affiliated with Indiana University and beyond," Travis added.

The IU Asian Alumni Association -- whose Web site is located at -- is an affiliate group of the IU Alumni Association. The IUAA is dedicated to serving the university and its diverse alumni, students and friends. As one of the nation's largest alumni organizations, serving more than 528,000 graduates worldwide, the IUAA provides many programs and services to its members, nonmember alumni and the university. For more information, visit or call 800-824-3044.