Lauren Markle’s childhood memories on Oʻahu are free from discrimination or prejudice. When she moved to Oregon for college, that all changed. The Pearl City native of Taiwanese, Japanese and Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) descent experienced several episodes of anti-Asian racism in Portland—an unwelcome awakening.
Markle was emotionally rattled after a stranger howled a rash of vulgar racial slurs at her on the city train.
“He called me a ‘Jap whore…’ and a ‘chink’ while telling me to ‘go back to my country’ and threatening to physically harm me,” Markle exclaimed. “I cried in the gift shop at the Chinese garden that morning.”
Markle witnessed another incident in her art class when classmates openly mocked their teacher’s Korean accent. Those instances sparked her interest to teach Asian studies and pursue a master’s degree at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa this fall.
“There are many people who have committed microaggressions out of ignorance rather than malice,” Markle said. “I believe a part of the solution to that is to have more exposure to diverse peoples and their cultures.”
Building interest for Asian studies
Enrollment has nearly doubled in the Master of Asian International Affairs (MAIA) program in UH Mānoa’s Department of Asian Studies within the last year. MAIA is one of two graduate programs in the department and caters toward students whose prospects for professional advancement would be enhanced by an understanding of Asia.
“MAIA students will have ample opportunities to collaborate, under the supervision of a UH Mānoa faculty member, with government, research or non-profit organizations as they work to address a carefully defined real-world problem or issue,” said Young-A Park, an associate professor and graduate program chair in the Asian studies department.
Asian Studies at UH Mānoa currently collaborates with the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, the Pacific Forum, the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance and the Berkeley APEC Study Center.
This June, Markle will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business management before transferring to the Mānoa campus. Currently, Markle is helping sell creative works by Asian artists to raise money for Asian focused organizations from an online publication forum she helped create.