Forever Foreign: Asian America, Global Asia, and the Problem of Anti-Asian Racism

A year-long series that centered the perspectives and voices of the Asian diaspora communities and deepened the ongoing conversations on antiracism.

A violent incident of anti-Asian racism earlier this year inspired the launch of this series of lectures, discussions, film screenings, and reading groups at Colorado College: “Forever Foreign: Asian America, Global Asia, and the Problem of Anti-Asian Racism.”

Following the mass killing of Asian-Americans in Atlanta on March 16, an act of violent anti-Asian racism that shook the nation, a group of CC faculty felt it would be helpful to host a series of events that highlight the histories, narratives, and voices from Asian societies and of Asian diaspora communities in the United States to increase knowledge and awareness of these communities.

The “Forever Foreign” series is sponsored by the Asian Studies Program; Cultural Attractions Fund; National Endowment for the Humanities; MacLean Fund for the English Department; Department of History; Department of Political Science; Butler Center; Department of Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies; Center for Global Education and Field Study; and Feminist and Gender Studies.

Past Events

Ayad Akhtar, author of “Homeland Elegies” “Belonging and Success in the Age of Fracture”

Thursday, October 27, 2022, 6:30 p.m.
Cornerstone Screening Room/Zoom

Ayad Akhtar is an award-winning novelist and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. In his work, he deftly weaves politics, family, friendship, capitalism, and the eternal existential crisis of being “American” into confessional observations that are emotionally moving. Akhtar is the author of “American Dervish,” published in more than 20 languages and named a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2012, as well as the novel “Homeland Elegies,” published in September 2020. As a playwright, Akhtar has written “Junk” (2016), “The Who & The What” (2014), “The Invisible Hand” (2015), and “Disgraced” (2012), a sobering take on race, class, and religion in the United States, which won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. As a screenwriter, he was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for best screenplay for “The War Within,” which he also starred in. Akhtar is the recipient of the Steinberg Playwriting Award, the Nestroy Award, and the Erwin Piscator Award, as well as fellowships from the American Academy in Rome, MacDowell, the Sundance Institute, and Yaddo, where he serves as a board director.

Caste in the United States: Dispatches from the Civil Rights Movement for Caste Equity in the U.S.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Equality Labs

Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, 4-5:30 p.m.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan is a Dalit-American artist, technologist, and the executive director of Equality Labs, an art and technology startup supporting South Asian religious, cultural, and genderqueer communities in the United States and South Asia. Through her work, she organizes communities to fight impunity, state violence, anti-Blackness, caste apartheid, and religious intolerance. Her work has been recognized by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Producers Guild of America Diversity Program, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Magnum Foundation. 

Film screening: “Somewhere Between”

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, 3 p.m.
Cornerstone Screening Room

The Forever Foreign event series presents "Somewhere Between," a 2012 documentary exploring the experiences of four adoptees from China coming of age in the contemporary United States. As the film’s director relates, "The primary themes of this film are identity formation, family, adoption, and race. The film focuses on the intersection of all of these themes through the coming-of-age stories of four girls. As they discover who they are, so do we. Through their specific stories, we as viewers come to understand more fully the meaning of family and the ever prevalent cultural disconnect between stereotyping and race—whether we are adoptive families or not." Please join us on Thursday, 2 December at 3:00pm in the Cornerstone Screening Room for a viewing and discussion facilitated by Jason Weaver (Psychology) and John Williams (History).

“Gendering Populism and Recognizing its Varied Affective Appeals,” Edith Kinney Gaylord Lecture in Asian Studies

Amrita Basu, the Domenic J. Paino 1955 Professor of Political Science and Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies at Amherst College

Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, 5 p.m.

Amrita Basu’s research and teaching focus on political violence in India, and Indian and global feminist movements. She previously served as the director of the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center and as associate dean of the faculty at Amherst College. She is the author of “Violent Conjunctures in Democratic India” (Cambridge University Press, Contentious Politics Series, 2015) and “Two Faces of Protest: Contrasting Modes of Women’s Activism in India,” (University of California Press and Oxford University Press: New Delhi, 1992) and has edited several volumes on political violence in India and on the feminist movement in India, including “Beyond Exceptionalism: Violence, Religion and Democracy in India,” (Seagull Press: 2006) and “Women’s Movements in the Global Era: The Power of Local Feminisms” (2010).

From Silos to Solidarities: Post 9/11 and Beyond

Deepa Iyer, human rights lawyer and activist

Monday, Jan. 31, 2022, 3-4:30 p.m.

Deepa Iyer is a South Asian American writer, strategist, lawyer, and racial justice advocate. Iyer is a strategic adviser at Building Movement Project and director of Solidarity Is, a project that provides trainings, narratives, and resources on building deep and lasting multiracial solidarity. Iyer’s areas of expertise include the post-9/11 America experiences of South Asian, Muslim, Arab, and Sikh immigrants, immigration and civil rights policies, and racial equity and solidarity practices.

Islam is a Foreign Country: Race, Religion, and U.S. Empire

Zareena Grewal, Associate Professor of Religion, American Studies and Ethnic Studies, Yale University

Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, 5 p.m. Mountain Time (US and Canada)

This is a Zoom Webinar, please register in advance!


Zareena Grewal is a historical anthropologist and a documentary filmmaker whose research focuses on race, gender, religion, nationalism, and transnationalism across a wide spectrum of Muslim communities in the U.S. and in the post-colonial Middle East and South Asia. Her first book, “Islam is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority” (New York University, 2013), is an ethnography of transnational Muslim networks that link U.S. mosques to Islamic movements in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan through debates about the reform of Islam. Her first film, “By the Dawn’s Early Light: Chris Jackson’s Journey to Islam,” examines the racialization of Islam and the scrutiny of American Muslims’ patriotism long before Sept. 11, 2001, and was nationally broadcast on the Documentary Channel. Her new book project explores the issue of religious tolerance by tracing the range of meanings the Quran has for Americans in the context of the post-9/11 anti-Muslim political climate and the war on terror.

Film Screening: “And Then They Came for Us”

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, 5:30 p.m.
Cornerstone Screening Room

Followed by discussion facilitated by John Williams and Jason Weaver.

The registration and incarceration of Japanese Americans was one of the worst violations of constitutional rights in American history. The U.S. government lied about the threat of espionage to justify the incarceration. Not a single person was ever convicted of espionage or treason. As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 which was signed by President Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942, the film documents through the use of photos taken by Dorothea Lange and others, the damage this order did to 120,000 people, two thirds of whom were American citizens. Featuring George Takei and many others who were incarcerated, And Then They Came for Us is a chilling look at a historical account of institutional racism.


Refugees, Language, and the Meaning of ‘America’: with Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer and The Committed

Thursday, April 7, 2022, 7 p.m.
Kathryn Mohrman Theatre

Viet Thanh Nguyen is a professor at the University of Southern California and an award-winning novelist, creative nonfiction writer, scholar, teacher, and essayist whose columns are regularly published in The New York Times. Nguyen and his family came to the United States in 1975 as refugees during the Vietnam War. Growing up in America, he realized that most movies and books about the war focused on Americans, while the Vietnamese were silenced and erased. He was inspired by this lack of representation to write about the war from a Vietnamese perspective. In his first novel, “The Sympathizer” (2017), which won the Pulitzer Prize, Nguyen creatively reimagines the Vietnam War. His second novel, “The Committed” (2021), is a much-anticipated follow-up to the first, has received widespread acclaim, and has been described as a “masterwork” and “revelatory.” Nguyen’s book “Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War” (2016) was a finalist for the National Book Award. Nguyen received a MacArthur “Genius” Grant in 2017.

MacLean Symposium

Event link

This year’s MacLean Symposium, to be held April 12-14, 2022 at Colorado College, invites Ma Vang, Mai Der Vang, Divya Victor, Aaron Cohick, and Cathy Park Hong to speak on Asian American literature as forms of racial reckonings. Both as textual representation and self-reflection, literature has been foundational to Asian American Studies and, in this critical moment of anti-racist initiatives and resistance, it continues to play a vital role in creating dialogue around issues of war, justice, art, and community. In bringing these writers, artists, and thinkers together, we aim to amplify Asian American literature and its many points of intervention.

Sponsored by the D.J. MacLean Endowed Fund for English.

Reading Groups

Registration is required for reading group meetings. A limited number of copies of the books will be available for those who register. Multiple copies of the books will be on reserve in Tutt Library. Register for the reading groups here.

Reading group meeting on Ayad Akhtar’s “Homeland Elegies” and “The Disgraced”

Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, 3-4:30 p.m.
Hybl Classroom

(Yogesh Chandrani and Peter Wright, facilitators)

A deeply personal work about identity and belonging in a nation coming apart at the seams, Homeland Elegies blends fact and fiction to tell an epic story of longing and dispossession in the world that 9/11 made. Part family drama, part social essay, part picaresque novel, at its heart it is the story of a father, a son, and the country they both call home.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ayad Akhtar forges a new narrative voice to capture a country in which debt has ruined countless lives and the gods of finance rule, where immigrants live in fear, and where the nation’s unhealed wounds wreak havoc around the world. Akhtar attempts to make sense of it all through the lens of a story about one family, from a heartland town in America to palatial suites in Central Europe to guerrilla lookouts in the mountains of Afghanistan and spares no one—least of all himself—in the process.

Disgraced is a 2012 play by novelist and screenwriter Ayad Akhtar. It premiered in Chicago and has had Off-Broadway and Off-West End engagements. The play, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, opened on Broadway at the Lyceum Theater on October 23, 2014. Disgraced has also been recognized with a 2012 Joseph Jefferson Award for New Work – Play or Musical and a 2013 Obie Award for Playwriting. It is Akhtar's first stage play. The 2014 Broadway transfer earned a Tony Award for Best Play nomination in 2015.

The play is centered on sociopolitical themes such as Islamophobia and the self-identity of Muslim-American citizens. It focuses on a dinner party between four people with very different backgrounds. As the discussion turns to politics and religion, the mood quickly becomes heated. Described as a "combustible powder keg of identity politics," the play depicts racial and ethnic prejudices that "secretly persist in even the most progressive cultural circles." It is also said to depict the challenge for upwardly mobile Muslim Americans in post-9/11 America.

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “The Refugees” (Aline Lo, facilitator)

March 4, 2022, 3-4:30 p.m.
Hybl Classroom

The Refugees is a collection of perfectly formed stories written over a period of twenty years, exploring questions of immigration, identity, love, and family. With the coruscating gaze of The Sympathizer, in The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. From a young Vietnamese refugee who suffers profound culture shock when he comes to live with two gay men in San Francisco, to a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia and starts to confuse her for a former lover, to a girl living in Ho Chi Minh City whose older half-sister comes back from America having seemingly accomplished everything she never will, the stories are a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration.

Viet Thanh Nguyen “The Sympathizer” (John Williams, facilitator)

March 11, 2022, 3-4:30 p.m.
Hybl Classroom

The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as seven other awards, The Sympathizer is one of the most acclaimed books of the twenty-first century. With the pace and suspense of a thriller and prose that has been compared to Graham Greene and Vladimir Nabokov, The Sympathizer is a sweeping epic of love and betrayal. The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who comes to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping spy novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship.

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