Today I Learned: Amadeus Cho is the Asian American Incredible Hulk
Amadeus Cho is the Asian American Incredible Hulk
In our second episode, we invite senior Jennifer Vo on the podcast to discuss her favorite class, EN 177: Intro to Asian American Literature
You can also find this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and other podcast platforms.
The classes we take can change our perspectives and shape our lives—and we think that’s something worth celebrating. Our new podcast, Today I Learned, is all about the classes at BU that have had a real effect on students in our community; we want to know all about the classroom environment, professor, subject matter, and the cool facts that make a lasting impression.
In our second episode, sociology major Jennifer Vo (CAS’23) tells us all about her favorite class, offered through the College of Arts & Sciences, EN 177: Introduction to Asian American Literature. Vo says she was inspired by the diverse forms of media included in the course’s syllabus and the engaging discussions on history and politics that Takeo Rivera, an assistant professor of English, facilitates in class. Vo says that the course’s expansive approach makes it a good fit for anyone, regardless of their background, as long as they are curious and have a love of storytelling. “If you’re Asian American, it resonates a lot more with you,” she says, “but people who aren’t Asian American have taken this class and they’ve loved it…. Even if you think you know everything, you’ll learn something.”
Want to be our next guest? Tell us about your favorite class here. Undergraduates, graduate students, and recent postgraduates are welcome to submit.
- The story of Asians in America is an inherently political history, starting with the California Gold Rush (1848–1855) and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and continuing through the Vietnam War and the grassroots Asian American movement of 1960s and ’70s.
- Think literature just refers to books? Think again. The syllabus also includes poems, songs, comic books, and even video games.
- Not every young Asian American girl has seen Mulan. There are other stories out there.
Sophie Yarin: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Today I Learned, a BU Today podcast where we explore fun facts and ideas across a multitude of disciplines. We’re going to interview students about exciting things that they learned at their classes at BU. From changing majors to picking career paths, students often find that a single class can have a really transformative impact on their future. I’m your host, Sophie Yarin, and I’m investigating how the things we learn in the classroom affect our lives. To do that, we’re going to be speaking directly to BU students, which is why we have Jennifer Vo joining us in the studio today. Jennifer, thanks so much for being here.
Jennifer Vo: Thanks for having me.
Yarin: So, Jennifer, you’re at CAS. What are you studying?
Vo: I’m a sociology major. I’m in my final year. I’m also a deaf studies minor, which is something I think is very interesting.
Yarin: Oh, wow. Very cool. So, the class you’ve chosen to focus on is EN 177. And that’s Asian American literature. So, tell me why you brought this class to us today.
Vo: I thought this class was one of the more interesting classes that I’ve taken at BU so far, because I think it really delves into themes that we kind of miss in other classes. Asian Americans are such a large part of the population here at BU, but we don’t really have any classes that really delve into that. Like, we don’t have Asian American studies or anything. This is one of the very few classes that does that, and it’s very political, but it’s also rich in culture and it has so many different media types: it has poems, it has video games, it has plays, it has just standard books. It was just a very expansive class.
Yarin: So, within all of those different media that you listed, what are some common themes that sort of typify Asian American literature?
Vo: I think some of the most common themes are kind of themes of war and protest and self-identity, like creation, reflection, and re-creation. War and protests have kind of always been parts of Asian American identity. It’s, well, you know, when I say Asian Americans, I do mean Asians in America, and it’s different—it’s very similar to Asians in Asia, like we share cultural connections, and we share an identity, and we share political connections, but it’s different to be a person in America. And, so, the Asian American community in America has always been very into protests—this has always been kind of like a theme. And, you know, we’re constantly protesting, trying to take back our identity and advocate for ourselves. Another thing is identity creation; I feel like Asian Americans are pretty recent. Like, there’s been a recent wave of immigrants from Asia. So, you know, “Asian American” is kind of new and developing in a different way. We’ve been here for a long time—since the [California] Gold Rush. But it’s a different way of saying that identity is continually changing, and it’s evolving. So, that’s like part of the re-creation part of identity.
Yarin: So, does this class, does it focus on the entire Asian community, just sort of holistically speaking? Like South Asian, East Asian…
Vo: I think Professor Rivera did a really good job getting stories from different parts of Asia. There are stories from East Asians, like Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans, but we also read stories from Vietnamese Americans, from Filipino Americans. We do also read stories from South Asians, like Indian Americans, as well. Well, you know, we are missing the context of Central Asians and probably other people, as well.
Yarin:Who are some of the authors that you’ve read?
Vo: We read Maxine Hong Kingston—she’s a legend—Frank Chin, who wrote in response to Maxine Hong Kingston. We also read poems by Eric Tran, Jhumpa Lahiri (GRS’93, UNI’95,’97), and John Okada—he’s a Japanese writer.
Yarin: Yeah, so in the submission that you sent us you had mentioned that Professor Rivera includes a lot of discussions on politics and history, and you’d mentioned that earlier, too. So, why is that important to include in a discussion of literature?
Vo: Well, I think literature is inherently political; literature discusses society and the present, and it always brings in themes and discussions that people are having. So, that’s what literature is based in. But I think it was especially important for this class, because it was about Asian American literature, and being Asian American has always been political, whether you like it or not. During the Asian American movement, when we focused on creating ethnic studies departments, and also protested against the Vietnam War—also racial solidarity with the Black liberation movement—it’s always been inherently political. And I think a lot of times people get really focused on finding community with people that share a common identity and not really understanding your common history, and your common politics is really what’s bringing you together. Your identity isn’t really enough—you need to really engage with what it means to be who you are.
Yarin: Did you find that the stuff you were talking about resonated with your own family’s story?
Vo: What resonated with me, and also my family’s history, is reading about Vietnamese Americans and Vietnamese refugees, because part of my family did immigrate as refugees, but not my immediate family. So, my mom’s family—my mom and my dad came here, not as refugees; they came in the ’90s, so, like, not right after the war. But reading about these refugee stories, I can see the similarities to my own life, because, yeah, my family didn’t come right after the war, but that doesn’t mean the effects of war aren’t still there. And I feel like it was eye-opening. There’s no way that years of violence didn’t trickle down and somehow impact the way that I grew up and the way I navigate who I am as a Vietnamese American.
Yarin: So, speaking of the way you grew up, what were some of the stories that you were around as a kid? And how did they contrast or reflect what you learned in class?
Vo: When I grew up, I actually wasn’t really around a lot of Asian American stories. I grew up hearing stories about what it was like in Vietnam every once in a while from both of my parents, and what it was like for them to immigrate here, but not really fictional stories. I feel like maybe the biggest one is the story of Mulan, but I never even saw that [movie] growing up.
Vo: I still have never seen Mulan. My friends hate me. I’m not a Mulan girlie—not because I hate Mulan, but I was just, like, I’m not into cartoons, so I didn’t really grow up with that. And I started reading more political texts about Asian Americans later on, but it was self-guided. I never really got to combine fiction literature with the public political reading that I was also doing, and I think this class really gave me the opportunity to do that.
Yarin: Was it like you were really dying to have a heroine who looked like you growing up, that you were sort of missing?
Vo: I think that, you know, representation isn’t everything. I think it’s very fun and I think it’s so awesome to see people who look like you on screen and see stories that are about you, but I don’t think it’s, you know, going to free us. I don’t think it’s like the final form of protest. But it is awesome.
Yarin: I want to get back to all of the different genres and media that Professor Rivera bakes into the syllabus. And how did that help in your understanding of the form of Asian American literature?
Vo: I think it really expanded my idea of what literature entails, because I’m thinking going in, I’m gonna read just like chapter books, and like fiction books, which is, like, fun, but, you know, it’s very limited. But actually his syllabus was, like, incredibly involved; it had so many different types of media: it had poems, it had songs, it had plays, it also had video games. And I think those were all very eye-opening to me, and just expanded my definition of what literature was, but it also made me think about how Asian American identity can be portrayed in so many different ways.
Yarin: Great. So, if you were to recommend this class, first of all, who would you recommend it to? And second of all, how would you describe it?
Vo: I would recommend this to anyone. I have recommended this to, like, every single person that I think is interested in politics in any way, shape, or form. I do think, you know, if you’re Asian American, it resonates a lot more with you, but people who aren’t Asian American have taken this class and they’ve loved it. It’s very eye-opening. And, you know, it’s important for you to learn narratives that aren’t always your own. It’s important to learn other people’s narratives, as well. So, I think everyone should take the class—they’ll definitely learn something. Even if you think you know everything, you’ll learn something for sure. I would say that this class is just so expansive in every way. Professor Rivera does such a good job tying in all the different Asian American narratives into a political narrative. It’s always connected back to something political: he also had us read political texts, he had us read theory, as well, and he connected all these stories that, you know, are just fictional. You think that they’re just fictional stories about someone’s imagination, but actually he ties them all back into reality, because they’re all based on the history of the time, and also the political texts that we’re reading.
Yarin: Cool, very cool. So, I am going to ask you to share with us a fun fact that you’ve learned in class.
Vo: The most fun fact that I learned was that there’s actually an Asian American character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s the Hulk, and he’s actually Asian. His name is Amadeus Cho, and there are comics written about him and there’s, you know, so much merchandise, but he’s very overlooked in the, you know, the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Yarin: That is a fun fact. So, Jennifer, thanks so much for joining us.
Vo: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been so fun.
Yarin: It was a pleasure to talk with you. And, folks, thanks for tuning into Today I Learned, a BU Today podcast. Do you have a favorite class that you think we should know about? Tell us all about it by filling out the form linked in our description. Today I Learned is produced and engineered by Andrew Hallock and edited and hosted by Sophie Yarin—that’s me. We’ll see you next time.
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