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Hu-Dehart, Evelyn (1947–) - Latin American/Caribbean History; History of the Asian Diaspora; Ethnic Studies

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Evelyn Hu-DeHart was born March 12, 1947, in Chungking, China, of Chinese ancestry. Her father was a banker, and her mother, one of the first generation of women to receive a university education in China, was a high school principal. Her family fled China for Hong Kong in 1949, then came to the United States in 1959 under a special Cold War refugee act. Evelyn attended a British Anglican missionary school in Hong Kong and then junior high school and high school in Palo Alto, California. By the time she was twelve, Evelyn had been twice a refugee. At age seventeen, she attended Stanford University on a full scholarship, one of the first Asians on the Stanford campus in the 1960s. Hu-DeHart notes the sharp contrast between then and now, since the Stanford campus is now about one-third Asian and Asian-American.

The civil rights movement, which Hu-DeHart encountered as a teenager, left a deep impression on her. She joined the forensics team in high school and chose Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech for her presentation; it took her to the state finals. She was selected for a Good Citizenship Award by her teachers, but was denied the award by the Daughters of the American Revolution because she was an “alien.” She quickly took what she learned about citizenship to the streets, picketing local banks for their redlining practices. This happened “much to the horror of my immigrant parents,” she recalls, “who thought my pending citizenship application would surely be jeopardized.”

While at Stanford, Hu-DeHart encountered and eagerly participated in the antiwar, free speech, women’s, and ethnic pride movements. Upon graduation in 1968, she was awarded the coveted Dinkelspiel Award for her academic achievements and her leadership in the Asian community on campus. Hu-DeHart’s involvement in these efforts, particularly in the antiwar movement, gave her the motivation to become a historian. “Like many others of my generation who became extremely critical of U.S. intervention in the Third World,” she states, “I turned my academic attention to area studies.” She chose to focus on Latin America and the Caribbean, partly because she had spent time in Brazil, where she met and was inspired by Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of northeast Brazil, who helped articulate the practice of liberation theology. Hu-DeHart felt compelled to tell the story of “people without a history,” or those whom written history had marginalized, distorted, or ignored. She wanted to see these “others” on center stage, “as actors and agents in their own history as much as victims of others more powerful.”

Hu-DeHart earned the Ph.D. in history at the University of Texas at Austin in 1976. She worked her way up the academic ranks at Washington University in St. Louis, leaving to take a job as associate professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York. After three years there, she left in 1986 to take a position as professor of history and director of the Center for Studies of Ethnicity and Race in America at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she continues to teach.

The author of three books and more than twenty-five articles, Hu-DeHart has published in English, Spanish, Chinese, French, and Zoque Mayan, in Great Britain, China, Taiwan, and Canada. She has written about the Chinese in Latin America and in the United States, and about the philosophy and importance of her field, ethnic studies. Among her many and varied contributions to the academy, Hu-DeHart has made it her priority to demonstrate the intellectual and structural viability of ethnic studies and, as she puts it, to “transcend the conventional boundaries of ‘American’ to include diasporas in the Americas.” She has also developed a high profile as a national speaker and consultant on multicultural affairs and race relations, appearing on the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour, on C-SPAN, and before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. She also performs a great deal of community service, serving on the advisory boards of the Hmong Women’s Education Association of Colorado and the Community Mediation Services of Boulder, and as a member of the Finance Task Force for the City of Boulder.

Evelyn Hu-DeHart has been married for twenty-seven years to Dean DeHart, and they have three of what she calls “hybrid” children, two daughters and a son. Because they wanted to avoid the situation of being unconnected to the real world, which Hu-DeHart feels is common to dual career couples in academia, Dean quit his job as a historian to become a community organizer and labor activist. This arrangement, she feels, keeps their family connected to the “real world” and to the struggles of real people, “a powerful antidote,” she argues, “to the sometimes insulated and fantasy world of the academy.”

Hu-DeHart is an avid reader, a “news junkie” as well as a reader of novels by women and scholarship in fields outside her own. She likes to knit and cook, but travel is her favorite activity. Her current research on the Asian diaspora has taken her all over the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, England, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Mauritius. She still has plans to visit and complete research in Australia, Fiji, and other locations in the Pacific. Hu-DeHart speaks and/or reads eight languages, and lectures in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

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