The Oriental Students Association of 1907 — a new Asian American origin story?

Students from India, China, Japan, and Siam came together in 1907 Berkeley, California

The history of Asian American organizing is often told through the lens of 1960s movements, like the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA), founded by UC Berkeley students in 1968.

I recently discovered UC Berkeley’s Oriental Students’ Association, formed in 1907, over sixty years before the founding of the AAPA.

A February 1907 front-page story in The Berkeley Gazette lists the association’s charter and membership. The 33 founding members included an even mix of students from India, China, Japan, and Siam (Thailand)—more diverse than many Asian American organizations today.

A San Francisco Chronicle article from that December listed Girindra Mukerji, a student organizer outspoken in his opposition to British imperialism, as the President of the Association of Oriental Students. Other founding Indian students included Nisha Kanta Banerjee, Noresh Chandra Chakravarti, T.C. Dass, Tarak Charan Mazoomdar, Jogendra Chandra Nag, and B.K. Singh.

The Oriental Students’ Association may be an alternate early origin for pan-Asian organizing at the University of California, one rooted in international student organizing.

What commonalities and differences did these students see in one another? What were the conversations that led up to its founding? Were they navigating culture shock and the difficulty of being so far from home? Did they experience increasing anti-Asian xenophobia, even as it targeted primarily working class Asians? How did participants remember the group after they left the university?

There’s so much more to explore. I’m tracing the Indians, but would appreciate help understanding the stories of the Japanese, Chinese, and Siamese students.

The Berkeley Gazette, Feb 11 1907, page 1
The Berkeley Gazette, Feb 11 1907, page 4


A new organization which is causing considerable comment upon the campus is one composed exclusively of Oriental students at the University and which is styled the Oriental Students’ Association of the University of California.

The increase in numbers of the men from the Far East who are attending college in this city and a certain amount of class distinction which they have felt to exist between them and their fellow students has resulted in the banding together of about thirty five of them into a brotherhood, the object of which is to be sociability and mutual protection.

The following constitution has been adopted:

Section 1. Name. — This organization will be “The Oriental Students’ Association of the University of California.”

Section 2. Object — The object of this association will be social and intellectual.

Section 3. Membership — This association shall consist of, first, regular members; second, associate members. All Oriental students attending the University of California are qualified to become regular members. All other Oriental students, on motion of two regular members, may be elected as associate members. Regular members only shall have right to vote and be come officers. All the other rights and privileges of regular members shall be accorded to associate members.

Section 4. Fund — The annual subscription fee for regular members shall be one dollar and a half and for associate members, one dollar.

Section 5. Officers and Their Duties — The following officers shall be annually elected at the beginning of the academic year: President. vice president, secretary, treasurer.

Section 6. Meetings — A regular meeting shall be held at least once a month at 1:30 p. m.. on the second Saturday of every month. The place of meeting shall be notified from time to time. Two-thirds of regular shall constitute a quorum. members

Section 7. Amendment — On motion of five regular members, an amendment may be brought before any regular meeting and shall become part of this constitution when approved by two-thirds of the regular members.

The membership of the association is as follows:

Mukerji, G., India, agricultural college; Sirn, N. S., Siam, C. E.: Wang, C. T., China, Com.; Salat, M. H., Siam C. E.; Aoki, G., Japan, Com.; Bannerji, N. K., India, Chem.: Chakravarti, N., India, Min.; Chan, C. S., China, Agr.; Chang, T. Y., China, Com.; Chao, C. K., China, Com.; Chen, T. S., China, C. E.; Duss, T. C., India, Chem: Hing, T. G, China, Agr.; Hu, C. Y China, Min.; Imai, S., Japan, Mec.; Jee, S. Y. L. M. China, Com.; Kaneko, A. Y., Japan, Mec.; Kanzaki, K., Japan Com.; Kumagai, T., Japan, S. S.; Lamoon, N., Siam, C. E.; Lee, O., China, Com.; Mozumdar, T. C., India, E. E; Matsul, Y., Japan, Arch.; Nakatsu, H. Japan, Mec.; Nag, J. C., India, Agr.; Owyang, Y., China, Com.; Uu, T. C. China, C. E.: Singh, B. K., India, Agr.: Tu, W., China, C. E.; Wang, S. T China, Mec.; Woo, N. T. China, Com.: Yamakawa, H., Japan, Com.; Yoshisawa, Japan, Mec.