Introducing Dr. Jenny Banh: Anthro Woman

This is a part of APR’s “A-List” series, highlighting Pacific Islanders students, faculty, and staffs at Fresno State.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Jenny Banh

The Fresno State Anthropology Department gained a new faculty this semester. Dr. Jenny Banh is a current Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Asian American Studies program. Her education background includes a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, double Masters in Cultural Studies (Public Policy emphasis) and Anthropology, and a PhD in Anthropology. Within less than three months in Fresno, she has already made her marks on campus. Dr. Banh is co-advisor for the Cambodian Students Association and in this previous October she presented a workshop with the Asian Pacific Islander Programs and Services called, “Who Are Asian Pacific Islanders?” Here are a few things you should know about Dr. Banh.

What motivated or inspired you to study Anthropology?

I was the only Asian person in my Catholic school and I knew I was different. I thought I was African American when I was in first grade, which my mom told me I was not. To this day I am very sensitive and partial to African American issues. Being that I was raised in a working Chinese restaurant, my parents let me watch television all day. During this time, I watched PBS and they had fascinating documentaries about people around the world. I seemed very fun to watch an anthropologist interview a tribe of pygmy dwarfs in one episode and then a tribe of giants the next day. So when I was 8 years old I told myself I wanted to an Anthropologist. Good or bad but I stuck to my 8 years old declaration.

What is your focus in research?

Asia: Labor, Space, Consumption.

United States: Southeast Asian Barriers and bridges to attaining a higher education degree (BA).

What brought you to Fresno?

I am an anthropologist that looks at Labor, Space, and Consumption in Asia. I am also an Asian American scholar that studied the Thai El Monte sweatshop workers. I have been teaching at University of California, Riverside (UCR) and Cal Poly for 13 years so I always felt torn between Anthropology and Asian Americans Studies so this job has both which is a perfect fit for me.

What is the most exciting thing you have seen or done in Fresno so far?

Moving was quite an adventure as I have never been away from my parents my whole life. Presenting “Who Are Asian Pacific Islanders?” was fun and interacting with all the cool staff and faculty have been great. I hope to contribute to an Asian symposium. I find my students very exciting. I look forward to Hmong New Year and Tet festival and going to all the events.

How would you describe Fresno State?

If Cal Poly married UCR and was placed in Riverside. Very strong and tough students who are first generation warriors and have accomplished a lot. I admire them deeply and want to help to get them to the graduation line. I love the Fresno State students and admire my colleague’s dedication and drive.

How has the transition from Southern California to Fresno been for you?

Good as I am an adult but harder for my family.

What are the similarities and differences between the Central Valley and Southern California?

The housing is cheaper in Central Valley and there is less traffic but poorer air quality. The food is great in both places! There is more variety in So Cal but I am very happy with the Mexican and Southeast Asian food that I have eaten. Very yummy and spicy. There are more Southeast Asians (Hmong, Laos, Cambodian) in Fresno whereas in So Cal there are more East Asians (Chinese, Korean, Japanese). There are sizeable Filipinos, Vietnamese, and hapas in both areas. Central Valley weather is hotter than in So Cal. The people in Central Valley are much more conservative in politics and LGBT issues.

You have started a mural project this semester. Can you explain what that mural is and how people can contribute to it? Why is it important to have that mural and what is the meaning of it?

I have a passion for helping first generation college students like myself to graduate college. A lot was given to me to get here from mentors, friends, and family and I want to “pay it forward.”  When I interviewed for this job I mentioned that I would like to have Fresno State create an Asian Mural for the students so they can have additional “safe places” and it is to celebrate the different Asian groups in Fresno. I include Armenians as well in this category. They already have this mural in other campus such as Cal Poly Pomona. My three classes have already surveyed over 200 community members and Fresno state students to ask what they want on the mural. We are now looking at our findings and will share when we are done. It is important to have a mural because Asians Pacific Islanders have made a tremendous contribution to Fresno and should be recognized.