CUNY Thomas Tam Scholarship

2017 Recipient

Peter Lee (Brooklyn College) 
Riding the Bus and Selling Credit: An Ethnography of Necessity
and Aging Amongst Chinese New Yorkers

Mr. Peter Lee is an undergraduate student majoring in Anthropology at Brooklyn College/CUNY. As part of a year-long anthropological research project starting in Fall 2017, Mr. Lee will curate and complete an ethnographic photo collection that documents the practice of Chinese seniors who travel to long distances to casinos to redeem vouchers as a way of living. The project will critically examine the larger issues of poverty, aging, and the well-being within the Chinese community.

The Riding the Bus and Selling Credit photo collection endeavors to answer:

  • Why have casino bus trips emerged as a social phenomenon?

  • What does the necessity for a subsistence strategy reveal about the aging process (and about well-being) for Chinese Asians in New York City?

  • How does engagement with the informal economy reflect upon the community at-large in terms of structured support, care and concerns for Chinese seniors from a low socioeconomic stratum?

Since poverty and aging are two issues that are neither spoken about openly nor acknowledged publicly, Mr. Lee's photo collection seeks to address this silence by showcasing photographic accounts of Chinese seniors and their stories in a manner that both engages discourse and incites dialogue. By viscerally capturing, detailing, and displaying the daily struggles that these seniors must endure, navigate, and negotiate, this ethnographic photo collection aims to re-humanize and re-politicize the lived reality of an otherwise marginalized and neglected population.



The Thomas Tam Scholarship is funded by an endowment established by the City University of New York in recognition of Dr. Thomas Tam's contributions as a former member of the CUNY Board of Trustees, founding Executive Director of the Asian American / Asian Research Institute, and leadership in the Asian American community. Since 2008, the Tam Scholarship awards $1,000 to an individual qualified undergraduate student that is currently enrolled at any of the twenty-one colleges within CUNY, Asian or non-Asian, who has demonstrated creativity in the communication of the concerns of the Asian American community in areas such as health, education, culture, media and advocacy.

The 2017 CUNY Thomas Tam recipient will be honored at AAARI’s 16h annual gala in Fall 2017.


Application Guidelines

Application Form
Deadline: Friday, June 30, 2017

All currently enrolled CUNY undergraduate students are eligible to apply for the Thomas Tam Scholarship.

Display of communication of the concerns of the Asian American community can be in the form of written reports, film, video, new media techniques, and the development of performances or materials in the arts and sciences.

The following are the issues to be addressed in your application for the Tam Scholarship. Please be sure to cover all of the points in your application.

  1. Please describe your project in detail, be sure to tell us about the issue of concern to the Asian American community that the project is designed to address.

  2. Please explain how your project demonstrates creativity in communicating the concerns of Asian Americans.

  3. What are the objectives or goals of the project, i.e. what do you want to accomplish, or what impact or effect will it have? How will you know that it has been successful?

  4. How was the project implemented, or if in progress or a future project, please describe how it will be implemented?

  5. Is the project completed, is it in progress or is it a future project?


Dr. Thomas Tam was born on April 15, 1946 in Fujian, China, during the Chinese Civil War. He spent his childhood in Hong Kong where his parents had to rebuild their home from the ground up. Dr. Tam and his family immigrated to New York in 1964. He received BA in physics from City College of New York (1968), M.A. in film-making from Montclair State University (1978), M.P.H. from Columbia University School of Public Health (1980); and Ph.D. in SocioMedical Sciences from Columbia University (1983).  He is Chairman of the Asian American Higher Education Council, and Executive Director of Asian American/Asian Research Institute, as well as the President of Oishi Movies, Inc. which produced a feature: Sunrise on Mulberry Street.

After graduating from City College of New York, Tam developed an active interest in community improvement in Chinatown, when he initiated a ten-day health fair which screened two thousand five hundred residents, leading to the establishment of Chinatown Health Clinic, now known as the Charles B. Wang Health Center. Tam’s career in community health continued when he became administrators of various City-wide health agencies. He taught at Columbia University, Herbert Lehman College, and St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia.

In 1989, he was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York as the first Chinese American member. Dr. Tam worked with a group of faculty members to establish the Asian American Higher Education Council, an organization which addresses critical issues concerning higher education in the Asian American community. Under Tam’s leadership, this organization has successfully organized numerous conferences and the creation of the Asian American / Asian Research Institute (AAARI), where he served as Executive Director from 2001 to 2006.

In addition to his contribution to the fields of community health and higher education, Dr. Tam also has an abiding interest in movie making, an avocation which he has nurtured since college. He has produced many short movies which have been exhibited at various institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art. Tam has also founded the Asian American Film Festival in 1972, which became Asian Cine Vision, an organization with international recognition for showcasing movies from Asian/Asian American artists. Dr. Tam is a recent convert to Buddhism and has completed a documentary video, En Route to Lhasa.

Dr. Tam is survived by his wife Margaret, his daughter Anika, and step-children Emily and Victor.







2016 | 2015 | 2014 |
2013 | 2012 | 2011 |
2010 | 2009 |

Scholarship Committee
Russell Leong
Joyce Moy
Pearl Tam

William Tam


Asian American / Asian Research Institute 2017

25 West 43rd Street, Room 1000, New York, NY 10036   
Phone: 212-869-0182 / 0187   
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