Asian American & Pacific Islander Community Summit

 Mia Guevarra, President, Akbayan SJSU - addresses a breakout session.

Mia Guevarra, President, Akbayan SJSU - addresses a breakout session.

by Leon Kimura

On Friday March 4th, the AAPI Community Summit at San Jose State University provided the opportunity to interact with many of the campus AAPI students, organization leaders and faculty. FYI, in a previous open forum, the students identified as issues on campus:

  • Lack of AAPI representation (events, resources, community engagement, cultural celebrations and holidays)
  • Model Minority myth expectation/pressure (especially in certain majors)
  • Need for mental health resources focused for the AAPI community
  • Decrease in available Asian American Studies sections and enrollment
  • Low numbers of AAPI faculty and staff
  • Lack of resources and funding specific for AAPIs

Dr. Michael Chang, founder of the Asian Pacific American Leadership Institute at De Anza college, made a welcoming presentation to help guide how to effect change.  He advised strategies such as always lean forward and not just stand still because the squeaky wheel gets the grease, work collectively, be visionary by developing a plan, be effective in institutional change by developing a path, and always take care of yourself by staying healthy.

During the summit sessions I attended, I learned that the landscape of AAPI ethnicity is becoming increasingly complex with the greater interracial mixes, let alone the new sexual and gender associations, etc.  Therefore, the binary fashion that race has traditionally been discussed is no longer adequate since these associations are no longer so black and white.  We now need a greater vocabulary and concepts to address the increasing complexities. As an aside, I noted that the students brought forth arguments both for and against racial dis-aggregation. On one hand, you want to separate out racial data to better understand the needs of individual ethnic groups but on the other, the groups, or more accurately, individual students, want to feel included and a part of the larger whole of being “Asian American”.

Part of the discussion outcomes was about the need to to have visual references on campus for the AAPI students like others have the Tommie Smith/John Carlos statues and Cesar Chavez monument. Murals were suggested as a means to accomplish this and I suggested a global map incorporating a theme of showing all the AAPI countries to provide viewers the educational reference and to reinforce the inclusionary message for the students.

The students also made further comments about the support (or lack of) by the University for their needs including not being provided with space or a resource center(s) for their clubs to meet. After hearing the frustration of the students, I offered the Issei Memorial Building (IMB) as a safe haven to come and hold their meetings. At least until they could get on campus facilities from the University administration.  I explained that the JACL supports all ethnicities and indeed, all Americans, and are not exclusively JA.  Our Chapter has been working to foster connections with the SJSU students and it would be mutually beneficial if we could bring them into Japantown and expose them to our community and Chapter to possibly garner new participation and youthful energy.  Perhaps, an inclusive SJSU AAPI club collaborative could meet at the IMB with spinoff activities by all the various AAPI factions...

I also spoke to members of the faculty about partnerships between the University AAPI instructors/courses and Japantown and was told by Professor Hien Do, Ph.D - Professor and Coordinator of Asian American Studies, that they had worked with our community previously but was instructed by the Administration to stop due to insurance concerns. I explained that if he wished to reactivate a working relationship between the University students/classes with the SJ JACL, we could discuss having cooperative educational activities covered under our insurance policy. 

It will be great if some positive results from these discussions and interactions with the students and faculty occur! And in closing, I would also like to thank the Asian & Pacific Islander Faculty and Staff Association (APIFSA) for the invitation to attend.