We voice our thoughts, concerns, and hopes for the future of APASU, its members, and its community.
Dear Friends, Members, and Leaders of APASU,
We are members of the Pacific and Asian Community Alliance (PACA), and we are writing this letter to call upon APASU’s responsibility to uphold its mission statement and express the dire need for a more inclusive and respectful environment. In doing this, we hope to engage in critical conversations about our union and how to move forward together, as an ADPIA community.
APASU, for some of us, has been a space on the UO campus where we can feel safe, meet new friends with common interests, and forge new bonds, both as individuals and as a collective. Yet, for others, it has also been a space of extreme pain and hardship, something that unfortunately is often unnoticed and unaddressed.
We want to share our varying experiences about how the APASU space has disrespected and hurt us in past years. We include these testimonies in hopes that you would empathize, introspect, and reflect upon the pattern of intolerance within our community.
For me, APASU has been a place of great joy and pain. It is a place where I have met many of my friends and yet, it is also a place that I have often felt silenced and unsupported.
Having previously worked on APASU staff and as a general member, I feel that attending the APASU retreat was the most meaningful and impactful. It is here that we can bond with each other over our struggles, sympathize with each others’ painful stories as a reflection of our own, and support each other as a community. However, it is also only that one weekend where people can truly share their stories and have a community of support.
Other times, APASU has often been apathetic towards members who may be going through hardship or experiences. Why is that? Why can’t we be a space where we can lean on each other, support each other, and be there for one another?
Speaking on my own experiences, I have opened up during general meetings in the past about my past experiences that have a traumatic impact on me and often felt that many did not care and others just chose not to listen. It is painful and heart-aching knowing that the one community, the one place on campus where I can come to during the hard times for support is also a community that I cannot talk to about my experiences.
So what is our real purpose? What is our mission statement? Are we just a hangout hub? Are we just a place of parties, potlucks, and movies (not saying any of those are bad things)? Are we a political space?
For me, at the end of the day, we are a community and we all are here together. We are here because of our similar experiences; we are here because of our struggles; we are here because we are all friends tied together by our identity as Asian Americans.
I often wonder what it would be like had APASU taken the time to encourage its members to share their stories, their past, the pains, their struggles and we all supported each other as an entire community – not just at the APASU retreat – but always. It may have been different but we can’t change what is in the past, but we can choose to change the future.
I hope in sharing my story, we can have discussions about how to make those changes – how we can build a better, more inclusive, supportive community that can listen, cry, and support one another. But the first act is choosing.
“We need to focus on what the majority of APASU wants.”
Friends who have supported this statement had also said, “Things have changed, people aren’t really interested in talking about politics anymore.”
Hearing this made me feel so small. It hurt to hear the apathy in my friends’ voices. What’s “too political” to them is what’s reality for me. Hearing this made me feel that my interests—my reality— wasn’t important to this community that prides itself in being an inclusive space.
“We need to focus on what the majority of APASU wants.”
When we choose to de-center the interests of the minorities in our own communities, we choose to perpetuate the same kind of violence our society inflicts on us. We choose to ignore the voices that need love, care and comfort. Although there were times when I enjoyed being part of APASU, there were times when APASU had caused me a lot of heartache.
I felt silenced and neglected multiple times in this community because of people’s disinterest in my “too political” reality. I am a working-class cisgendered Southeast Asian woman who had the initial thought that my struggles with my identities were valued in this space but soon realized that I had to painfully suppress them here instead. This space, which promises to delve deep into topics revolving around issues such as class, race, sexuality and gender, issues that have wounded me personally, rarely scratches the surface of what it really means to genuinely care for others, to see that justice is ensured in each others’ lives (and if not, do something about it).
Another issue I have is our lack of trying to understand the Pacific Islander community and how we as Asian Americans play a part in their oppression. I feel like we, as APASU, need to step out of our comfort zones to address the issues of the PI community, the voice that still needs to be heard in our space. This is why keeping up with our attitudes towards being “too political” has to stop. These attitudes are completely disheartening and are hostile to building a safe space for all students.
There is so much work that needs to be done to advance ourselves as a community. I feel that we all have a lot of soul-searching to do. We need to really listen to each others’ stories of pain, sorrow, love and hope. At the end of the day, we need to remember to not harden our hearts to those who are broken and without voice.
In my experience, APASU has generally been a warm and welcoming space. I, however have experienced a few examples of potentially racist comments by general members in regard to my culture and have been shot down by APASU’s leadership for voicing my criticisms and reservations towards APASU.
In one such scenario I was sitting on the couches in the MCC when one of APASU’s general members referred to folks in KP as “weird”. While I initially agreed to that description, I replied soon after that “No, we aren’t really weird, we’re just a different culture.” Now I do not know if said member was referring to individual KP members as weird, or if they found what we did weird. Either way, I found the comment offensive considering that this so called “weird” that this person was referring to is how KP as a whole behaves and is indicative of who we are as a people and more broadly as a culture, and the means by which we express our unique sense of identity. To belittle us in such a way as to imply that we have this strange, non normal way of behaving is patronizing, condescending, and in my opinion, racist. To maintain such an attitude is inconsistent with APASU’s mission statement and provides for a toxic, non inclusive space towards those at the University of Oregon who identify as Filipino/Filipino-American.
In addition to experiencing a sense of duality between general members (i.e. those who buy into this mainstream brand of Asian that APASU promotes, which seems to be primarily geared towards those who identify as Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese…) and those who identify as Filipino/Filipino-Americans and Pacific Islanders there seems to be little concern for the voices who express criticism contrary to the opinion of the majority of APASU. I once openly expressed my reservations towards APASU in the MCC (i.e. little to no representation for Filipinos and Pacific Islanders, and no adequate attention being paid to social justice issues) only to be shot down and berated by some of the members involved in APASU’s leadership who said that the majority of APASU’s general members do not care about the aforementioned issues, which is why, as a group they do not really focus on said issues.
I am perplexed as to why an organization whose mission statement calls for it to be a group founded on tackling social justice issues and creating a safe and inclusive space for people who identify as ADPIA, would not stay true to their own word. Such actions and comments are hypocritical and if APASU’s tilt is to be a place where only heterosexual, ADPIA people who buy into this idea of mainstream Asian, which is really only inclusive towards Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese, in other words, the public, or stereotypical Asian, and thus excluding the rest who get thrown under that political umbrella, then something needs to change.
Either change your by-laws and mission statement, or stop appealing to what the majority of what the general members want and stay true to your social justice roots.
In my freshman year, I lived in a very white dorm and I found myself taking the risk of going to an APASU meeting in hopes of finding a community of color. Every time I attended, I felt completely ignored, and brushed off when I tried to talk to others. It was probably because it was the middle of the year and cliques had already formed, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was because I was mixed-race, or because I was a woman with very short hair. When people go to identity-based organizations, they are taking a huge risk of being rejected from their communities, and it felt like APASU did not honor the courage it takes for people to come to their space. Right away, I had the vague sense that this wasn’t an inclusive space.
I sporadically attended meetings throughout the next three years, after founding my own group for multiracial students partially out of disappointment with APASU. My experiences kept confirming my initial instincts about APASU. When playing a game of guessing Asian American celebrities, a member who later became co-director kept complaining about the multiracial celebrities, saying “He’s only a quarter? How was I supposed to guess that? Oh, another halfie? That’s not fair!” As one of the few multiracial Asians in the room, I felt attacked and found the space not to be safe.
I constantly feel attacked as a genderqueer woman, as APASU meetings feel very dominated by men who make ignorant comments about women and women’s bodies, and make queer identity the brunt of their jokes.
In spite of APASU’s mission statement, I felt that real social issues that impact the lives of the ADPI community and all marginalized communities were not addressed, particularly Pacific Islander issues. On the rare occasion that APASU did have a meeting about social issues such as the model minority myth, microaggressions, and US imperialism, I found that the executive board and the general members alike appeared very detached and that conversation was sparse and unmotivated. And then there was a meeting where we talked about Asian American fashion designers. To be honest, I felt like that was a waste of my time. Why should I be interested in that, when I haven’t even had a chance to talk about the ADPIA struggle for liberation?
Also, the celebrities that APASU bring to campus almost always seem to be middle-class cisgender heterosexual able-bodied East Asian men, who don’t seem to have thought much at all about social justice. Many are youtube artists whose material is really rather oppressive, such as the Fung Brothers. The Fung Brothers tell everything from the perspective of middle class cis het able-bodied East Asian men who objectify women, assume everybody is heterosexual, and have enough class privilege to “click on laptops and sip on bubble tea,” and reinforce the model minority myth – generalizing the Asian American experience and spouting stereotypes about “Asian girls” and “Asian guys” and “FOBs.” I was extremely unimpressed that they were cause for a big event for APASU.
Why is APASU always spending its giant budget and organizing work on complacent, privileged celebrities, or putting on culture nights where we eat and watch people dance and then leave?
In the meantime, when the Multicultural Center organized the ADPIA Freedom School, APASU executive board and members were scarcely involved nor present. To me this felt like a blatant rejection of social justice issues and intersecting identities.
For me, APASU was an experience of feeling totally let down by my community of color, because this community failed to create an inclusive and respectful space, or the education that they promise in their mission statement.
The APASU community either needs to completely change direction in order to uphold APASU’s mission statement, or leave and start a new group that is strictly social and can be as apathetic as it wants. The ADPIA students who actually want to carry out APASU’s mission statement should not be the ones being forced to move to a different organization that has no funding or stipends. APASU has been stolen, hijacked, appropriated from us. I sincerely hope that APASU addresses these problems seriously.
While there are more stories that have yet to be told, we hope that you can use these accounts to two ends. First, we hope to galvanize a discussion on how to steer APASU into a respectful and inclusive environment that is healing, attentive, and loving. In order to create a strong organization, we must insure that members trust and accept each other, and we cannot allow marginalization to occur within our community.
Second, we hope that these stories will motivate APASU to re-dedicate itself to its mission statement. The mission statement reads: “APASU actively seeks to educate members on issues directly and indirectly affecting the Asian Pacific American community on campus, national and global level as well as participating in the broader struggle for social, political, and racial justice.”
Currently, we feel that APASU has neglected to uphold this mission statement and deviated away from it. PACA would like to build with you, together. By opening up about our concerns and hurt, we hope that you take this friendly reminder of accountability and the above personal accounts to heart, as we have, and would use them as incentives to nurture a more welcoming, respectful space.
In closing, we want to extend to you an invitation to further discuss our concerns and listen to your inputs. We look forward to meeting with APASU’s leadership team as well as any interested stakeholders to problem-solve and discuss next steps, perhaps in the form of a town hall where we could constructively express our ideas and opinions. This letter is hopefully the starting point for many more healing conversations, as we would love to hear everyone’s voices, stories, and experiences, to collaborate, and to grow together.
We look forward to hearing your response(s). Please feel free to email us your thoughts at PACAlliance72@gmail.com.
The Pacific Asian Community Alliance Steering Committee
“Our ultimate objective in learning about anything is to try to create and develop a more just society.”-Yuri Kochiyama