- I think AAPI means Asian American Pacific Islander... is that right?
- The terms AA and PI got lumped together because of the government?
- But it's officially APA, right?
- Asian Pacific American, which makes no sense.
- Oh, APIDA.
- Okay, Asian Pacific American... indigenous... - Asian Pacific Islander... - Oh, Desi America!
Yes yes yes.
- Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander.
- It is AANHPI heritage month.
Officially declared so by President Biden just in time for May 2021.
- Vital communities and very diverse communities within the Asian American Hawaiian, excuse me, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.
- Yes it is a mouthful, and includes a huge range of people who can trace their ancestry to one giant continent of over 40 different countries.
- And about 25,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean.
- It's a lot, and the name for this month has changed quite a few times since it was first signed into law by Jimmy Carter back in 1978.
- So this really begs the question, who gets to be Asian American, and why's it so hard for us to find an identity or acronym to share?
- [Dolly] Welcome to a People's History of Asian America.
- Do I think the term Asian American includes me?
I'm kinda torn with that one.
- I feel like it mixes race with like citizenship or nationality.
If I do choose to be a Japanese citizen does that mean I'm no longer Asian American?
- I don't gravitate towards that term first.
I tend to gravitate towards Filipina American first.
- Prof, do you consider yourself Asian American?
Asian Canadian, Pacific Islander?
- I'm actually none of the above.
I'm Ilocano from Toronto.
See my family and I are from the Philippines.
My mom's side is from a region called Northern Luzon, so culturally we're called Ilocano people.
- Oh, that's interesting.
But how do you explain that to like most people?
- So my easy answer is that I'm Filipino.
And being from Canada, we don't really have this concept of Filipino Canadian the way that y'all have it down here with Filipino American.
- That's a pretty crazy concept for me to wrap my mind around as someone who grew up with everything being hyphen American.
Why are there no Filipino Canadians?
- Well, it has something to do with the fact that the U.S. has ethnic studies and Canada doesn't.
- First time I heard Asian American, I didn't know whether it was like a white American term put on us, or whether it was us kind of being like hey, let's form an alliance together so people stop killing us and we can actually have unity between each other.
- Asian American was actually a chosen term that emerged around the same time that ethnic studies was created as a field.
- In 1968, inspired by the Black Power movement, two Berkeley students, Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee, coined this term "Asian American."
- You know having an umbrella identity that people could unite under does seem pretty powerful.
So why all this talk of changing it?
- Well maybe we should actually talk about expanding on it.
So as we know, Asian American has its roots in political organizing, so at its core it's a political identity.
But as this community grows in numbers, and geographical diversity, and migration histories, the term starts to fall a little short.
- I don't feel that Asian American all the time includes Southeast Asians, or darker Asians.
- Asia's a huge country with so many different nations, different nationalities, different cultures, I do consider Lao and Laotian Americans to be a part of that umbrella, but as a Lao American, I don't feel I'm as represented.
- The term Asian American, or even South Asian has been something that I had never been associated with growing up in Kenya and South Africa.
- I think when we are talking about particularly East Asian experiences, that we should identify them as East Asian the same way that we identify South Asian experiences as south Asian.
- Another shortcoming is the way statistics get aggregated under the broad term Asian American.
Let's take a look at a very common stereotype that all Asians are crazy rich.
- The crazy rich Asian stereotype makes me feel really broke.
- I can say with complete authority that the crazy rich Asian stereotype has never really applied to my lived experience.
- Myself as a Pacific Islander feel like I am wealthy in spiritual, in the spiritual sense though which you know, that's special onto itself.
- On paper, it seems like we're doing pretty well economically.
- But when you expand on that data, you'll see that the wealth is concentrated among select racial groups, mainly Indian, Filipino, Chinese, and Japanese Americans.
And when you look at the other end of the spectrum, you'll find Burmese, other southeast Asian and Pacific Islander communities.
- It's important to disaggregate data because we are deemed insignificant, and we are deemed too small to be a community on our own as native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders or NHPI.
- Lao Americans, a majority of them who came to the US are refugees.
And it is the impact of American engagement in Vietnam that brought me here to this country.
- What the data hides is the fact that many Southeast Asians arrived in the US as refugees.
It also hides the fact that the Pacific Islands like Guam, the Mariana Islands and Samoa are still territories of the US which function like colonies.
- A little history here is important to know.
Many of these islands were taken through imperial wars.
In 1898, after the Spanish-American War the United States acquired Spain's island colonies in the Treaty of Paris.
After that, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico became US colonies.
In that same year, the Unites States illegally annexed the Kingdom of Hawaii.
- Which is why as much of a mouthful as it is, AANHPI is a really important acronym.
The histories of native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders as well as Filipinos and other southeast Asians is one that's steeped in war and colonization.
But these histories are often rendered invisible under the label Asian American.
Let's turn back to you Adrian.
What does it mean to say you're Ilocano from Toronto?
- For me, I identify as Ilocano first and foremost, because it challenges our assumptions of what being Filipino means.
For that matter, whatever the heck Asian and Asian American mean.
See it might be easier for me to say Filipino, but the whole point of me telling you about my native land in the Philippines is to make all of us question our assumptions of identity and ancestry.
And most importantly, to remind you that the US has a history of colonization that impacts how I talk about myself too.
- And I can see how knowing this history of colonization makes you very weary of things like nationality or neat identity labels.
- And as for months like this one, for me, these commemorations are important, but even more important is sustained curriculum.
Now going back to what I mentioned earlier about ethnic studies not being taught in Canada.
That's one thing that drew me to the US to become an ethnic studies professor.
See, it was a pretty radical thing that in the US this field was created out of activism.
And it was radical too that Asian American identity was first and foremost created as a political identity.
- And well, even the name of our show, A People's History of Asian America is really about the political identity of this community.
Which is why it's so important for us to discuss the history, evolution, pros and cons of AANHPI heritage month.
- I feel like this month tokenizes my community.
I've never been asked to do so many things, and I also wonder about where will we be next month.
- Do I feel like this month belongs to me?
Like and my people, no, not really.
Sometimes it just feels a little shallow to me in addition to like black history month, it's like why do we need to designate a certain box for people of color to exist in.
- We don't just want a seat at the table, we want a voice at the table.
We don't want to be the diversity hire, you don't want your face paraded out there as the Asian American face, you want to be the Asian American voice and you want to be able to bring others up with you.
So I think inclusion as opposed to representation is to say we are powerful, we have a voice, and we want to be a part of the decision making as well.
- I am very hopeful for the future of Asian America, of Native Hawaiian recognition, of Pacific Islander multiple identities.
When we uplift each other, and support each other, and connect with each other, and cross-culturally do that I feel we rise together.