Last Thursday at noon, the Pan Asian Network (PAN) hosted a rally at Cheadle, presenting a list of demands on behalf of the Pan Asian community to Margaret Klawunn, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, along with other members of UCSB administration. Klawunn filed in for Chancellor Yang, who was notified but could not attend.
The community demanded a strengthening of the Asian American Department, alongside an increase in campus programs and resources geared towards Asian students.
PAN began with student interest in town halls hosted by the Asian Pacific Islander (API) Task Force. The API Task Force is a collective of undergraduates, graduates, staff, and faculty working to support the needs of UCSB’s Pan Asian community.
PAN board member and fourth-year sociology major with a minor in Asian American studies, Jasmine Lee described her initial reaction to attending an API town hall, explaining, “Seeing the town hall was like ‘wow, I never see Asian-identified people coming together for political issues.’ So . . . should definitely capitalize.”
The silence surrounding Asian issues is familiar one. Professor of Asian American Studies and API Task Force member Diane Fujino acknowledged the hurdles facing PAN’s demands, saying, “we’re. . . called model minorities, with so many Asian Americans on this campus and elsewhere, why are there services needed for Asian Americans?”
The lack of awareness of these issues are a problem. In an interview with TBL, Fujino stated “there’s not a language or vocabulary to talk about the kinds of problems that Asian Americans are facing.”
PAN’s demands are the most comprehensive set of demands ever issued by UCSB’s Pan Asian community. The beginning identifies those it represents: those of Southeast Asian, South Asian and Pacific Islander descent, those who identify as Asian American, multi-ethnic students, international students from Asia, immigrants, refugees, and undocumented students.
The demands further states that “members of the UCSB pan-Asian Community are still experiencing isolation from their culture, their identities and each other.” Inclusivity and representation amongst the Pan Asian community has been a difficult struggle, largely because of pervasive model minority myth. The need to address this drew many of PAN’s eight board members to their cause.
“I don’t consider myself. . .Asian, “ admitted Smita Narasimhan, board member and second year psychology and brain sciences major, “because that term comes with a lot of preconceived notions of what you’re supposed to look like, the language that you’re suppose to speak, and the food you’re eating.”
Echoing Narasimhan, board member and first year pre-sociology major Vince Feliciano said “Because I’m Filipino, I’m Southeast Asian, even though I factually know that I’m Asian, I never registered [it]. It wasn’t until PAN that I realized. . . you can consider yourself Asian without sacrificing [your] distinct identity.”
Terminology played an important role in PAN’s demands. According to Fujino, “the students were very deliberate in thinking about vocabulary . . .they wanted this to be something that makes sense for many many groups.”
“We choose ‘Pan’ Asian because the word ‘Asian’ itself historically is assumed to be East Asian-driven and it’s not enough acknowledgement to people of other groups,” stated Lee. During poster prepping last Tuesday, Feliciano mentioned a student he had met while tabling at the Arbor for PAN . “He [the student] was worried that by raising concerns specific to pan Asian students we focus too much on dividing oppressed groups on campus, rather than focusing on. . . unity,” said Feliciano.
In response, Feliciano assured that “that is something that. . . is very much in opposition to what we want to do. Our goal is to ensure our voices are heard and to inspire other peoples’ voice as well.”
Aware of this potential critique, PAN members chose their poster slogans and rally chants carefully, using language that was inclusive and could be applied generally instead of identifying as specifically Asian, such as “we deserve better” and “we are diverse.”
The perceived conflict between the interests of different minority groups is nothing new but nor is strength of solidarity across oppressed and minority groups.
“I think that it is always a trap to think that when one group gets something, another doesn’t” stated Fujino. As a professor of Asian American studies, Fujino specializes in a variety of histories, including Black Power studies, the Black Radical Tradition, and Afro-Asian solidarities. Up until last year, she was also the director of the Center for Black Studies Research at UCSB.
Fujino noted the solidarity behind the formation of UCSB’s Student Resource Building, “In 1998 on this campus, there was an issue with the Nexus, on its front page, having a story about Asians eating dogs. And out of that came mobilization, the students with other supporters got the Asian Resource Center.”
“But they said they didn’t want to just do something for Asian Americans” continued Fujino, “so out of that came all the resource centers and the student resource building.”
According to Fujino, PAN’s present demands are as much a result of AAPIC’s efforts in 2017 as the UCSB’s Black Student Union’s mobilization in 2013 and their more recent success this year with the approval of funding to implement the Office of Black Student Development. “We don’t have to be pitted against each other” Fujino concluded, “we can help each other.”