Wednesday, August 27, 2008
AAPI, APAI, APA... what?
I’m sitting right now at the AAPI Caucus meeting. It’s the second one I’m attending, the other being this past Monday. As an Indian, I guess I kind of fit into this rubric and I feel relatively comfortable within it because it is within this community that I became politically active at Oberlin. At Oberlin, one of the issues we grappled with was the ‘inclusion’ of the P or PI within the rubric. During my time at Oberlin, I knew exactly two Pacific Islanders, neither of whom were particularly active in the community. I’m not even sure how they identified, except that they probably put down A/PA on various official forms, just as I have had to do pretty often. I don’t feel particularly comfortable with this census categorization, except when I’m around it as a political community. In any case, sitting here in the AAPI caucus, the situation of Pacific Islanders is absolutely no different than anywhere else… the number of PIs can generally be counted on one hand, if not one finger. And often, those charged with PI outreach are Asians/Americans who live, or have lived, in Hawai`i. Now, I don’t think Asian Ams. are resistant to having PIs among them, but they are relatively indifferent – the common understanding seems to be we’ve included them in our name and now its up to them to join us. Of course, most Asian Ams. aren’t even aware of the diversity of PIs – they’re awareness is probably limited to ‘Hawaiians’ and a couple of other groups. (Until a couple of years ago, you could count me among them… admittedly, the increase in my awareness is attributable to my being in a relationship with a politically active Pacific Islander.) And there’s absolutely no way that Asia Ams. grapple with the same issues as PIs. The fundamental difference between the two groups can be captured in one word – ‘colonization.’ The AAPI rubric is as absurd as AANA (i.e. Asian American Native American). But what makes the indifference, lack of awareness and absurdity starkly evident is that the majority of the speakers at the caucus stumble over the ‘PI’ part, hesitating about where exactly the letters P and/or I fit into the label. And of course, when not using the abbreviated version, the group is addressed simply as ‘Asian American.’