AAPI Student Leaders Stepping Forward or Timidly to the Side? ?

I was hesitant to go to an APA Heritage Month event for my lack of time and settled on going to the AAPI Leadership event held on April 14th in Marie Mount Hall. I did feel that I took away some excellent insight, but I am kind of upset as to the lack of “heritage” I got out of it. Now, you have to understand that unlike the other heritage events, this meeting was a “leaders step forward” moment for groups at UMD to come out against the university and President Loh on recent events regarding the leaked fraternity email (see email here). To give some background this meeting was held mainly in opposition to how the university and Loh responded at the open town hall meeting that they themselves had called. Within this meeting students and faculty were invited to share their questions and concerns with how the university dealt with this already closed issue. To put it lightly, the town hall blew and students ripped Loh a new asshole and showed the university that their efforts were not enough and that the policy and procedure in place is not good enough, especially for the standards that UMD claims they set for students. The departure from this is that it does not necessarily represent heritage in APA community, but we can consider it for this ethnography.

The event came off more informal than I thought it would have. I think another former university student who was there as well would say the same. When advertising this event, it seemed much more put together than it really was. Lead by students completely, the event aimed to have students show themselves as leaders and to really mobilize student efforts from all fronts. Many of the students there were sent as representatives of various on-campus groups like the Asian American Student Union, Japanese Student Union, Indian Student Union, Muslim Student Association, SLAAP, and many others. I was actually taken aback when asked the question, “so what group do you belong to?”. As someone who has commuted since freshman year, I never got into that college campus atmosphere and felt like a college student. My answer was a simple, “I don’t”. Both sarcastic and bitchy, something I can’t resist but do. The dynamic in the room was also very different. Many people knew each other and were talking and enjoying each other’s company. It seemed as if only me and this other former university student did not know anyone.

The meeting started off by displaying the email on the board through a projector and asking someone to read it. After a long pause of hesitation by the entire room, one boy decided to read it and does not shy away from saying any of the expletives either. Now it could be that he wasn’t afraid to say these words, but I believe that because the entire room was Asian, he felt as though he was in a safe space to not be judged for simply reading the words aloud. Had it been me, I would have felt uncomfortable saying statements like “let’s get ratchet”,  “my dick will be sucked”, “nigger”, and “fuck consent”. It just doesn’t seem to be okay in any sense, however it was repeated that night. We engaged in light discussion about how this statement made us feel and broke into groups to discuss action plans. My group consisted of one east Asian female, a South Asian female, a Filipino male, a white male, and a multiracial female of Asian and other minority ethnicities. We were asked questions like, “how did this make you feel?”, “what does this say about the university?”, and most importantly “what can we do?”. I most likely judged a book by it’s cover because many of the students were acting immature and what I would refer to as “college-like”, but the ideas and plans they had were of the caliber I would expect from serious students looking for change.

When reciting the ideas and having people talk individually many students snapped their figures in approval and cheer instead of clapping or shouting. This demure act is most noted in “old-school” jazz clubs and poetry slams as the appropriate way to congratulate.

This event opposed many of the formal teachings we’ve had in class, but struck major chords with the big themes we have seen such as solidarity between the different “Asians” and the pressing up against hegemony to make change. Though not necessarily attuned to heritage this event showed modern day Asian American activism in play and how popular culture and dominant hegemony intertwine in ways that we don’t consciously think of.

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