Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month - May 2021

This month we begin Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month with both sadness and resolve. One year ago, I was writing about the increase in anti-Asian racism and xenophobia, and since then incidents of hate and violence against Asians and Asian Americans have escalated at even greater rates. Pacific Islander communities have been hit hard by COVID, with Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders facing high rates of hospitalization and death in their communities. During times like these, it is more important than ever to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions that Asian Americans (AA) and Pacific Islanders (PI) continue to make to our campus and beyond. 

As has been documented repeatedly, the history of anti-Asian hate and xenophobia in this nation dates as far back as the 1800s.  Since the onset of the pandemic, over 3,800 incidents of hate have been reported against Asians and Asian Americans. The majority of these hate crimes have targeted women and elders. In response, our staff has worked tirelessly with other campus partners to organize and lead important conversations about the current challenges facing AA and PI communities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Asian Pacific American Student Development (APASD) 
Journalist, feminist, and activist Helen Zia was the keynote speaker at the annual Asian Pacific Islander Issues Conference (APIICON) hosted by Asian Pacific American Student Development  (APASD). In 1982, the former autoworker brought attention to the brutal killing of Vincent Chin and the need for stronger federal hate legislation -- something urgently being called for again today. 

Undergraduate student Cori Kumamoto, Community Advocacy Programming Intern for APASD, has dedicated her research skills to developing a wellness resource by and for AAPI students: the AAPI Mental Wellness Guide 2021

In partnership with the South Asian, Southwest Asian, and North African (SSWANA) Initiative, Bay Area activists and community-based historians, Anirvan Chatterjee and Barnali Ghosh (MLA ‘01) hosted a virtual walking tour for Berkeley students on the rich history of South Asian activism and community-building. Their tour covers over 100 years of activism on the streets of Berkeley and on our very campus. 

Through the advocacy of the Pacific Islander (PI) Initiative, housed in APASD, and its student interns, UC Berkeley has just changed the way Pacific Islanders are reported. PI’s make up 0.8% of the state and only 0.6% of the undergraduate student body. Until now they have been counted in the category of “Asian/Pacific Islanders”. They are now included in the underrepresented minority students (URM) category. Organizing also brought an important change to the PI initiative staff. Program Manager Angel Halafihi is the first full-time staff member.

Pacific Islander students at UC Berkeley have been especially resilient through these challenging times and our most recent cohort of graduating transfer students, small but mighty, had a 100% graduation rate last year. 

The PI Initiative, in partnership with Pacific Islanders at Cal and the Asian American & Pacific Islander Standing Committee, also hosted a screening of "This Is The Way We Rise" and discussion with Dr. Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, a Kanaka Maoli three-time national poetry champion, activist, and assistant professor of Indigenous and Native Hawaiian Politics at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa about her efforts to protect Mauna a Wākea. 

The PI Initiative also worked closely with Pacific Islanders at Cal to host the first annual OMAOCH Conference in an effort to build community among Pasifika communities in the Bay Area. This conference was inspired by the stories of youth conferences in the past led by PI student leadership on our campus and many other campuses. 

Asian Pacific American Systemwide Alliance (APASA) 
As part of their ongoing efforts to promote wellness on campus, APASA has held a number of community spaces for staff to process recent events, including the mass killings in Atlanta. In these digital memorial spaces, participants have shared their needs, hopes, and wishes for and from their community. 

The Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian (MENASA) staff organization was established in August 2020 to provide employees a space to support one another, create avenues for professional development, and provide opportunities to educate the broader UC Berkeley community. Sign up here to join the MENASA Staff Organization or receive updates. 

Asian American Research Center (AARC)
Last fall the campus celebrated the launch of the research center under the direction of inaugural chair Michael Omi, associate professor of Asian American & Asian Diaspora Studies and Ethnic Studies. The event included a talk by Taeku Lee, professor of Political Science and Law, entitled A Defining, Movement-Making Election:  Some Findings on the AAPI Youth Vote in 2020.

Under the executive sponsorship of E&I, the Asian American & Pacific Islander Standing Committee (AAPISC) continues to be an important partner and leader on campus, working to address the needs of AA and PI undergraduate and graduate students, staff, and faculty.  One of its recommendations is that xenophobia training be a mandated part of all anti-racist and diversity, equity & inclusion modules. AAPISC is finalizing a briefing that, for the first time in 20 years, provides a comprehensive demographic overview of the AAPI campus community.

Faculty & Leadership
UC Berkeley will be losing one of its top racial theory scholars. Michael Omi will be retiring at the end of the semester. Dr. Omi is the co-author of Racial Formation in the United States (3rd edition, 2015), a groundbreaking work that transformed how we understand the social and historical forces that give race its changing meaning over time and place.  The recipient of UC Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award, an honor bestowed on only 275 Berkeley faculty members since the award’s inception in 1959, Professor Omi has been a beloved scholar, educator, mentor, and colleague to many on campus and beyond for over 35 years.  His significant research and teaching contributions to the fields of Asian American Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Sociology have left an indelible legacy on our campus.

Under the direction of Dean Michael Lu, the School of Public Health helped to educate the campus about the pandemic, laying bare the systemic inequities of COVID-19 in systems of public health - locally, nationally, and globally.

Khatharya Um, associate professor of Asian American & Asian Diaspora Studies and Ethnic Studies, received the Chancellor's Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence and Equity. She is internationally recognized for her research and advocacy on the global impacts of war, genocide, and refugee experiences, with a focus on war and genocide in Southeast Asia and its effects on Southeast Asian communities in the U.S.

Lisa Hirai Tsuchitani, continuing lecturer in the Asian American & Asian Diaspora Studies Program, was awarded the 2020-21 Chancellor’s Award for Community Engaged Teaching. Through her teaching, research, and mentoring, Dr. Tsuchitani has championed issues that have plagued Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) behind the scenes and on the front lines. Each day through her work, she reminds us of the importance of partnerships. 

We celebrate the South/Southeast Asia Library. Through advocacy, more than 8,500 signatures were gathered from supporters in the U.S. and abroad to keep the library from being merged into Doe Library. The library, located in Stephens Hall, and its staff will continue to be a resource for students, staff, and faculty. 

The celebration of 150 Years of Women at Berkeley includes the stories of AA and PI women. One of those is the oral history of Janet Daijogo, a Cal alumna and survivor of the Japanese American incarceration in the U.S. Her oral history is now available through the Berkeley library and online archive. The website also includes an Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP) Project led by Renee Sung, professor emeritus of Plant and Microbial Biology, entitled, “History of Asian American women on the UC Berkeley campus.”  

To learn more about Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, please visit this website

In partnership, 

Oscar Dubón, Vice Chancellor for Equity & Inclusion

Asian American & Pacific Islander Standing Committee

Asian Pacific American Student Development

Pacific Islander Initiative

South Asian, Southwest Asian, North African Initiative

Asian Pacific American Systemwide Alliance

Asian American & Asian Diaspora Studies Program 

Asian American Research Center