Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Letter to the Editor: The Asian American Community at Stanford

Dear Editor,

As an Asian American alum, former co-chair of the Asian American Students’ Association (AASA), staff member of the Asian American Community Center (A3C), Ethnic Theme Associate for Okada and member of Lambda Phi Epsilon, I am disappointed in the ignorance and oversimplification displayed by Mr. Matsuura in his op-ed.

I agree that the Asian American community should “be a resource for us to explore our Asian American identity.” However, I strongly disagree with his contention that this exploration should be confined to “education and justice.” The idea of how Asian Americans are developing an identity is enormously complex — there is an entire developing field of study devoted to this: Asian American Studies.

Although cultural groups play an essential role in education, it is foolish to completely disregard the contributions of social groups. “Cultural” groups are able to host non-cultural events and “social” organizations are able to host non-social events. AASA hosts an annual concert and the Lambdas hold typing drives to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the national bone marrow registry. Both of these events draw the community together, but take radically different methodologies. No single group can completely address an issue as multifaceted as the Asian American identity.

I found it particularly disappointing that Matsuura stereotyped the Asian Greeks as members of a “glorified social club where people look the same” by sweepingly accusing members of being ignorant. If he had looked more closely, he would have seen that the Asian Greeks are among the most active in leading other cultural organizations, but this is beside the point.

Being a part of the Asian American interest fraternity, I witnessed our brothers’ struggle together to figure out what our identity means for ourselves. I learned much more about the Korean and Vietnamese cultures through social interaction than I ever did at any conference. These interactions helped me shape what aspects of my own ethnic culture I have chosen to embrace and integrate with parts of my American culture, and therefore what I believe it means to be Asian American.

Each Asian American affiliated group — from AASA to Sanskriti, to the Greeks, to Team HBV, to the numerous others — has a distinctive role in contributing to our community. We hold protests to end injustices to Stanford workers, host conferences to help immigrant high school students attend college and hold informal discussions explaining different customs and what they mean. As groups explore the ideas of race and ethnicity with different, yet valid approaches, they do not and certainly should not conform to any one person’s definition of identity.

It is important for the Asian American and greater Stanford community to realize that the most basic purpose of any group is for its members to grow. I implore everybody to reconsider ways to improve our communities on the Farm rather than laying the blame onto one another.

Andrew “Pip” Pipathsouk, ’10

 

  • Kiyoshi

    I think you make a good point about the value of social groups in and of themselves, both in their ability to pull a community together, and the ability to learn at a more personal level about other cultures. I also think your letter is blinded by Blair’s aggressive attacks on particular groups and somewhat ignores the issues Blair tries to address, namely Ignorance and Apathy in the Asian American Community.

    First off, you like many of the other comments on Blair’s article call Blair ignorant. This is not unfair to use, as Blair did call out other groups for being ignorant, and he has not been in any of the groups he attacks. However it is worth noting that Blair used the word ignorant in regards to the knowledge of how the Asian American Community was started, where it came from, and what they stood for. As of yet, I have seen nothing in your letter, or the comments on Blair’s article disproving this. You also mention Asian American Studies, which I hope you realize was born out of the Asian American Movement Blair mentions. If it is your feeling that the history of the Asian American Community is not important to know, then state that. If not, either acknowledge that it might benefit the current active Asian American Community at Stanford to learn about that history, or show that they all do in fact know their origins.

    Second it has been brought up that the members of the Asian Greek groups tend to be the leaders of many of the cultural groups on campus. While this is fantastic, it again ignores an issue Blair brings up, that of Apathy. While those active in the Asian American Community are very active, what about those Asian Americans not active in the community at Stanford? Take Stanford University Nikkei for example. What is the proportion of Japanese Americans at Stanford who participate in SUN? I can tell you with high confidence that it is much lower than the proportion of Filipino Americans at Stanford who participate in PASU. I think this lack of participation is indeed a sign of apathy. While this is mainly a critique of the Asian Americans not active in the community at Stanford, this is also a problem area that the active community should address. I hypothesize that 4th generation Asian Americans at Stanford tend to be less active in the Asian American Community than 1st/2nd gens, and I think that should not be the case.

    I think that the Asian American Community at Stanford has indeed lost some of the focus with the current Asian American Movement. Take for example http://apimovement.com/, a quick perusal would show there are still much more serious Asian American Issues than under-representation of Asians in Bone Marrow registries. A search on their site shows the most recent article mentioning Stanford to be about the sit in you mentioned. The fact that there is no mention of Stanford in the past 2-3 years makes me wonder. Perhaps Blair is on to something. Perhaps the Asian American Community at Stanford need’s a wakeup call. And perhaps Blair’s article, right or wrong, was it.

  • Vang

    Kiyoshi,

    You base your entire premise on the “apathy of our generation” and yet, you offer no evidence? What does your statement say to those Asian Americans, including many Stanford students, who have in fact been very active in positively changing their communities? Are you suggesting that they are a mere minority in an otherwise oblivious Asian American population? If so, where is your evidence? I implore you to not use personal opinions and observations as fact. Just because you might not have seen much with your own eyes no way translates to our generation being apathetic. That claim is as foolish as the notion that Stanford students don’t study but still manage to do great academically. As it is, your statement dishonors the scores of Asian Americans who are out there in the trenches every day, trying to do precisely what Blair has said they aren’t doing, educating others and fighting for justice.

    Also, who are you to say that bone marrow registration is not a pressing Asian American issue? If you were diagnosed with leukemia and died because Asian Americans (with whom you have the best chance of finding a match) know little about bone marrow or are unnecessarily afraid of donating to you, is that not a major issue in our community? Again, just because you haven’t been affected directly by this issue in no way makes it a non-pressing issue. And for your knowledge, 15 years ago, Stanford Lambda Phi Epsilon started holding our annual typing drives to find a match for one of our brothers, Evan Chen, who unfortunately did die from leukemia. Today, over 50 nationwide chapters of Lambda Phi Epsilon hold typing drives to potentially save thousands of lives. You probably had no idea of this history, but that is besides the point. The truth is that there are many, many pressing “Asian American issues” out there, and whichever one irks you is completely a personal matter. Feel free to say that you are more devoted to one or another issue, but DO NOT say that certain issues are somehow more important than others, unless it’s a life and death situation, in which case bone marrow would be more important anyway.

    Likewise, Blair’s claim that the exotification of women or the model minority image are the current “big issues” in the Asian American community are problematic. Sure, they are re-occurring themes in the contemporary Asian American experience, but we’ve been beating those dead horses for decades. I guarantee you that there are more current issues that we can and should address, like discriminatory immigration policies and poverty among newer generation Asian Americans, including those “non-traditional” Asian Americans like Iranians and Pakistanis.

    Lastly, you keep saying that the Asian American community needs to talk about these issues more openly, but to be honest, I’m tired of talking. In fact, I think that’s probably the worst problem out there. Talk, talk, talk, and for what? Start DOING things and then we can sit together and discuss how to go forward.

  • Kiyoshi

    Vang,

    Though the apathy of our generation is certainly debateable, I am not basing this solely on personal opinions and observations.

    The concept of our generation being apathetic is not something I made up. Generation X has often been referred to as the apathetic generation, and we as Generation Y are often fighting this same stereotype. A simple google of “gen y apathy” yields lots of interesting articles for and against this idea. A common argument for the idea that gen y is apathetic is voting.

    In a 2008 census (http://www.census.gov/prod/2010pubs/p20-562.pdf) they estimated that only 48.5% of voters aged 18-24 years old voted. Thats on average about 15% lower than every other age group. Interestingly enough, Asians vote the least often, with only a turnout of 47.6% compared to 64.4 and 64.7 for Whites and Blacks. Whether or not you think voting is a good indication of apathy, statistics say the majority of Asians in America and the majority of our generation, does not care enough to vote.

    So yes I am suggesting that those who are in fact very actively changing their communities (who I am not trying to belittle), are a minority. Of the ~1,350 undergraduate Asian students at Stanford, how many participate in a group under the umbrella of AASA on campus? I don’t know exactly but I would optimistically guess about 60%? And as Masaru mentioned in another comment, how many of them actually participate in specifically Asian American activities at Stanford? Judging from the number of such groups, I would guess a third. If anyone has actual numbers I’d be interested to hear. This estimation would put the percentage of Asian Americans on campus who participate in specifically Asian American groups on campus at 20%. So yes, I am suggesting around 80% of the Asian American population at Stanford is apathetic enough to not participate in Asian American specific groups. I do not think that is dishonoring those who are “in the trenches” every day, as it has always been that the ones who actually stand on the front lines are a minority. Also what is your definition of “in the trenches”? Because mine is my mother standing in a human barricade of 5,000 people preventing the eviction of Asian American residents from the I-Hotel in San Francisco.

    I also do not mean to make light of Lambda Phi Epsilon’s activity of bone marrow registration, and yes I did not know the history of the event. In all seriousness I would like to thank you for that information; the cure to ignorance is knowledge. As a participant in the event two years ago, I did not learn what you have just told me, and I apologize. My question is whether that was really a good example of the focus of the Asian American Community? I do think certain issues are at least of more gravity than others. I think the racism that drives vigilantes to shoot and kill 9 year old girls in Arizona is of more gravity. I think the discrimination that prevented Filipino and Indian Americans from naturalizing until 1946 is of more gravity. I think this because these are issues rooted in the ignorance and hatred in people’s minds, which are some of the hardest things to change. And that focus on fighting racism and discrimination is what the Asian American Community was formed to fight in the 1960s and 70s. I am not of the opinion that racism and discrimination have been eradicated, so I hope you understand at least my reason for asking that question.

  • Vang

    Statistics show that Asian Americans do not vote in high numbers, they do not show that we “[do] not care” to vote. Also, there are so many external factors that may contribute to the low number of voters, including the fact that many Asian Americans indeed left their home countries for the U.S. to escape politics, not to become giants in the American political arena. Many more Asians in the U.S. may be undocumented (or just non-citizens) and thus unable to vote. This is a problem among immigrant communities in general, and probably best illustrated by the Latino American community. Keep in mind that the Census does not discriminate against citizenship status, so it is very likely that they’ve included all of those numbers of non-American citizen Asians. Without even doing a real analysis of the data, I am confident that if you were to narrow down the “Asian” population in the U.S. by age, socio-economic status, educational level, etc., you will see varying levels of voter turnout that would again trouble your claim of apathy.

    Perhaps “in the trenches” was not the best metaphor, but there are obviously those who are highly devoted to a cause and doing all they can to win those hard-fought victories. Often times these people do not get the recognition they deserve. By the looks of it, your mother was (is) one of those people. This really is besides the point, however. Everyone has a role to play in bettering the community and I would not condone your mother if she attacked an academic(the late Ronald Takaki comes to mind) for sitting behind a desk and teaching the classroom instead of being a human barricade.

    I too believe that racism and discrimination continue to plague our country, and that those ideas are very, very difficult to change, but as others have already said, there should not be a limit to the focus of the Asian American community. There are simply too many battles to fight on too many fronts. Whether the Asian American community has embraced bone marrow as a central focus is not something I can answer satisfactorily at this point. My role is to convince them that it is something worth doing.