Marking Progress, Moving Forward

Phuc Pham | New University

Phuc Pham | New University

The Asian Pacific Student Association hosts the 28th Annual Asian Pacific American Awareness Conference (APAAC).  

The Asian Pacific Student Association at UC Irvine (APSA at UCI) hosted its 28th Annual Asian Pacific American Awareness Conference (APAAC) this past Saturday in the Student Center.

The conference has a straightforward purpose: to become a space where progressive student leaders and the community meet to teach each other and learn from each other.

APSA prepared a day of workshops, speeches and entertainment that inspires cultural appreciation and dialogue.

“APSA was formed because people thought that they were being discriminated against and because of the issues that faced the Asian American and Pacific Islander community,” Alison Tominaga, conference co-coordinator, said. “It is a space for us to come together and be able to talk about these kinds of issues.

“For all the work that went into it, seeing all these people here helping out, it is really awesome.”

APSA was formed after the attempted suicide of several Asian American students in 1981.

Since its beginnings as a social support system, it has become a political body and networking platform.

The opening speaker, Mariko Kahn, encouraged this political fervor in her speech. Kahn is the current president of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, a membership advocacy organization that serves the needs of the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community.

She was also involved in the creation of Cambodia Town in Long Beach.

“I’m tired that we’re not moving faster,” Kahn said to the audience. “We have come a long way … and earned good fortune, but it didn’t come easy.”

Her speech was humorous at times, but also implored student activism.

“If you are not at the dinner, you may be on the menu,” Kahn said. “Please, demand to be at the table.”

The workshops that followed provided creative ways to catalyze this process.

The workshops focused on a range of topics, from the history of the API community to cross-cultural engagement, urban planning, hip-hop and much more. In “Cambodia Town — A Case History,” Kahn explained how the cultural neighborhood of Cambodia Town came to assume its place along Anaheim Street.

“We needed to show the mainstream, ‘Hey, we’re serious,’” Kahn said.

Later on, the participants in the workshop “Art as a Political Weapon” began getting their creative juices flowing.

This workshop was hosted by members of Kabataang maka-Bayan (KmB), or Pro-People Youth. KmB aims to instigate the social awareness of youth in response to local issues, especially for the people of the Philippines.

“We believe that art gives a message; it inspires and motivates for a cause … and gives us a voice,” Cheryl Zarate, workshop facilitator, said.

The session split into artists and writers. Images of API issues were called onto the projector, and with supplies in hand, the participants set to work on self-expression. Eddy M. Gana, Jr., another facilitator, addressed the group on the power of the spoken word.

“It’s important to tell the story … dig through the dirt to hit the gold,” he said.

“Like Chocolate for Empire: Starving, Surviving and Striving in the Asia/Pacific” was hosted by Anthony Kim and investigated one of the most quintessential experiences of walking on Ring Road: the “Spam of Spam Musubi.”

Kim discussed the U.S. military origins of spam and chocolate and the way that these products came to be treasured parts of the cultural diet in certain Asian countries.

“These things represented luxury and by extension, the promise of American democracy,” Kim said.

The session ended with attendees splitting into groups and performing original poetry created by using five words that described each individual’s favorite food memory.

Lunch consisted of Thai food and several performances, including the Japanese drumming club Jodaiko and spoken word specialist, Nghiem Le.

“The workshops are enlightening from start to finish,” Tyler Sasaki from San Diego State University said. “But the performances are definitely a highlight.”

The conference has gained momentum over the years, attracting more and more students with every installment.

“We had so many more delegations this year than last year,” Siamrath Boonsakul, conference co-coordinator, said. “It’s really good to see the SoCal community supporting each other and coming together.”

The day-long event is aimed at both public and private identities in the API American (APIA) community.

“Once I started working at UCI, I noticed there was an apparent glass ceiling where people looked down on me because I am Asian,” Boonsakul said.

“It made me want to get involved in changing a society that was not built for me. I wanted to be a part of an organization that helped change that.”

The agenda ended with the Jubilee Project, a student-run group started in 2010 that makes videos to raise funds for good causes.

The conference delivered its main themes of reimaging an equitable society, rebuilding through actions and reclaiming APIA identity, all in an educational and engaging program.