AAPI Heritage Month #8

May 8, 2023

APIA, APA, AANHPI, AAPI…Which do you use if any?

I’ve circled around many terms since I first began to identify my racial group as early as middle school. Growing up in the 1990s South Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area, I was raised among many vibrant, proud immigrant communities. My neighbors, classmates, friends and chosen family were first, second, third generation Asians and Pacific Islanders. Yet, we didn’t necessarily identify as a collective or an “acronym” together. In fact, we tended to identify quite separately. In school, we had “cultural clubs” which were more specifically connected to our family’s nations of origin. The Pilipino Club was the largest at my high school and its members, including many of my friends, claimed the term AZN. Keep in mind, anything with a “z” in the 1990s or early 2000s was awesome. I would clamor towards that term, screaming, “I’m Asian, too!”

As a Sociology major in college, I learned about the history and politicization of the term “Asian-American” having been borne out of 1960’s racial justice organizing in Berkeley, California. Students who came together from across nations of origin and generations, bonded under the term “Asian-American” knowing that together we are stronger. Since learning of these roots, I have connected with “Asian-American” beyond any other terminology — because of what it means in the broader movement for social justice.

I want to be respectful to the umbrellas we create; political terms must always evolve. In developing this project, I stuck with “AAPI” because I have seen this acronym used most commonly and, for most of my life, May was federally recognized as specifically “Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.” Only this week I learned that in 2021, President Biden actually extended it to be “Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.” In scrolling Instagram only hours ago, I just learned the term “Asian Pacific Islander Middle Eastern Desi American (APIMEDA)” which appears to be burgeoning from university and college student groups and programs.

No matter what, I want to feel connected to others with a shared political history in relation to the United States. I want to belong to a wider group and I feel really seen by Asian-American content that is not focused on people of Indian heritage. So, I will accept all terms as long as they accept my whole dark-skinned second-generation Telugu South Asian-American self.

Linocut block print by Nikita Yogaraj in the office of Baltimore Racial Justice Action (2023).

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