Smith’s Pan-Asian activist organization

Hira Humayun ‘17
Staff Writer

Smith’s Pan-Asians in Action is a new support and activist group on campus, focused on uniting the Asian/American/Pacific Islander community on campus. PAIA’s seven founding members began meeting last semester, but discussion regarding the formation of the group had been ongoing for several years. With its 24 active members, this student group aims to enact social change and learn about social justice through an intersectional lens. With approximately one-quarter of Smith students identifying as Asian/American/Pacific Islander, this activist organization aims to unite and recognize this diverse community.

What is PAIA’s mission statement and how is it different from the unity orgs we already have on campus?

We are committed to learning about social justice, teaching ourselves and others about political issues related to the AAPI community and fostering inclusivity within our organization. We also wish to work as allies for other social justice causes that affect people not solely related to AAPI identities, in consideration of the intersectionality of oppression. As an activist group, we will host discussions and panels, work towards campaigns on and off campus and engage with the Five College AAPI activist community. We find it is necessary to bring together this community while also critically looking at where these identities diverge and intersect through activism and discussion that we had previously not found in other student organizations. Our main pillars of foundation are confidentiality, community, and trust and [we] open this space to anyone who self-identifies as AAPI, including but not limited to East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, Pacific Islander, mixed-race, transracial adoptees, and international students.

Why did you feel the need to establish such an organization?

We came together because we thought there was a significant disconnect amongst the Smith  Asian/American/Pacific Islander community. We realized that part of this disconnect is rooted within complacency functioning powerfully on an individual, communal and societal level. The false view that all AAPIs are inherently politically complacent and passive fuels not only a severe misunderstanding of the AAPI community but also a damagingly internalized sense of political passivity within the AAPI community. PAIA seeks to resist this real and fake complacency by unlearning oppressive ideologies of political passivity to generate a self-aware, politically active AAPI community.

We also realized that the disconnect amongst the Smith AAPI community was due to our own blatant ignorance regarding how many AAPIs there are on Smith campus. Miriam Yeung, the activist in residence at Smith, helped us uncover that approximately 25 percent of Smith is Asian – in other words, roughly 650 students (according to Smith’s current course catalog). The disparity between these numbers and our [previous] feeling that we took up a very small percentage of the student body was profound. Utilizing our new-found awareness about how much space we take up on campus, we now strive to develop unity amongst the AAPI community, particularly through political activism. We believe that our unity with a politically activist mindset differentiates us from other AAPI unity orgs, as we endeavor in using our presence on campus to enact change.

How do you want to contribute as allies on campus?

We strive for allyship both externally as allies for other POC groups and activist groups and internally as allies for the voices heard and unheard within the AAPI community. As allies on campus, we firmly believe in addressing both the needs of our AAPI community in conjunction with the specific needs of other marginalized communities.

What steps are you taking to implement the mission/goals of PAIA?

We started in the fall of 2016 and since then we have held discussions on the model minority myth, internalized racism, colorism and erasure/exclusion within the AAPI community. We also organized the Donald Trump protest following the election and have been working on organizing the Asian American Feminism Summit. Next year, we hope to conduct a campus wide survey to understand what the issues and concerns of the AAPI community are and hope to do work to actively address them. In addition, we hope to do work in supporting and collaborating with our allies on campus.

What’s next on your agenda?

In the upcoming weeks we have two discussion-based meetings on the topics of mixed race/ethnicity, transracial adoptee identities within the AAPI community and romance, sexuality and queerness within the AAPI community. We have one community building event that will include a movie and food. Our biggest event is on April 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Neilson Browsing Room. We will be presenting a summit, “Asian American Feminism: Not Your Asian Sidekick,” that has been sponsored by the 2017 Japanese American Citizen’s League Eastern District Council’s National Youth/Student Council. The summit will be focusing on issues surrounding Asian/American/Pacific-Islander feminism and activism. We hope to create a space where Asian women and allies can learn more about the intersection between Asian/American/Pacific-Islander identity and feminism, and where this intersection fits into the modern day social, political, and academic climate. The summit will open with keynote speakers Professor Miliann Kang from UMass Amherst and Miriam Yeung, activist and former director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. Through their discussion, a workshop and plenary session we strive to create a dialogue on the ways in which we can advance Asian/American/Pacific-Islander activism through a better understanding of our own identities and history.

How can students at Smith get involved?

Anyone who self-identifies as AAPI, including but not limited to East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, Pacific Islander, mixed-race, transracial adoptees, and international students, are invited to join and participate in our meetings and can bring ideas/topics for discussion or events that they would like to see happen.

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