The Walter H. Capps Center held a series of events in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month on April 26 at the MultiCultural Center.

Walter H. Capps Center holds an event series featuring local AAPI activists to discuss Asian American activism and anti-AAPI violence. Lydia Rice / Daily Nexus

The events featured local Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) activists who discussed Asian American activism and anti-AAPI bias and violence.

The first event invited a panel of professors and activists to share their experiences in organizing and advocacy within the AAPI community, moderated by sociology doctoral candidate Naomi Joseph. 

The panel consisted of UCSB Asian American studies professor Diane Fujino, Co-Founder of Stop AAPI Hate and Executive Director of AAPI Equity Alliance Manjusha Kulkarni, University of Michigan assistant professor of American culture Melissa Borja and Instructional Support Specialist for Ethnic Studies at Santa Barbara Unified School District Artnelson Concordia.

Joseph started the panel with a 40-minute segment, asking how the panelists became active in AAPI organizing and what they are doing in their fields for AAPI communities.

Fujino spoke on the origins of her activism and said that the work Asian American activists do is intergenerational.

“Another pivotal moment was when I came here [to UCSB] and got to teach in Asian American studies and loosen the bounds of my disciplinary training in psychology, and I was wanting to study Asian American women’s activism,” Fujino said.

Each panelist followed by describing their introductions to activism, including school and where they grew up. 

“Living in that context at that time, these young people, we had to make decisions in terms of how we were to engage in the world, how to survive,” Concordia said. 

The panel then discussed differences between AAPI activists and other group activists, differences and diversity within the AAPI community and how AAPI activists can learn from the actions of other activist groups.

“One of the greatest challenges about doing this work in AAPI communities is the tremendous diversity,” Kulkarni said. “We’re trying to gain political power, and given that all of our numbers individually are relatively small, we amass by being together.”

Kulkarni described the importance of learning how African American and Latine communities collaborated in solidarity against various intersectional issues. 

Borja emphasized the need for setting aside differences and coming together as a united front. 

“There’s a lot of conversation that needs to happen, conversation that bridges religious differences, ethnic differences, language differences, class differences, generational differences,” Borja said. “ The biggest challenge is encouraging people to think in coalition and identify in shared interests.” 

A common idea that panelists emphasized throughout the event was Asian American issues being erased under the veil of the model minority myth, perpetuating racial attacks against the community.  

“Part of this invisibility of anti-Asian racism and anti-Asian violence has to do with something that people within Asian American studies talk about widely: model minority trope,” Fujino said. 

Fujino explained the history and context leading to the rise of the model minority, which was later used against other activist groups, such as Black radicals during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. 

In the 15-minute segment that followed, panelists were allowed to ask each other questions, discussing issues such as the ineffectiveness of a carceral approach to punishment for committing violence against AAPI and the distinction between using “hate” or “racism” to describe acts of violence against AAPI. 

Borja explained how using “racism” to describe incidents of violence against AAPI rather than “hate” draws a bigger picture.

“In the reports we use and release, we intentionally use the language of ‘racism’ and we focus, not just on individual acts of violence, harassment and discrimination but also stigmatizing rhetoric deployed by people in office,” Borja said.

To close the panel, audience members were invited to the microphone to ask questions to the panelists, asking questions about activism for multi-ethnic Asians and for further explanation of the model minority. 

The second event, which took place later that day, featured a guest lecture from panelist Manjusha Kulkarni on understanding hate against Asian Americans and what Stop AAPI Hate is doing to address issues of Asian American civil rights, education equity, community safety and systemic racism. 

Kulkarni discussed incidents of violence reported by the AAPI Equity Alliance before the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The AAPI Equity Alliance is a coalition of local organizations that advocate for AAPI rights and needs in the community of Los Angeles and more through policy advocacy, capacity-building and civic engagement. She described the goals of Stop AAPI Hate and their methods to be a part of a multi-racial movement for equity and justice and to work in solidarity with other communities of color. 

“For us at Stop AAPI Hate, we are very much about long term comprehensive solutions,” Kulkarni said.

She then talked about the model minority myth, the racialization of Asian Americans, the history of anti-Asian policies and anti-AAPI rhetoric in the United States. Kulkarni emphasized community safety, education justice through ethnic studies and youth organizing as ways to put an end to hate. 

“Ensuring ethnic studies is important in the education justice space and community safety. It’s really about things like good jobs, good schools and healthcare,” Kulkarni said. “It’s when people live in deficit situations that they build resentment. If they get their needs met, then they’re not in that situation.”

Kulkarni furthered the definition of comprehensive solutions, explaining what individuals and college students can do by using resources and supporting fellow AAPI students, colleagues and friends. 

“First in terms of students here, I certainly think raising awareness is the first step. Many students prior to coming to, you know, university or college have not been exposed to Asian American history and population,” Kulkarni said. 

Kulkarni answered questions from the audience about non-carceral solutions to anti-AAPI violence, AAPI rhetoric, Asian American media representation, microaggressive actions and misinformation. 

“I think for me, universities are a unique place where we can have those conversations, students learn, they can engage with faculty, and with each other. And so that’s why I thought it was important to be here. Because to have that opportunity, I felt like through the panel, as well as hopefully my talk, I began to raise some of that awareness,” Kulkarni said. 

A version of this article appeared on p. 7 of the May 4, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.