Asian students work for change

By Brittney Foreman

More than 800 students registered to attend the Midwest Asian American Students Union annual spring conference held this year at the University March 23, 24 and 25.

Charles Chang was a student at Ohio State University when he founded the union. He said he started the organization in 1989 to facilitate Asian American self-empowerment, political power and networking possibilities.

“It’s very silly when people underestimate the power of student mobilization and activism, especially in higher education,” said Carrie Kagawa, senior in LAS and one of two co-chairs. “We have the manpower, the drive to create change.”

Kagawa said Asian Americans are trying to achieve certain changes at the University.

“Asian American Studies (AAS) is not important enough or valuable enough (to the University) to warrant a major,” Kagawa said. According to the AAS Web site, it offers a minor in AAS and has proposed an interdisciplinary major.

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Kagawa said more East Asian language and cultural classes need to be offered. She also said more minority faculty and staff need to be recruited at the University.

“We need the visibility of minorities because we are a strong presence. We need role models in higher education,” Kagawa said.

Kagawa said the Asian Pacific American Coalition started the Committee for Social Action to address the University’s slow response in resolving these issues. She said the committee would pick up where the Students Transforming Oppression and Privilege (STOP) Coalition left off at the “Racism, Power and Privilege” forum held at the University on Feb. 1. According to Kagawa, APAC builds coalitions within the Asian American community and within the minority community.

A story told repeatedly at the student union’s conference was that of Vincent Chin.

In the 1980’s, American auto industry factories in Detroit were declining. Japanese cars were outselling American cars resulting in layoffs for Americans in Detroit. Out for his bachelor party, Chin was beaten to death by two laid-off, white auto workers who thought Vincent Chin was Japanese, although he was Chinese. The two men never served jail time.

In response to his death, Asian Pacific Americans launched a civil rights movement.

“It was the first time Asian Americans saw themselves as a community together,” said Christine Chen, executive director of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote. “With that backdrop and Charles (Chang’s) work, (Midwest Asiann American Student Union) was created.”

Kagawa said she believed the conference, with a budget of about $70,000, accomplished a lot. She said even though it may not have reached the broader campus, it brought the Midwest Asian American community and the University together. Kansas University will host the spring conference next year.

Chang, now the executive director of the Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center in Los Angeles, said that in some ways the student union still needs to progress. Chang said it needs to bring Asian Americans together to build a single political voice that Asian Americans can use to create change.