Why the acronym AANHPI elicits mixed feelings for some community members

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) – May is AANHPI Heritage Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the culture, history and heritage of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. However, not everyone in these communities feels comfortable with grouping these ethnicities under one umbrella. Those with mixed feelings about the acronym say the term can often blur the lines between the different needs and issues of each group.

the US census reports that 1,849,226 Asian Americans (6.3%) and 77,196 Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders (0.3%) live in the state of Texas based on their 2020 survey. Kapualani Abreu is a native Hawaiian who currently lives in the woods. She says that while their population is small, she still has mixed feelings about the commonly used term, “AANHPI,” which lumps them together with the Asian American community.

“I think it’s right for us to want to be our own people,” Abreu said. “We have fought for so long to be our individual people that I don’t think it’s fair to lump us together with other cultures.”

The acronym also comes in slight variations, including AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) and APA (Asian Pacific American). An Tuan Nguyenwho is a clinical assistant professor of Asian American studies at the University of Houston, said the term “Asian American” was only coined in 1968 by student activists Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka.

“They realized that up until then we didn’t really have a group or an umbrella where people of Asian descent could come together, find some kind of mutual support and share an identity,” he said. -he declares.

In the 1980s, the US Census Bureau decided to group Pacific Islanders under the same categorization.

“The idea being that the two groups were relatively small and that we could potentially have more bargaining power in this country if we got together,” said Bianca Mabute Louie, a doctorate in sociology. student at Rice University.

Even though the census has since separated the groups in their classifications, the generic term and its variants are still commonly used. Some say they have no problem with the acronym, believing it brings unity and empowerment in their common fight for social equity. But others say the groups each deserve their own recognition because their issues and needs are uniquely different.

Mabute-Louie and Nguyen said academics and activists have argued for a clear distinction between the two groups. They provided some examples of how issues and needs among Asian Americans may differ from those of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

“A central aspect of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander identity and movement is their indigeneity and indigenous sovereignty. Many of their countries did not consent to America to begin with,” she said. “Meanwhile, many Asian Americans come from immigrant groups. It’s a different experience, being a refugee who came here because you were displaced compared to someone whose land was confiscated by US imperialism.”

“A Chinese American might go back to visit China and say, ‘I’m going back to the origins of my culture. This culture is authentic.’ I don’t know if Native Hawaiians are able to say the same thing, because not only did they suffer from the laundering of their land, but their culture was kind of stolen by American cultures,” Nguyen said.

Additionally, experts say those of the NHPI legacy are often overshadowed or left out of events and efforts that use the combined term.

“I think it’s the issues of lack of representation and sometimes the dominance of certain ethnic groups in our communities that makes people feel and wonder why should they be in a group where they don’t see their own people, which is very fair question,” Nguyen said. “Being together is a good thing. But if one of us in this group under this pan-ethnic umbrella is exploiting this shared identity and dominating other groups, suppressing their representation, diminishing their voice and creating this divide within our own group, that’s when It’s getting very dangerous.”

There are places that separately recognize and celebrate INPLs. For example, the state of Utah has celebrated Pacific Islands Heritage Month separately in August and has done so for 10 years. Abreu hopes to see more of these efforts across the country and beyond.

“Having the American continent recognize us as our own people would be great. That’s the pinnacle for me,” she said.

As the social construction of race and identity continues to evolve over time, Mabute-Louie and Nguyen hope the public will continue to have these conversations about how we can better achieve diversity, equity and inclusion as a society.

“I try to build on those mixed feelings. I try to hear people say how powerful the term ‘AAPI’ really is for them and for others who feel very invisible. Just like how our backgrounds and experiences are so diverse, so are our opinions on how we should be named and categorized,” Mabute-Louie said. “Racial categories are not static and they change over time. We have seen it with history. So the ambivalent feelings and mixed feelings that we have don’t surprise me as a sociologist.”

“I tell people it’s not about the term. It’s about the context and the actions we take. We need to be more mindful, inclusive, supportive and even more appreciative of each other’s cultures,” Nguyen said.

For stories about Houston’s diverse communities, follow Rosie Nguyen on Facebook, Twitter and instagram.

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