At the UO, we have a long and robust history of paying tribute to the achievements and contributions that generations of Asian, Desi, and Pacific Island Americans have made to the UO, Oregon, and the United States. In 1990, Congress expanded Asian Pacific American Week to the full month of May. At the UO we celebrate in May and throughout the year and work to more accurately reflect the community’s diversity by referring to the month as Asian Desi Pacific Island American (ADPI) Heritage Month.
Like much else this spring, ADPI month looks different than other years. But whether in person or remotely, there are essential bonds and support that students, faculty, and staff can get through the campus community. The ADPI communities are resilient and present, even from afar, and their history is long and lush.
On these pages, we hear from students such as Dylan Truong, “terrified” at his first Vietnamese Student Association meeting, but who quickly realized how friendly and caring everyone was and now feels being part of the UO family has been one of the great joys of his life; senior Tasa Leoso embracing a shell reminding her of her home in Hawaii and the strength of her community; alumni Raj Vable bettering our community and world through Young Mountain Tea; and the ADPI strategies interest group working with allies to publish a one-page statement “Denouncement of Anti-Asian Discrimination & COVID-19” .
Find out more about activities going on remotely or peruse our library and museum offerings about the ADPI community, past and present, in our Around the O story Honoring Asian Pacific Island American Month in new ways.
Now enjoy digging into the pages below. Perhaps, they are not all what we originally planned, but to borrow a reference from senior Taso Leoso — it may be small, but it is surely strong.
Business Administration and Management
Planning, Public Policy and Management
“I personally identify as both Asian and Desi, specifically as Nepali and South Asian, as my country of origin exists at the cusp of these identities. In addition to my ADPI identity, I also identify as gay. Despite the difficulties I have had in reconciling my intersectional identity, my culture has actually played a large role in me accepting my gay identity, as LGBT+ people have historically been present in both Hindu and South Asian history.”
– Sarvesh Upadhya
“I have been on staff for the Asian & Pacific American student union for three years.
I’ve been involved with Kultura Pilipinas for around three years and Vietnamese Student Association for two years.
As an APASU staff member, I help decide what speakers we want to bring for APAHM. This is very important to me because I can make an impact on the community by bringing representation to the UO campus and connect them with those that maybe their role models. It is time for me to learn more about other ADPI folk, especially those that are role models and leaders in the community.”
– Gina Tran
Family and Human Services
“With a lot of Hmong clothing being very unique and rare; we never get to show off our unique culture. This pocket tee was designed by my cousin to be casual enough to be worn during any normal day and still represent and show our unique culture to the world. The clothing is usually very colorful and the black base allows the pocket to stand out. The pocket has swirls that is very common in Hmong art and culture while the stars represent the jewelry that we normally wear. As it is for casual wear, we do not want to risk losing the jewels. Even the fabric the pocket is made of is representative of my culture in that the fabric is not fabric used in American culture.”
– Nutong Her
I was adopted from China and brought to New Jersey on my second birthday. I grew up in an Italian household so I knew pasta more than I knew noodles, but my parents made the effort to expose me to my Chinese background. However, I longed to be accepted into the American lifestyle. I remember being in first grade and asking my mom to pack me an American lunch. Soon after, I was replacing Chinese dance with cheerleading and telling people my middle name was Michelle instead of Xiao Fen. I neglected my culture and hid my adoption most of my life but eventually, I slowly began feeling comfortable in my own skin and acknowledged my unique life story. By the time I was 19, I knew I was ready to explore the country where I took my first steps on this earth.
We toured six different cities throughout China, including Beijing, Xi’an, Guangzhou, Nanchang, Jingdezhen, and Shanghai. However, out of all these cities, Jingdezhen meant the most to me because it’s the city I was born in.
Arriving in Jingdezhen, I was given a tour of my early years of life before being adopted and brought to America. I had the chance to meet the director and staff members of an orphanage, along with one of my caregivers who was the last to see me before handing me off to my parents in Nanchang.
I learned the location of my finding and the story behind it that came with a letter from my biological parents. I ended my tour with a traditional Jingdezhen meal shared with my parents, caregiver, and the director and staff members of the orphanage. Learning about this part of my life was a mix of many emotions but mostly gratefulness for the people who took care of me when I was young and worked so hard to find me the perfect family, who have given me the best life.
Today, a year and a half later since my heritage tour, I am reminded even more how proud I am to be Chinese. With these unprecedented times, xenophobia has spread just as fast as COVID-19 has. It seems impossible to go online without seeing a story of attacks on members of the Asian community. While these attacks are scary and at times have made me anxious to go outside, I remember the little girl I once was who was ashamed of her culture. I’ve remained strong—standing alongside the Asian community for that little girl because I know there are others like her today. My heritage tour has greatly influenced the person I am today. Diving into my past and seeing where I come from was an experience of a lifetime that taught me to stay true to myself. I’ve spent my time in quarantine investing in my artwork, pushing myself to try new things, and reading books that inspire me. Eventually, we will see the light at the end of the tunnel but for now, we’ll take the time to rest, stay home, and stay healthy.
During Asian Desi Pacific Island American Heritage Month, the UO community stands together with resolve and resilience
By Michael Murashige
Writing Consultant, Center on Diversity and Community (CoDaC)
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has taken the entire world by surprise and altered virtually all of the university community’s plans for the spring term, UO’s Asian, Desi, and Pacific Islander (ADPI) students and organizations have been finding creative ways to stay connected, to educate themselves, and even to begin thinking about the University’s upcoming ADPI Heritage Month celebration.
The Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence (CMAE) hosts a Virtual Asian, Desi, and Pacific Islander Study Hall for students to drop in via Zoom (Wednesdays, 3 – 4:30 p.m.) and share their stories, challenges, and creative solutions to life as students online. Additionally, Career Readiness Coach at the University Career Center, Kyle Santos and his colleague, Elirissa Hui, are hosting weekly ADPI drop-in academic advising and career coaching sessions for ADPI students.
Similarly, the Asian and Pacific American Student Union (APASU) has been holding weekly gatherings via Zoom. These virtual meetings (Wednesdays, 6–7 p.m.) give students a chance to reconnect remotely, talk about their experiences taking all of their classes online, vent their frustrations with life during the pandemic, and counterbalance that with opportunities for fun and relaxation.
Senior, Savannah Kan, says, “I've found that the community I’ve built at the university has become one of the most significant support systems I have. Coming together in solidarity to discuss our experiences has been so important to process our feelings and make each other feel validated and supported.” During the weekly meetings, APASU creates breakout rooms for general conversation and catching up and for online games.
Besides offering a range of support services and opportunities for students, the UO ADPI community has also begun mobilizing against anti-Asian racism and hate. Members and allies of the university’s Asian, Desi, and Pacific Islander Strategies Group (ADPI SG), which meets for virtual lunches once a month, has drafted a statement to denounce blatant discrimination, “We come together in fighting these viral and racial threats by building solidarity together and working toward a more compassionate and inclusive community.” The one-page statement was written with broad support and participation of students, staff, and faculty across the campus and has been circulated broadly within the university community, as well as to the City of Eugene, local ADPI groups, and other affinity organizations.
In May, the Graduate School will be hosting a remote webinar: “Addressing Anti-Asian microaggressions and hatred during the pandemic.” The online workshop will allow participants to share their personal experiences and also aims to “equip participants with the resilience-building tools to practice self-affirmation and utilize self-empowerment strategies to address racial microaggressions.”
Finally, while UO’s modified operations have preempted all of the scheduled Asian, Desi, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month events, like the annual APAHM Award Banquet, ADPI Night Market, APAHM-sponsored lectures, and other cultural and historical events, APASU is still planning on organizing and holding ADPI Heritage Month events, including a general meeting mid-May where students will have the opportunity to talk about their family and local ADPI traditions and the importance of Heritage Month.
Many of the ADPI clubs on campus are in ongoing discussion about how to celebrate their personal and community histories through personal sharing, storytelling, and presentations on cultural heritage. Elmira Cosare, a second-year student, and member of the Pacific Islander Club (PIC), explains, “Me being Micronesian, I could hold a presentation about what Micronesia is, why it is different from the Polynesian and Melanesian Islands, what is happening in Micronesia now, and recognize some Micronesian leaders in the community. Essentially, PIC would spend the entire Month of May learning from different PI cultures and making sure to post on our social media platforms on our meeting highlights.”
Remembering the Past
Raj Vable, a 2012 graduate of UO’s Master of Environmental Studies program, launched Young Mountain Tea in 2013 while on a Fulbright Fellowship in the Kumaon region of India.
At the time he was working with Avani, a Himalayan nonprofit that converts dead pine needles to fuel, giving people an alternative to chopping down trees. Inspired by the region’s potential to produce teas on par with neighboring Darjeeling, Vable promised Avani if they would plant tea, he would buy their entire harvest; the partners received a grant to get started and Young Mountain Tea was born.
Vable later secured a fellowship to open a Young Mountain Tea store in the US, now in Springfield. Since then, he’s won a World Tea award for building India’s next generation of tea producers and his company has achieved national distribution for Kumaon teas.
Today, Vable’s passion for his parents’ homeland and community development is bringing quality jobs to a remote region of India, new enterprise to our region of Oregon, and fines teas to the North American palate. In 2019, Raj Vable was honored by Oregon Quarterly as one of 100 Ducks Who Made a Difference.
In the spring of 1942 Michi Yasui, a UO senior from Hood River, was barred from attending commencement when the U.S. government imposed a curfew and travel restrictions for Japanese Americans.
UO officials petitioned the Army to grant her an exception, but their request was denied. That evening, rather than attending the ceremony with her friends and classmates, Michi Yasui packed her belongings and snuck out of Eugene on a bus. After her clandestine departure from Oregon, she reunited with her brother Shu in Denver. There she would earn her Master of Education and achieve her lifelong dream of becoming a teacher—but she had to wait 44 years before finally receiving her bachelor’s diploma.
In 1986, as an honored guest of the UO, Michi Yasui Ando finally got to attend her commencement ceremony at Hayward Field. Her remarks prompted a standing ovation as local, national, and international TV cameras rolled. University President Meredith Wilson would later remark, “What a beautiful way to be outshone.”
In the current era of coronavirus response, the history of Japanese American experience during the emergency of World War II offers an important perspective on the dangers and grave injustices of racial profiling. Read more about the relocation of UO students during WWII on the Special Collection’s Unbound Blog.
Though their presence in the historical record has often been overlooked, indigenous Pacific Islanders began coming to Oregon at least as early as the first Anglo-American territorial settlements.
Records show there were 24 Native Hawaiians among the crew sent by John Jacob Astor to establish his trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River in 1811. At Fort Vancouver and other posts, Pacific Islanders were noted for their strength, stamina, good humor and incredible skills as swimmers, navigators, boat builders, and fishers.
These workers generally signed two- or three-year employment contracts with the fur companies. Most returned to their homes in the islands after completing their term of service, but a not insignificant number settled permanently on the mainland. These people have left a legacy in Oregon place names, such as Kanaka Flats in Jacksonville--Kanaka means ‘person’ in Hawaiian language--and the Owyhee River in southeastern Oregon, named with an archaic spelling of Hawaii.
As indigenous people living in Oregon – but not indigenous Oregonians – Pacific Islanders have long contributed to a cultural mix that has been much more rich and complex than is commonly acknowledged. Read more about the history of Pacific Islanders in the Pacific Northwest at the Oregon Digital Newspaper Program.