Why the acronym AANHPI has mixed feelings for some in the community

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 is comfortable with grouping these ethnic groups under one roof. Those who have mixed feelings about the acronym say the term can often blur the lines between the distinct needs and issues of each group.

The U.S. Census reports from its 2020 survey that 1,849,226 Asian Americans (6.3%) and 77,196 Hawaiian Pacific Islanders (0.3%) live in the state of Texas. Kapualani Abreu is a native Hawaiian currently residing in The Woodlands. She says even though her population is small, she still has mixed feelings about the commonly used term “AANHPI,” which lumps her with the Asian American community.

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

The acronym also occurs in slight variations, including AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) and APA (Asian Pacific American). An Tuan Nguyen, clinical assistant professor of Asian American Studies at the University of Houston, said the term “Asian American” was not coined until 1968 by student activists Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka.

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

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

“The idea was that both groups were relatively small and that if we got together, we could potentially have more bargaining power in this country,” said Bianca Mabute-Louie, a sociologist with a PhD. student at Rice University.

Although the Census has since separated the groups in their classifications, the generic term and its variations are still commonly used. Some say they have no problem with the acronym because they believe it brings unity and empowerment in their common struggle for social justice. But others say each group deserves its own recognition because their problems and needs are uniquely different.

Mabute-Louie and Nguyen said scholars and activists had advocated a clear distinction between the two groups. They provided some examples of how the problems and needs can differ between Asian Americans from native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

“A core aspect of the identity and movements for native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders is their aboriginal status and indigenous sovereignty. Many of their countries didn’t agree with America from the start,” she said. “Now many Asian Americans come from immigrant groups. It is a different experience to be a refugee who came here because you were expelled compared to someone whose country was taken from them by American imperialism.”

“A Chinese American could go back to visit China and say, ‘I’m going back to the roots of my culture. This culture is authentic.’ I don’t know if Native Hawaiians can say the same because not only have they suffered from the euphemism of their land, but somehow their culture has been stolen by US cultures,” Nguyen said.

Additionally, experts say those with NHPI heritage are often overshadowed or excluded from events and efforts that use the combined term.

“I think it’s the issues with the under-representation and sometimes overpowering of certain ethnic groups in our communities that make people feel and question why they should be in a group where they don’t see their own people what.” very fair question,” Nguyen said. “Being together is a good thing. But when one of us in this group, under this umbrella of pan-ethnicity, takes advantage of that shared identity and overwhelms other groups, deprives them of their representation, diminishes their voice and creates that rift within our own group, that’s when it gets very dangerous.”

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

“It would be great if the continental US recognized us as our own people. That’s the ultimate for me,” she said.

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

“I’m trying to embrace those mixed feelings. I try to hear from people how powerful the term ‘AAPI’ is to them and others who feel very invisible by it. Just as 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 change over time. We’ve seen that in history. Hence the ambivalent feelings and mixed feelings we have are not surprising to 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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https://abc13.com/aanhpi-aapi-apa-asian-americans/11842226/ Why the acronym AANHPI has mixed feelings for some in the community

Dais Johnston

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