The Pan-Asian Coalition for Education (PACE) — founded by HGSE students in 2008 as ACE (Asian Coalition for Education), and adopting its current name in 2016 — works to raise awareness of issues facing students of Pan-Asian descent in K–12 and higher education. Over the course of the 2017–18 academic year, PACE’s programming on campus has been designed to inspire dialogue within the HGSE community around issues including the model minority myth, awareness of mental wellness, data disaggregation, and more. The final event of the year, Are Asian Americans People of Color?, is being held this Thursday, May 10. (Live streaming will begin at 6 p.m.)
Here, PACE co-president Tony Delarosa, Ed.M.’18, and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Lead Linda Sun, Ed.M.’18, discuss PACE’s work within the HGSE community and the importance of bringing Pan-Asian student issues to the fore.
As a student group, what did PACE set out to accomplish this year?
Delarosa: For this year in particular, Paulina Haduong (co-chair) and myself made it an overall goal to provide future PACE leaders with more institutional memory and tools to help our community start the year on a strong foot. So much of this year was documenting the processes that led to the success and failures of all our programming, so that future leaders can learn from them.
Also, as mentioned in our vision, we sought “to build community and professional network of support and solidarity amongst Pan-Asian students and alumni.” I believe we have done so throughout the year, given that we started off with about 10 members and ended up with 30 involved members by the end of the year.
We have done a decent job with our second goal of “raising awareness of Pan-Asian issues within education and social justice to the wider HGSE and Harvard community.” In October, for national Filipinx-American History Month, I wrote about the history of Filipinx-American double erasure and how it still lives deeply in today’s society. This January, Paulina and I organized PACE in solidarity with the broader Boston and Harvard community to fight for passing Massachusetts bill H.3361, proposed by State Legislator Tackey Chan, which would require “all state agencies, quasi-state agencies, entities created by state statute and sub-divisions of state agencies” to provide its citizens with more ethnographic data. We testified for this bill and moved it forward. Now it accompanies H.4408 which demands for access of all racial and ethnic data disaggregation.
In terms of Pan-Asian mental health, PACE member Hyunji Hannah Lee, Ed.M.’18, spearheaded the third-annual Let’s Talk conference. The conference aims to build awareness on the mental health and wellness of Pan-Asian students in higher education. It congregated 400 undergraduate and graduate students from the Greater Boston, New York, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island communities.
For the month of May, officially designated as national Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), PACE has been curating events to build foster more community and specifically combat the erasure of specific Asian identities that go often get eclipsed.
Do you feel you succeeded?
Sun: Yes, but with the acknowledgement that there is always room to grow. I wish that we had engaged more with South Asian and international Asian students to build more solidarity within our own community. We also could have been more intentional about creating space at HGSE for the LGBTQIA Pan-Asian community.
Sheliza Jamal, Ed.M.’18, and Amberine Huda, Ed.M.’18, did an amazing job with Yoni Ki Baat, which centered voices of South Asian females. They packed Askwith Hall, and everyone I talked to after loved the event. The Are Asian-Americans People of Color panel, which is being headed by Hyunji Hannah Lee and Tony, has been sold out for weeks, with 375 people confirmed and 1,400 interested. I hosted Blasian Narratives, which was a more intimate storytelling event that had great turnout and a very engaged audience. And lastly, Andy Ng, Ed.M,’18, organized the inaugural Pan-Asian Graduation, which we hope will expand across Harvard in coming years.
Beyond just attendance, I felt we were able to bring stories and topics that aren’t necessarily discussed within or outside of Asian American Pacific Islander spaces. With Yoni Ki Baat, we gave space to stories often seen as taboo within South Asian culture; Blasian Narratives brought a multi-racial perspective; and the Pan-Asian graduation allowed Asian students who are first-generation college students from low-income backgrounds a place to have their accomplishments acknowledged and affirmed. With “Are Asian-Americans POC,” we made a strong effort to ensure our panel was cross-representative, and we were able to include leaders representing East Asian, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.
I hope that in the future, other students will use the foundation that we’ve built to continue to grow the Pan Asian community at HGSE.
Your final event of the year, Are Asian-Americans People of Color?, is being held this Thursday. Can you preview the event for us, and why is this such an important question to explore?
Sun: As Pan-Asian identifying students, we would hear the term “students of color” on campus but in a context where it was clear that the speaker was not including Pan-Asian folk. In classes, we would see research on minority groups with Asian-identifying students lumped into “other.” These incidents in amalgamation sent the message that we are, in fact, not people of color (POC).
This question is important because the Pan-Asian community in this country has been painted over with a broad brush the narrative that by being smart and hard-working, we are overcoming the oppression and racism placed on non-white folk to be successful. This has created a rift between us and other communities of color.
William Peterson coined the “model minority” label for Asians in 1966, when he used us as an argument against other communities of color, namely the black community, in a New York Times article. He claimed that other minority groups should be able to succeed just as Japanese-Americans did post-internment, ignoring the nuances and history of racism experienced by both groups. The reality, to quote Clio Chang, is that “our place in the racial hierarchy of America remains conditional” — something we’re reminded of as anti-Chinese and anti-immigrant rhetoric increases.
Ultimately, this event is intended to foster an understanding of our positionality as POC, which will empower Asian-Americans to advocate for themselves and our community in their respective contexts and build coalition with other POC. The event includes a panel discussion which will then transition into spaces for facilitated group discussion.
How do you hope to incorporate the work you did with PACE into your future careers as educators?
Sun: When I look back on my year with PACE, I think mostly about what I learned and became aware of — specifically, how affirming it was to be with other students who had had similar experiences to me growing up and how powerful it was to finally learn about my own history, from Ching Shih to the Cultural Revolution. It impressed on me that when we talk about educating a whole child, it includes having curriculum that is reflective of the students and spaces that build their pride in their own identity.
I was just offered a role as a Broad Resident to be an executive director in the Office of Academics and Transformation in Miami-Dade County Schools, and I hope to have the privilege of serving those students in just that capacity — to continue to shape schools into centers of learning with whole child support.
Delarosa: For myself, the future is still unclear, and I can already hear my mother and her voice in healthy and motherly Filipinx panic. However, in light of challenging the status quo for Asian-Americans, I’m going to take a moment to breathe this summer and decide where I need to place most of my energy in furthering the work to uplift the Pan-Asian community, both in my region and nationwide.
I’ve recently been accepted to serve as a senior editor of the 29th edition of the Asian American Policy Review, published by the Harvard Kennedy School, to continue this urgent work of creating space for Pan-Asian voice to flourish and influence the policies that impact us. I’ve also been asked by Stenhouse Publishing to write a book on the best practices in culturally responsive pedagogy, and hopefully I can provide a lens that often goes eclipsed in education.