It’s been one and a half weeks since I turned in my senior Honors thesis, and my transition to the real world has been, well, incomplete. So yesterday like all other days of an academic quarter, I got up and consumed some bacon grease when I saw a message from one of my buddies at API Cares asking me to speak to the new board next week about the issues that come with the term “API.”
If you have been close to me for the past two years now, you will have heard me speak about my fights with API Cares on the issue and why Asian American experiences are incommensurable with Pacific Islander experiences of mental health. Long story short, it wasn’t until late Winter quarter of last academic year (2019-2020) when I realized these conversations did not lead to anything, and I silently quit API Cares.
The following is the letter I wrote to the upcoming API Cares board in response to the Messenger request. I want to reiterate, API Cares has done nothing overtly wrong by asking me to speak on the issue, and that it’s problems are rooted in the more systemic issues of racism and structural violences against Pacific Islanders. I don’t condone anyone going out of their way to harass API Cares or any of its board members.
Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that this is the first time in my opinion that API Cares is taking up the issue more seriously. I need my fellow Pacific Islander peers to know what’s going on because just having that awareness keeps API Cares accountable for completing its long and hard journey ahead. If it so happens that by the end of summer nothing has changed, let it not be forgotten that I have taken my last stand on the issue with this letter.
Thanks for reaching out about a discussion on why the “API” in API Cares is problematic. I understand that you and your fellow board members are reflecting on this issue, and that your invitation for me to speak on it is coming from a good place. I request that you share these words, verbatim, with the new API Cares board in lieu of me coming to speak on the issue.
The truth of the matter is that you’re asking so much of me in terms of the emotional labor necessary to educate folxs about the issue. I’m pretty sure my fellow Pacific Islander peers will agree that it is f***ing exhausting to talk about why Pacific Islander experiences are incommensurable with Asian American experiences of mental health, and to receive almost nothing out of it. Few including I have stayed long enough in API Cares to be able to offer a more in-depth discussion within the group about how it could better serve the Pacific Islander student community.
I’m going to give my thoughts to you straight. API Cares doesn’t need me for it to understand that Asians are not Pacific Islanders, and Pacific Islanders are not Asian. The term “API” needs to go. There’s no salvaging what it already has. I don’t feel obligated to educate this community about the meaning and history of the term “API” when I have already taken the time to do so on numerous occasions over the past two years (and because only now the community is taking the issue seriously).
It’s really sad because traditional mental health and wellness services too do a s*** job of serving Pacific Islanders. Nobody wins when it appears that institutions and communities are not inclusive to Pacific Islanders. However, nobody should preach ‘inclusivity,’ and then weaponize the same term to tokenize and render invisible Pacific Islander voices, experiences, and leadership. That is precisely what API Cares supports when it keeps the “API” in its name.
I therefore ask the current and upcoming API Cares boards to consider doing the following:
- Immediately drop the term “API” from the organization’s name. There should be no debates, discussions, or questions about it directed towards me or my fellow PI’s; it’s just bad.
- Then educate yourselves on the incommensurability of Asian American and Pacific Islander identities and experiences. I don’t have a ton of time to put together a bibliography either, but here are a few academic and popular source articles to get you started. I really urge the community to sit with the discomfort of knowing it contributes to the marginalization of Pacific Islanders.
I sincerely wish you all good luck on your revitalization, and hope my advice moves you to a good place.