Center for Asian American Studies
Center for Asian American Studies

CAAS at the White House Initiative on Asian and Pacific Islanders Texas Regional Summit

Wed, May 22, 2013
CAAS at the White House Initiative on Asian and Pacific Islanders Texas Regional Summit
From left to right, Tu-Uyen Nguyen (AAS major), Kristine Staggs (AAS major), Sona Shah (CAAS staff), Marlon Hendrick (AAS major), and Julian Joseph (AAS major)

On February 23, 2013 over 500 people throughout Texas attended the Regional Conference for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in Houston, TX. The White House Initiative works to improve the quality of life and opportunities for AAPIs by facilitating increased access to and participation in federal programs. The conference was co-organized by CAAS lecturer, Ramey Ko, and Rogene Gee Calvert in Houston and featured several sessions on issues affecting the AAPI community such as immigration, economic development, health disparities, civil rights, labor and employment issues, and housing and community development. CAAS’s director, Madeline Hsu, served on the host committee, delivered a keynote address about the state of AAPIs in Texas, and moderated a panel discussion on “Educational Resources and Challenges to the Community.” Several Asian American Studies’ majors attended the conference, read more about their experiences below.

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders gave me new perspectives on how the government serves the Asian American community. In particular, panels on immigration gave insight to the government agencies that are focused on assisting undocumented immigrants and not just deporting them. This panel had a wide range of individuals from those who worked for the White House to even a UT student who represented undocumented students and the DREAM Act. Panelists were open to feedback from the audience in ways to streamline the immigration processes which can be cumbersome at best. 

-Julian Joseph, Asian American Studies ‘13

Attending the first-ever White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders was, for me, a visceral experience. Despite the intellectual engagement each breakout session provided (I attended the Civil Rights and Education panels), the unbridled energy that flowed throughout the conference was always in mind. Wherever, and whenever, I turned, I was met with the crackling energy of words forming and ideas exchanging, almost exclusively in languages foreign to me, but not foreign to the conference and its peoples. This energy was present and equal in the voices of the senior citizens of SAIVA to the young persons of College Forward -- all eager to envision a meaningful future together. As the conference came to its close, and we all shifted into the reception room and reception mood, it was not the rumbling of the crowd that I heard, but individual voices, each distinct in cadence and timbre; it was in these individual voices that I found the conference to be triumphant.

-Marlon Hedrick, American Studies and Asian American Studies ‘14

During the Higher Education panel moderated by CAAS director, Madeline Hsu, I came to the realization that I as a student could be very blinded to the realities of the Asian American community. I think as students we are so immersed into the history and the theoretical frame works in discussing Asian American issues that the communities we discuss--those that have been affected by paths of immigration and racialization--don’t become tangible until we hear the first-hand stories of those on the panels. Especially for me, I found that listening to other members of the Asian American community that are also trying to make a difference and be proactive was invigorating and frustrating. I wanted so much to cry out, “You’re a clear example of why the model minority exists!” or “That’s exactly why I want to be an Asian American Scholar.” While I did indulge in one of these moments in the space of this panel, I realized that throwing words like “Hegemonic Masculinity” and “White Normativity” wasn’t going to make the situation any better.

For me, it only made me realize this gap that I had placed between that of the scholar and the community. In some ways, I think that this gap does in fact exist in our narrative and amongst the community. I hope that we as Asian American studies majors get to experience a more hands on interaction with the community. Not only talking about the issues at hand, but also understanding them outside the educational realm.  If there is one major point I can take away from these interactions, it is the fact that we must be united as a community. For those that were there; the positive energy that resonated within the hall, the desire to progress, to keep pushing on against the odds, to know this was simply the beginning was overwhelming and empowering.

As I approach my last year here at UT, I hope that these emotions and goals remain strong within this community as well and we continue to push ourselves as a Center here on campus.

-Kristine Staggs, Asian American Studies and English ‘14

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