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What ‘AAPI’ Means to Me

Nikki Whang ’22, co-president of Yale SOM’s Asian American & Pacific Islander Association, reflects on AAPI Heritage Month and the AAPI moniker.

Nikki Whang

While May 1 marked the official first day of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month at Yale, Yale SOM’s  Asian American & Pacific Islander Association (AAPIA) hosted a number of events in celebration of AAPI heritage in April, before students were distracted by exams and the end of the school year. From an open mic night focusing on the theme “The Things We Carry” to a takeover of Yale SOM’s Instagram account, our young club—which was only founded in 2021, during the peak of COVID-19)—shined and brought the community together.

This month, celebrations of AAPI heritage continue around Evans Hall, where the club is collaborating with the Office of Inclusion and Diversity (OID) to showcase AAPI “Champions of Change.” As AAPIA co-president, I want to thank the OID for also hosting a wonderful book exchange, through which they helped spread the word about all of the amazing AAPI authors and stories that have been gaining traction in popular media in the past several years.

In light of AAPI Heritage Month, I find myself taking some time to reflect on why this community has been so important to me, and why I think it’s important that it continues to build upon itself and grow in the coming years. First and foremost, I’d like to recognize that the term “AAPI” is a very American term that is still challenging for many to grasp. From the 1960s through the  1980s, the term “Asian American” appeared in various contexts, but mostly in universities to support political student activism. Now, AAPI has evolved past political activism to be a term that many (though not all) Asians identify with culturally. Indeed, it is challenging to group all Asians together under this umbrella term—what does being “AAPI” really mean? Are our experiences truly so similar or are they, at times, starkly different from one another? If there’s anything that both historical and recent [1] events have taught me, it’s that Asians are being grouped together whether we like it or not.

But AAPIA has been a space for me to understand this shared identity and shared pain, while also making space for the cultural differences that exist and should be respected. I am humbled when I look around during our events to see who in the AAPI community has shown up, because I know that all these people—my classmates and friends—have different stories to tell, each story being just as important as the one that precedes it. It has been an absolute honor serving as co-president of the Asian American & Pacific Islander Association with Maria Jiang ’23 this year. I know that the leaders we’ve selected for next year will carry on this important mission of being an open and supportive space, where people can come together under whatever part of AAPI they identify with, and leave unified.

  • [1] On March 16, 2021, a shooting spree occurred at three spas or massage parlors in the metropolitan area of Atlanta, Georgia. Eight people were killed, and one other person was wounded. Six of these people were Asian women.
  • On April 15, 2021, eight Sikh community members from Indianapolis were killed in a mass shooting at a FedEx facility.
  • On January 15, 2022, Michelle Go was pushed into the path of the oncoming R train in New York City.
  • On February 12, 2022, Christina Yuna Lee was returning to her sixth-floor walkup apartment in Chinatown when she was mercilessly stalked, followed into her apartment, and brutally stabbed to death.
  • On February 15, 2022, the Southeast Asia Deportation Defense Network learned that U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had issued a notice of arrest with an order of removal for a Cambodian individual, and that ICE might resume deportations to Cambodia and begin arresting additional people in the coming months.
  • On April 12, 2022, an unidentified gunman began shooting at morning rush hour at the 36th Street Station in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, New York. The attack left at least 29 people shot or otherwise injured. While the police have not yet determined if this attack was racially motivated, we cannot ignore the fact that Sunset Park is a predominantly minority community—35% Asian and 46% Hispanic/Latinx.