Friday, March 8, 2013

April 13 Friends of APASU Leadership Conference

April 13 is a personally exciting day for me -- when eras come together.  I come from a generation of University of Oregon students who changed the landscape of our campus from the humble WW2 barrack blessed as the first Native American Longhouse on an American campus.  As Asian American Student Union (AASU) students and Asian American Community Coalition (AACC)  allies we went into the late hours working on a project Gary Kim took on his senior year -- discovering federal funds earmarked for "minority" students buried in remediation classes -- to retrieve their funds and put them to use as they were meant to be.  Our plan was to design a program for the campus, sadly light years behind on equity and inclusion, which would put our campus on a fast track.  For that, we needed a plan designed by us, for us, about us.  We needed a plan which was dynamic, creative, visionary.  We needed it to come from a circle of people -- every student union, all four communities, faculty.  We needed it all.  Gathering at the old Longhouse, our communities gathered together to plan.   I remember that Bob Tom, Grand Ronde, took the lead, facilitating the meeting.  Gary was definitely looked to provide the inside story.  I don't remember the professor's name who came to every meeting.  I took notes which I discarded with all my other college detritus twenty years later.

This is the plan which we designed, got passed through the Faculty Senate and brought to life under the name of Council for Minority Education (CME).  Gary was the first director.  A representative from each of the four communities, a representative from the student unions, two people from the Faculty Senate sat on the board which worked with the Director to make things happen.  First, there was a tutorial program.  Second, there were grants accessed by student unions, community or faculty to do projects, build programs or design classes targeted toward students of color.  So much creative, exciting ideas came from that times where we shared and learned from one another specific blocks stopped our students from coming to and succeeding in the university, stories of a system of white supremacy and colonialism.  We learned how border towns of reservations simply did not put Native students into college prep classes.  One of my close friends Roger Amerman came from Umatilla and dreamed to be a geologist -- but what about the math?  CME was able to hire a teacher of math designed to students who were never put into college track math.  The same was true for writing.

Our histories, stories lived by our ancestors, stories on the other side of white supremacy and colonialism was the focus of many other classes.  We were still unearthing our histories, "lost, stolen and strayed" in those days.  These "talkstories" as our brothers and sisters from the Islands called them were still not published into texts yet.  These talk stories were being researched, and written at the same time we were opening up the campuses to us, writing our own stories, talking together in circles about our grandparents, our parents and what happened.  In California, Nikkei youth and allies were driving out into the desert and discovering for themselves a white obelisk in the middle of nowhere -- with Kanji written on it!!  Manzanar!  They were taking Brown Berets and AIM and Panthers out there with them the next time, with Issei, Nisei, and holding a "pilgrimage" first hand accounts shouted through bullhorns for the first time, the dirty secrets of this country breaking the silence.  The Reparation Redress Movement was born.  And we were part of it.  

Everything we did those days went up and down I-5,  self-published books, our stories and poems carried in backpacks.  Speakers, musicians, activists spread like wildfire up and down the freeway which connected our communities, LA over the border to BC.  And so it was with CME.  This was not a program built in or for the institution, the Ivory Tower.  This was an alive program!!

So in less time than it took to struggle for it, and to experience those lively dynamic years, it died a destructive death.  Gary moved.  He was not made to stay in Eugene.  Derrick Bell became Dean of the Law School, a wonderful thing for us.  And his wife, Jewell, nice lady, under the spousal agreement of the UO, was given Gary's job.  Our precious CME was now in her hands.

I have nothing ill to say about Jewell.  She was formed by these times in a different place, and there she was very much part of her community.  But in her community, unlike Eugene, Black, Brown, Yellow and Red did not write the story together, is what I want to say.  They did not share their oppressions together in a way that a flash went off!  Just as Paolo Friere wrote.  The dots were connected.  We were not the enemy.  We were in complete solidarity.

It must have been a total hassle for anyone raised in another city, a bigger city, married to a Dean of law, to be working FOR a multiracial board whose style was more Native than bureaucratic -- long meetings, collaboration -- and to deal with grants and basically manage those many diverse and creative grants.  I don't blame Jewell.  I blame all of us who could not protect it or communicate it well.  The pattern which was to be repeated again and again began.  Those inside the UO was on one side.  The students reached out to community and we were on the other.  A very divisive time followed which Peggy and I met and promised one another that we would never let this interfere with our long friendship.  And agreed to disagree.  Because in the end, the CME became what the UO felt comfortable with anyway.  Another office, tutoring students.  They kept the English and math class.  They got rid of the board and the grants immediately.   I want to honor Jamileh Stroman who by herself stood with the students and protected the vision for each second she was there and she protected it by keeping it close to her heart and holding no hatred.  And with CME, Jamileh was pushed out of the UO.

Many of us will be back on April 13.  Mike Kan from L.A. had come to the Multcultural Alumni doings for Homecoming with Alan Osaki, Seattle, buddies still.  I ran into them in the APASU office, now the Asian Pacific American Student Union.  There are so many differences now.  And yet, there is a wonderful similarity.

The differences.  I remember in those days we were vociferously American -- Asian American, that is.  Asian American is so different from the American of our Nisei parents, forced into concentration camps, yet pledging to the red white and blue every day, joining up for the 442nd and going into what seems more like suicide campaigns, the most obvious, more Nikkei dying to rescue the all white Texas Battalion from behind gothic lines, a battle my Uncle Sak was wounded in.  We were a new American, the progeny of great struggle and sacrifice by our ancestors.  We had Rights and acted like we knew it, owned it, and we were on fire.  Our relationship with the mother country was complex.  Our relationship was defined by war, those days -- Japan, Korea, Philippines, Pacfic Islands, Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand -- always having to claim insist our solidarity with independence struggles internationally but asserting our right to citizenship third generation and fourth generation here.

Today, the APASU students include first generation immigrants and international students.  These young people go to Viet Nam to visit their grandparents.  They have a different  sense of self.  And for me, from my perspective, this is a sign that the struggle was worth it.  Add to that, today, the APASU students have evolved to a point, locally, that they are networking -- networking with the community, networking with the other student unions.  What do I mean networking.  With their heart.  Building a family.  With respect.  With building alliances, being allies.   With the work.  Quang Truong traveled to Huston to be part of the Tar Sands Blockade.  Quang came to the Asian Celebration to talk about it.

Today, the APASU students are as excited finding out about their roots as an organization as any other group of APASU students.  There was even a time when AASU broke away from the community, soon after the CME fiasco.

Today, the APASU students share their home culture in a way we never did.  We brought out taiko.  We brought out our poems and performance.  But we did Obon at home.  We did Moon Festival at home.  

Today, APASU shares their office with KP, the Filipino Club while we were so possessive of our little strip of a room right next to the bowling alley.

Today, APASU is more generous, more heartful, more full of laughter than we could be.  The are like young people who belong, not forcing the door to open to us.  Today, Steve Morozumi works there and there is a Multicultural Center co-owned by all the clubs there -- the ethnic student unions, yes, but also the LGBTQ, the environmental activists, the socialists, and ethnicity is also international, Jewish, Arab.

So April 13, Martha, Peggy, Marcine, Chisao, Alan and Mike are coming "home" and Bobby from twenty years after us, and we will work with the young bright excellent leaders forty years after us to do something good together, which they will mold and mold, and leave for the next group.  It will be lovely!

And as it is with the UO, they are going through something just as painful and awful as the demise of CME but very much not like the demise of CME, too complicated to talk about.  Typical UO.  When things blow up, the guck flies all over the place.

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"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.