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APAHM: What it means to dream

In response to this past week’s edition of the Arts section of the Justice, we—the Brandeis Asian American Student Association (BAASA)—wanted to express our anger towards not only the designer of the page but also towards the editorial board of the Justice.

Although the person in charge of its creation is certainly at fault, it is our assumption that it had to pass by multiple students before publishing. While there are a number of issues with the page as a whole, we wanted to address the two aspects that we found most disappointing.

As we explained at the start of our ceremony on Saturday night, APAHM stands for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and is typically celebrated during the month of May. APAHM provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the resilience and achievements of those who came before us. As such, it is particularly offensive that the Justice would choose to represent our event with a font with well-known racist and Orientalist connotations.

Since its creation in 1867, the “wonton” or “chop-suey” font has been used to signify the otherness and foreignness of our culture as Asian Americans. It has also been used to prop up an exoticized imagination of what it means to be Asian. In viewing the arts section, we are acutely aware that its use is meant to emphasize the “Oriental” aspects of our culture show.

Fonts similar to the one used in the Justice are filed under “foreign” on websites providing samples of typography design. As the children and grandchildren of immigrants, we have grown familiar with the ways in which our identities require us to qualify our place in America. We understand that we are not seen as full-blooded Americans in the same way that some of our peers are. These reminders come to us with the same ease that the question, “Where are you really from?” flows off their tongues.

For this year’s opening ceremony, we sought to explore our dreams for the future of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. As such, we find the use of what appears to be a Caucasian man to be a particularly inappropriate choice to represent our hopes for our own people. But even if we accept that this decision was made without any malicious intent, we wish to highlight the issue in assigning white men as the default. In the lead up to our event, the members of BAASA discussed their hopes for progress.

Why then, was it that the Justice felt it would be OK to erase these in favor of someone who does not represent our struggle? We feel that doing so trivializes the powerful messages that were expressed during our night of celebration. But while the way we are represented is certainly an important factor in all of this, we feel that the issue goes deeper. To us, this demonstrates a lack of awareness about the danger in perpetuating stereotypical depictions of Asian Americans and illustrates the necessity of AAPI studies at this university.

As was shown on our Facebook page, it is easy for someone who is reading this to think that we are overreacting and over-analyzing this issue. We recognize that as students of the current AAPI classes, members of the AAPI community and executive board members of BAASA and Brandeis Asian American Task Force (BAATF), we have a heightened sensitivity to these issues.

This is only because we know how deeply the implications of this poster run. They are embedded in the long history of colonialism, xenophobia and racism that inform American society today. We understand that many people, both Asian and non-Asian, are unaware of the long history of racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

However, that notion brings to light one of the many important issues highlighted and celebrated during APAHM—Brandeis’ forthcoming AAPI studies department as well as BAATF’s ongoing work in ensuring the current Kay Fellow, Dr. Leanne Day, who has taught multiple AAPI studies classes, stays on campus as a member of the forthcoming department.

This poster has brought to our attention the reality of the Asian American image to other students on campus, which has made it even more evident that there needs to be comprehensive education on Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and all ethnic minorities in academia in order to create a better understanding and dialogue on campus. While we are sure that the designer of this page did not mean malintent, ultimately, intent is irrelevant in this situation.

We are deeply frustrated with knowing that our event, which we worked tirelessly on for a year, will be viewed by current and future members of the Brandeis community as nothing but a kitschy, Oriental celebration. When in reality, BAASA’s history is one of outspoken Asian American activism and coalition building.

BAASA was founded in 1971, in the wake of the occupation of the Ford Hall in 1969 and the invasion of Cambodia. Along with sister organizations Brandeis Latinx Student Organization (BLSO) and Brandeis Black Student Organization (BBSO), BAASA pushed the campus administration to recognize and take action on issues of admissions and financial aid for minority groups such as Asians, Hispanics and African Americans.

After the fall of Hanoi, BAASA co-sponsored a demonstration in Boston of Asian Americans against the war, gaining nationwide recognition. It was the only Asian American student group in the Boston area at the time. Now, our focus is not just on promoting and aiding the Asian American community but connecting all Asians and non-Asians alike, having pride in our culture but also in other cultures, and recognizing that while people have many differences, we all have much more in common.

Our history and mission are deeply important to our club as we continue to hold events and spread the idea of solidarity among all members of the Brandeis community and beyond. We sincerely hope that the Justice is thinking deeply about their actions at this time. We call for cultural sensitivity in regards to your future content, particularly with the wave of culture shows from various ICC clubs throughout this month. We ask that you be mindful of the image that you are upholding of not only these student clubs but of the Justice.

You posted this poster without any consultation of our club, signaling to us that you do not care about our opinion on the matter and seek to merely use Asian bodies to tout diversity in your newspaper. If there is one thing that BAASA does not stand for, it is the perpetuation of minority marginalization.

We have just one question: Who did you create this for?

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