Then & Now

This piece also ran in the Spring 2009 issue.

By Bernette Pearson

Until the late 1970s, SU Asian students felt overlooked.  With no organization to fight their battles, Asian students felt voiceless.  This changed in 1979 when SU started its ASIA chapter.  Since then, the organization has changed in subtle yet meaningful ways.  For starters, the group organized a month-long celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.  ASIA continues to build a campus presence by organizing shows and forums, bringing speakers to campus, and leading a committee to create an Asian-American studies minor.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of ASIA.  Former president Amnat Hong-Chittaphong and Jennifer Zhao, current president, share their insights on ASIA’s three decade-long presence.

Jennifer Zhao ’09
Mechanical Engineering and Policy Studies major
Term: 2008-2009

What is your fondest memory of ASIA?
I met one of my closest friends.  I’ve met a lot of my peers and (those) that I really look up to.

What does the 30th year of ASIA mean to you?
It means several things: we have traditions we established and we will like to keep up with them (our forums and events).  We have a history on campus.  And because of those two, we’re working toward expanding and learning and being more inclusive to the general body at SU – not just Asian interests.  Of course, it’s a celebration.  We’re getting old but our mission is still alive.

How do you think activism for Asian students has changed between your presidency and now?
It has grown immensely.  My freshman year I remember there were only five e-board members.  (Now) we’re up to 13, plus co-positions.

How do you carry ideals you learned from ASIA into your daily life?
I think they resonate straight through (with) four angles: political awareness, cultural awareness, education and community service.  And, (with) each of those four facets I’ve done a lot, whether in ASIA or on my own.

Amnat Hong-Chittaphong ’99
Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Siena College
Term: 1997-1999

What is your fondest memory of ASIA?
When I got involved, our membership wasn’t that high.  It was primarily a Chinese-American group.  We tried to get a lot more people from different ethnic groups.

What does the 30th year of ASIA mean to you?
Just knowing that I was a part of it – there’s a lot of pride in knowing that I was a part of something big…something that continues to grow.

How do you think activism for Asian students has changed between your presidency and now?
I think, naturally, we see different waves of activism.  Sometimes it is more issues-based or interests-based.  We became a reactive organization based on things that happen.  We came into activism by a really horrific incident, the Denny’s incident.  Sometimes it takes something like that to wake students up.  We need a big dose of awareness first before groups become active.

How do you carry ideals you learned from ASIA into your daily life?
I think, for me, ASIA has always represented an organization that was both unifying and empowering for people who are marginalized, underrepresented and misrepresented.  I’d like to believe that I go to work everyday and use those ideals from ASIA.

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