I felt something drop within me when I listened to Asian-American student leaders speak on College Green last year. As they demanded an Asian-American Resource Center at a "speak out" event, I heard many things, none of which was reason. What I heard was anger. What I sensed was jealousy. And what I feared was the Penn administration caving into a demand -- and throwing away tuition dollars -- for purely political reasons. As the students demanded their resource center, they accused the administration of "neglecting" them and declared that "not everything is OK." But they failed to point out what exactly is not well in the community. They did not specify the resources to which Asian Americans were being denied access. They did not offer a single instance in which the administration brushed off Asian-American concerns. The only fact they did cite -- that there are only "15 Asian-American faculty and staff" at Penn -- was false and inflammatory. The actual number of faculty hovers around 150. What I saw on College Green boiled down to this -- pouting. The students pointed to DuBois College House and La Casa Latina as proof that a resource center of their own was necessary. The only thing that proved, though, was that these students were envious and petty. And, as an Asian American, I felt ashamed. But I have set aside many of the apprehensions I harbored toward these efforts. On the eve of the birth of the Pan-Asian American Community House, those feelings have been replaced by a new, albeit cautious, optimism. I have not changed my tune out of agreement with the divisive and angry rhetoric of the Asian-American student leaders. Far from it. What PAACH organizers deem supporting the "academic and social development of students of Asian descent" I call self-segregation. I believe that PAACH's wide-ranging objectives in effect create another university within Penn set aside for Asian Americans. PAACH's goals of providing activities, mentoring, counseling, alumni tracking, recruitment, scholarships and job opportunities specifically for Asian Americans are duplicated many times over elsewhere in the University for all students. I still believe that providing Asian-American students with a space of their own reinforces a separateness and a false sense of victimhood that tells us that the rest of the University is not ours. But despite these beliefs, I see potential in PAACH. Although providing Asian-American students with unnecessary special resources seems to be the overriding goal of the house, the mission statement also says that PAACH will promote Asian-American studies and culture. If the house follows through on this mission and if it truly reaches out to the non-Asian Penn community, the good done by this center just may outweigh the bad. Although PAACH supporters originally said the house was not to be "another cultural center," I believe its goal to enhance the study of Asians in America is its strongest suit. Over the past few decades, American scholarship and pop culture have been moving toward a greater diversity of thought and history. The Asian-American story marches alongside those of the African, Hispanic and Native American populations. They are being told with greater frequency in our books, in our music and in our movies. They are being grafted onto our cultural landscape. PAACH can help advance that cultural evolution. By being a place where we can pull together the Asian-American experience with literature, music and dialogue, PAACH can make apparent to all students that that experience is theirs, too -- that American history is multicultural. Or the house can go the other way entirely. There is still the chance that the house will segregate Asian-American students from the rest of the University, that it will simply become a work and social space exclusively used by people whose ancestors come from the East. In a conversation with Srilata Gangulee, an assistant dean in the College and a PAACH organizer, I learned that we share the vision of a more inclusive house. She dismissed the overly political motives and fiery words of some of the students and focused on the larger picture of our American culture. "Maybe one day we can call Asian-American literature simply American literature," she said. "I hope, one day, we won't need an Asian-American house.Comments powered by Disqus
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