Why Use "Asian American" Rather Than "AAPI"?

“By using "Asian American" instead of "AAPI," we aim to respect the wishes of the Pacific Islander community at Cornell who identify closer with the indigenous community ... At the 2018 conference and in future conferences, we intend to include conversations and spaces regarding Pacific Islander identity and experiences.”


We, the Conference Team of 2018 ECAASU Conference at Cornell University, recognize that racial/ethnic labels have historically been used to dehumanize, exclude, and oppress people of color in the United States. We also recognize that labels have been created to resist stereotypes, link struggles, and empower communities. Further complicating the issue, changes to legal definitions of race over the last few decades have played a profound role in shaping public policy and cultural norms.

It is with these tensions in mind that we approached the topic of language in respect to the term “Asian American & Pacific Islander” (AAPI) when we started planning the conference.  Many students who identify as Pacific Islander choose to affiliate themselves with Native American/Indigenous organizations and academic programs rather than through AAPI ones. We recognize that Cornell’s community is neither representative of all college campuses nor of all communities across the United States, but it is through these community conversations that inform our decision. It is from these discussions that we arrived at the decision to use “Asian American” rather than “AAPI” in our official conference language.

We were and continue to be aware that “AAPI” has gained widespread usage in contemporary educational, political, and cultural circles. This term signalled in a new push for solidarity within our community, along with other terms such as “APIA” (Asian/Pacific Islander American), “APIDA” (Asian/Pacific Islander/Desi American), and “AANHPI” (Asian American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander). This is especially true on college campuses, and for good reason: it was radical college students in the 1960s who first called themselves “Asian Americans,” banding together against racism under a collective, self-proclaimed identity. For many today, identifying as AAPI continues this tradition of inclusion and solidarity.

However, we cannot ignore the implications of the terms we use to identify ourselves. Since Asians and Pacific Islanders were first grouped together in the 1980 U.S. Census, there has been a compelling concern that our diverse issues, interests, and experiences cannot be reduced to a single collective identity. Pacific Islanders—people from a broad spectrum of islands comprising the regions of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia—have not been represented fairly in the conversation about AAPIs. Due to the efforts of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islander (NHPI) activists, NHPIs were classified under their own racial category—separate from Asian Americans.

By using "Asian American" instead of "AAPI," we aim to respect the wishes of the Pacific Islander community at Cornell who identify closer with the Indigenous community. We have made a conscious effort to be honest about our specific context while also recognizing that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders do share a number of common issues and intersecting histories. At the 2018 conference and in future conferences, we intend to include conversations and spaces regarding Pacific Islander identity and experiences in addition to dialogue about the intersections between Pacific Islander and Asian American communities. As such, we invite people of all identities (whether Pacific Islander, Desi American, Asian American, mixed race, AAPI, AANHPI, APIDA, or none of the above) to participate in ECAASU 2018. For both the 2018 Conference Team and ECAASU National Board, we are committed to creating an inclusive environment at the conference in the following ways:

  • Opening spaces for Pacific Islander students at the conference
  • Reaffirming our commitment to supporting PI students and the PI community
  • Having workshops at the conference specifically for marginalized and intersectional identities within our communities

As a Conference Team, we know that we are not perfect, and we are constantly learning from your feedback. If you would like to ask a question, voice a concern, or suggest programming that you’d like to see at the conference, please do not hesitate message us on Facebook or send an email to conference2018@ecaasu.org. We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

Jeremiah Kim
Conference Director


The National Board of ECAASU would like to reiterate that this decision was made with the wishes of Cornell’s Pacific Islander community in mind, and it is important to respect their agency. That being said, ECAASU will always be a space for Pacific Islanders both on our boards and in all of our programming; currently, we would like to open up space on our Editorial for community members to discuss how our community at large can better center Pacific Islander voices. To submit a Letter to the Editor, you can email our managing editor, Kate Pangilinan at kate.pangilinan@ecaasu.org. Additionally, we acknowledge that ECAASU has historically not been fully inclusive or representative of many marginalized identities within our communities, and we are committed to a future in which our boards, our programming, and our content are representative of the communities we serve. Please email us with any suggestions you may have at communications@ecaasu.org

Kathryn Quintin  
Executive Director, National Board
Gar Yeung
Chair, Board of Directors

Run solely by volunteers, The East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to inspire, educate, and empower those interested in Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) issues.

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View the statement as a pdf here.