Who are we? Asian American, Asian-American, APA, API, APIA, AAPI, or what?


We can’t seem to agree on a designation, which makes sense: we can’t ever seem to agree on anything. As Asians, unity isn’t really our thing. (Although for purposes of this post, let’s assume we all agree “mongoloid race” and “the yellow people” are out.)

“Asian American” has pretty much always been used, though at times hyphenated to “Asian-American.” Ah, yes, the hyphenated Americana.

When I was in college on the east coast, Asian American studies taught me to use the term “APA” for “Asian Pacific American.” So thinking I was some well-informed activist, I went around using the term APA.

Then I went to grad school on the west coast, met west coast activists, and learned that the preferred term of use is “API” for “Asian Pacific Islander.” You wouldn’t want to leave out the Hawaiians and Polynesians, would you? There’s also a bit of a dispute as to whether Filipinos, Malaysians, Singaporeans, and Indonesians are Pacific Islander. Some say they identify more as Pacific Islander than Asians; others say the opposite.

But if you’re talking about the diaspora in the United States, we’re American and proud. So to say API and leave out the A for American feels wrong. Thus we put in the extra A to get “APIA.” After all, with us tiger Asians, the more As the better, right? Recently I was taught to use that term officially, APIA, for Asian Pacific Islander American. As for APIA, is that with or without the virgule, or slash punctuation? Is it Asian/Pacific Islander or just Asian Pacific Islander?

Oh wait, isn’t it now AAPI? After all, the President of the United States has proclaimed as much for the month of May. Well with the recently passed “Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month,” I wanted to make my confusion known, what with all the hyphens and virgules. Seems like my identity label changes every few years. I swear it was Asian/Pacific American once upon a time, and I recall getting just a week, not a whole month. Then it was API Heritage Month, wasn’t it? Or APIA? Well officially in 2013, it’s AAPI. So says the POTUS.

Of course when we talk amongst each other, who the heck really spells out APIA, AAPI, or even remember to add the American for Asian American? We just say Asian, even when referring to those born and raised in the USA.  “See that Asian American Pacific Islander guy over there? Isn’t he hot?” No we don’t say that. We say, “That Asian guy over there is hot!”

Plus, even we bloggers here refer to ourselves as 8Asians, not 8Asian-Americans or 8AAPIs. Friends who want to be politically correct have asked me, with slight trepidation in their voice, “Do you prefer Asian American with the hyphen or without when I write it? Or is it Asian American Pacific…” Dude, I’m Asian, I’ve said back. When you look at me, I look Asian. To dance around that on eggshells is just silly. I’m also 100% American, but I don’t need to be constantly identified by my citizenship while in America. Interestingly when I travel abroad and leave the States, I do refer to myself as American rather than Asian.

Speaking of the term American, I’ve heard before that South Americans get offended at the use of “American” to denote only those from the United States. Technically, shouldn’t “American” refer to anyone from North or South America? Aren’t Canadians also American, geographically speaking? Peruvians, Mexicans, etc. inclusive? Thus, I’ve been told that they refer to us as “United States American” (a crude translation). So to be worldly and sensitive, we may need to reconsider how we even use the term “American.”

Like the question whether the designation should be African American or Black, there is no perfect-fit answer. Some will prefer African American. Others prefer Black. But generally speaking few people have a non-negotiable opinion on the matter. It’s about intent.

I can tell you what’s not okay. Oriental. I’m not Oriental. All the other designations are fine by me. It’s okay to just say Asian. No hyphens necessary.

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About akrypti

small town roots. enthusiast of many trades. oh, and yeah, high-maintenance like you wouldn't believe. tweet with me @akrypti.
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