AANAPISI: What does this string of letters mean? How do you pronounce it? How is this relevant for UCI and the School of Humanities?
AANAPISI (Anna-peasy) stands for Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution. The Native American in this acronym is an adjective rather than a noun; it refers to Indigenous Pacific Islanders.
UCI established eligibility as an AANAPISI in winter 2016. To receive this federal designation, universities must have a certain percentage of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students - at least 10% - and must meet other requirements related to the enrollment of low-income students. Becoming an AANAPISI allows UCI to apply for federal and private funding to better serve AAPI students as well as other students who may not identify with these backgrounds but could benefit from these initiatives. Being an AANAPISI is a statement about the mission and aspirations of UCI to serve AAPI and other represented students.
Other designations of higher education that indicate an institution is a minority serving institution, or MSI, might be more familiar. HBCU refers to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) are associated with American Indian and Native Alaskan tribes. UCI became an HSI (Hispanic Serving Institution) in winter 2017.
AANAPISI may be less recognizable because of the widespread assumptions of Asian Americans as a model minority, a racial group that succeeds in the educational and economic realms due to hard work, cultural values and, most importantly, not through activism and protest. Various scholars have debated when this racial representation emerged. One of the origin points occurred in the mid-1960s, when Asian Americans (specifically Chinese and Japanese Americans) were held up as counterexamples to African Americans engaging in civil rights protest. The juxtaposition has been critiqued by scholars and community activists as a political manipulation that pitted Asian Americans against African Americans.
At UCI, Asian Americans constituted just over one third of the undergraduate students (nearly 10,000) and about 16% of graduate students (almost 1,000) enrolled in Fall 2021. But our numbers of Pacific Islanders are shockingly low (51 undergraduates and 9 graduate students). In addition, the category of Asian American encompasses a variety of ethnic/cultural groups that have distinct histories and experiences in the U.S. Most notably, some Southeast Asian Americans are commonly connected to refugee migration that stemmed from the U.S. war in Viet Nam. Undocumented immigrants from Asia have been the fastest-growing undocumented group, reflecting the fact that Asian Americans overall have been the fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in the U.S. for several decades. So, how might UCI and the School of Humanities serve these students?
First, it is important to disaggregate data to consider the unique experiences of and potential educational challenges that diverse students within the AAPI category might face.
Second, it is crucial to offer educational opportunities (courses, internships, research projects) that make visible and help us understand diverse Asian American Pacific Islander experiences. Some examples of student-centered projects that I have initiated in partnership with other faculty and staff include:
Third, as these projects reveal, leveraging our location in Orange County, which has one of the largest populations of AAPI residents in the country, is a crucial asset for UCI. Our campus has the potential to partner with community-based organizations and leaders to identify pressing community needs and utilize the research capacity of our university to analyze and address these needs. Providing these opportunities for community-engaged research for UCI students, in particular humanities students, provides avenues for developing professional contacts as well as career and educational pathways. This idea inspired the recent Humanities Center-UCI Libraries TEACH collaboration (Transforming Education, Archives and Community History). Through the support of an Anteater Grant Initiative, as well as funding from the Chancellor’s Fellowship and the Schools of Humanities, Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Social Sciences, ten UCI students worked with community-based organizations (the OC LGBTQ Center, Pacific Islander Health Partnership, and VietRise) to create community-centered educational and archival projects.
Finally, UCI can foster new initiatives that will better serve and empower our students. I am currently co-chairing a taskforce to propose an APIDA (Asian Pacific Islander Desi American) Resource Center. I am also in planning discussions with various campus and community partners on an AANAPISI grant proposal and a summer Pacific Islander leadership institute program. We seek to transform UCI into a destination campus for Pacific Islander students and to create programs that support their educational journey. In addition, I am serving as the director of the new Center for Liberation, Anti-Racism and Belonging (C-LAB), which will foster comparative and relational analyses of race, Indigeneity and migration. Based in the School of Humanities but with aspirations of becoming a campus-wide center, we envision C-LAB as working towards the mission of a research justice university, one in which research questions, methodologies and dissemination methods help us work towards social justice. The Center seeks to involve faculty, graduate students as well as undergraduates, staff, and community partners.
I relish working at UCI, because it is an educational institution that honors the mission of a public education. We are not trying to reinforce ivory towers but instead to open doors. Being an AANAPISI reminds us of our aspirations to bring together research excellence and social inclusion – in other words, to work towards research justice.
Judy Tzu-Chun Wu
Professor of Asian American studies
Faculty director of the Humanities Center
Within the UCI School of Humanities, there are a number of ways to engage with Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander scholarship, events and initiatives. We are home to the Department of East Asian Studies, where you can major or minor in East Asian studies, Chinese studies, Japanese language and literature, and Korean literature and culture, and minor in Asian studies and Japanese studies. We also house the Department of Asian American Studies, where you can major or minor in Asian American studies. Our Center for Critical Korean Studies is a hub for research and programming around the study of Korean subjects across disciplinary boundaries.
Interdisciplinary scholars at UCI shed light on the AANHPI stories that are left out of mainstream historical narratives: from the Chinese railroad workers that built the backbone of America in the 1800's, to a bacterial epidemic that swept over Native Hawaiians during the emergence of hula, to the first woman of color to enter congress and write groundbreaking legislation.
At the School of Humanities, scholars study how ancient and contemporary AANHPI cultural works, from religious architecture to hip hop, influence the world around them. Not only do they engage in cutting-edge research, they also create award-winning animated films, write poetry, script web series and so much more.
Asian American authors in the School of Humanities – from faculty and MFA students to alumni – are prolific essayists, poets, memoirists, novelists and journalists.
Among a wide variety of scholarly and creative and endeavors, they write about and teach courses on the history of Chinese food in America; explore Korean history and intergenerational trauma through poetry; craft fiction about being Asian American during the COVID pandemic; write short stories about finding home in Singapore; and pen essays on the trafficking of and violence against Asian women.
Though UCI’s Department of Asian American Studies is relatively young, it has already earned a national reputation as a champion of student empowerment, community-led activism and cutting-edge scholarship. Its growth and success has been made possible by lifetime advocates like former UCI research librarian Christina Woo.
As a member of UCI’s Asian American studies community since its very inception, Woo is ensuring the department continues to thrive by establishing the Christina J. Woo Endowed Fund in Asian American Studies, which will provide research support and community engagement opportunities for existing Asian American studies students and generations to come.
Below, meet more supporters who help take our research, initiatives, events and programs to new heights.
UCI alumni couple Carol Choi ’85 and Eugene Choi ’86, MBA ’01 have been a mainstay of the campus for decades. In 2019, the Chois pledged $100,000 to create an endowment at UCI’s Center for Critical Korean Studies, which has provided scholarships for undergraduate students majoring in Korean studies and other qualified students with demonstrated interest in Korean studies. Through its Brilliant Future Scholarship Match Opportunity, UCI doubled the gift, matching endowment distributions in perpetuity, making this gift to Korean studies the equivalent of a $200,000 endowment.
The couple also leverage their international network to build meaningful connections between the university and the community – from serving as alumni ambassadors in China and Korea to helping establish the UCI Korea Law Center to growing and advising the UCI Korean American Alumni Chapter.
“We always wanted to be able to give back to our community,” said Carol Choi. “We both immigrated with our parents and received a really great education, and we knew we wanted to pay it forward.”
Almost 30 years ago, Eileen Chun-Fruto (B.A. social science, ’94), now owner of Chun Fruto Law in Los Angeles, was among the student activists who protested the lack of ethnic studies curriculum at UCI and campaigned for a department dedicated to Asian American studies. After years of student-led protests and incremental progress, the Asian American studies minor was established in 1996, followed by the major in 1997.
Chun-Fruto has been a member of UCI’s Asian American studies community since the beginning, and now she's ensuring the department continues to grow well into the future. Chun-Fruto and her husband, Richard Fruto, recently established the John M. Liu Endowed Fund in Asian American Studies, which will provide research support and community engagement opportunities for Asian American studies students and guarantee that the department continues to flourish for generations to come.
“Especially in our current political climate, Asian American studies scholars, activists and community-led organizations are sorely needed,” Chun-Fruto said. “I hope that the John M. Liu Endowed Fund will allow future students to pursue research and build the sort of robust community that has always been foundational to the department.”
Teresa Chi-Ching Sun dedicated 60 years of her life to teaching Chinese studies and language across Southern California, including several within the University of California, Irvine Department of East Asian Studies’ Chinese language program. Now retired, she continues her legacy as an advocate for Chinese studies at UCI. In 2018, she contributed $5,000 and pledged an additional $20,000 gift in their support.
UCI’s Department of East Asian Studies offers undergraduate students the ability to major in Chinese studies (with two emphases: Chinese language and literature, and Chinese culture and society). It also offers Chinese language courses (Mandarin) to all majors on campus. Sun’s gifts have been earmarked specifically to support course development in the Chinese language program, which serves nearly 150 students per quarter.
“UCI is surrounded by a Chinese community well educated and versed in Chinese cultural traditions,” said Sun. “The Department of East Asian Studies can be developed into a leading center of research with the effort and interest of the Chinese community.”
One of the most compelling moments in University of California, Irvine’s storied past might be one of its lesser known: the student-led protests in the early 1990s that established formal ethnic studies programs on the campus, including a rotational hunger strike that led to the creation of the Department of Asian American Studies. Mary Ann Takemoto, Ph.D. is a key figure in this chapter of UCI history. As one of the first lecturers in Asian American studies at UCI, and a former associate director of the UCI Counseling Center, she’s empowered students to advocate for the representation of their histories and stories in campus curriculum.
While Takemoto’s impact on UCI as an institution as well as on its students is already remarkable, she has found new ways to help foster the growth of the department and to support students in Asian American studies. In 2020, she and her husband Tony Kwan earmarked a portion of their estate to support undergraduate and graduate students who pursue Asian American studies at UCI. Upon their passing, it will establish a large endowment, the interest of which will support students in perpetuity.
“I think giving to the next generation of students is an investment in the future,” she said. “I am thrilled to see how the Department of Asian American Studies has grown over the past 25 years. I hope that my gift will encourage others to consider a similar gift.”
Thank you to the following donors for making generous contributions to Asian American studies, Chinese studies and Korean studies: