1991 – Asian American Collegiate Organization (AACO) is established at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) with political interests and begins to rally for an Asian American Studies program.
**To see a more comprehensive timeline of the Asian American community at UIC, please go here or watch this video done by a past AACC member:
I remember the first day I stepped onto the UIC campus, the first thing I wanted to do was get involved with the Asian American campus community; contact every single ‘Asian American-focused’ student organization and find some way to get involved. You could say it had something to do with my desire to feel like I belonged somewhere, to find a place where I could relate to people based on our collective racial and ethnic backgrounds. That’s not to say growing up in the suburbs I was the only Asian American, but our identities as Asian Americans was never something we actively discussed together [not seriously, at least]. Thus, I felt something was lacking. I didn’t fit into many of the usual ‘Asian stereotypes,’ like being good at math and science [I was horrible, in fact], struggled in my AP classes, wasn’t particularly religious, etc. I felt like an outsider in my own community. As a result, I came to college with a strong desire to fill that void, to feel like I was a part of something.
Fast forward to my freshman year at UIC and I found an Asian American organization that fit what I was looking for: the Asian American Coalition Committee, a pan-Asian American student organization whose primary goal was to get an Asian American Studies program at UIC, as well as, educating the campus about various Asian American issues. For once, I felt like this is where I should be. I had found other like-minded individuals who were just as eager to discuss social justice issues as I was. It was at that point that I then threw myself completely into the fight for an Asian American Studies program. I went with AACC members to meetings with UIC administrators, helped plan the second protest, assisted in facilitating workshops, etc. All of this felt like a welcome introduction into a community and identity I had never quite felt comfortable with [and still don’t to a certain degree, but maybe more on that in a later post].
While many people talk about how taking an Asian American Studies class has enlightened them about certain issues, given them a better sense of their racial history, etc., for me, it was also about that, but also [and still is] about building community, bringing together a collective of people around fighting for something that should be a right, not a privilege. Being involved in this has not only given me a better sense of my racial identity but also opened doors to working at the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center (AARCC) on campus [which became a second home] and introduced me to some of my now closest friends and fiercest activists I know [hi Brandon!]. It’s not just a program, it’s a movement. It’s family.
It’s hard to believe that, finally, after 20 years of struggle, UIC is actually getting an Asian American Studies program. To be able to say that I was a part of that movement is something I’m quite proud of and hold near and dear to my heart. So to see that the inauguration is actually happening, is incredible. If you are in the Chicagoland area on tomorrow, Thursday, September 23rd, please come to UIC’s Asian American Studies Kick-Off! Meet some fabulous people [I’ll be there!] like yourselves and be a part of the movement. Seriously, it will change your life.