September 4, 2017

Understanding Identity Through API-CLI

by Sheena Ino
API-CLI Year 5 Fellow

Growing up as a mixed-race kid in San Jose, CA, I was always aware of two things: my “mixed-ness” and that I was part of the umbrella of being Asian. People would always ask not knowing where to place me, “Oh, what are you?” or “Where are you from?” and on cue at an early age I would ramble off “my mom is white and my dad is Japanese.” When I would say this around my Grandma Masako, she would often indirectly say, “We are Okinawan.” I never thought twice about this distinct significance until my first term in college, as a first generation student in Corvallis, OR.

My college success instructor, “Auntie Sandy” had us do a project on where our family was from in the Pacific. I remember feeling so embarrassed telling her that I wasn’t from the pacific-She laughed and told me that I needed to understand my family history. It was there did I embark on
learning the history of my family as Japanese-Americans in internment, my grandma surviving the Battle of Okinawa, and the lived experience of assimilating within the myth of the model minority.

After moving to Portland, I became involved with APANO and was a fellow in the Asian and Pacific Islander Community Leadership Institute (API-CLI) 2017! Being part of API-CLI, with 20 fellows, I learned about the importance of our unique identities and needs as API through the disruption of the model minority rooted in anti-blackness. We worked to de-center Whiteness as a community of APIs through understanding
the urgency of community organizing and legislative advocacy to push areas like ethnic studies in schools. Through this, we acknowledged the importance of community informed ethnic studies in our education system.

Because of college and my API-CLI fellowship, I had the opportunity to begin unlearning my US history courses from elementary. This process of learning about our historical trauma, it has instilled a deep rooted sense of compassion and empathy with our Muslim, Latinx, Black, Native, refugee and immigrant communities out there facing systemic violence today. Through learning about each other’s communities and history, we are able to share understanding. I am so grateful for the APANO community and important work that they do each day.

The API Community Leadership Institute (API-CLI) is a culturally specific leadership development program run by IRCO Asian Family Center in partnership with APANO, and has graduated 87 fellows over five years. API-CLI will not be accepting new fellows in 2017-2018 in order to focus on support for alumni and, pending funding, will be open to new applicants in spring 2018.