API Solidarity: Occupy Cal

by steven cong

When Occupy Wall Street first began in the middle of September, nobody could have predicted the extent to which it would grow. Driven by anger at the greed of the nation’s wealthiest one percent, the movement has traveled across the country to the University of California, Berkeley. Occupy Cal began on Nov. 9th, and a Day of Action took place on Nov. 15th in Berkeley with around 2,000 students involved. Occupy Cal captured how the anger of the rest of the 99 percent could explode from silent frustration within to the powerful community assembled on that day, even in the face of unwarranted police who brutality on students and faculty alike.

How does all this relate to the API community? Why would those “model minorities,” which is a problematic term itself, be frustrated at the exploitation of the poor and the unchecked power of the wealthy? After all, most of them are probably so well off that they belong to the one percent, right? Wrong. On Nov. 14th, my Facebook newsfeed was littered with posts about the progressive API community’s plans for Occupy Cal. APIs were persuaded to all wear red the next day as a sign of solidarity. Sure enough, when the students marched through the city of Berkeley, many API students could be seen in red holding signs that read, “Asian American and Proud,” and calling for funds for Ethnic Studies and the language departments.

“It’s important to stand up for the API community, and…we are the 99 percent. We are not against the police, [and] we are nonviolent, so this is a good way to demonstrate how much power we have together,” said Samantha Lai, a second year student at UC Berkeley who participated in Occupy Cal.

Indeed, the past two years had been difficult for API students in Berkeley. Attempts had been made to consolidate the Ethnic Studies department, the African American Studies department, and the Gender and Woman’s Studies department into one department. This change would cut an immense amount of resources from these departments and programs like Asian American Studies, as well as deprive students who seek to understand their background of a quality education. Furthermore, Southeast Asian, Filipino, and Pacific Islander students are grossly underrepresented in the UC system, and 40-44 percent of undocumented students in the UC system are API. One should not be surprised that numerous API students marched on Nov. 14th to protest the wealthy elite who control a system that imposed such disparities on our community.

With a potential tuition increase of 81 percent, access to any education becomes limited, and many API youths may never be able to take an Asian American Studies class. Southeast Asian, Filipino, and Pacific Islander students would continue to be underrepresented, and undocumented API students may no longer have enough financial support to continue their education. The greed of the richest one percent of America has damaged society and our system of education, and its impact is very painfully felt within the API community at UC Berkeley.

In the words of Gabbie Guison, a student at UC Berkeley, “[We march] for our community. We just have all these fee increases that are going up, and in a society where higher education is encouraged for social mobility, how are we to accomplish social mobility if we can’t even afford it? This is supposed to be a free education. Like what the fuck is going on?”