APAHM 2021: Spotlight On Windi Sasaki
As we’ve started last year, I wanted to continue to highlight Asian Pacific Americans for the month of May. There continue to be so many brilliant APA folks out there that are doing some amazing work, and so, I hope we can share with you some of that brilliance.
Given the recent surge of AAPI-targeted attacks, I wanted to first start with a look into better understanding the history, impact, and proactive changes we can make to fight against this injustice. With that in mind, I’m pleased to introduce and chat with Windi Sasaki.
Who are you?
Windi Sasaki: My name is Windi. I use she and they series pronouns. I identify as a fourth-generation Japanese American and a third-generation Chinese American and Filipinx American. I also identify as an educator.
What do you do?
Sasaki: I work for UC San Diego as the inaugural Asian Pacific Islander Middle Eastern Desi American Program Manager. I have over twenty years of experience working with students at colleges and universities in the United States.
What makes you a geek of color?
Sasaki: Well, I am a person of color. I guess the rest depends on your definition of “geek”. If we use the idea that a geek is someone who intellectualizes pop culture and other things that they find in life. I think that it is fun to use the things that I find – television, music, books, and other things like that – to connect with students and friends to connect our life experiences and lessons. I have been able to connect with others because of our passions that connect and to share ideas and teach one another. I think that this kind of deep dive into seeing the connections to the things I do in my work life and in my personal life and bringing them together is the kind of geekdom that I probably do most.
What inspires you?
Sasaki: I love working with students because I get to interact with so many creative, brilliant, and passionate students. They inspire me to keep going and to be more creative. Their energy and the connections that I have made over time have been and continue to be so satisfying and inspiring.
How do your identities play a part in the work you do?
Sasaki: My current job is to serve Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Middle Eastern American people. As an Asian American alumna of UC San Diego, I think about my identities and my past experiences on the same campus as I make decisions about my job. I also think about how people who are included in the populations I serve who identify differently than me. Students who did the advocacy for my job said that they didn’t see themselves reflected on campus, and I didn’t either. Seeing yourself and your experiences represented, and I think often about the students serve who identify differently than I do and how I can make more of the students feel seen on campus.
What does representation mean to you?
Sasaki: I grew up seeing very little on TV, in toys, and in books that looked like me and my family. I always looked for these things. As I got older, I looked for representation in classes, teachers, and other things I interacted with. As I moved away from my family, I often found comfort in finding whatever representation I could. I sometimes sought this out, doing my graduate research on Asian American students and finding independent musicians who are Asian American. This became a habit. I go to San Diego Comic-Con and look for stories on Asian American and Pacific Islander people and meet Asian American artists. I buy and find other ways to support the art that these people put out.
Why are Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders conflated into one category? How does this affect addressing issues specific to each community?
Sasaki: In the 1980s, the US Census was changing the race categories that were listed. At that point, they just adopted the use of “Asian American” on the Census. This brought up that the Census needed a racial category for Pacific Islander people. They had decided to group them with Asian Americans, where it stayed until it became a separate race category.
Pacific Islanders are a much smaller-sized population than Asian Americans. Putting everyone in the same group and category hides the experiences and needs of Pacific Islander peoples in a large grouping. This happens for the smaller populations of Asian Americans as well. Both Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are diverse groups of peoples and people who are categorized in these groups do not all have the same experiences. Grouping everyone together has led many people to think that we all have the same experiences, which isn’t true.
What challenges are AAPI communities facing currently? How are these issues the same or different from issues AAPI have faced before?
Sasaki: I think that the things that AAPI communities are seeing in the news about people being attacked in public and yelled at related to anti-Asian racism are getting the most attention right now. This particular type of racism has a long history in the United States, dating back to when people started to immigrate to the US from China. Compared to then, there is a lot more diversity of AAPI people in the US. I think that people assume that because the government classifies Asian and Pacific Islander American people, that we are all having the same experience. This isn’t true. We all have different histories and experiences. And not everyone feels like they are in community with other AAPI people.
The conflation of all Asian American and Pacific Islander people has hidden the issues and needs of many of the smaller and newer AAPI communities. There are currently large discrepancies in employment, education access, health care, and the ability to find resources that are culturally competent. In media, there has been a more recent increase in the representation of Asian Americans, but these things have highlighted only some of the larger populations. Representation for other Asian American people and for Pacific Islander people is still widely invisible in our media offerings.
What are some ways to combat the discrimation AAPI are facing? What are some ways to educate people on AAPI issues?
Sasaki: I think that there are a number of different levels of discrimination, so combatting this needs to happen at different levels. I think that if you are witnessing racism and discrimination, it is important to say something. There is a lot of bystander intervention training that is being offered for free (https://www.ihollaback.org/bystanderintervention/).
I also think that people can choose to use their time to learn about people who are different than them. As an Asian American, I don’t know everything about AAPI people, and around this type of topic, there are people that I intentionally think about and do my own education. This can be through reading, watching other media, and finding other ways to learn more and engage. I think that the other thing is to understand that racism and discrimination against all people of color, including AAPI people, is ingrained in many of our systems. The things that you learn about AAPI people and other people of color should be applied to the ways that you have influence to make policies, mentor others, support businesses, and other things like that. I think that it is important for people to create opportunities to build coalitions with other communities and find ways to support one another.
Where can people find you?
Sasaki: You can visit my office’s webpage and find resources to learn more about Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Middle Eastern American people here: https://apimeda.ucsd.edu/. I am on Instagram at @hellowindi.