AAPI heritage adds to Cal campus culture

In the fall of 2022, over 43.3 percent of new freshmen enrolled at UC Berkeley identified as Asian or Pacific Islander. A common stereotype about Asian students is that they’re only ever focused on work, but the reality is that the dominant precence of AAPI heritage on campus adds joy and variation to the campus outside of academic achievements.

The Indian Students Association (ISA) at UC Berkeley is a student run organization with a council of 30 students. They organize events for Indian students, giving them the opportunity to connect with their culture and their peers. Events include game nights, movie nights, and holiday celebrations. In the fall, the ISA organizes Garba, Diwali and Holi celebrations. These events give Indian students the opportunity to continue traditions or explore new ones, all with the support of others who share part of their identity.

The events are also for the most part open to the public, so it’s also a chance for other students to learn more about Indian holidays and traditions. By educating the student population, the ISA disproves stereotypes and allows for a more whole, accurate view of Indian culture. The ISA is an important organization because it gives students a place to celebrate their identity with many others, adding needed excitement to daily campus life. The importance of AAPI history doesn’t just lie in celebrations. UC Berkeley AAPI students have also been using art to express the more painful parts of their history, allowing other students to interact with it and reflect. 

The history of Angel Island is a heavy one for Chinese Americans.            Choreographer Lenora Lee used the experiences of Angel Island detainees to inspire Within These Walls, an immersive dance that was featured in the Zellerbach Playhouse in UC Berkeley as a part of the 2023 Berkeley Dance Project. 14 student-dancers represented characters processed on Angel Island, some based on real people. The importance of Within These Walls lies in the history it showcases, and gives Asian students a chance to process pain and grief through art.

The production was a part of a campus wide project called “A Year on Angel Island”. Even though the project focused mainly on Angel Island, it additionally aimed to start discussions about race and immigration on a more general level. Students involved in the project were invited to share their own families’ migration stories, providing a safe space for those students to bond and think about their history. 

From celebrating to grieving, AAPI students are taking initiative in organizing and participating in events that help them feel connected to their culture and history. What’s more, these events benefit all UC Berkeley students, even those who are not Asian. These events allow all students to empathize with many different experiences.