On June 3, the Asian Pacific American Student Organization, or APASO, celebrates its 40th anniversary with a reunion bringing many past and present members to East Lansing. In this special alum voice, MSU graduates Vivian Tsai Chin, Iris Shen-Van Buren, Nimesh Patel, Connie Tingson Gatuz, Soh Suzuki, Marc Johnston Guerrero and Naina Rao reflect on how the organization shaped them and, in turn, shaped campus.
“Over the past 40 years, I have continued to be actively engaged in diversity, equity and inclusion organizations.”
Vivian Tsai Chin
Served in APASO as the first co-president in 1983
Currently works as a senior engineer at Northrop Grumman Corporation
I think this reunion symbolizes the progress that has transpired for Asian Pacific Americans, or APAs, over the past 40 years at MSU. Forty years ago, APA students lacked a seat at the Office of Minority Student Affairs (currently the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions). There were no APA representatives, yet APAs were a significant and fast-growing student population at MSU. Launching APASO provided a platform for increasing awareness of this issue and advocating collectively. APASO also was (and still is) a great organization to build leadership skills for many students, to build networks, participate in social events and build lifelong friendships. APASO was my “ohana,” the Hawaiian word for family, and many of the friendships that were formed from my APASO years are still alive today. For me, as the first co-chair of APASO, the celebration is a coming-home event. Over the past 40 years, I have continued to be actively engaged in diversity, equity and inclusion organizations at my workplace and serve as an advisor for our employee resource group called the Asian Pacific Professional Network, which has over 2,500 members corporation wide. Congratulations to APASO on its 40th anniversary, and we look to the new generation of leaders to keep the momentum going.
“APASO transformed my vision of being an Asian American student.”
Iris Shen-Van Buren
Served in APASO from 1988 to 1991
Currently works for MSU (20 years) as an admissions counselor
In 1985, I arrived on MSU’s campus, identifying as a Chinese American first-year student from a predominantly white high school. I expected my experience at MSU to be similar. After learning about APASO, I attended a meeting and never expected the impact it would have on me.
APASO transformed my vision of being an Asian American student. Attending my first meeting, I felt like a white person in a room full of Asians. I pushed past the discomfort and discovered others who shared my experience and the expectations the world had of us.
Graduate student Sandy Tsuneyoshi created APASO in 1982 following the death of Vincent Chin, a turning point in the APIDA community in Michigan and nationally. She assisted APIDA students in breaking the myths of being a “model minority” who never rocked the boat. APASO helped us find a voice, common experience and a campus community.
Over the past 40 years, APASO educated MSU’s community about international Asian students and Asian Pacific Islander Desi American, or APIDA, student experiences and their differing needs on campus.
APASO sparked student activism for change at MSU. We challenged administrations, protested, stood up for our community and raised our voices for academic and cultural resources for APIDA students to succeed. We created our own model and rocked the boat — hard — at times.
APASO became the umbrella of affiliate APIDA organizations as the APIDA population grew, and we successfully petitioned for an Asian Pacific American Studies program. APASO also joined other students of color groups in supporting the need for a free-standing multicultural center.
I am a proud alumna of MSU and my own contributions to the history of APASO, from protests to creating an ongoing 33+ year cultural program to welcoming a new generation of APIDA students to campus.
The tradition of student activism and cultural pride continue today as APASO works on current issues. MSU would not be the same place without the cultural contributions of APASO over the past 40 years, and we continue to write our own narrative. APASO and APIDA and Asian Spartans will continue to make a difference at MSU.
“There’s a direct line from all the things I learned and did through APASO to who I am and what I do today.”
Served in APASO from 1989 to 1991
Currently the chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Akin Gump Law Firm and formerly served as the chief DEI officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration as well as an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Civil Rights Division
When I was at State, APASO was like being home, it was family. I found some of my closest lifelong friends through APASO, mentors who helped me grow and see things differently, and I also found my voice to speak out on issues and influence change. Organizations like APASO make a huge campus like State feel smaller and more connected. For me, there’s a direct line from all the things I learned and did through APASO to who I am and what I do today.
The significance and importance of APASO’s 40-year reunion is an opportunity to reflect on how APASO has made a difference at State and how it has supported Asian American Pacific Islander, or AAPI, students over the years. For those of us who are more removed from our college years, it’s a nice way of reflecting back on some amazing friendships and memories. With some alums coming back, hopefully it also will help inspire current AAPI students at State that APASO is a special part of the MSU community and that anything is possible with the support of family and friends.
“Many of us would call APASO a ‘home away from home’ and a ‘lifeline’ throughout our college careers.”
Connie Tingson Gatuz
Served as APASO co-president from 1990 to 1992 and as an APASO advisor from 1994 to 1997
Currently associate vice president for student life at the University of Michigan
Reaching the 40th anniversary is a remarkable achievement for the Asian Pacific American Student Organization at MSU. Symbolically, this “ruby” anniversary represents a lifetime of shared experiences and memories, along with individual as well as collective growth. Many of us would call APASO a “home away from home” and a “lifeline” throughout our college careers. At this reunion, we celebrate our beloved community and share precious moments of embracing our APIDA identities, shaping our worldviews and developing as leaders for the greater good.
“Forty years since its founding and 40 years from the Vincent Chin incident, APASO continues to provide much needed guidance.”
Served in APASO from 1997 to 2002
Currently works at Allied Media Projects and serves on the board for the James & Grace Lee Boggs School and on the campaign team for Rashida Tlaib, Stephanie Chang and Denzel McCampbell
APASO was a significant part of my MSU experience — it introduced me to identity politics that was much needed in navigating campus life and helped me establish my political identity in finding my way to Detroit after leaving East Lansing. Forty years since its founding and 40 years from the Vincent Chin incident, APASO continues to provide much needed guidance and support to the MSU community in facing this ever-changing society, where similar struggles of the past continue to rise.
“The 40th reunion seems even more imperative now given the rise in anti-Asian hate since the pandemic.”
Marc Johnston Guerrero
Served as APASO co-president from 2002 to 2003 and established the APASO Student Leadership Endowment in 2005
Currently associate chair of the Department of Educational Studies at Ohio State University
APASO gave me a place to explore my identity, learn about our histories not taught in school and develop solidarity across the Council of Racial and Ethnic Students, or CORES, and the Council of Progressive Students, or COPS, groups. Without APASO, I would not have found my career path nor my chosen family. I was involved when we celebrated our 20th anniversary, and it was through connections with APASO alums I found alternative models to becoming a doctor. Reaching 40 years is a testament to the need for the kind of counterspace APASO offers at MSU, and the 40th reunion seems even more imperative now given the rise in anti-Asian hate since the pandemic.
“The 40-year reunion is an opportunity to reflect on the organization’s accomplishments and impact.”
Served in APASO from 2015 to 2016
Currently a reporter for Reckon News
As an alum of APASO, I believe that the 40-year reunion is an important milestone for the group. APASO played a significant role in my college experience, providing a sense of community and support that I could not find elsewhere. The organization also served as a platform for advocacy and education, raising awareness about issues affecting the Asian Pacific American community. The 40-year reunion is an opportunity to reflect on the organization’s accomplishments and impact, as well as to reconnect with fellow alums and current members. It is a celebration of APASO’s legacy and ongoing contributions to the Michigan State University community.
MSU recognizes APIDA Heritage Month in May to increase the visibility and awareness of the group’s multicultural diversity. Our community is coming together to support the Asian Pacific American Student Leadership Fund at MSU and promote a culture of belonging. Learn more about the fund at ocat.msu.edu.