Director of AA&PI Student Services reflects on Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Woman who is posing and smiling with green foliage in the background.

SF State Director of Asian American and Pacific Islander Student Services Arlene Daus-Magbual

Arlene Daus-Magbual explains the importance of the annual celebration and ways to support the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AA&PI) community

Each May, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month honors Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AA&PI) and their achievements. We recently spoke with Arlene Daus-Magbual, director of AA&PI Student Services at San Francisco State University, to discuss the significance of the annual celebration and ways to demonstrate support for the AA&PI community year-round.

Why is it important to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month?

It is important to recognize the critical contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AA&PI) in our society. This month is an opportunity for all of us to reflect, learn and understand the diversity within our communities, the trailblazers who paved the path for many of us to be where we are today and the struggle and survival stories of our ancestors.

My teacher, mentor, Kumaré (a Filipino word for the godmother of your child) and our late beloved San Francisco State colleague Dawn Bohulano Mabalon taught me the difference between history and heritage when we celebrate Filipino History Month in October — and I believe it applies to this month as well. Mabalon said, “History is inclusive of heritage and culture, but it’s also about the ways we have built and changed this nation: our stories, political struggles, transformations, labor, migration, activism, impact of imperialism and war and victories. Heritage is more limited to what we pass down in terms of culture, tradition and legacies.”

What are ways to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, regardless of whether you identify as AA&PI?

We can celebrate by supporting AA&PI artists and AA&PI-owned restaurants and businesses, attending virtual events that are addressing issues in our communities and honoring those that came before us and those that are our future. Students can take Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies courses to understand the history, struggles and survival stories of our communities. We can also watch movies and shows that are written and produced by AA&PI people.

You oversee the AA&PI Student Services at SF State. Can you tell us more about these services?

Fifty years ago, SF State had one of the longest student strikes in the nation to fight for more equitable distribution of resources, relevant education by centering the curricula around the experiences of marginalized and disenfranchised communities and the need for the University to reflect the community that surrounds it. Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the College of Ethnic Studies (CoES), and the fight continues for what was fought for 50 years ago.

AA&PI Student Services was created in 2016 when SF State received the Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) funding from the U.S. Department of Education. I was part of a grant-writing team that included Professor of Asian American Studies Grace Yoo, Professor of Asian American Studies Laureen Chew and former Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Luoluo Hong — strong Asian American leaders at SF State. The vision was to create a direct partnership between the CoES and Student Affairs and Enrollment Management to better serve our diverse population of AA&PI students on campus who make up 29 percent of our student population.

I am the inaugural director for the AA&PI Student Services, and we are a unit under the Division of Equity and Community Inclusion. Our Asian American and Pacific Islander Retention and Education (ASPIRE) Program offers a faculty learning community, the ASPIRE Peer Mentorship Program, 10 ASPIRE-linked courses in collaboration with the departments Asian American Studies and Race and Resistance Studies, broad dissemination of information through our social platforms and emails, community study circles, workshops and campus-wide events. Levalasi Loi-On is our student success coordinator and offers support for our students through one-on-one advising and mentorship. Gwen Augustin is our ASPIRE educational psychologist and works with Counseling and Psychological Services to provide free testing for learning differences.

What major successes have you seen from the AA&PI community over the past few years?

Some of the successes in our AA&PI community include growing visibility and representation in pop culture displayed through movies, music and TV shows as well as political representation locally and nationally. What I appreciate are the narratives written for and by Asian American and Pacific Islanders and putting out issues we deal with every day with intersections of our identities. This is inspirational for us, especially our youth and students who can see so many possibilities of becoming who they want to be.