Celebrating APIDA Heritage Month at Pitzer College

Join Pitzer College as we honor and encourage the study, observance, and celebration of Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) heritage. We will spotlight members of our community and share information about any related events at Pitzer and The Claremont Colleges. Features will be added throughout May.

Pitzer recognizes national history and heritage months as part of its celebration of the diversity of the College and global community. It is also committed to exploring issues related to history, heritage, and identity year-round. As President Melvin L. Oliver said more than 20 years ago, it’s crucial “to stop looking at a slice of history…and to instead look at the scope of history” to change public policy—and to honor, celebrate, and write the next chapter.

Community Spotlight

Linus Yamane, Professor of Economics
Professor of Economics Linus Yamane

Meet Professor of Economics Linus Yamane (he/him), who has been teaching at Pitzer since 1988 and helped develop the Intercollegiate Department of Asian American Studies at The Claremont Colleges.

You were the founding chair of the Intercollegiate Department of Asian American Studies. Tell us about the origins of that department.

I arrived in 1988. The students were clamoring for Asian American studies. The model minority myth was prevalent, and the administration didn’t think we needed Asian American studies or that Asian American students needed help. Then a Pitzer student committed suicide in 1987, which drew the attention to the needs of Asian American students.

In 1990, a bunch of faculty members came together to develop a course in Asian American studies. I taught along with Joseph Parker (now Pitzer professor emeritus of Critical Global Studies) and Jack Ling (then Pitzer’s dean of students). That was the first course that we had had in over a decade. There were 50 students. I thought it was the worst class I had ever taught because I didn’t know what I was doing, but the teaching evaluations were positive. We were covering material that resonated with the students.

Then we hired other faculty during the early 1990s. Around 1997, we put together the proposal for the Intercollegiate Department of Asian American Studies. We needed support from three of the colleges. Pomona College and Pitzer College supported it. The battleground became Scripps. The Asian American Student Alliance held a teach-in in Balch Hall, and the place was packed. Later that semester, the presidents met and approved the intercollegiate department. I was the only faculty member with tenure at that point, so I became the first chair. 1998 was the first year that we were operating.

How do your culture, family background, and history influence your work?

My grandparents are all from Japan, but I had never gone to Japan. Growing up in New Jersey, I didn’t know who I was. There was not a large Japanese community. Am I American? Japanese? Who am I? Those questions were always in the back of my head.

In the spring of my senior year in college, I studied abroad in Japan. I learned more in my semester abroad than during any other semester in college. When you’re studying abroad, you learn so much about another culture, and then you think about things completely differently than how you were raised. It changed the course of my life.

Initially, I was doing research on economic development in Latin America and Brazil because I have a lot of family there. Then I did research on Asian American labor discrimination in the US. Lately, I’ve shifted to Japan. In macroeconomics, Japan is the leader in ways both good and bad. They are at the forefront of pushing the limits of monetary and fiscal policy. I’m grateful that my mother forced me to learn some Japanese when I was growing up, which made this work possible.

What does APIDA Heritage Month mean to you?

This year is challenging for Asian Americans because of the prevalent anti-Asian hate in the US. There’s this tendency to blame others for your own problems. You want to blame immigrants. Asian Americans are still perceived as foreigners. I was born and raised here, yet I don’t think I’m perceived as an American. You can get attacked or blamed for the pandemic. It becomes important to educate the public to make sure they are better informed.

Corina Penaia '16
Corina Penaia ’16

Meet Pitzer alumna Corina Penaia ’16 (she/her), who engages in health policy and management, data research, and community-building to highlight the stories and needs of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

What do you do currently?

I am a first-year doctorate student at the UCLA Department of Health Policy and Management program. I’m also supporting the efforts of the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Data Policy Lab at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research as the community engagement and research director. We advocate for the data needs of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

How do your culture, family background, and history influence your work or your life?

From a young age, my parents and family instilled in me the value of service and respect for others. My parents immigrated from the South Pacific to the States. They worked very diligently to build a life here and ensure that my sibling and I had access to the resources we needed to succeed. I am proud to come from a lineage of folks who are known for their leadership and service to the community. The biggest thing for me is reciprocity: giving to those who have given to me and not expecting anything in exchange. Pitzer laid that foundation for me to think critically how I can better serve as an individual.

What does APIDA Heritage Month mean to you?

This month is an opportunity for us to acknowledge the meaningful progress that has been achieved to not only elevate these communities who identify with this term but also continue fighting for the ongoing racial injustices. It’s a time for us to pause and pay respects to those who have contributed historically to building the infrastructure of the US. It’s a time for everyone to think critically about how to provide better support and be a better ally.

It also reminds me of the tireless efforts that my community members, elders, and ancestors have contributed to emphasizing the importance of distinguishing between the two groups—Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans. I am Samoan, Chinese, and Japanese. I’ve learned to see both sides of using APIDA, AAPI, and all the terms that lump us together but try to celebrate our intersectionalities. Often, however, the term APIDA or AAPI or similar acronyms can be harmful for those who are overlooked or who feel like this term doesn’t capture their experience. We know that from the data perspective, whether it’s health, education, or socioeconomic status, there are so many differences between these groups. We have so much cultural, historical, and colonial diversity. Hopefully, this month (and throughout the year) will be a time for people to build more consciousness about who we are and understand that each of our communities comes from special and different places.

Diamond Pham '22
Diamond Pham ’22

Meet Pitzer senior Diamond Pham ’22 (she/her), a history major and Asian American Studies minor and a member of the First Gen Club and Asian Pacific American Students Coalition.

How did you get to where you are now? What challenges and victories have you experienced along the way?

As a first-gen college student of color, it hasn’t always been easy at Pitzer. I felt so unprepared and lost at the beginning of college because I did not come from a high school with a lot of resources. But now, I am not afraid to ask for help and am a great scholar and leader on campus! I have found a beautiful and supportive group of friends at Pitzer who have helped me get to where I am now. I couldn’t have done it without them.

How do your culture, family background, and history influence your work or your life?

My family is always on my mind. My successes are their successes. I work hard in school to be able to help them out in the future in the same way they have always helped me! My identity and culture are a huge part of who I am, and I am super proud of where I come from.

What does APIDA Heritage Month mean to you?

Uplifting communities, identities, cultures, and the experiences of APIDA-identifying people.

Who is your favorite APIDA author or creator? What is your favorite work of theirs?

I love Raveena! She’s a music artist, and I love listening to her songs Temptation and Close 2 U whenever I want to destress!

How did you end up at Pitzer?

I was in a college access program in my high school for first-gen, low-income students, and one summer, I was able to tour different Californian colleges. Pitzer had such a beautiful campus and great core values that I was immediately sold!

Linda Lam
Linda Lam

Meet Linda Lam (she/her), the director of the Center for Asian Pacific American Students (CAPAS) at Pitzer, and our first community member spotlight for Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month!

What does APIDA Heritage Month mean to you?

It means the opportunity to focus and bring attention to the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American communities, issues, struggles, and opportunities for growth. One way we can continue to advocate is for it to be incorporated into more than just one month. It’s also a time of celebration and acknowledgment of where we’ve come from and our home countries alongside what we’ve done here.

How do your culture, family background, and history influence your work?

I grew up in a low-income community in northeast LA, where there is a lot of violence and social problems, but at the same time, there were assets and strengths in that community that were ignored. In the media, they would focus on the negative aspects of our neighborhood, but what I saw was the hardworking people like my family. My parents are ethnic Chinese, but they were born in Vietnam, so they fled to escape the war. Their education was cut short, and they dealt with the trauma of war and having US involvement in the country. I try to bring their experiences into my work. When I talk with students, I want to understand, and I want them to bring their family history and community experiences into Pitzer. I want them to always be in tune with that and have it shape their education.

At the same time, I work to broaden the knowledge we have on campus. Students will say that Asian American households have high attainment for bachelor’s degrees and have high income. But I know there are low-income Asian communities because I come from one. If you disaggregate the data, different ethnicities have different rates of educational attainment and income. To be able to bring that into the conversation in our classrooms is important too. It’s important that people understand the diverse experiences that are among Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans to better address systemic problems and understand there are strengths in their communities and cultural background.

I want students to be proud of their cultural heritage and deepen their understanding of it. We have students that identify as adoptees, multiracial, fifth generation in the US, or recent immigrants. It’s important that students talk about their experiences and not be judged for how they grew up while also understanding that not everyone in the community is the same. How do we bring everyone to the light because we’re such a large group? Most times, people think only of East Asians. How do we make sure our programming and classes talk about different populations in our communities? It’s about using our political power to advocate while respecting the autonomy of these different groups.

For more of our conversation with Linda, please visit our Staff Spotlight.

Zoom Backgrounds

Celebrate APIDA Heritage Month with one of our Zoom backgrounds.

To download: Click on the image to open a larger file, then download it to your computer.

APIDA Heritage Month

APIDA Heritage Month Events

Arts and Voices: Asian American Artists Books Exhibit

Asian Library, Honnold 3
The Claremont Colleges Library
May 1–June 17, 2022
Exhibit on view Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Asian Library and the Ella Strong Denison Library have co-curated an exhibit featuring selected Asian American book artists and their works, which are all available at the libraries of The Claremont Colleges. The exhibit aims to showcase a variety of work by Asian American book artists and their contributions to book arts, pursuit of self-identity, social justice, and connection to their cultural heritage through their artistic expressions. Learn more about the exhibit.

APIDA Grad Celebration 2022

Thursday, May 12, 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.
Benton Museum of Art, Pomona College
Click here to RSVP to the event

AARP CA: Healthy Aging Lessons from My “Paw-Paw”
Friday, May 6, 2022
Register for this event

Join us as we celebrate Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in May and hear from Professor of Asian American Studies at Pitzer College and author, Kathy Yep, about healthy aging and the power of Qi Gong. Kathy is a certified mindfulness facilitator through UCLA MARC, and a practitioner of Dayan Qi Gong since the 1990s.

Video of Prof Yep: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TG89E1s5E1w

Online Resources

Claremont Resources

Center for Asian Pacific American Students

Intercollegiate Department of Asian American Studies

The Asian Library of The Claremont Colleges Library

Asian and Pacific Islander Resources from the Queer Resource Center of The Claremont Colleges

Additional Online Resources

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center


Asian American Curriculum Project

South Asian Network

Asian Pacific Islander Forward Movement

Asian Americans Advancing Justice

Stop AAPI Hate