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An online debate on the “multi-Asian mission” of the Council of Asian Pacific Americans (CAPA) is thought-provoking as it brings to center stage basic issues about Asians in the US.

Clarification of these issues is in order. But any discussion about Asians would go nowhere if terms being used in such exchange of opinions are not well understood. CAPA should shed light on this shady matter for a clearer understanding of its avowed mission.

If we talk about Asians, we are obviously referring to people who came from the many countries in Asia. So an Asian could be a Filipino, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, Hmong, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, etc.

They are all Asians by virtue of geography, but they don’t have common cultures and traditions, things that usually distinguish one ethnic group from another. From the point of view of a non-Asian, the cultures may look similar, but scrutinizing one culture and comparing it with another, marked differences are noticeable.

For example, native Filipino dresses are different from those of the Vietnamese. In Vietnam, it is stylish for ladies to wear see-through skirts that allow one to appreciate their beautiful, colorful bikini-like underwear. This kind of women’s outfit is considered immodest and frivolous in the Philippines.

Thus one culture is unique, and any attempt to combine one Asian culture with another is foolhardy. The result of such a foolish effort would be like a guy wearing a wig; his appearance is unnatural.

So even in the Asian community itself, there is cultural diversity. And this diversity should be respected at all time.

Now comes the “multi-Asian mission” of CAPA. The debate on it was triggered by Board Member Adrienne Lim’s proposal for CAPA to participate in the celebration of the Lunar New Year, a Chinese tradition.

But somebody commented during a board meeting that “we should not highlight Chinese traditions” as this would be against CAPA’s “multi-Asian mission.” This prompted the board to table the proposal.

In a subsequent email, Lim asked the members of the board to act on her proposal, saying the body should be flexible in its interpretation of the “multi-Asian mission” of CAPA. She asked: Should all CAPA events have multi-Asian perspectives? To showcase simultaneously all Asian cultures and traditions in just one event would be impractical and cumbersome, she argued. She suggested one CAPA event highlight one Asian culture, say, Philippine culture, the next focuses on another, say, Taiwanese culture, and so on.

Several board members, among them Phil Chan, Jeff Vedua and Becky Tungol, supported Lim’s position. Chan cited past instances in which CAPA supported events of Filipinos and other ethnicities.

But two other board members – Jenny Wang and Pina Chhaya – came up with a different view. In essence, they want CAPA events to be strategic and in line with its objective of increasing membership and promoting CAPA in the community. They seek consistency in CAPA’s efforts to attain its goals. Chhaya cited the need for a proposal protocol, data and metrics on CAPA’s undertakings.

Later, Lim came up with a rebuttal, saying that while a proposal protocol is good, the pre-requirements for projects should depend on how big is the project under consideration. If the pre-requirements are so elaborate and complicated, these could discourage members from making proposals for even small events. These would likewise require more manpower as such kinds of undertakings are usually done by corporations, Lim said.

Lim “objected to the characterization of her message as an ‘emotional appeal,’” saying she has cited the rationale as well as the advantages CAPA would derive from her proposal.

We would like to contribute our two cents worth to the discussion of the issue.

We are inclined to support Lim’s position that CAPA focuses on one culture at a time. It is indeed impractical to showcase all Asian cultures in just one event unless it is as big and spectacular as the Splendor of the East (SOE). This particular project needs many months of preparations.

Certain small events, though, can showcase many cultures. One example is the “Taste of Asia.” This is feasible because it covers only one aspect of culture, which is food.

It is heart-warming to note that CAPA has become a forum for a healthy exchange of ideas on what are in the best interests of Asians in Michigan. Such discussions and debates should be encouraged as these could eventually make us better Asian Americans.

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