Asian Pacific American Cultural Center marks 20 years at UI

Founded in 2003, the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center will celebrate its 20th anniversary this April.


Emily Nyberg

The University of Iowa Asian Pacific American Cultural Center is seen on Thursday, March 23, 2023.

Archie Wagner, News Reporter

The Asian Pacific American Cultural Center will celebrate its 20th anniversary this April with the new events that showcase the center’s mark on campus.

APACC is launching a magazine, hosting a gala, and putting together a concert and alumni panel. The center will also continue with long-lasting traditions such as the annual Night Market, which offers free food and other activities for guests.

While the APACC was established in 2003, Asian-Pacific American identities have been active on the University of Iowa campus for over 20 years. Jin Chang, a UI Ph.D. student, conducted an oral history of Asian Pacific American identities in 2022.

Chang said the project’s start required some sleuthing to find Asian Pacific American alumni from the UI.

“There were boxes of stuff in the basement of the APACC that we have now taken to the archives here at the university,” Chang said. “Things like brochures from previous years.”

Concerns were brought up to the University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections and Archives regarding how there weren’t many physical materials available regarding Asian Pacific American student life, Chang said.

They became involved with the APACC in summer 2021, serving mainly as an academic resource regarding the history of Asian Pacific Americans on the UI campus.

The primary advocate for the creation of the APACC was the Asian American Coalition, which was founded in 1998 at the UI and acted as a unified group. The coalition deviated from prior groups that focused on specific ethnicities or cross-sections, such as Asian American Law Students or Asian American Women.

The Asian American Coalition had three main goals: the creation of an Asian American studies program, increased hiring of Asian American faculty and staff, and the creation of the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center. During the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Chang said protests erupted over threats of the UI moving the cultural centers to different parts of campus.

“A lot of students were pushing back against that, and Asian American students were as well,” they said. “They were also saying they should get a cultural center.”

RELATED: ​​UI USG allocates $10,000 from contingency fund to support APACC anniversary

While serving as the interim UI president in 2002, Willard “Sandy” Boyd listened to the activists and helped establish the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center.

Chang said they are excited for the 20th anniversary’s alumni panel, which will feature alums from before the APACC was established and members who witnessed its early days.

Kayla Nguyen, Asian Pacific American Cultural Center coordinator, said she’s also excited about the 20th anniversary events.

“We really want to make it something special for the students and also for the alumni who are coming in and flying out just for this,” Kayla Nguyen said. “We have a lot of families who are super excited, and the local Asian community here is looking forward to it.”

In planning the 20th anniversary celebration, Nguyen said committees were created to ensure the execution of all the new projects, including the concert and magazine, went smoothly.

“The magazine committee consists of about five students, and they spent a lot of time just figuring out what they wanted, what their vision was, and then we sent out an application for folks to submit stuff,” she said.

Based on a prior lack of responses for similar projects, Nguyen said she was nervous about the magazine, but the project ended up receiving many submissions.

“We took a while to edit the magazine, but it’s perfect, and it highlights all the different types of art styles my students have,” she said.

Music artists Justin Park, Pictoria Vark, Mars Hojilla, and Elizabeth Pham, who performs as Eli, will perform at the James Theater on March 31 in collaboration with Scope Productions, she said.

UI first-year student Amira Qidwai said her interactions with the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center have been minimal due to the center’s location on the west side of campus.

“Most of what I’ve heard has been through USG like APACC Cultural House, what they’re putting on, and them talking about why they’re holding it in April instead of May,” Qidwai said. “I’m sure that they would be welcoming if we were to go and everything. I just don’t think that they are as easy options because they’re far away,” she said.

Instead of engaging with the APACC, Qidwai said she engages with student organizations that are more tailored to her individual identities and help celebrate events such as Ramadan.

“I think the best cultural spaces I’ve experienced on campus have been through like student orgs that are like MSA or PSA,” Qidwai said. “Sometimes stuff at the cultural houses can be really general and maybe not as helpful or supportive.”

Because the APACC doesn’t have a vast alumni network, the alumni panel was formed mainly through word-of-mouth, Nguyen said.

“We don’t have an alumni network yet,” she said. “We hopefully plan on having one once the gala happens, and we hope to have a platform for folks to sign up.”