Courtesy of Kala'i Anderson

In the United States, the month of May is meant to recognize Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage, a group historically labeled as AAPI. Often, however, the “PI” of “AAPI” is neglected and such discourse focuses predominantly on Asian American narratives.

My name is Kala’i Anderson and I am a Native Hawaiian first-year student at Yale College, and a Peer Liaison for the Native American Cultural Center, or NACC. 

With AAPI month upon us, I find myself grappling with a prominent issue that this time of year intensifies: the conflation of Pacific Islander identities with Asian American ones. For years, I have witnessed and consumed countless articles and journals that claim to highlight the stories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, yet upon completion, I find that the majority of these publications feature zero Pacific Islander narratives. It is quite literally the definition of performative activism and representation, and to be frank, I would prefer the month of May to be called AA Heritage Month instead. Yale is no exception — even now, I find myself writing to be featured in the YDN’s AAPI special edition issue, yet for a month dedicated to both AA and PI, only one article is from the perspective of a Pacific Islander. 

In my experience as a Pacific Islander at Yale College, it can be difficult to navigate social circles in relation to cultural upbringing. Because Pacific Islanders compose such a small percentage of the undergraduate population — around 0.2 percent — the resources and spaces we are allotted are of a similar minuscule size. Staff of both the NACC and the Asian American Cultural Center, or AACC, have approached me to state that Pacific Islanders are welcome at either cultural house, but this messaging fails to address the fact that Pacific Islanders fall into neither of these two categories. While both cultural centers have been extremely welcoming on a personal level — and the NACC in particular has allowed me to to interact with other Indigenous students — I cannot validate either organization as a space that truly represents Pacific Islander experiences.

This conflation of identities prompts non-Pacific Islanders to misinterpret what legitimate Pacific Islander culture looks like. If an article features a title including “AAPI,” but only features Asian-centered narratives, how is the intended audience supposed to differentiate between what is and is not Pacific Islander? They cannot. And this misinformation, too, is present in the Yale community. For example, during Bulldog Days, I had the opportunity to speak with incoming first years, one of which was surprised to learn both that Native Hawaiians existed and that the word “aloha,” which is a Hawaiian greeting meaning “love,” is not in fact a word of East Asian origin.  

While these experiences are purely my own, I believe that many other Pacific Islanders at Yale and across the country share similar sentiments about the term AAPI and the month of May. It is a constant push and pull between wanting more representation in media that labels itself as AAPI, yet simultaneously longing for separation from Asian American tangential spaces. While both groups have experienced similar historical processes and trauma, to link us under one term is a blatant disregard for the unique beauty that each group has to offer.

Kala’i Anderson ’25 is a first year in Berkeley College majoring in Ethnicity, Race & Migration and an incoming Peer Liaison of the Native American Cultural Center. Contact him at