BY CHRISTINE FERNANDO
Twenty years ago, as an IU student, Ellen Wu watched the ribbon-cutting marking the opening of the Indiana University Asian Culture Center (ACC).
“This is something we always hoped and wished for, so to see it finally come through was incredible,” says Wu, now an associate history professor and director of the Asian American Studies Program. “The ACC represented a culmination of many years of dreaming and organizing and hard work dating back to the 1980s,” Wu says.
When Wu arrived at IU in 1992, she got involved with the Asian American Association (AAA), the thread tying together Asian American student activists. AAA members taught themselves and others about Asian American issues, identity, and history. Some AAA members visited La Casa Latino Cultural Center and saw how that center was an anchor for the Latino community. They wanted something similar for Asian students.
In 1994, the AAA held IU’s first Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration, hosting performances and a Taste of Asia event at Mathers Museum of World Cultures that attracted 800 attendees. After that success, the students turned to establishing a center, but it took another four years.
Wu says establishing the ACC took so long because there were few Asian American faculty members and alumni to put Asian American issues on the table, and because, at that time, the Asian community in Bloomington was small and misunderstood.
Today, the ACC works to make Asian American issues visible. A 20th anniversary symposium in October included multiple speakers and a banquet attended by more than 200 guests.
In its first five years, the center helped establish the Asian Alumni Association and Asian Pacific American Faculty and Staff Council. This spring, the center will collaborate with the Asian American Studies Program on a class titled Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities and Social Change.
ACC Director Melanie Castillo-Cullather says, “We’d like to see the center continue to be a hub and a lab for learning and engagement, a place for new ideas, a place where students are recognized, and where they can feel inspired.”