Pilipinx American History Month, which is celebrated in October, celebrates the culture, history and legacy of Pilipinxs in the United States. Pilipinxs constitute the third-largest Asian American group nationwide and are the largest Asian origin group in nine states. As a Pilipinx American myself, I take pride in my ethnicity and community, both on campus and at large.
Looking back on Pilipinx American History Month, I’d like to take a moment and reflect on the question, “What does it mean to be a Pilipinx American student at Stanford?” To gain more insight toward the answer, I interviewed four members of the Pilipinx American community about their thoughts on how their identity has affected the way they experience and perceive Stanford as an institution.
Pilipinx American representation at Stanford
In the interviews, Pilipinx members of the community reflected on Pilipinx representation at Stanford. Representation, however, meant something different to each of the participants — it could be the percentage of Pilipinx undergraduate students, or the number of teaching faculty who are Pilipinx. In addition to talking about what representation means to them, participants noted whether they feel that Pilipinx Americans are a “well-represented” group at Stanford.
Co-chair of Kayumanggi and second-year Filipino language student Jonathan Laxamana ’24 believes that the University falls short in its transparency about Pilipinx admits.
“Stanford prides itself on diversity, right? And they pride themselves on admitting as many students of color from marginalized communities as possible,” he said. “But they sort of fail to disaggregate the data in a way that makes sure every single sector of the Asian American community is represented.”
Co-chair of the Pilipinx American Student Union (PASU) Gabriela Mendoza ’22 said that she feels campus workers deserve more of a voice in interactions with the administration. According to Mendoza, it is often easier for undergraduates to express their complaints with the University through the Asian American Activities Center (A3C), but it may be more difficult for other groups to get their concerns addressed.
“The A3C does a good job of providing us a platform in terms of what to publish out to the world,” Mendoza said. “But it’s more of the workers on campus that would not have access to the resources that we have. It’s hard for them to voice the problems that they have with the school.”
Of course, representation can take on forms beyond numbers and percentages of students, faculty and workers. What’s taught in classes should also be taken into consideration when thinking about how certain groups are represented. Another frustration expressed among several interviewees was the lack of Pilipinx history and culture being taught in Stanford courses.
Co-chair of Kayumanggi ― the artistic arm of PASU ― and prospective International Relations major Kevi Johnson ‘24 feel that Pilipinx and Pilipinx American topics should be more widely covered in the curriculum at Stanford.
“I feel that Southeast Asian studies in general, as a topic of study at Stanford, is not much of a possibility,” Johnson said. “It is a shame, because I would be so eager to incorporate Southeast Asian studies into my academic education.”
When talking about the lack of Pilipinx culture and history being taught in courses, Robert Castaneros ’24, the co-chair of Kababayan ― a committee focused on education about Pilipinx issues ― expressed discontent with Stanford’s Asian American studies curriculum relative to other schools in California.
“I think that, compared with a lot of California schools like UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC Davis — those are schools that have Filipino American studies,” Castaneros said. “Whereas Stanford doesn’t even have a strong Asian American studies department.”
As part of an effort to increase the Pilipinx studies curriculum at Stanford, Laxamana and Castaneros are co-teaching an Alternative Spring Break class about Pilipinx American issues this upcoming spring. They hope to teach others about the systemic issues that Pilipinxs and Pilipinxs Americans face.
How the University can support its Pilipinx students
With several frustrations about how Pilipinx Americans are represented and heard at Stanford, this begs the question: How can the Stanford administration best support its Pilipinx American students? Alongside the concerns that the interviewees expressed, they also mentioned several steps that the University needs to take to support its Pilipinx American community.
As a student who has taken several Asian American studies courses, Castaneros feels that one actionable step is to provide better funding for the department.
“I think that Stanford needs to do more investing in those [ethnic studies] departments,” he said. “If you know the history of your people, then you will obviously have a better community.”
Laxamana echoed Castaneros, saying that Pilipinx studies needs to be better established and funded within Asian American studies. “Why is Stanford, one of the most prestigious universities in the country, not supporting their ethnic studies as much as they can?” he said.
Additionally, Johnson discussed how the University should pay attention to the voices of Pilipinx and Pilipinx American students. “I would say probably one of the biggest things is listening to Pilipinx students and being responsive to requests,” she said. “Especially with regard to the curriculum and faculty representation, I think that’s something that the administration would really benefit from ― listening.”
Mendoza voiced criticisms about how the Pilipinx community and other Southeast Asian groups are often overshadowed by larger ethnic groups when thinking about Asian American students at Stanford. She talked about how Pilipinx American students could feel more represented if there were more Pilipinx and Pilipinx American staff on campus. More specifically, she mentioned her experiences with residential staff at Okada, the Asian American theme dorm.
“I definitely felt that lack of representation freshman year with Okada — I saw that the staff was mostly East Asian,” she mentioned. “It’s kind of a problem, because if you want your students to identify with their identity, you have to have representation, especially on staff.”
Finding Pilipinx American community at Stanford
Despite frustrations among Pilipinx American community members about the way we are represented within the larger Stanford community, many Pilipinx American students have been able to find community with regard to their cultural and ethnic identities. Both inside and outside of Pilipinx student-focused organizations and clubs, several of the interviewees discussed how they have formed friendships and found community with other Pilipinx American students.
Johnson mentioned that the transition to Stanford from home helped her find more community as a Pilipinx American.
“Growing up, I lived in a place where there were pretty much no other Filipinos my age, except for my brother,” Johnson said. “Getting to come here and feel a really strong and friendly and welcoming group on campus that’s always here for me has been really meaningful, and it is one of the best communities I’ve been a part of at Stanford.”
For some members of the Pilipinx American community, Pilipinx-focused student organizations have acted as a support group, a place where Pilipinx American students can find solace when they are facing life challenges.
“I’ve always been part of the PASU community, so it’s very easy for me to rant to the people in my friend group who are also Filipino,” Mendoza says. “For me to rant about my experiences, they also are able to resonate very easily because basically the same identity, a lot of similar problems that we might face in classes.”
The first- and second-year Filipino language courses have also helped some Pilipinx students find a group at Stanford that they identify with, as well as an opportunity to learn more about their culture. According to Laxamana, “The Filipino program at Stanford is an amazing program, because a lot of us never learned our language. It offers us a sense of community and deep connection to learning — you can’t learn the culture without learning the language. That’s really the lens of seeing yourself and your identity within the heritage that you grew up with.”