By: Kathryn de la Rosa, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2019, Journalism, Bloomington
The following interviews were conducted during October and November 2017. Click below to listen.
ELOIZA-DOMINGO SNYDER: For us to see all these pictures and to hear from people like you that say I work at the ACC now and I go there and I talk with Melanie… that is so cool.
KATHRYN DE LA ROSA: The Asian Culture Center has been on the corner of 10th and Woodlawn for almost two decades. It’s the youngest culture center at Indiana University Bloomington, and the story of its founding starts with students – one student, in the summer of 1996.
JOON PARK: It was the summer between my sophomore and junior year I stayed on campus and worked on writing a proposal.
DE LA ROSA: That’s Joon Park. When he was a sophomore, IU started accepting applications for something called the Strategic Initiatives Grant. They’d give 50 thousand dollars to a proposal that would further the mission of the university.
PARK: I think it was originally designed for academic grants, but there was nothing that said students couldn’t also submit recommendations. I think they just assumed students wouldn’t.
DE LA ROSA: Before Joon went to college, he felt like he had two lives.
PARK: One was a Korean-American community… but then also at at school and with friends that identity almost entirely faded to the background.
DE LA ROSA: He said that while he wrote the proposal, he thought it was a long shot. He referenced similar proposals from other Midwest schools and read some early works on Asian American studies, but still: a long shot. But the next school year, things took a turn.
PARK: A group of really impassioned students came together and we formed this group called the Student Coalition.
DE LA ROSA: The Student Coalition was a kind of union of 32 student organizations, including Black Student Union, Latinos Unidos, and the Asian American Association, which Joon was then president of.
PARK: And at the time this was 1996. Indiana University didn’t recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a school holiday.
DE LA ROSA: While other campuses like IU Northwest did. So on MLK Day 1997…
PARK: We decided we were call going to come together and we were going to march on the chancellor’s office. We had seven demands.
DE LA ROSA: Some of those demands were the, the establishment of Latino Studies, the permanence of the GLBT Student Support Services Office, and a serious commitment to hiring more faculty of color.
PARK: One of them was the establishment of the Asian Culture Center. The other one was the establishment of the Asian American Studies Program. But ever since 1997 Indiana University recognizes Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an official school holiday, so all you guys who don’t have school that Monday, you can thank us.
DE LA ROSA: And for the next two years, the Asian American Association and other Asian student groups created the Asian Culture Center.
DOMINGO-SNYDER: I graduated from IU in 1999 for my bachelors and my masters in 01. We opened the center in 1998, so my junior year of college.
DE LA ROSA: This is Eloiza Domingo-Snyder. She was treasurer of the Asian American Association in 1998 and 1999.
DOMINGO-SNYDER: I remember picking out the couches that you guys sit on. I picked out the mailing boxes. You walk in theyre in the right hand side past the foyer. I created all of that.
DE LA ROSA: The center opened with an interim director and a group of volunteers, including Eloiza, in fall of 1998.
DOMINGO-SNYDER: We were the first ACC in the Midwest, ever, to open. It was only 8 or 10 of us that did this. And we were all straight-A students. We hand-hired Melanie.
MELANIE CASTILLO-CULLATHER: My name is Melanie Castillo-Cullather, and I’m the director of the Asian Cultural (sic) Center.
DOMINGO-SNYDER: It was a big deal that we all agreed that Melanie should be the director. She was, is, the first Filipina leader in IU history.
DE LA ROSA: Melanie was appointed in January 1999, and she’s been there ever since.
CASTILLO-CULLATHER: The first few weeks. We were so excited because there was a student group. The first student group who actually used the center was the Pakistani Student Association.
DE LA ROSA: For the first six months, it was just business – meeting with student groups, shaping the programs that are now the Center’s trademarks like Over a Cup of Tea discussion group and the ACC youth day camp. But then…
CASTILLO-CULLATHER: Won-Joon Yoon was murdered.
DE LA ROSA: On July 4, 1999, Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, a neo-Nazi and part of the World Church of the creator, murdered incoming grad student Won-Joon Yoon in a spree of drive-by shootings across Indiana and Illinois.
CASTILLO-CULLATHER: And the ACC was thrust into a space that personally, I wasn’t prepared. We grew immediately. You know how that is when you’re confronted by a very sad incident in your life, you sort of like turn 10 years older, 15 years older, that’s basically what happened to the center. We grew overnight and realized that we cannot anymore confine ourselves to doing things on campus, that we have to do things in the community and elsewhere were there’s a need for raising awareness about Asian-Americans about Asians in America, and also advocating for the members of our community.
DE LA ROSA: Daisy Rodriguez-Pitel was part of that outreach.
DAISY RODRIGUEZ-PITEL: And so for me it really made me think about where are safe places for AAPI students to talk about these issues?
DE LA ROSA: Daisy came to IU in fall 1999 to pursue her PhD. She and Melanie created one of the ACC’s long-running programs: Responding to Incidents of Casual Everyday Racism, or RICER.
RODRIGUEZ-PITEL: Won-Joon Yoon was murdered in July a month before I moved to Bloomington, so my parents were a little bit nervous about me moving there and they were concerned because… he was targeted.
DE LA ROSA: It became clear that the ACC was absolutely necessary – and it had arrived on campus at one of the most pivotal moments it could.
RODRIGUEZ-PITEL: I just knew that the ACC would become my home away from home. I don’t think I would’ve survived without the ACC.
DE LA ROSA: RICER, Over a Cup of Tea, Asian Cooking Demos, the mailboxes in the hall – these mainstays of the Asian Culture Center came from students, in both tragic and joyful circumstances.
CASTILLO-CULLATHER: 25:51 Well, it’s very rewarding. Rewarding to see and hear students who are accomplished… hearing from them and seeing how they’ve grown as a person, in their careers and then really good members of their communities. Hearing stories about those accomplishments is very rewarding.
PARK: We wouldn’t have got there if I didn’t sit there in the library all summer.
DOMINGO-SNYDER: Everyone always asks what is the thing you’re most proud of? And I always say opening the ACC. I had no clue what I was doing, but we created something that will stand in the history time and has given back to IU in a way we couldn’t have imagined.
DE LA ROSA: Do you think you’ll be here still in 20 years?
CASTILLO-CULLATHER: (laughter) I don’t know. I wish I knew the answer for that, Kathryn. I don’t know.
The music in this piece came from Podington Bear under a Creative Commons license. http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Podington_Bear/Carefree/Outmoded_Waltz