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AAPI Heritage Month: Breaking the silence

Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) Candidate (they/he/she)

Illustration: Fernando Augusto

To honor Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month 2023, we asked AAPI members of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health community what the month means to them. We will be posting the responses throughout the month, which ends May 31, 2023.

Today, we feature DrPH candidate Daryl Mangosing, MPH.

As a Filipino American born in Guam, UC Berkeley School of Public Health DrPH candidate Daryl Mangosing knows that the AAPI community is not a monolithic unit. Indeed, there are more than 50 ethnic groups within the AAPI category in the United States, all with different cultures, needs, and histories.

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) communities are especially marginalized, Mangosing says, and public health professionals should strive to understand their unique needs.

“It is my hope personally that all AAPI folks also start to break their silence on pressing issues that are negatively impacting their lives,“ says Mangosing. “Our voices and stories play a vital role in driving public health efforts. And it is my hope that public health listens and takes action.”

Berkeley Public Health: What is your role here at BPH and how long have you been here?

Daryl Mangosing: I am a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) Candidate who entered BPH in fall 2019 (~4 years) and since served as a graduate student instructor (GSI) for one to two semesters each year.

What are your plans post-graduation?

I am currently searching for research or program specialist positions within the local or state government sector, at a nonprofit public health or healthcare organizations, or with an academic research center. Ideally, I would also like to teach my own university course on the side focused on LGBTQ+ health for public health students, given more of the attention to health professions. My alternative plan includes taking on a postdoctoral fellowship in preparation of securing a tenure-track faculty position.

What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?

As a Filipino American who was born and raised in the island of Guam and a member of the UCB Pilipinx American Graduate Student Association, or PAGaSA, AAPI Heritage Month is more than just a time and space of recognition and celebration. It also serves as an impetus for us as a country to continually empower and enact positive change for all of our AAPI communities, including our immigrant and undocumented families and those suffering at the hand of erasure from lacking representation, social stratification, and colonization.

This year’s theme of “Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity” from the Federal Asian Pacific American Council reminds us of the significance of professional progression and career satisfaction and how opportunity facilitates the achievement thereof. However, such ideals will continue to be impeded with the persistence of a white supremacist system that any tokenistic and performative diversity, equity, and inclusion effort will not dismantle.

Most recently, COVID has spurred unprecedented hatred toward AAPI communities. So, while we highlight our successes and contributions, we are starkly reminded that the so-called American dream remains all but that, a dream, for now. We cannot let hate and the trap of oppression olympics divide us further from everyone else; we all need to unite in solidarity to enact change.

How do you feel that Asian American and Pacific Islanders are seen through the lens of public health and what challenges might they have?

The fact of the matter is that conventional public health has historically and to some degree still treat AAPI as a monolithic entity, one that is to be instrumentalized to conceive a numerical variable that ensures the possibility of statistical significance in reference to what is typically the dominant group, non-Hispanic white people. It only recently has come to the field’s attention that disaggregation is necessary to advance health equity. This is further exacerbated by the tendency for public health to operate by focusing on where there is more need according to numbers with finite resources. This entails the marginalization and erasure of groups who are lesser in numbers relative to others. This can be observed with how Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) communities tend to be conflated within a dominant Asian American narrative in public health spaces, further perpetuating their erasure.

It is also because of the great diversity that AAPI people comprise and the intersectional identities held among them, public health must contend with the reality that not only are our numbers growing but also that of a multiplicity of cultures that are constantly in flux in the U.S. It is my hope personally that all AAPI folks also start to break their silence on pressing issues that are negatively impacting their lives, whether this silence is rooted in the model “minority myth,” cultural shame, or avoidance of conflict. Our voices and stories play a vital role in driving public health efforts. And it is my hope that public health listens and takes action.

How do you feel our school could better serve our AAPI community members?

At the outset, BPH must continue to dismantle popular stereotypes that systemically render our community members invisible, which include the perpetuation of AAPI students serving as model minorities and any other backhanded compliments that further delegitimize our experiences of racial prejudice, violence, and xenophobia. Such an effort must pervade through all levels of the campus, from within the classroom to the workplace and even to school-community partnerships. This means for us to not only become more aware of our own identities and biases, but also to be allies, especially in times of political crises like AAPI hate from COVID and right-wing extremism.

Institutionally, BPH should initiate or continue the collection and analysis of disaggregated AAPI data for all incoming and current students and staff. Such will inform the actions needed to  address inequities, especially those that stem from language, socioeconomic and immigration factors, and geography. As California being one of the states with the highest number of AAPI, BPH also bears a responsibility to build AAPI inclusion into curriculum and pedagogy. This means training incoming and current faculty on the importance of cultural relevance and contexts, dissuading the temptation to lump all AAPI into a monolith for ease of teaching. BPH should also increase efforts to recruit and uplift NHPI students and staff; otherwise, one’s intention behind AAPI Heritage Month is effectively misguided.