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Columbia Spectator Staff

Even as they decide on T-shirt designs and which Asian desserts to serve at meetings, members of the newly formed Hapa club are still unsure about their status as a club.


The members of the club, which was officially recognized by the Activities Board at Columbia on Oct. 23, are voting this week whether to be incorporated into the Asian American Alliance.
"Hapa" is a Hawaiian word used as both a noun and an adjective to refer to a person of partial or mixed Asian ethnicity. This quality distinguishes Hapa students from others of Asian descent at Columbia.


At a meeting on Nov. 13, the Hapa club convened with representatives from AAA to discuss the issue, which Miklos Vasarhelyi, CC '04 and president of the Hapa club, called "somewhat of a controversial topic.


"If we join AAA, we're automatically going to get grouped in the Asian community, but if we don't join, then we deny the Asian community, and we don't want to be pigeon-holed," said Vasarhelyi, who is half Chinese and half Hungarian.


Other members of the Hapa club expressed similar concerns about immediately falling into rank with AAA, which encompasses 18 other Asian-related clubs. Representatives from AAA who were invited to last week's meeting addressed the club's concerns.


Nikki Dankert, CC '03 and president of AAA, emphasized that her organization does not want to "control" the Hapa club but rather wants to allow it to take advantage of AAA's role as a vehicle for communication between many Asian groups.


Dankert explained that the Hapa club would be an asset to the AAA community.


"The push isn't just for Hapa club, it's to expand what it means to be Asian American on this campus," she said, later adding, "I feel like AAA is supposed to be representative of the Asian-American community at Columbia and not having Hapa represented within that community is kind of self-defeating."


Still, some Hapas remain cautious.


"We're such a new club that I feel like any affiliation with AAA would attach our voice to theirs," said Hapa club member Kristin Soong, CC '06.


Andrew Kornbluth, CC '04 and political coordinator of Hapa, said that while he did not think the Hapa club would "necessarily be constrained by an affiliation with AAA," he still feels it is important for the club to remain outside the AAA because most Hapas do not identify themselves as specifically Asian in the same way that members of AAA do.


Other members of the club argued that it would be possible to join AAA without being stereotyped as a solely Asian organization but acknowledged that they did not want to de-emphasize their non-Asian identity.


Jerry Liu, SEAS '04, who is vice president of the Chinese Students Club and serves on the board of the Hong Kong Students Club, both of which are under the AAA umbrella, affirmed AAA's opinion on the matter. Liu said that "Hapa's concerns are definitely legitimate" but emphasized that "the goal of the AAA umbrella organization is that it's a coalition that fills in the gaps to connect all of our Asian clubs on campus rather than just dissolve all of the groups into one society."


Regardless of what the Hapa club ultimately decides, its members plan to add a stipulation to its constitution calling for a reconsideration of the issue every year or two.


The Hapa club was faced this issue a month ago when it presented its request for official recognition and funding from the ABC. ABC, which is already constrained by space and money availability, was originally reluctant to recognize Hapa as an independent organization and suggested that it join AAA.


"We were trying to offer groups other outlets for them to be able to function on campus without being recognized as an ABC group. That's why we suggested that they [Hapa] go to AAA," said Marva Brown, CC '03 and president of ABC.


But Brown and ABC were finally convinced by the Hapa club's argument and recognized the group.


"They made it very clear that one of the major issues or concerns surrounding people of Hapa is that they don't always feel welcome within the Asian-American community because they are not fully Asian, so whatever qualms ABC had about adding another group were put to rest," said Brown. "Hapa had a very strong case and they proved that they were willing to work with ABC as an independent group."


Katrina Rouse, CC '04 and an ABC representative at large, said that the Hapa club had a lot of student interest--Hapa's e-mail list includes 150 students, about 30 of whom regularly attend meetings--and "if there's a student need for a club on campus, then ABC should sponsor it."

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