WINTER PARK, Fla. — Asian American and Pacific Islander voter demographics in Florida reveal about 92,000 AAPI people live in Orange County, one of the counties with the highest AAPI populations in Florida, according to the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, a non-profit organization.
As Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month kicks off in May — Makena Keakamahina Bassett, a Hawaiian native, explains the importance of leading an Asian American Pacific Islander Student Union at Rollins College, which is a predominantly white institution.
“Coming from Hawaii, we have a very diverse population, predominantly Asian or Pacific Islander and then coming to Central Florida and Rollins College, I really didn’t see that, I noticed that the community was much smaller than I was used to,” said Bassett, the President of the Asian American Pacific Islander Student Union at Rollins College.
Bassett is a double major in environmental science and English at Rollins College in Winter Park. She said she has a responsibility to lead and create change, and she’s hoping to increase the knowledge, history, and culture of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at the college. She wants to increase visibility, representation and appreciation for her people and her home.
The latest numbers show in 2021, only 4% of Rollins College students were Asian.
In certain instances, she’s noticed cultural appropriation and microaggressions that she’s hoping to combat through education.
“Some things people have asked me is: ‘Oh, you live in Hawaii, do you ride a dolphin to school do you live in a grass hut, trying to be funny, but it’s very uneducated. I know that a lot of AAPI cultures face the same kind of issues,” said Bassett who grew up in Kahalu’u on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.
Whether it’s setting up movies, origami, sushi nights or planning student union events, she said her student union group helps others gain respect and wisdom for the Asian American and Pacific Islander cultures. The goal is to create a more unified community and for others to become allies.
“Being able to create a community for Asian American and Pacific Islander people, as well as have a space for people to educate non-AAPI people was really important to me,” said Bassett.
There are a total of 54 members in Bassett's student union.