April 28 marked a historic event for the University of New Mexico’s Asian American and Pacific Islander community with the official opening of the Asian American Pacific Islander Resource Center (colloquially pronounced as ay-perk).

The ribbon-cutting ceremony boasted a large turnout of students, community members and notable guests. Although AAPIRC has been open for some time now, this marks one of the first large public events in the space with socializing and lots of tasty food.

Farah Nousheen, the associate director of AAPIRC, led the ceremony, opening it with a series of warm welcomes. The event also included many distinguished guest speakers, including New Mexico’s Deputy Director and state Rep. Kay Bounkeua, UNM President Garnett Stokes, associate professor of communication and journalism Shinsuke Eguchi and others. Other community members were present to show their support, including the New Mexico Asian Family Center.

Founders Irene Sanaoue, Emma Hotz and Jacob Olaguir, alongside students, staff and guests, cut the ribbon to AAPIRC with great enthusiasm. Hotz said that she couldn’t believe it was real. In the moments following, AAPIRC invited everyone in for an open house event where students, staff and community members could share what the space means to them.

Alina Le is a student who finds a place of belonging within the walls of AAPIRC. She explained that it is a place where she can be her true self.

“It’s amazing to see how much got done this semester,” Le said.

Doj Pimentel, a nursing student and member of the Filipino Student Organization, expressed the myriad of benefits AAPIRC provides, including increased cultural belonging, study help and snacks like spicy buldak ramen.

Pimentel said the center is a great place to study and meet others with the same degree plan. Some academic departments and the Center for Academic Program Support have a presence at AAPIRC as well. Just a few of the classes that hold study sessions include chemistry, nutrition and biology.

“It’s not just a social hub, it’s a homework/study hub. A lot of PLFs or SIs (peer learning facilitators or supplemental instructors) hold their study sessions in AAPIRC,” Pimentel said.

Socially, Pimentel explained that AAPIRC has been a great resource for him and other students, especially for 2020 high school graduates who started college remotely. He described the sense of grounding it has provided him and his classmates.

“Now because of AAPIRC, anyone from these organizations or outside these organizations can have a place to stay. Personally, I used to go everywhere, Zimmerman, Centennial, Einstein’s, but now all I do is go to AAPIRC to study. It makes me feel welcome; there’s lots of friendly faces,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel also praised AAPIRC as a place to crash in between classes — there are now two couches at the center.

But beyond these offerings, AAPIRC provides something more: a place to explore one's sense of identity and connection with family. Pimentel explained, for example, that some Filipinos feel isolated from their roots when relatives visit. AAPIRC and collaborating organizations like the Filipino Student Organization help them recognize those roots and escape the disconnect that results from assimilating into the dominant white culture.

The AAPIRC has been in the works for a long time now. Pimentel credits the conception of the new center to the Asian American Student Association, which was founded in 2019. Olaguir, co-founder and Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship finalist, said that it was surreal that it was finally happening. Olaguir, the other founders and students have been pushing for this resource center for many years, despite frustrations.

Nousheen wants to encourage all students to utilize the space and collaborate with other organizations on campus, as well as attend events centered around practicing native languages and maintaining spiritual connections.

Upcoming events for AAPIRC include Eguchi’s book discussion happening Friday, May 6 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and AAPIRC’s first-ever graduation ceremony on Wednesday, May 11 at 10 a.m.

AAPIRC is located in the Education Building on the second floor, Room 212, just north of the Student Union Building. See aapirc.unm.edu to contact the staff and for details about events.

Nell Johnson is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached on Twitter @peachnells or at culture@dailylobo.com

Maxwell Minty McGrael is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached on Twitter @MaxMintyMcGrael or at culture@dailylobo.com