APIMEDA Names

As mentioned in the History section of our website, APIMEDA is a name that was coined by the Coalition for Critical Asian American Studies (CCAAS). We believe that UC San Diego is the first university to use this name and grouping of populations. In understanding why CCAAS discussed this population and names, we learn that these are descriptors for a coalition of peoples.

In examining the name, it is important to understand the history of the terms selected as indicators of a coalition. In part, this is a way that APIMEDA Programs and Services frames our work.


The term Asian American was coined in the late 1960s at UC Berkeley by students Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee. They were forming apolitical coalition of people who identified as members of various Asian ethnicities. Prior to this point, folks used words like “Oriental” or “Asiatic”, or referred to groups separately by their ethnic identities. Ichioka and Gee were particularly interested in creating a pan-ethnic coalition, and chose the term “Asian American” as a self-determined identifier for their multi-ethnic Asian group. They found that this coalition raised the consciousness of their similar lived experiences as minorities in the United States, and advocated for equity in their communities.

In the late 1970s, the US Census Bureau sought to group what they deemed to be similar ethnic groups together and created a category starting with the 1980 census for “Asian or Pacific Islander”, which combined several individual ancestry categories. After protest from several Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations, the US Census returned the collection of specific ethnic group data under this category for the 1990 census. The US Census currently separates “Asian American” from “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander”. The US Census (and other US government agencies) defines Asian American as people with origins or ancestry in the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.

The term Pacific Islander generally refers to the indigenous people from Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. While the US Census had grouped Pacific Islanders with Asian Americans in 1980, it is generally agreed that a grouping of “Asian Pacific Islander” typically masks the needs of Pacific Islander peoples, as they are a very small population in the United States.

The term Middle Eastern is a term first used by the British. The term was coined to refer to its location east of Britain, with the areas centered around China being the “Far East” and the areas around the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea being the “Near East”. An American Naval strategist later used the term to describe an area made up of what had been called the Near East and the Middle East and discussed its importance to passage for the British military. It is important to note that many groups, including the UC Office of the President are using the term “Southwest Asian and North African”, or SWANA, interchangeably with Middle Eastern. As a region, SWANA typically encompasses nations in the Arab league, Iran, and Israel.  In addition, it is important to note that at this time, people who identify as an ethnicity within SWANA on the US Census or with the US Departments of Education and Justice are counted in demographic information as "White".

The term Desi is a term from Sanskrit that means “land” or “country”. It is used to describe the people, cultures, and products of the Indian subcontinent or South Asia and their diaspora around the world. While there is some dispute amongst some South Asian Americans about how to use the word Desi, it was selected because of the way that some people use it to describe not only the traditional culture and people but also all people and their migration over time.

The term American is specifically named in APIMEDA to acknowledge the specific and contrasting experiences of APIMEDA students to their international student counterparts. Many of these experiences are related to the stereotypes, barriers, and attitudes that many APIMEDA people face in education and American society. While international students who identify as Asian or Middle Eastern are likely to encounter these things while studying in the United States, their history and experience with them is typically limited to the time that they are studying rather than being for periods before or beyond their time as a student, and for many their entire lives.