Attendants of the API Coffee Chat with Melody (second from right).
Attendants of the API Coffee Chat with Melody (second from right).

During the early summer of 2012, Albert David Valderrama (Ibaraki Prefecture, 2010) realized a growing concern. Some foreigners of Asian descent–his friends and acquaintances–were having difficulties adjusting to Japanese life. He wanted to do something to help but was unsure on exactly what or how. At the time, a Program Coordinator from the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) suggested that he contact a representative from the Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching (AJET) about starting a Special Interest Group (SIG).

Later in July, Valderrama was reunited with a former university schoolmate at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku to serve as Tokyo Orientation Assistants for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. After several casual conversations about their time in Japan thus far, an idea was born. Hence, Asian Pacific Islander AJET (API AJET) began.

While in university, Melody Wong (Okayama Prefecture, 2011) had been the Fundraising Chair, Internal Vice President, and President over a three-year period with the Chinese Student Association (CSA), as well as a Culture and Educational Program (CEP) Coordinator for Asian Pacific Student Programs two of those years. Simultaneously, Valderrama had been the Academic Chairperson for the Katipunan Pilipino Student Organization two separate years and a co-founder and Co-Chairperson of the Pilipino Studies Collective (PSt). The both of them graduated in 2006 from the University of California in Riverside having passed their torches onto succeeding generations of student organizers.

API AJET Table at Tokyo Orientation 2013

After coming to Japan, Wong and Valderrama immediately realized that they had been experiencing a very different life than what the generic descriptions made people believe; however, even among the two, there was still a major distinction. The disparity was that Valderrama had been provided essays in the 2010 General Information Handbook and a specialized workshop during the 2010 Tokyo Orientation geared towards “JETs of Asian Descent.” This cultural help was unavailable beginning in 2011, when Wong arrived, and has not been reintroduced into the orientation process ever since, contributing to the concern Valderrama had had earlier that summer.

Realizing that such aid was still needed within the JET community, and the foreigner community in general, the two co-founders decided to use their combined experiences to create a support group for the Asian Pacific Islander (API) demographic in Japan. They hoped to alleviate any stress and help people cope with any issues that might stem from being an API foreigner in a mostly homogeneous Asian nation.

In the fall, the group started to evolve from a notion to an official AJET SIG. After speaking with an AJET Block Representative to get in touch with the AJET Activities Coordinator, the idea began to grow. In conjunction with help from a handful of other JETs in various parts of Japan, such as Aomori, Ishikawa, Yamanashi, Gifu, Mie, Shiga, Kochi, and Fukuoka, the concept gained more awareness and support. After the Mission Statement and Constitution were completed, National AJET approved the SIG in December of 2012. Thus, API AJET was born.