History of the East-West Center Participants Associations

The first groups of 100 students who arrived in February 1961 set the tone for students organizing their own activities. Scattered into temporary quarters in the Makiki-Manoa area until mid-1963 when the East-West Center (EWC) buildings were completed, students banded together to make their experience memorable. It was never the case of “foreign” students becoming invisible in the community. The EWC international community at the university was very noticeable. As a result, By summer 1962, the East-West Center students established a student government named EWCGA-the East-West Center Grantees Association. By 1970 the name of the organization was changed EWCSA-the East-West Center Students Association. Finally, by the 1980s it became EWCPA-the East-West Center Participants Association that we have at present. The first presidents of EWCGA were Diosdado Asuncion from the Philippines and the next was Saleem Ahmed from Pakistan.

The EWC students were excited to be in Hawai’i, and similarly, the Hawai’i community welcomed them warmly into their homes, their university, and their business. This situation initiated them to encourage a community support group of volunteers established in 1961, which now known as The Friends of the East-West Center. The EWC Friends were set up by the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council (PAAC) and EWC staff. Peggy Kai, Juanita Kenda, and Frances Allison were the early leaders of this group. The EWC Friends worked with the ‘grantees’ in making memorable experience in Hawaii. The EWC Friends still exists now and are an important part of participants’ social lives here. All those organizations, EWCGA, the Friends of EWC, PAAC and EWC staff members worked together to establish some goals. The goals are:
1) a system of community host families for grantees,
2) a system of social and academic interaction with public school classes across the State,
3) a system of “neighbor-island tours” and field trips and,
4) a system of personal support for grantees—emergency loans, magazines, and news papers from the home country, opportunities to attend community events.

These objectives then create a spirit of the students who graduated called the Alumni of EWC. This group then continues to further the mission of the EWC. Collectively, they are contributing to global understanding, building an Asia-Pacific Community, and making a world of difference.

As representatives from many countries and come here to study under the East-West Center scholarship, the students are always highly motivated—individually or in groups, academically or socially. As student numbers increase, they formed national groups which share celebrations or their cultures through performances, flag-raising ceremonies and food. In the  Fall of 1962, The EWGCA sponsored one of its first large-scale major public events—an International Night—held at Roosevelt High School due to the EWC building construction was not finished until spring 1963. The main goal of that activity was to grateful the Hawaii community for its support of EWC participants. By 1973, International Nights then became All-day Fairs, attended by about 10,000 people in their heyday. By the year of 2000, this enduring celebration famously known as the East-West Fest that we always have every year.

In the 1960s and 1970s, National Nights—evening programs of songs, dances, films, and food—also celebrated the various cultures and countries represented at the East-West Center. Each national group had two flag-raising ceremonies a year to honor national Independence Day and one other significant national holiday. The full range of national flags of EWC countries fly in the Jefferson Hall public lobby until, by the mid 1970s, national disputed over territory and names gets “hot” enough that flags were only brought out for ceremonies with visiting dignitaries.

On the lighters side, in the 1970s students organized an annual spring Mini-Olympics with 1) athletic sports events, 2) a tug-of-war, and 3) table game competitions. In the table game competitions, it frequently seemed that Asian and Islanders won at English language Scrabble, while sometimes Western won at Chinese mahjong or Japanese go. At various times, international choirs emerged making singing an available and fun activity for our students.

The EWC students through its organization developed culture and issue-oriented newsletters and magazines—also yearbook, recipe books, and song books. They tackled serious cultural and social issues with seminar series, conferences, and film discussions. The EWCGA produced a magazine/newsletter, Pioneer, by the end of 1961. In 1964, the student body editorial board changed the name of the magazine to East West Review, then Contact, and finally decided as Impulse magazine in 1970. The articles of the magazines celebrated the joys and strains of “inter-culching” EWC style, and frequently also strong student reactions to the turbulent times of the late 1960s-1970s. Several times the EWC administrations stopped publication of issues.

Regarding to the pictures yearbook, international recipe books, and song books, during the 1960s and 1970s, EWC staff and students worked together in celebrating their Asia-Pacific-US cultures. At that time, the EWC Friends worked with the students to produce a beautiful calendar with information about national celebration across the Asia-Pacific-US region.

Asia-America Seminars of the 1960s were a required UH/EWC credit course which uses books, films and dialogue to educate students about other cultures. The seminar finally called Globalization Seminar that requires all EWC students to participate on it. The students also organized Issue Seminars with panels of students discussing “burning” issues such as civil rights, women’s rights, military overthrow of governments in regions, the Vietnam War and border conflict in Asia. This activity is known as the International Graduate Students Conference.

In 2005, EWCPA begins its programs with Plan of Action. The ability of board members to plan comprehensive activities for one year is supported by the diversity of their knowledge and skills. In addition, there is an awareness of board members to follow the plan as a guideline. It creates transparency and accountability of students’ organization. The board members are always open to receive new ideas to build the spirit of the East-West Center.

Many things we did, many things that we can memorize. We may forget what we did but the history may not be forgotten. This brief history should maintain the spirit of the East-West Center. The spirit should not toss itself about in the external play of chance events. In contrast, it is that which established history stands firm against the chance prevalence, which dominates and developed for its own purpose. (Irwansyah, Secretary of EWCPA 2004-2005).