APIDA Greek Origins
Many people are surprised to learn the rich history of Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) fraternities and sororities dates back to the early 20th Century.
Between 1916 and 1930, the first APIDA fraternities and sororities were created as support groups for small ethnic minorities (Chinese or Japanese) on predominantly White college campuses. They mirrored their White counterparts by adopting Greek letters, forming a chapter, incorporating secret rituals, and developing their own traditions (Kimbrough, 2003). Organizations of this early era include:
- 1916 – Rho Psi Fraternity at Cornell University (Chinese)
- 1929 – Pi Alpha Phi Fraternity at University of California, Berkeley (Chinese)
- 1929 – Chi Alpha Delta Sorority at University of California, Los Angeles (Japanese)
- 1930 – Sigma Omicron Pi Sorority at San Francisco State University (Chinese)
The number of Asian Interest Greek Lettered organizations of that era are much smaller than our peer organizations, such as “white” and “black” fraternities and sororities. There may be many reasons for this, but one primary factor are the tight immigration policies such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Gentleman’s Agreement of 1907, and the Immigration Act of 1924, which made it very difficult for those of Asian origin to come to this country and access the higher education system.
Pre-World War II
The first Asian-Interest fraternal organization was Rho Psi Fraternity, established at Cornell University in 1916 by a group of Chinese American men. Rho Psi grew substantially in the 1920s and 1930s, establishing chapters in places all over East Asia, such as Hong Kong, as well as multiple chapters in the United States. However, the organization began to focus on post collegiate experiences, and officially became Rho Psi Society, a co-ed professional organization, in 1976.
Pi Alpha Phi Fraternity was founded in 1929 at UC Berkeley by a group of Chinese American men. That same year, a group of Japanese American women formed Chi Alpha Delta at UCLA. Finally, in 1930, a group of Chinese American women established Sigma Omicron Pi, which stands for Sisters of Pedagogy, at San Francisco State University as an organization that would provide sisterhood to Chinese American women interested in teaching. With the establishment of this organization, the establishment of pre-World War II organizations was complete.
Loosening immigration policies, a rise in the APIDA student population, and the close geographic proximity of several universities and colleges in Southern California ushered in the next major period of Asian American fraternal development (Lee, 2003).
Post-World War II
The 1940s through 1970s saw the establishment of many organizations for both Asian American men and women in California. The first of these was Sigma Phi Omega Sorority, started by a group of Japanese American women in 1949 at the University of Southern California.
Organizations created a vibrant Asian fraternal community across Southern California. Chapters held numerous events across the region and developed elaborate customs and traditions. In 1982, 22 fraternities and sororities formed the Asian Greek Council of Southern California in order to promote, maintain, and regulate cooperation among its many group members (Asian Greek Council, n.d.).
Beginning in the late 1980s, an exploding Asian American student population, the rise in multiculturalism, and the advancement of technology combined to help usher in a fast-growing, national, Asian fraternity/sorority movement. For the first time since Rho Psi Fraternity began at Cornell University, Asian fraternal organizations were chartered outside of California. Existing organizations such as Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternity, Pi Alpha Phi fraternity, and alpha Kappa Delta Phi sorority began chartering chapters in states such as Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
Pi Delta Psi Fraternity, Sigma Psi Zeta Sorority, and Kappa Phi Lambda Sorority were founded on New York campuses, and within 5 years, each had chartered several chapters. With the development of the Internet in the 1990s, it became easy for these new groups to find other organizations that shared similar ideals.
The mid-1990s also saw the birth of Greek lettered organizations focused on South Asian Americans. By the end of the 1990s, at least 35 organizations with over 140 chapters had been established.
In the 2000s, these fraternities and sororities sought organizational development with the goal of improving the fraternal experience for their members. In 2005, nine of the largest and most prominent APIDA fraternities and sororities created the National Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Panhellenic Association (NAPA) to promote and foster positive relations among its member organizations and the community.
As of 2013, there are over 65 Asian American fraternities and sororities exist totaling over 450 total chapters.