Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month kicks off

by Felipe Opazo Saravia | 5/7/19 2:00am

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which primarily takes place during the month of May, kicked off this year’s programming with Lei Day on April 30 — a celebration of Native Hawaiian culture. This year’s theme, “Pearl: Of Great Individuality and Worth” celebrates uniqueness and creates a space to understand what it means to be part of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, according to AAPIHM student coordinator Nalini Ramanathan ’19. 

Last year’s theme, “Counter Currents: Beyond the Surface,” focused on activism and awareness movements. This year, Ramanathan said the theme intends to showcase the individual stories and experiences within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. 

“Our theme is about the individual experiences, like the hardships or moments of joy that each individual in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community has,” Ramanathan said. “This month we are just highlighting a lot of those stories. Typically, we try to highlight stories that we don’t usually see represented in the media.”

Mikaila Ng ’22, a member of the planning committee involved with marketing this year’s programming, said that this year’s theme reflects the experiences ­— both good and bad — that make individuals in the community unique.

“At an individual level, we all go through different experiences, sort of like a pearl, where we have troubling experiences — hard stuff, whatever that may be — but all those experiences make each person unique and special,” Ng said.

According to Ramanathan, a group of around 15 students from the Pan Asian community were in charge of organizing many of the AAPIHM events through the Office of Pluralism and Leadership.

Events planned for the month include Lei Day, a performance by gender non-conforming artist, writer, educator and entertainer Alok Vaid-Menon, a keynote address by Vietnamese-American novelist Monique Truong, a “Moveable Feast,” a “Nightmarket,” a dumpling-making event, a Boba bar and a dinner discussion about faith and spirituality. Filipino, South Asian and Korean groups will also present culture nights. There will be a panel about academia and activism, as well as another panel titled, “Where are the Asians?” An AAPIHM gala will take place on May 24 at the Hood Museum of Art, which will be followed the next day by a Lu’au. A presentation of Korean food and dances will close the celebrations of the month. 

Lei Day volunteer Sara Lockwood ’22 described the event as an opportunity to preserve Hawaiian culture. She said that thousands of orchids were flown in from Hawaii, and a cultural practitioner from Maui, Kumu Pono Murray, spoke about the importance of recognizing, preserving and continuing to practice one’s culture.

“We were making Lei and we had a cultural practitioner from the island of Maui, Kumu Pono Murray, who spoke about the importance of recognizing one’s culture, preserving and continuing to practice it.”

According to Ramanathan, one of the main purposes of Lei Day and other AAPHIM events is to help people reflect on their identity and also create a sense of community and shared experience. 

“It was really interesting hearing students’ reactions to Kumu Pono about the importance of preserving culture and continuing culture,” Lockwood said. “They seemed to really agree with what he was saying, and I think it does make students reflect upon their stories.”

Another AAPIHM event that has already happened this month was the official AAPIHM kick-off event in Collis Common Ground, featuring a performance by gender non-conforming performer Vaid-Menon. 

“Sometimes we forget about the queer community within communities of color and Alok represents that,” Ng said. “[These people] not only represent [part of] the Asian culture, but also the queer community and how there’s an interesting cross-section between these two.”