AAPI Heritage Month at Athenian

Middle schoolers Kaylee C. ’27, Payton I. ’27, and Olivia N. ’27 have been working on a mural denouncing acts of violence against Asian Americans. 

At a time when violence against Asian Americans has been on the rise nationwide, Athenians have come together to support and celebrate the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in an effort driven by student leaders.

Throughout the month of May, which has been recognized as AAPI Heritage Month since 1992, the Asian Student Union (ASU) and faculty advisers organized events, artwork, discussions, and other meaningful programming to increase awareness about the history of Asian Americans, the diversity of Asian culture, the Model Minority Myth, and the recent spate of violence against AAPI individuals. 

A collaborative effort led by students

ASU leaders Anthony Guan ’21, Sarah Liu ‘21, and Kitty Zhan ‘21 took the helm in organizing and drawing attention to AAPI month activities.

“ASU leaders have been monumental in these events that are taking place at Athenian,” said ESL Teacher, International Program Director, and ASU Co-Advisor Michelle Park. “It’s really happening at the ground level from the students.”

Upper School Community Meetings have been a key venue, and film has been an important medium in this month’s AAPI events. Students viewed and discussed this video from Time.com on the forgotten history of Asian immigration to the U.S. and a documentary by Film Instructor Peter Tamaribuchi about his father, a Japanese-American. Later in the month, Peter and Jeremy L. ’21 hosted a celebration of AAPI filmmakers. 

With the leadership of the ASU, collaboration has been a central theme in this month’s activities. The group held joint meetings with the Black Student Union (BSU) and the Athenian White Antiracist Group (AWAG) to explore opportunities to work toward common goals. ASU leaders also presented to grades 6 and 7 in the Middle School. 

Also in the Middle School, Michelle gave a presentation on K-POP, and students viewed video clips highlighting the Asian American experience and the accomplishments of AAPI individuals. A group of students created a mini-mural to celebrate the month, and many students took the opportunity to focus on AAPI issues in their personal projects. The DEIS team, with the help of Middle School student contributors, put together this E&I newsletter on AAPI heritage and shared it with the school. 

A workshop for Upper School International students highlighted AAPI heritage and history: ASU leaders presented on Asian American history and the origins of the Model Minority Myth, and adults who identify as Asian American spoke about how this myth affected their lives growing up. 

In a group art project in the CIS, students created a mural based on a painting by Sarah F. ’22. Anthony G. ’21 transformed the painting into a poster that was distributed throughout the Athenian campus, and members of the ASU lent their artistic skills to transfer the image to canvas panels. The mural is now on display in the main window area of the CIS.

In addition, alumni Matt Okazaki ’06 and Krissy Manansala ’09, presented at an ASU meeting to share their experiences of growing up Asian American and attending Athenian. 

A new safe space

While the Athenian Asian Club has been on campus for nearly two decades, over the years it morphed from an affinity space into a cultural and social club that is open to all races and ethnicities. 

The newly created Asian Student Union, which is open to students who identify as Asian, was officially formed in January 2021, but the impetus for an Asian affinity group came a year earlier, when Vivian Liao, ASU Co-Advisor and Director of the Carter Innovation Studio, approached Michelle about ways to support Asian students as the pandemic escalated. 

“She already had the sense over a year ago that there was a need to support our Asian students on campus,” Michelle said.

In January 2021, nearly a year into the pandemic and immediately following the end of Trump’s divisive presidency, Vivian and Michelle created an affinity group that would help Asian American students and adults at Athenian to feel supported. 

“We wanted it to be a safe space for students and adults who identify as Asian to gather and share stories, grieve, celebrate,” said Michelle.

Challenges continue

As Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month comes to a close amid continued concerns for AAPI safety nationwide, it’s important to recognize that violence against Asian Americans continues. While from the mainstream media it may seem like these acts of aggression have abated, Asian American news sources give a different perspective, Vivian said. 

“They have not stopped, they have not abated,” said Vivian, adding that the Bay Area is actually a hot spot for these ongoing events, which often target the elderly and women. 

AAPI events this month have also addressed the problems created by the Model Minority Myth, which stereotypes Asian Americans as a monolithic group. Depicting Asian Americans as robotic high achievers, it puts pressure on those who may not fit the mold and pits minorities against one another. 

“It comes with a whole suite of stereotypes and it just dehumanizes everyone involved,” Vivian said.

While the challenges faced by the AAPI community continue, the formation of the ASU along with this month’s series of community events have provided much-needed support.

“It’s been very therapeutic for myself, and for I think a lot of Asian American members of our community, to finally have a forum, a group to discuss these events, and I think that the ASU is part of that—they specifically provide a space for the students to process these things.”Sources: ASU Co-Advisors Michelle Park and Vivian Liao, Letter from Sanjev deSilva and the ASU regarding AAPI month [[link]]. Note: Vivian will be succeeded by Kimiko Sera-Tacorda as ASU Co-Advisor in 2021-22.

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