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ASU celebrates Asian Pacific Heritage Month amidst exacerbated Asian American hate crimes

The Asian Student Union’s 32nd annual APIDAHM emphasizes the importance of celebration and healing

Through the events planned specifically for APIDAHM and events organized by the greater ASU, the group hopes to create an environment where APIDA students feel comfortable and can promote cultural appreciation and awareness.
Through the events planned specifically for APIDAHM and events organized by the greater ASU, the group hopes to create an environment where APIDA students feel comfortable and can promote cultural appreciation and awareness.

Every April, the Asian Student Union hosts Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month — a month dedicated to celebrating Asian culture and educating students on Asian American history. While Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is nationally celebrated in May to commemorate the first immigration of Japanese people to the United States, ASU’s APIDAHM takes place in April to avoid conflicts with exam season and to allow for events throughout the entire month.

The four APIDAHM planning committee members began organizing the events and dates over winter break via Zoom. The committee — led by Tanay Bapat, ASU’s APIDAHM chair and third-year College student — scheduled eight virtual events throughout April, ranging from culturally relevant movie screenings to a meditation workshop. All the events can be found on the APIDAHM Facebook event page.

All eight events will be held virtually this year to abide by Virginia and University guidelines and to make them more accessible for students. While the events this month may look a little different from past APIDAHMs, there are still plenty of opportunities to partake in celebrations.

“I've noticed that it's mostly Asian students in my classes that are the ones [learning from] home,” said Iris Wu, APIDAHM committee member and first-year College student. “Since they’re our main audience, if we don't make things accessible for them, who's going to come? So we've also been thinking of ways to utilize our Zoom format.”

The goal of this year’s APIDAHM is celebration and healing, after a tumultuous year that made in-person gatherings within the community particularly difficult. Feelings of distress related to the pandemic and the recent increase in hate crimes toward the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American community led the planning committee to focus on something they feel the community has been lacking. 

“We believe that now, more than ever, we need to heal from what can harm, and celebrate what lifts people up,” Bapat said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Some of our events will be from a historical perspective, some of them from cultural perspectives and some from activist perspectives.”

This spring’s theme follows last fall’s APIDAutumn theme of solidarity. APIDAutumn is the abbreviated fall counterpart to APIDAHM and consists of a one-to-two week-long celebration in November. The same APIDAHM committee members plan four to five events that fit under the chosen theme of the celebrations. This past fall, APIDAutumn had similar events to this year’s APIDAHM — including poetry slams and food-related events. 

“Last year’s theme [of solidarity] was a bit heavier … we were going through a difficult time, so we wanted to bond with each other and stay strong,” said Nhi Nguyen, APIDAHM committee member and second-year College student. “This semester, we decided to go with celebration and healing because solidarity has two meanings — I'm going to be here for you through tough situations, but also through the good times.” 

ASU’s string of events kicked off with a more casual event April 2nd dubbed “Chomp and Chill.” As an innovative alternative to the many in-person, food-related events that are typically held during APIDAHM, students were invited to watch a short presentation about celebratory foods in different Asian cultures like Tang Yuan — a Chinese dessert eaten during the Lantern Festival. Afterwards, they were able to spend some time chatting with their peers.

“We also brought foods to eat as we watched,” said Yuri Kim, APIDAHM committee member and first-year College student. “It was more of a bonding event for all of us to just talk and eat dinner together.”

Since then, they’ve hosted the Celebration Slam — an event where students could come read and write poetry celebrating Asian culture, while also expressing feelings about recent AAPI hate — and the A-Factor — a virtual talent show that collected submission videos from contestants until Saturday, April 10. The winner of the talent show could choose an organization from a pre-compiled list of organizations or submit a different organization of their choosing that ASU would donate to. Many of these organizations, including Stop AAPI Hate, #EnoughIsEnough, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the Asian American Feminist Collective are dedicated to spreading awareness on Asian American hate and stopping anti-Asian violence. 

This year’s talent show — which ASU hopes to turn into an annual event — was won by the AKAdeMiX Dance Crew. As the winner, AKAdeMiX could direct which organization ASU should donate the $300 prize to, and the group chose Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing civil and human rights of Asian Americans.

“Asian Student Union is also a political advocacy group,” Kim said. “It’s not just a cultural group, so I think our events are aimed to also educate and empower Asians by creating a more supportive and understanding environment. That's why we create such diverse events with different activities and themes.”

While most of the events are funded by ASU fundraisers, one event this year — a screening of the 2020 film “Minari” on April 17 — is being funded by the Asian Cosmopolitanisms Lab within the Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures at the University. Sylvia Chong, an associate director of American Studies, director of the minor in Asian Pacific American Studies and an associate professor of English, reached out to the APIDAHM committee with a grant from the IHGC to host the screening. The grant paid for 250 tickets that students could sign up for through a Google form on APIDAHM’s Facebook page. 

Tickets for the screening have all been reserved, but all students are encouraged to attend the following APIDAHM event — a panel on April 23 to discuss the movie from an academic perspective — as its focus will entail the nuances of cultural shocks and difficulties that tend to characterize the Asian American experience. On the panel is Prof. Chong, Shilpa Davé — an assistant dean and assistant professor of Media Studies, and Samhita Sunya— an assistant professor of Middle Eastern Studies and South Asian Languages and Cultures. 

The film’s plot follows a Korean American immigrant family as they adjust to life in the United States. It emphasizes themes of struggle and reliance on family that are common in the Asian experience, and provides a timely look into the intersection of Asian heritage and American culture. Compounded with the general dearth of media exposure surrounding Asian American struggles, “Minari” has made waves with the public since its release, garnering prestigious awards that include the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 

“I think that when we talk about the American story, we leave out important aspects and people,” Bapat said. “Our hope is that offering tickets to screen ‘Minari’ will help tell that side of the story. Though it can be uncomfortable, ‘Minari’ gives people an opportunity to understand the immigrant struggle, and everything that accompanies it for Asians and Asian Americans.”

The last of the events is the Mindful Morning event, scheduled for April 25. At the event, Leslie Hubbard — the program director of student engagement at the Contemplative Sciences Center — will be discussing the history of meditation practices and demonstrating techniques for mindfulness that she learned studying and living with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam and France. Her experience with a Zen Buddhist Master is what drew the committee to Hubbard, as they hoped she would acknowledge the Buddhist origins of the practices from a historical perspective.

With final exams quickly approaching, the Mindful Morning event aims to explore the science behind mindfulness and stress reduction. Participants will be learning techniques to increase greater awareness, emotional well-being and peace that are easy to integrate into their daily lives. 

“In addition to finals coming up, which is obviously a stressful time, our hope is that members of the Asian American community, who are struggling right now due to the increased hate and violence against us, can find healthy outlets to deal with personal stressors and anxiety,” Bapat said. “People can sit behind their screens in the comfort of their own place and not be self-conscious which is kind of what mindfulness and Buddhist roots are all about. “

Similar to the planning, marketing for these events are done entirely by students through the APIDAHM Facebook event page, email and messaging apps. The committee has also given dates and information to the University Programs Council and Student Council to put on social media and newsletters sent out to a wider audience of students. 

Despite the publicity, attendance at many ASU events has been lower since the start of the pandemic. Committee members have observed an average of 15 to 20 attendees at most events compared to higher turnouts for in-person events. However, the committee is hopeful the remaining few events will produce a higher turnout, particularly after seeing the high demand for “Minari” tickets.  

“I think a lot of Asian [organizations] and organizations at U.Va. in general have not been having very good turnout in the pandemic,” Bapat said. “That being said, I think last semester our largest event might have been 30 people, which was astounding that we could do that over a pandemic. It's been hard, but we've pushed for outreach and publicity a lot more. We're trying, and it’s [turnout is] still small, but I think we're doing well, given the circumstances.”

ASU’s goal, however, remains unchanged. Through the events planned specifically for APIDAHM and events organized by the greater ASU, they hope to create an environment where APIDA students feel comfortable and can promote cultural appreciation and awareness.

“I think valuing each other as equal members of the U.Va. community is an important lesson,” Wu said. “We all equally belong at U.Va. and should try to understand each other a little bit more because it’s easy to fall in with people that you’re very similar to. But the good thing about going to a school like U.Va. with people from a billion different places is that you get a chance to meet new people, so come to our events.” 


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