This month Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage (AANHPI) Month. And, for me personally, it’s been meaningful to reflect on the significance of having a formal month in the year that centers on the contributions and accomplishments of AANHPI people. I marvel at my own colleagues who self-identify as part of the diaspora of Asian Pacific Islander Desi communities and I reflect on how meaningful our faces and presence are for our St. Paul’s students.
When I was a student in public schools in San Jose, California, most of my teachers were white women. My Eighth Grade English teacher, Mrs. Tomita, was the first and only Asian female teacher of my K-12 experience. When I think back to my own children’s experiences, providing them with windows and mirrors in their childcare providers and teachers was a priority. As babies, they were the only non-Black members at their daycare. As they moved through preschool to elementary and middle school, from OUSD to independent schools, any opportunity they had to have a BIPOC teacher and an AAPI teacher specifically, they did. I wanted my children to be surrounded by BIPOC mentors and to normalize that experience.
At St. Paul’s, the diversity of our teachers and staff ensure that our BIPOC students have BIPOC educators teaching them, working around the school, and supporting them outside of the classroom. Our youth have the critical opportunity to see themselves; for our White students, it continues to normalize diversity. The last thing we want for any of our students is for them to feel unseen and disconnected from our community.
In the last two years, in the midst of this pandemic, affinity groups for students in Grades 5-8 and our parent community have grown. Both our youth and adults need to find places where they can bring their authentic selves and share their truths. Last year, soon-to-graduate eighth grader, Magnolia King started the Asian Student Union; this year, the affinity space became even more specific as our South Asian students formed their own-micro affinity group with Ms. Dhanjal and Mr. Vora as their advisors. Ms. Louie and I continue to support the rest of the ASU affinity group, led by Magnolia and seventh grader, Sophie Mok. It’s important that our students define their needs and create the spaces that feed them and support their identity work.
In the same window of time, we’ve experienced a surge of national visibility and representation, starting with the election of Vice President Kamala Harris. Senators Tammy Duckworth and Mazie Hirono are the only two Asian women senators in Congress since Vice President Harris stepped down. Filipino-American, Olivia Rodriguez won three Grammys this year. We’ve seen impressive athleticism with the accomplishments of tennis champion Naomi Osaka and freestyle skier, Eileen Gu. Director Chloe Zhao was the first woman of color to win an Oscar for Best Director for her film, Nomadland. Shang Chi, Turning Red, and more recently, Everything Everywhere All at Once, centered on Asian protagonists, mythologies, and narratives. In my own family, I honor the legacy and hard work of my mother, a contemporary artist, and celebrate my daughter, who is fearlessly using her platform to lift up and support other queer, mutiracial humans.
AANHPI Heritage month matters because we have largely been invisible in conversations about race in our country. We are not White, and yet, we are often left out of the binary – black and white – racial discourse. We have been pigeon-holed by the model-minority myth, a white supremacist construct that pits Asian-Americans against other BIPOC communities. AANHPI are frequently perceived as perpetual foreigners in this country even as Native Hawaiians are indigenous or AAPI have resided in the U.S. for many generations. Visibility matters not only for Asians in this country, but also for others outside of our communities to see and know us.