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May 10, 2023: May is AANHPI Heritage Month

Katie Jose, with long black curly hair and medium skin tones, wearing a white shirt and seated at a table at a conference.

May 1st marked the start of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month. This month provides a moment to “celebrate the contributions that generations of AANHPIs have made to American history, society and culture.”

The Federal Asian Pacific American Council has announced that the national theme for this year’s AANHPI observance is “Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity.” Their press release includes the puzzling line, “No matter who you are, you can achieve anything in this country if you put your mind to it.” This wide-eyed parroting of the myth of meritocracy feels particularly bizarre in this context, given that AANHPI folks are so often subdued and flattened by the Model Minority stereotype.

So perhaps it may be more accurate to say that AANHPI folks can achieve anything in this country, despite that country restricting their entry; despite that country subjecting them to racist mass incarceration; despite that country using Asian Americans as a tool to perpetuate anti-Blackness and disrupt cross-racial solidarity; despite that country standing by as violence continues to disrupt AANHPI communities.

On April 27, Whitman sent one staff member and one student to the Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education Conference (APAHE) in Oakland, California. There, we found many examples of “advancing leaders through opportunity,” but examples that were honest; that offered clear-eyed stories of the challenges that AANHPI folks have faced in finding success and community in higher education spaces, the creativity and collaboration that has fostered greater success and the work that AANHPI folks must continue to advocate for one another and other racial groups. 

Katie Jose ‘23 (pictured above) attended and said, “Not only did I feel so much joy being surrounded by people who look like me and have similar cultural values but I also learned so much … An experience like this is so incredibly valuable to other Asian and Pacific Islander students like me and I truly hope in these coming years more students will be able to attend and feel more proud of their heritage.”

As we celebrate this month, our campus community can celebrate the work of groups such as the Pan Asian Club and China @ Whitman; continue to find opportunities to support AANHPI students, staff, and faculty; to celebrate the AANHPI heroes who have paved the way for folks today; and understand our local AANHPI history. And we can live out the words of writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs, who said, “The only way to survive is by taking care of one another.”

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