Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

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POSTED MAY 11, 2019

Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

This month, we highlight the cultures, accomplishments, and challenges faced by the roughly 20 million Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) people in the United States. Every year, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) keeps me grounded by reminding me of why I’m so passionate about social justice and advocating for the AANHPI community. The stories that come up this month, stories of (s)heroism, love, and triumph against overwhelming odds, teach me that it’s okay to be bold and to dream big – that it isn’t naive to work towards a world where nobody ever has to feel the crushing pain of being the target of bullying.

One of the lifelong effects of bullying is its ability to strip you of your self-confidence, to tell you in so many ways that you are somehow just not “enough.”

I grew up in an affluent suburb of Orange County, CA where the demographics were rapidly changing. At school, my classrooms were diverse and I never felt alone on the basis of my identity as the son of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants. That’s not to say we all got along though, as the majority of my bullying was at the hands of Korean American kids. I remember being called a “chink” hundreds of times from third grade through my senior year of high school, but it was never by any of my white peers. In this way, adults in organizations that have neglected to disaggregate their AANHPI data, fail to understand a fact that children grasp easily — the AANHPI community is not a monolith.

It is in these moments where I am also reminded that coalition-building and allyship is built into the history of the Asian American identity. Student activists in the 1960s coined the term in an effort to build solidarity across various Asian communities, and to organize with the larger Third World Liberation Front movements on the West Coast.

This history drives me to seek out and advocate for spaces where AANHPI people can come together to build community and relationships, even as I negotiate the fear and hesitation that comes from my childhood bullying in these spaces.

For over a year in Los Angeles, I’ve been part of a community of AANHPI educators and education enthusiasts who have met for monthly brunches to share stories with one another. Not long after we began meeting, we began to envision what it would look like to organize our own conference – one where we could center AANHPI experiences and narratives in the conversation about K-12 educational equity, a topic that is often framed as affecting “black/brown communities”. This framing, at best obscures, and at worst erases, the impact of inequitable education systems and public policies on AANHPI students across the country.

When we started, we had no money, no content, no speakers, and no venue. None of us were being paid to work on this, we were all juggling this in a volunteer capacity in addition to our full-time jobs. But working for six months together and leaning on the strength of our relationships, we had over eighty participants with affiliations from communities all across California attend our SoCal AANHPI Educators Summit: Inward, Outward, Onward.

There’s a lot of things we did at the Summit that I’m proud of. Our content was designed by and for AANHPI teachers, we catered from AANHPI restaurants, everyone got a boba during the closing session, I really could go on and on. But I think more than anything, I’m just proud of the fact that we pulled it off. We created a space based on a need we identified, and AANHPI educators from across Southern California came because it spoke to them.

I firmly believe in the power of human relationships as the foundation for any kind of successful organization or movement. I also believe that we have more power and potential to do good than we ourselves can even recognize, especially if we have been the targets of bullying, whether visibly by other people or invisibly by larger systems of oppression.

At the start of this month I received an email asking me a question credited to the Anpao Duta Flying-Earth of Native American Community Academy. The question was, “What kind of ancestors do we want to be?” This 2019 APAHM, I invite you all to answer that question with me as we work towards a brighter future for our diverse AANHPI communities. A future where bullying does not exist because of the work done by each and every one of us. We are and have always been, uniquely and powerfully, enough.

Richard Leong

Act to Change Board Member