#ActToChange During Bullying Prevention Awareness Month

Among those who have taken the #ActToChange pledge are: Forrest Wheeler, actor (ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat); Hudson Yang, actor (ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat); Albert Tsai, actor (ABC’s Dr. Ken); Parvesh Cheena, actor/comedian (My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend); Jon Jon Briones, actor/singer (Miss Saigon); Ai Goeku Cheung, actor/singer (Miss Saigon); Deedee Magno Hall, actor/singer (Steven Universe, Miss Saigon); DAN aka DAN, alternative hip hop artist; The Filharmonic, a capella sensation (Pitch Perfect 2 and NBC’s Sing Off); Jennie Kwan, actor/singer (Avenue Q, Avatar: The Last Airbender); Megan Lee, actor/singer (Nickelodeon’s Make it Pop); The Poreotics (MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew); AJ Rafael, singer/songwriter, YouTube star; SETI X, rapper; Beau Sia, Tony Award-winning spoken word artist (Def Poetry Jam); Sam Futerman, actor/filmmaker (Twinsters); Perry & Danielle, singing duo; Minji Chang, Kollaboration Executive Director/actor; Mike Bow, actor (The Maze Runner, Comfort); Matt Almodiel, singer; and Lance Lim, actor (Independence Day, School of Rock).

 

This week during Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, join #ActToChange and take a stand against bullying!

One year ago, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, in partnership with the Sikh Coalition and the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE), launched the #ActToChange public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Backed by a diverse coalition of now more than 60 supporters including media platforms and national organizations, #ActToChange aims to empower AAPI youth, educators, and communities with information and tools to address and prevent bullying. Check out ActToChange.org, which features video and music empowerment playlists, translated resources, an organizing toolkit, and more!

This week, join us in spreading the word about #ActToChange:

 

(1) Take the pledge against bullying

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(2) And share this special-edition badge on social media using #ActToChange

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Join the movement by visiting ActToChange.org.

Highlighting Bullying Prevention Efforts for the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community

Every day, kids of all ages experience bullying in schools across the country. In the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, this problem is often compounded by cultural, religious, and linguistic barriers that can make it harder for AAPI youth to seek and receive help. Anecdotal evidence has shown that certain AAPI groups – including South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Micronesian, LGBT, immigrant, and limited English proficient youth – are more likely to be the targets of bullying. And in some areas, bullying of AAPI students can be shockingly common.

To help address this problem, in November 2014, during the fifth anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the federal government formed an interagency AAPI Bullying Prevention Task Force (AAPI Task Force). The AAPI Task Force strives to learn more about the experiences of AAPI students facing bullying and how the federal government can help. The AAPI Task Force comprises representatives from the U.S. Department of Education, which includes the White House Initiative on AAPIs and the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and the U.S. Department of Justice. Through the AAPI Task Force, federal experts in civil rights, language access, education, community relations, public health, mental health, and data have worked closely with community stakeholders to:

  • Identify barriers to reporting bullying and harassment
  • Understand obstacles to full and equal access to remedial and support resources
  • Analyze data on bullying and harassment in the AAPI community
  • Improve the federal government’s outreach and resources

Today, during the fifth annual Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit, I’m proud to announce the release of a report highlighting the experiences of AAPI students facing bullying around the country. The Summit will convene federal officials and community members to discuss strategies to combat bullying particularly in high-risk populations, including Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian students.

Over the last two years, the AAPI Task Force conducted nationwide outreach to students, families, community members, advocacy groups, and community-based organizations. The AAPI Task Force hosted 29 listening sessions across the country, and conducted an informational survey that collected responses from 30 community-based organizations.

Through its outreach, the AAPI Task Force has gained key insights:

  • Students from all AAPI communities are subjected to bullying and harassment of all types.
  • AAPI students are bullied by a range of other students, including other AAPI students and students of other backgrounds.
  • Circumstances of bullying often include, but are not limited to: limited English proficiency, cultural stereotypes, national origin and immigrant generation, and religion and religious attire.
  • Many AAPI students and parents are not aware of resources and avenues of remediation available at the local, state, and federal levels.

The work of the AAPI Task Force has shed light on the important need to address bullying in the AAPI community and strategies to tailor outreach to this community. As we close out the AAPI Task Force’s work, let us recommit ourselves to continue working toward achieving real solutions to preventing and ending bullying for all.

Dour Thor is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, which is housed within the U.S. Department of Education. This post is cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Working to End Bullying in All Forms

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“Boys will be boys.”

“It happens to everyone.”

“It builds character.”

Unfortunately, these are considered legitimate defenses to bullying in our society. Bullying is pervasive in communities across the country; however, bullying in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities can stem from an entirely different motive. Subtle microaggressions stemming from anti-immigrant sentiments or white privilege can quickly stem into physical, sexual, or emotional bullying. Bullying of children in the AAPI community, no matter the perpetrator, can substantially impact the well-being of children and their views about their place in society and sense of belonging.

I was lucky in my childhood – I wasn’t bullied, but plenty of my peers were. As my generation was becoming known for the use of social media, the internet was becoming the new venue for online harassment, on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Formspring. In Iowa, the development of technology was not reflected in our legal system. If a complaint of cyberbullying was brought to school officials, the administration had no legal jurisdiction to protect the victim or punish the perpetrator, because the bullying occurred online and outside of school property. This created a huge gap in the frequency of bullying and the extent to which school administrators could protect their students’ emotional and educational well-being. Through my involvement in the Iowa Youth Congress, a mock congress of high school students, we proposed a bill in the Iowa State Legislature that would close this gap and protect students from being bullied online.

In the summer of 2015, I was an Advocacy Intern at the Hindu American Foundation. Dr. Murali Balaji, our Director of Education and Curriculum Reform, approached me with a project, analyzing bullying among Hindu students across the nation. While conducting this research, I reflected on my high school work on bullying.  I realized that my experiences helped me empathize and work with other victims of bullying. By talking to friends and victims of bullying across Iowa, I learned that those defenses to bullying, the “boys will be boys”, are a part of a rhetoric that works against our youth and it defends harassment as an inherent part of our society. That facet of our society is incredibly detrimental to our children. Bullying leads to worse performance in school, and has mental and emotional effects that can even lead to self-harm or suicide. Treating bullying as normal perpetuates a system that normalizes harassment. Breaking down this system is integral to boost the well-being of children who are bullied, especially minority and AAPI children. Working for legislation and conducting research and reports on bullying, are all work that contributes to awareness of bullying, and recognizes that it should not be tolerated by our society. Campaigns like Act To Change play an integral role in empowering youth, educators, and lawmakers to treat bullying as a serious problem. That’s why we can no longer sit on the sidelines: we have to Act to Change.

Aditi Dinakar is a rising Junior at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. She is studying Marketing and Health Administration and Policy. She hopes to work in government affairs, advocacy, and public policy arena.  Last summer, she was an intern for the Hindu American Foundation, where she worked on the intersection of faith and bullying among Hindus in America. Aditi is passionate about women’s rights, Asian American rights and representation, and new ice cream flavors.

Hindu American students continue to be bullied and feel socially ostracized for their religious beliefs, according to results of Hindu American Foundation’s nationwide survey of middle and high school students.  Download the report here.

This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org

A Transracial Girl’s Struggle in Finding her Identity between Two Different Cultures

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As a transracial adoptee, I suffered a double layer of bullying because I was Asian, especially as an Asian in an all-white background. I always felt like an outsider living in limbo between my adopted white world and my lack of Asian identity and heritage.

The Asian stereotype of the invisible model minority  never applied to me growing up as I was always seen. I stood out like a sore thumb and that difference made me an easy target for bullies. I’ve been called every Asian slur that you could ever think of and, because of my Vietnamese ethnicity, I’ve been told to row home more times than I can remember.

As a child, I found a sense of solace in sports and started weight-training at six years old with some rusty dumbbells I found around the house. I participated in every sport I could possibly do from tennis to horse-riding. Sports gave me a sense of purpose and self-worth; it gave me a sense of community as I became part an of athletic team. Nowadays most gyms will not allow children without parents. But when I started bodybuilding, chain gyms didn’t exist and anyone of any age could go to the gym as long as you could pay the entrance fee. I thought I would find solace from being bullied when I started going to the gym around the age of 12, but I had no idea that racism would turn into sexist bullying by grown men.

Growing up as the “other”, I thought that to be successful, I needed to fit in by erasing my “Asianness” because that’s what being bullied had always reinforced. Being constantly bullied as a child into young adulthood didn’t give me the confidence to dare to stand out and be different as it stripped away my sense of self. I had no Vietnamese or Asian friends, nor were there any Asian role models in the media. So I didn’t know what it meant to unapologetically stand in my truth and embrace my Asian heritage while also acknowledging my Western identity.

Without a mirror image of myself in the media, I had to create my own narrative as a child. As an adult, this helped me stand in my own truth: to be brave and unapologetically Asian.

The one question we ask ourselves when growing up is “Who am I, who am I to me?” Story sharing is so important to provide us with a mirror image of ourselves and to remind us we’re not alone. This is why Act To Change is such a powerful platform within the Asian American community not just to empower those that are feeling marginalized by being bullied but to remind us all that our story isn’t singular. We are part of a larger community that shares a common bond with similar experiences.

Amazin LeThi is the founder of the Amazin LeThi Foundation, a New York based international organization that inspires Asian youth who identify as LGBTQ and those affected by HIV/AIDS to find their voices through leadership and mentoring, and provides social advocacy for everyone to actively participate in the advancement of equality. She is also an ambassador for Vietnam Relief Services and is the first Asian female Athlete Ally ambassador. On top of all of this, she is also a former competitive natural bodybuilder, qualified fitness trainer, author, and TV / film star.

This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org

How a Hindu American’s experience being bullied in school still lingers today

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Kids. They pick on each other for such ridiculous things. One of my most distinct memories from 5th grade is my classmates snickering about how much I clicked my pen, and commenting about how it made me “gay” (a word en vogue at the time as something bad that none of us really understood). Although it’s almost funny in retrospect, it was quite troubling at the time, and led me to go home in tears. I had to buy a new pen to stop my classmates from teasing me with a slur I didn’t even understand.  While this was a  minor trifle, easily solved, a lot of the other bullying I faced in middle school was more insidious and damaging – not to mention much more difficult to “solve”. I’m a Hindu American, and I grew up in Texas with textbooks that represented my religion in a way that inspired an inaccurate, misogynistic, exclusivist understanding of Hinduism. The kids in class asked what caste I was, why I worshipped cows, and confidently told me that I was going to hell. I could throw away a malfunctioning pen, but the impact that the snickering, insolent questions, and sarcasm from my teachers had on my understanding of who I was and what I believed was something that actually shook my sense of self. That took far more work to repair. I understood my faith to be grounded in pluralism (a step beyond tolerance), and the basis for my moral values (essentially, who I was). To be told that Hinduism was actually the source of discrimination, that it didn’t value me highly as a woman, and that its ancient practices were too weird to accept in our modern American classroom made me feel small and almost deserving of the thinly veiled disdain I received from even my friends. Bullying is a terrible thing in every form, but when attacks come at who a person is… the wounds cut deeply, and infection is a great threat. This experience isn’t mine alone, and not just one faced by Hindus; it’s one that so many Asian Americans face, and why the Act To Change campaign is such an important movement towards empowerment.

As an adult, the only balm I’ve found is in remembering that a textbook, a teacher, or a confused friend can’t define who I am, or what my faith is. I define my narrative. The prouder I am of that, the easier it is for my siblings, for my nephews and nieces, for the kids I’ve mentored, to own who they are as well.

Hindu American students continue to be bullied and feel socially ostracized for their religious beliefs, according to results of Hindu American Foundation’s nationwide survey of middle and high school students.  Download the report here.

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Kavita Pallod is a graduate of the University of Texas and a current doctoral student pursuing her Psy.D in Clinical Psychology at Rutgers University. She is an Executive Council Member of the Hindu American Foundation, a participating member of Act to Change. She hopes to use her  passion for her faith and her former teaching background to create fair, accurate, representative resources on Hinduism for teachers to use in their classrooms. She is also invested in mental health, and bridging the gap between the Hindu American community and mental health resources.  

This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org

One Brown Girl’s Struggle to Keep Her Indian-American Identity

Growing up, I always felt like an outsider, like I wasn’t a real American despite being born and raised here. My black hair, dark skin, thick eyebrows, and twig legs on a short stature—stood out painfully amongst the sea of blonde and brunette white peers. Fob. “Go back to India.” When kids would come over to my house, they would laugh at the “strange” Indian gods and goddesses and tease me for my parents’ accents. I was taught at an early age to hide my culture as best as I could – to renounce my Indian-ness and continuously “defend” my America-ness.  I became ashamed of my heritage.

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By the time I was a teenager, I had become “practically white” to my friends—a label I wore proudly. By being “practically white,” I felt like I made it. I was a real American. I was not an “other.” The “other” Asians only had Asian friends. They only listened to “Asian” music and gossiped “rudely” in their native languages. Those “other” Asians weren’t American enough.

Little did I know that at the University of Virginia, I would join the Indian Student Association and the Asian Student Union and find myself thrown into the largest group of Asians I had ever been exposed to. Turns out I wasn’t as different from my Asian American peers as I thought; I often had more in common with my Asian and South Asian friends than my non-Asian friends, despite being “practically white.” As a teenager, I navigated my world as a hyphenated person: two halves of a single identity that were always separate. Embracing my undesirable racial identity as Asian meant inherently giving up my desirable “Americanness.” I had spent too long defending my Americanness, too long trying to fit in with the white majority, to give it up by embracing my “fobby” Indianness.

Having other Asian friends showed me how my perceptions of race, of what it means to be “American,” were misguided. Our identities do not fit neatly into clearly defined boxes; there are no clean dichotomies where if you are one thing, you cannot possibly be another. The Asian American community introduced me to others that shared my struggle with a hybrid identity. We shared our experiences of having racist taunts hurled for being brown in a post-9/11 world. Of being stereotyped as being “good at math” and made to feel inadequate if we weren’t. We felt the blunt of ostracization for expressing any “un-American” part of our heritage. The stereotypes that led others to call me a fob were the stereotypes I had been reinforcing by refusing to accept the other half of my identity; in my desperation to be accepted, I was widening the very racial gap that hurt me as a child.

Too often, “Americanness” is equated with “whiteness.” Too often our social constructs allow us to be ignorant, to let racial stereotypes and dynamics define our own perceptions of self.  Do not allow yourself to be pigeon-holed by the perceptions of what society thinks being Indian, Asian, or even American, means.

Being a South Asian-American does not fit neatly into any preconceived notions. It is not about choosing between two halves of a hyphenated identity; it is an intersection as nuanced and complex as each of our individual identities. None of us are inferior Americans just because of the color of our skin. Embracing my Indianness does not deny me any part of my Americanness.

Mayura Iyer is a graduate of the University of Virginia and a current Master of Public Policy student. She hopes to use her policy knowledge and love of writing to change the world. She is particularly interested in the dynamics of race in the Asian-American community, domestic violence, mental wellness, and education policy. Her caffeine-fueled pieces have also appeared in Literally, Darling, BlogHer, and Mic.com.

This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org

Moving Through the Storm: An Entrepreneur on Overcoming Bullying

Nobody should have to deal with bullying. It sucks.

My cycle started at home with an angry and abusive dad. It continued to church, with an abusive and frustrated older youth, and continued into school in a post-9/11 world when nobody was really educated on Indians in America. I got all the normal stuff – Osama, Apu, Terrorist, got a bomb?, plus a few extra because I wasn’t just Indian; I was fat and Indian.

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In high school, I turned to football and ice hockey as a means to release some of my frustration. It gave me a shared sense of team and identity, and I found leadership where I could serve other people. I found a lot of happiness in that.

I wish I could tell you that bullying is a thing of the past. It’s not. That it stops when you “grow up.”  It doesn’t.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t change the trajectory of how it affects your life. I wish I had grown up with the stories of those like me. Of those who had struggled and overcome. So let me tell you how I did it:

  1. Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts: Build confidence.
  2. Choose people who make you happy: Build joy/trust/
  3. Find courage: Let yourself love. Do what you love.
  4. Read: Learn new things. Find new hobbies.
  5. Change the world: Execute on something you want to see different in the world.
  6. Serve: Find yourself in service to others. The joys of giving are unparalleled.

The truth is falling into any minority group carries with it burdens that never seem to disappear.  In my world of startups, it could mean more challenges in raising capital, securing partnerships, or gaining respect/credibility for the same or more work of people around you who don’t look like you (read what’s happening to Asian Americans in Silicon Valley.) It won’t change unless we tackle them at an institutional level involving the C-Suite and ranking political office.

I strive to meet people who have more experiences and stories in effectively dealing with these adversities so that I can learn. I seek out and listen to the stories of people who deal with similar challenges or understand the struggle through a context of their own.

I hope to be that resource for others too. We’re all people. The key to humanity is remembering your humanity and recognizing theirs. Nothing and nobody is binary.

Your challenges are important and the resilience they form within you will support you for a lifetime. Choose to see difficulties as opportunities and find communities of people, individuals or small groups, whom you align and can confide with. Find ways to support them. Start by helping them and watch how you evolve past your situation. Every struggle is an opportunity, but there’s no need to tackle life alone.

 

 

Marvin Mathew supports innovation/entrepreneurship full time as the founder of MIG, supporting early stage entrepreneurs by building their products, marketing, and sales. Eager to support solutions at scale, he’s coauthored Innovation, Technology, and Youth, a United Nations publication released during UN General Assembly 2016 looking at how the UN, Industry, and Government can support Youth Entrepreneurs as they solve the challenges outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals. Find him at marvinmathew.com or @MarvinJMathew.

Bullying is targeted aggression or hurtful behavior towards someone that’s aimed at creating a sense of isolation. This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org.

A Better America: Rejecting Bigotry and Reaffirming our Values

 Summary: We must come together to reject bigotry, reaffirm our core values as Americans, and protect the rights that we fought so hard to achieve.
by Shekar Narasimhan
Ed. note: This is a cross post from the White House Blog.
Newly naturalized citizens wave American flags after taking the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony keynoted by the President at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Dec. 15, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Newly naturalized citizens wave American flags after taking the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony keynoted by the President at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Dec. 15, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Earlier this week, during his final State of the Union address, President Obama reminded the nation that “when politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or when a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country.”

This week’s address echoed the President’s words from a powerful naturalization ceremony last month. He reminded us of the country that we have been historically—and the country that we want to be.  Immigrants and refugees are part of the foundation of our Nation, and they “revitalize and renew America.”  Immigrants and refugees come to the United States with hopes that their children will have lives that are better than the ones they left behind.  These Americans have contributed to this country in every area of society—they start businesses, teach our children, and provide medical services. Their drive and aspirations fuel the American dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In today’s climate however, some immigrant and refugee communities, families, and children increasingly face discrimination, harassment, and attacks based on their race, ethnicity, color, national origin, or religion—to name a few. This is, unfortunately, not new.  In the aftermath of September 11, many Muslim, Sikh, Arab, and South Asian communities became the target of hate crimes, discrimination, harassment, and profiling. Places of worship were threatened and harassed, and congregants were attacked and in some situations, even killed.

A staggering number of students in middle schools, high schools, and universities have become the target of this senseless violence. In a 2014 report, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights indicated that more than a decade after the terrorist acts of September 11, students who are or are perceived as Muslim, Sikh, Arab, Middle Eastern, South Asian, or Southeast Asian still confront bullying and harassment. In more recent months, advocates report that hate violence against these communities is on the rise and attacks ranging from harassment to bullying to homicide have been reported by the media.

These acts are intolerable, they violate the civil rights and liberties upon which our nation was founded, and we must come together to reject this bigotry, reaffirm our core values as Americans, and protect the rights that we fought so hard to achieve.

Just as the U.S. Department of Education recently called upon our school districts, colleges, and universities to foster safe, respectful, and nondiscriminatory learning environments free from discrimination and harassment, we too must pledge to uphold compassion, tolerance, and acceptance in our communities and expect it of our society at large.

Last October, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), housed within the Department of Education, partnered with the Sikh Coalition and Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment to launch #ActToChange, a national public awareness campaign against bullying. Building upon the work of the interagency AAPI Bullying Prevention Task Force, ActToChange.orgprovides translated resources in common AAPI languages and empowerment messages. The campaign further engaged youth and AAPI public personalities in a live discussion about diversity and acceptance, and advocating for yourself and your community.

Discussions like these need to happen all across this nation. From our institutions of learning, to our places of worship, to our everyday behavior in our daily lives, we must ensure all of our children, families, and communities can live safely without the fear of persecution and with the freedom to practice their faith. The American experience is the immigrant experience, the refugee experience, the Hindu experience, the Christian experience, the Muslim experience. The diversity of experiences is the history and greatness of our country.  As the President said at the National Archives last month, “We must resolve to always speak out against hatred and bigotry in all its forms – whether taunts against the child of an immigrant farmworker or threats against a Muslim shopkeeper. We are Americans. Standing up for each other is what the values enshrined in the documents in this room compels us to do – especially when it’s hard. Especially when it’s not convenient. That’s when it counts. That’s when it matters – not when things are easy, but when things are hard.”

More Resources:

  • StopBullying.gov: This website provides resources, tools, and guidance to prevent bullying and harassment.

Filing a Complaint

Shekar Narasimhan is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The Commission and the White House Initiative on AAPIs are housed in the U.S. Department of Education. This blog post was originally published on the White House Blog