May is Asian and Pacific Islander (API) Heritage Month, and the Asian Students Alliance (ASA) is hosting a variety of events over the next month and a half to recognize and celebrate students’ heritage.
This year, given the recent spike in anti-Asian hate crimes and sentiment in the United States, the month takes on increased importance for many.
“Asian Heritage Month is a time where we reckon with and celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander identities. So through all the events that we plan … part of it is to celebrate and do things for the communities of Asian and Pacific Islander students on campus, but also to make chances for people to educate themselves about these identities that we represent,” ASA president Kevin Chi ’21 said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
The vigil on April 5 was not an official API Heritage Month event, but it was nonetheless an important event to start off the month, according to ASA board member Jacey Song ’23.
“I hope that people will know that we’re here, we exist and that they’re always welcome to come join our activities. I think especially in light of the racial attacks—the hate crimes—and everything going on in the United States, and around the world, it’s really important for people to hear our voices,” Song said in a phone interview with the Orient.
For the first official event of the month, held on April 10, ASA and Bowdoin Queer Students Association (BQSA) partnered to host a talk with Tan France of Netflix’s Queer Eye.
“We just wanted to invite someone who was more fun, lighthearted [and] could bring some joy to campus, because some of our later programming is a bit more serious,” Song said.
The second event of the month, held this past Tuesday, was a career panel consisting of six recent alumni. The event gave current students an opportunity to connect with the panelists and discuss their experiences, both at and beyond Bowdoin.
“Instead of talking mainly about career goals and how to go through the next steps in finding a job, finding internships … it was really centered around how to navigate their AAPI identities on campus and in jobs afterwards,” Song said.
On Thursday, Enze Han, a professor at the University of Hong Kong, gave a talk on recent political and social events in Southeast Asia. On April 28, ASA and the English Department will partner to host a talk with Cathy Park Hong, a Korean American poet and essayist.
ASA will also hold some larger community-building events this month, such as a movie night next Friday and a food event at the end of the month. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, these events will likely be a different experience than as in the past.
“During a normal year, we would have Monday night dinners in Thorne—we would have a room reserved. And that would be a primary way that people would come together … But without that space, it’s been really difficult to host community mixer gathering events on Zoom,” Chi said. “Whenever we have food events now, we have to sort of just give food out to people and tell them to go back to their rooms and eat.”
In addition to the events, ASA is also hosting an Affinity Group Photo Project. ASA is inviting students of color and of minority groups to answer two questions: when they feel most alienated or vulnerable because of their race or identity, and when they feel most supported. Students will write their answers on a whiteboard and have two photos taken, one in black and white for the first question, and the other in color for the second.
“We’re hoping to send a message across the whole campus about the best ways to support minority groups on campus and what things that people do that make us feel alienated and vulnerable,” Chi said. “It’s going to be a collage of all the photos—but I’m hoping that people won’t just look at it as a whole collage, but really zoom into it and look individually at each photo and read every response.”
Overall, Song hopes that the API Heritage Month events can bring people together and encourage members of the community to discuss and educate themselves about Asian experiences.
“While we are holding these fun events, we’re also holding conversations and gatherings for groups of our community—for people in our community to voice their opinions, their experiences, what they’re going through. It would be great if more people from the Bowdoin community or from the alumni community, or even from around Maine, around Brunswick, could come listen in and learn a bit more,” Song said.