Despite ongoing discrimination like the rise of anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Asian Pacific community is not powerless to make change, according to Interim Director of the Office of Student Involvement Roatha Kong.
“We have a rich and diverse culture and history to draw from, and we have the power to create change through our actions and our words,” Kong said. “We can use our platform to amplify our voices and push for greater representation and inclusion in all areas of our society.”
The Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center kicked off this year’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) with an opening ceremony on April 3.
The ceremony featured both student and faculty speakers—including Kong, who delivered the keynote—as well as numerous song and dance performances in honor of APAHM.
Between student performances, student speaker Julia Pangan, MCAS ’23, shared her experiences struggling with her Filipina identity while attending elementary and middle school.
“I was mortified at being dropped off at school by my au pair or my grandparents because I knew they were speaking to me in Tagalog in front of my classmates, and I also knew that they would walk me in-hand all the way to the door,” Pangan said. “That’s when my Filipina identity, with which I spent so much energy hiding from my school life, felt most visible.”
Attendee Sharon Wu, MCAS ’23, said she identified with Pangan’s experiences, as she also grew up with immigrant parents in a predominantly white suburban area.
“I resonate with their kind of experience and also kind of growing up being ashamed of my own heritage but kind of realizing that your parents really worked hard to bring you here,” Wu said. “I just like relinking with my heritage and being more proud of it.”
During her keynote speech, Kong recalled her parents emphasizing the importance of education when she was young, as well as the financial challenges she faced navigating the college application process as a first-generation student.
“Many first-generation Asian Americans faced similar challenges in pursuing their dreams and aspirations,” Kong said. “But, we are resilient, and we’re different in this community, and we know that education is a key to unlocking the full potential and making a positive impact on the world.”
Kong concluded the keynote speech by asking the audience to challenge themselves to treat everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of their race, religion, cultural identity, or background.
“Let’s inspire—inspire others to take action and change within your communities,” Kong said. “Let’s create—let’s create a world that’s more just more equitable, more inclusive—a world that allows us to create the life we dream of.”