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Cultural groups host Asian Pacific Heritage Month


Sam Curry

Throughout the entirety of April, the Asian American Association (AAA) is hosting a series of events to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Formally, this takes place in May. However, because Grinnell commences before the end of the month, the AAA opted to have the events take place in April. This year marks the second year that AAA has organized a month of events in recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Beginning with a screening of the documentary “Hafu” on Thursday, April 7, scheduled events will range from speakers to film showings to performances by Grinnell students. Planned festivities will conclude on April 29 with a potluck.

Among the numerous activities, AAA cabinet members Jennifer Joy ’16 and Matt Kartanata ’17 stated that they are most looking forward to author Jenny Zhang’s speech and Q&A session on April 11. Zhang will discuss her experiences writing as a person of color and the presumptions that come with being a writer in that space.

“She felt that her breadth of creativity was limited in that writers of color are frequently assigned roles … of only writing on their struggles, of only writing on their race … [and] their work as being autobiography or sociology, rather than being a piece of art,” Joy said.

The month of events will also feature a returnee to campus, in the form of Mira Yusef, the executive director of Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa. Members of AAA developed an interest in contacting Yusef after seeing her speak at a panel during Sexual Assault Awareness Week in March. For this month’s event, Yusef will discuss sexuality and sexual violence within the lens of culture heritage. Kartanata believes Yusef’s visit will help widen the scope of understanding of sexual and mental health on campus.

“When we think about the expanding conversation about mental health on campus or sexuality or sexual assault awareness, people think of it in a very Westernized type of way—we must sit down and have therapy and talk one-on-one with this person and that’s how you’re going to get through … but maybe [this talk will help] thinking about what alternative ways … can we help address these issues on a diverse campus,” Kartanata said.

A number of the events will also feature student work and performance, such as an Open Mic at Bob’s on April 14, karaoke in Lyle’s on April 22 and the capstone potluck on the 29th. The Open Mic will occur in partnership with the Multicultural Leadership Council (MLC), and Kartanata said that he hopes it will attract performances from people who do not typically perform at open mics. 

“This open mic is pointed, in collaboration with MLC, to voice those [underrepresented] students … of course, everyone is still welcome to perform, it’s an open mic,” he said.

For the future, Joy stated that the group will expand the range of voices and communities represented in their programming, as they have had problems finding people to speak for the experiences of Pacific Islanders.

AAPI Heritage Month Graphic

“Part of that is logistical, because of a lot of them live in Hawaii … [but] for the future I’d love to see that,” Joy noted.

The AAA is also working with other Asian student groups and through other mediums to attract not only the usual cohort, but also students who may not normally attend such events, a primary focus for the group seeking to expand its appeal.

“What I would love to see the most is for people who seem unrelated to the issue to show up … When you have someone who shows up who is not so directly invested … it’s encouraging,” Joy added.

Members of AAA agreed that this potential for inclusivity should be a strength of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month this semester.

“I think in years past we’ve had speakers that maybe seemed niche or hard to access or were not as endearing to people who are not part of the Asian-American community, but … this year, the people we’ve brought have wide appeal for legitimate reasons,” Kartanata said.

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