Things to Remember During APAHM

Happy APAHM everyone! What is APAHM, you ask? It’s definitely not a commonly used acronym, although it should be and hopefully will become more visible as the conversation continues to grow.

But it stands for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and it’s the month of May! So, in celebration of this very important and oft forgotten hertage month, here are a few quick things to take with you:

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Board of the North Carolina Asian American Civil Rights Conference this year, aka some people who keep me going in the fight for Asian American rights

1) There are a lot of different kinds of Asian cultures. Asia is a huge continent, and includes a ton of countries and cultures, not just the main three that people always assume first: Chinese, Korean, Japanese. It also includes Thailand, the Philippines, Mongolia, etc. Do your research, and ask individuals where they are from before you assume.

Also, please stop saying “oh, you’re from India/Pakistan/etc…? You’re not Asian.” If someone from India identifies as Asian, they identify as Asian. India is part of Asia. It’s none of our jobs to take that away from anyone.

2) There are a lot of different kinds of Asian experiences. There are so many stereotypes of Asians that get tossed around. While some of them may be true for some of us, they are likely not true for all of us, and we are not defined by them. I’m not good at math. I don’t have a 4.0. I can’t eat whatever I want and stay skinny. I never played the violin. I’m not (always) a bad driver. These stereotypes are harmful not only because they are offensive and make me feel like I need to be a certain way, but also because they reinforce false ideas about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders that lead to further racism and ignorance.

3) It is not ok to be racist toward Asians. It is not ok to be racist toward anyone, but these days, the Asian racial justice narrative is often forgotten, for various reasons, and people still think it is ok to be racist towards Asians even though they’ve gotten a lot more politically correct in other aspects (potentially problematic in its own right, but that’s a topic for another day…). So just remember to check yourself before you think or say anything that might be racist or stereotypical, even if you think it’s a joke. For another project I started, Now We Speak, I interviewed several Asian Americans about their experiences of discrimination. They are diverse in their experiences, just like they are diverse as individuals. Check out the project for their stories, and consider thinking about whether you’ve said or done some of the things they discuss. It can be easy to make comments that we sometimes don’t know are hurtful; the important thing is to change once we learn that they are.

4) There is a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. I think this article from Everyday Feminism does a great job of discussing this distinction, without being too extreme like some other articles I’ve seen. To me, the bottom line is, appreciation is about being open to learning about an individual’s culture and appreciating it for what that person presents it as. Appropriation is about taking that culture and taking ownership of it yourself or transforming it so that it will appeal to a wider, usually whiter, audience. Some key examples are dressing as a geisha or wearing a sari for Halloween, kimono-style robes from Urban Outfitters, and the always popular Chinese character tattoos if they are used because they are “exotic.”

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Please stop this.

5) Relatedly, please be careful about exoticizing the Asian culture. Joking that someone has “yellow fever” is not appropriate. Sketches like this that make commonly eaten Asian food look disgusting or appalling are not funny. Telling me that because I’m Asian I’m an “exotic beauty” or that “I’ve never hooked up with an Asian before, I wonder what that’s like” is not only rude and offensive, but also makes me feel like I’m just a fetish…or a porn search term.

6) Make an effort to learn about and really celebrate Asian American history and diversity. Share articles about Asian American leaders (hbd Yuri Kochiyama). Do research on the history of Asian Americans in the United States – we don’t always learn a lot about the Chinese Exclusion Act or Japanese internment in school. Try new foods, with an open mind to what they mean to Asians, not just because they “look gross” or “seem weird.” Talk to your Asian American and Pacific Islander friends about their experience with that aspect of their identity, and remember that while you may not be able to relate, you can be there to support and listen to them. There are so many other things you can do; these are just some suggestions.

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Yuri Kochiyama, an Asian American activist who fought for civil rights with Malcolm X and others

As I probably say at least once a week, the Asian American narrative is often lost in the United States. It is up to all of us to keep it alive, and not let it be forgotten. Thanks for reading, and have a great APAHM 🙂

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