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AAPI Heritage Month Assembly

By Sandra Santana
May marks the beautiful celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage  Month in the United States. At Emma Willard School, we gathered for a moving Asian Heritage Assembly to recognize the many contributions of AAPI culture in our country and institution.
The Asian Heritage Month Assembly, hosted by the Asian Student Union (ASU), was a special time for connection between our AAPI community and the rest of Emma Willard School. Kicked off by a musical performance from Mehar S. ’24, the assembly covered a wide variety of topics, including Afro-Asian solidarity, national instances of AAPI hate, differentiating South Asia, and a show stopping Bollywood dance segment.

Exploring Afro-Asian solidarity, Sabrina A. ’22 and Sam Y. ’23 examined and reflected on the connections and allyship between members of the African and Asian diaspora during the civil rights movement and the mid-twentieth century. While a single presentation could only scratch the surface of the deep and unique history, their insights focused on the international consciousness of the civil rights movement and Asian American activists in the African American civil rights movement. 

The students highlighted two activists, Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama, for their astounding efforts in the midst of these movements. Boggs, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, was closely involved in the Black Power movement and, at one point, housed Malcolm X when he visited the city of Detroit. Her autobiography, Living for Change, details her tireless efforts towards racial and economic justice in Detroit and transcending class and racial boundaries to create a better society for all.

Kochiyama, a close friend of Malcolm X, was thrust into activism work after surviving two years in a Japanese internment camp in Arkansas following the attack on Pearl Harbor. A first-hand witness to government abuse, she used this deeply horrifying experience to lead a life engaged with political struggles, advancing both the Asian American and African American experience in the United States. Like Boggs, Kochiyama demonstrated a deep understanding of the shared struggle against white supremacy.

Studying Afro-Asian solidarity in the past gives us a good model for allyship today. ‘Allyship’ is often a buzzword, and it can be equated with being nice, but when we look at the history of Asian and African American communities, we can see it’s really a story of deep interconnectedness. - Sabrina A. ’22 

The South Asian Subdivision of ASU took the audience on a virtual tour of South Asia, introducing different countries and highlighting vibrant parts of their diverse cultures. Co-heads Krisha J. ’24 and Mehar S. ’24 shared an overview of South Asia before members of the South Asian Subdivision presented facts about their home countries. Did you know that over 650 languages—not dialects—are spoken throughout South Asia?!

While the assembly was filled with moments of joy and celebration, it was imperative to discuss the harm experienced within the AAPI community, both across our nation and within our own school. Led with data from an anonymous student survey, our community gained a better understanding of the pain experienced by some of our close friends on Mount Ida.

As difficult as it was to learn of instances ranging from students being misidentified to students feeling a need to assimilate, it was a necessary reminder that the journey to an equitable and inclusive community is ongoing and ever-evolving. There is always much to learn and much to work on. As a community we must be intentional in our efforts and individually each one of us must hold ourselves accountable for our own growth. We are grateful for the amplified voices of our community, and there are already plans for dialogue, partnership and collaboration with the Office of DEI on ways to support and impact change. 

As an international school, diversity strengthens each of us and our outlook on the world. Sharing Emma Willard School with students and EMployees from not only 21 states, but 38 countries, provides us with an unrivaled opportunity to see and experience the larger world on a smaller scale. By living our day-to-day lives with various ethnicities, religious groups, and lived experiences, we not only make ourselves better people, but we learn to share this knowledge with others and stand in solidarity when issues arise. We are uniquely positioned to see one another in a light that encourages us to show up as our most authentic self.

This AAPI month, why not celebrate by trying something new to learn more about different cultures? Initiate a conversation, invite someone to lunch, read a book, watch a documentary, research history. By learning more about our respective identities, we at Emma Willard School can work toward a future built for ALL.

For additional coverage on the assembly, head over to Smugmug!
    • Bollywood dance group!

    • Mehar playing the taus, an instrument from Northern India

    • Differentiating South Asia

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Honoring its founder’s vision, Emma Willard School proudly fosters in each young woman a love of learning, the habits of an intellectual life, and the character, moral strength, and qualities of leadership to serve and shape her world.
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