Arizona education leaders share their stories during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and provide insight on current issues students are dealing with.
Generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have enriched United States’ history and been key to its success, but many have also experienced racism, physical attacks and verbal harassment now during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the past.
Asian Americans in the United States represent about 50 different nationalities, said Brett Esaki, assistant professor at University of Arizona College of Humanities East Asian Studies
“I think it’s really important to get to know one another to ask questions about, culture, religion or history and to understand why people think the way they do,” said Julie Read, a Deer Valley Unified School District Governing Board Member.
ASBA Video: Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month – Julie Read
Read said her daughter experienced racism while at the Matsuri Festival of Japanese culture in Phoenix.
“My daughter is a quarter Japanese, and she was getting some very inappropriate comments and received some racism from some other kids her age because she was Asian,” Read said. “That was not something that I had anticipated at all.”
“There were some very painful conversations that we had to have, trying to encourage her to advocate for herself and stick up for herself,” Read said. “My daughter has a really good heart and she wanted to use it as an educational opportunity to speak to some of the other kids and to let them know when they said that flippantly, why it was hurtful. She was able to do that, so I commend her for doing that.”
“There were things that happened to me when I was younger, and they’re painful moments that I don’t dwell on, but I think if you asked any minority, they would be able to tell you some of those really painful memories of growing up or even things that happen day in and day out with the anti-Asian sentiment that is going on,” Read said.
That is why it is important for leaders to see what is going on in their communities and have those tough conversations to change things for the better, Read said.
“As we mark another commemoration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we have to acknowledge how this time feels different. A global pandemic has shaken our communities to the core, revealing long-standing and often unacknowledged inequalities,” said Dr. Theodore S. Gonsalves, Interim Director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. “Our families in Atlanta, Indianapolis, and throughout the nation continue to shoulder the pain of losing loved ones to violence and harassment. Please remember to take time to support each other as we try to make sense of these times.”
“Usually, these month-long events in May have been wonderful ways to gather up our voices to celebrate achievements. We would share songs, food, ritual, and stories. And while this year we grieve, let us also strive to find the humanity in each other. We wish to see the fullness of who we have been, who we are, and who we can still be,” Gonsalves said.
“We are more than what has been done to us. We bear witness to and participate in calls for racial equality, justice, and much-needed kindness and healing. Our Asian American and Pacific Islander traditions demonstrate unity and care for each other. On behalf of everyone at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, I invite you to live out these ideals with us not only in May, but throughout the year,” Gonsalves said.
Asian Americans also were impacted by the repercussions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 restricting immigration to the United States, echoed in efforts just a year ago to restrict immigration from specific countries.
In addition, Japanese Americans’ homes and property were seized, and they were incarcerated at internment camps in Arizona and around the nation during World War II.
University of Arizona College of Humanities East Asian Studies Assistant Professor Brett Esaki, who is a Japanese American who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, said “All my grandparents were put in the World War II internment camps.”
ASBA Video: Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month – Brett Esaki
“It’s an important part of U.S. history here in Arizona,” Esaki said, noting that there were two internment camps in Arizona. “That personal history has been a part of my research and it’s part of the book that I wrote on the arts and spirituality and it also informs the work that I do here in Arizona.”
After eight people, including six Asian American women, were killed at Atlanta spas in March and after media reports of physical attacks on Asian Americans around the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of Indianapolis Public School students met with district leaders to take steps to address anti-Asian hate and include more about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the curriculum, Chalkbeat reported.
Thuy Padilla, principal of Bologna Elementary School in Chandler Unified School District, is a Vietnamese and Chinese American whose parents were refugees from Vietnam during the war. A church in Arizona had sponsored her Dad’s side of the family.
“It was very important to me to stay within the community that supported my family and to be able to give back,” Padilla said.
It is important right now “to ask Asian American students and youth how they’re feeling, what they’re feeling and being a support system for them as they start to process some of the things that are happening with all of the violent attacks and atrocities in the U.S. and in the world with Asian Americans,” Padilla said.
“We are still in the middle of Asian hate right now,” Padilla said, noting that communication around events and attacks has not moved past simple information about what is happening.
ASBA Video: Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month – Thuy Padilla
“We deserve to live without fear,” said Helen Chen, 17, from Brooklyn, New York.
“We matter today, tomorrow, and forever,” said Iqra Hashmi, 18, who lives in Gilbert, Arizona.
“Belonging is a feeling few have,” said Kourrney Rathke, 15, Boulder Colorado.
“Stop saying wish, start saying will,” said Lilly Schlesinger, 11, Denver, Colorado.
“I didn’t learn about Asian American history in high school. We can’t fail another generation of students,” says Kayla Huynh, of Normal, Illinois.
After listening to how these attacks are impacting students, it is important to determine “how do we support them, because their mental health is very important right now,” Padilla said.