A Look Back: AALEAD Celebrates Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage

Written by Diana Tran; Contributed by various AALEAD Staff Members

As we look back over the last two months, Asian American LEAD is proud to share the different ways that we, as a team, celebrated Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander heritage and came together to support our communities across Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia. While we have been incredibly busy, it is our honor and privilege to be able to do work that fortifies the AANHPI community.

At the beginning of May, AALEAD staff had the opportunity to reflect on our multicultural identities together. Similar to how we lead programs with our youth, having an open forum to dissect and discuss our thoughts is a key component. Staff were asked, “Have you ever felt ashamed of your culture?” The answers were varied. In our organization, we have staff members who have fortunately never felt isolated or discriminated against on the basis of their race. Comparatively, we also have staff members who grew up normalizing the shame of being Asian or a part of a minority group in America:

“In short, yes. Growing up in Midwest, a lot of assimilation needed to happen for me to survive. It wasn’t until college that I really learned to embrace and celebrate my cultural identity.”

“Yes. When I was in middle and high school, I stayed with my Korean family but felt ashamed for not being full Korean. I didn’t feel like I belonged in Korean spaces. It was really rocky in beginning, and when I was out in the community, I felt a sense of gatekeeping because I felt like people were telling me, ‘You are not white, but you are also not Asian/Korean.’”

“Maybe junior high was tough because I am a minority. I dealt with fights and name-calling.”

“Yes, it happens in my own country too. People might wear different outfits and we might have different norms and cultures. There is bullying happening in both middle and high school. I have felt this before and it makes you realize that people think, ‘You are not part of this club.’”

It is a sad reality that many of us have faced and a narrative that continues to live on in the AAPI community. Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month provided us with many opportunities to engage in meaningful ways to celebrate our identities, uplift our cultures, and share those experiences with our youth and community members.

For several of us, showing our AANHPI pride can be conveyed through food, art, and dance. Across the DMV area, we were able to participate in several events:

DC MOAPIA AAPI Heritage Month Celebration (May 10): Our DC and VA teams volunteered at MOAPIA’s AAPIHM Celebration where hundreds of guests were welcomed to watch a variety of performances to uplift AAPI culture.

Asian Festival on Main Street (May 15): AALEAD tabled at the 2nd Annual Asian Festival on Main. We were this year’s official charity partner. The festival featured more than 30 Asian food vendors serving culinary delights, and performances including Filipino hip-hop, Chinese lion dance, K-pop, Indian dance, Japanese dance, Chinese ribbon dance, and a cosplay costume contest.

Foodelicious Night (May 17): AALEAD staff and youth volunteered at MOAPIA’s annual “Foodelicious Night” event on May 17th. The event showcased the culinary talents and dishes of four DC AAPI chefs through live cooking demonstrations and will also include food tasting for the audience. The purpose of the event was to promote cultural awareness as well as highlight the contributions of the Chefs to the DC food scene. AALEAD staff and youth helped greet guests, chauffeur attendees, and manage food lines at the different stations. This was a great opportunity for youth to meet the general public, learn about different culinary styles, and practice leadership and management skills through their roles.

APAHM Makerspace (May 17): In honor and recognition of AAPIHM, during YELP, Kilmer Middle School youth had an opportunity to create different artwork pieces and origami that represented the many different facets and symbols of Asian American culture.

DC End of the Year Celebration – KBBQ Family Dinner (May 25): To close out DC’s After-School Programs, youth were invited to a family-style dinner at Gogi Yogi in Columbia Heights. 15 of our youth came to enjoy Korean BBQ with our staff members and celebrate their efforts in AALEAD programs. We all had so much fun and look forward to sharing more memories like this with our youth in the future!

Beyond food and culture, an integral part of celebrating AANHPI has been to engage in critical conversations with both our youth and partner organizations from across the nation. Whether the topic be mental health, leadership, professional development, or our Asian American identity, we have learned that by sharing our stories with each other, we fortify our relationships and cultivate deeper connections to build a stronger tomorrow for each other and for our future generations.

MD AALEAD After-School Programs (May 1-May 28): Left photo – AALEAD staff and Blair HS students came together to create a display case for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Youth and staff posted short biographies of prominent Asian American figures and the flags of Asian countries. Right photo – AALEAD youth in Maryland practiced different wellness activities for 15-30 minutes each session in the after-school program. Youth practiced a total of nine activities during the month of May. Rochielle Canare, MD Program Coordinator, implemented different activities every week. Activities included journaling to destress, planting for mindfulness and gratitude, and dancing a Filipino cultural dance for mind-body wellness. 

VA AALEAD Lucky Passages (May 14): Asian American LEAD Virginia celebrated Asian Pacific American Heritage month by bringing youth, families, and community members together over good food and fun times. Youth, families, and community members got a peek into what AALEAD programs are like, explored youth creations, and met the people at the heart of AALEAD. We also debuted the 2022 AALEAD VA Zine, “Safe Passage(s)”, exploring what journeys, changes, and transformations have brought us here, and how do we keep moving forward?

Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling (May 20): To celebrate Asian American, Native Hawaiian, & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the DC AAPI Coalition, made up of several AAPI-focused organizations in the DMV area,  invited an entrepreneur,  a journalist, executive leaders, and business owners to share their trials and success. Panelists included:

  • Hanh Le (AALEAD Board Vice Chair) – VP of Strategic partnership of if, A Foundation for Radical Possibility
  • John Victoria – Founder and Owner of Polianna
  • Jung Lim – Vice President of Global Talent Development Programs @ Cultural Vista
  • Kenrick Ross – Executive Director for the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance
  • Suann Song – Founder and CEO of Appointed
  • Moderated by Zach Heng (Global Co-chair of the Multicultural Business Resource Group at Booz Allen Hamilton and Owner/Operator of The Heng Group)

The panel was focused on the concept of “breaking the bamboo ceiling”, which is a phenomenon that affects AAPI professionals. Due to the invisible limits of the workplace, mostly derived from the stereotypes and the “Model Minority Myth”, people of AAPI background are restricted from higher leadership positions. Panelists shared their personal lived experiences and strategies that attendees could implement in their own workplace.

Mental Health Convening (MCH) for Asian American Youth of Maryland (May 21-22): The purpose of the Mental Health Convening was to explore, understand, and address mental health issues of Asian American Youth in Montgomery County, MD. The Convening provided education, activities, and tools for mental health and wellness. During that weekend, 19 youth participants had twelve sessions, including six educational sessions and six well-being sessions at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. We had speakers from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – Northern Virginia chapter, National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association (NAAPIMHA), and the Eating Recovery Center. We covered the following topics:

  • Suicide among adults and youth
  • How to help a friend who has suicidal thoughts
  • Healthy Body
  • Healthy Mind and Spirit
  • Myths and Reality about stress
  • Healthy eating and eating disorders
  • How to accept and love your body

Outside of AANHPI Heritage Month, we are reminded that celebrating our culture can never be an isolated moment, relegated to just one month of the year. Even after the end of May came, we continued to celebrate our community and the work that we do alongside several other AAPI organizations. Here are a couple of the highlights we had in June.

[Link to photos to add to a gallery/carousel on the blog for Fundraiser]

AALEAD Annual Fundraising Gala (June 9): This year, AALEAD celebrated its 24th anniversary at Hong Kong Pearl. Between staff, board members, advisory council members, program youth, family, friends, and partners, we had a full house and were able to raise over $70,000 to support our programs and our youth. We truly could not have done it without the support of our community and look forward to celebrating our 25th Anniversary with you all next year.

Unity March (June 25): AALEAD became a member of the Organizing Coalition for Unity March, the first large-scale, Asian American-led march in Washington, D.C. We were joined by advocates and allies for a full program with speeches by diverse community leaders to tell our story of pan-racial power, unity, and resilience. The goal of the Unity March was to give Asian Americans and allies a national platform from which to collectivize our power and build solidarity with other communities in the face of pervasive violence and injustice against people of color – including LGBTQ+ individuals, people with disabilities, and religious minorities –  in the United States. Thank you to all those that were able to attend and support us! A special shoutout to AAJC and APIAVote for all their hard work in bringing this event together.

May and June have been eventful months for us at Asian American LEAD. We are so thankful to have a staff full of passionate individuals who share a connection to the work that we do. Moreover, we are honored to be able to work alongside other AANHPI-led and centered organizations to advocate for and empower our community. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for all of your continued support. The work that we do with our youth will live on for generations to come and we look forward to the culturally rich and diverse future that our youth will build. Thank you for celebrating Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month with us – today, tomorrow, and everyday.

For a list of resources to explore in celebration of AANHPI Heritage Month curated by AALEAD staff, click here.

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