Celebrating the Asian-American Experience

By Kathy Jiang, VA HS Program Coordinator 

Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

As May approaches, APAHM (Asian Pacific American History Month) will be upon us soon! Before then, though––now and all times of the year––our community is always seeking to explore, uplift, and celebrate our APA identity and heritage in various ways. Last month, VA region AALEAD HS youth engaged in an APIA-focused self-image workshop after school, and gathered for a Lunar New Year celebration on the weekend.

Workshop Time: Self-image & Self-care for APIA Youth

During one of our weekly YELP! (Youth Engagement & Leadership Program) sessions, VA HS youth sat down to discuss their experiences as APA-identifying individuals. We talked through this five-stage model of Asian-American Identity Development:

Then, youth mapped out and shared how their life journey and time at AALEAD fit into this model. Here are some youth quotes highlighting the individuality of their experiences at each stage: 

  1. Ethnic Awareness
  • “Having to be a translator for… parents… [who] immigrated from Asia.”  
  • “I was very proud of being Asian and all because of how deep into the culture I was in. I wore traditional dresses, performed traditional dances in front of tons of people, ate traditional spicy foods, and more.”
  • “As a kid I celebrated ‘Pohela Bhoishakh.” I danced and acted in theater to traditional Bengali songs and plays outside of school.”
  • “I’ve always celebrated Lunar New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, etc. and went to Vietnamese school.”
  • “I realized I was Asian around elementary school. Beforehand, I knew I was a bit different from everyone but I didn’t have a word for it yet.”
  1. White Identification
  • “Since I grew up in a diverse community and school, I’ve never thought about wanting to be white.”
  • “There was a brief time in my childhood where I started to hate my facial features. I wished my nose was taller and my eyebrows weren’t so thick. But I soon grew out of this when I started thinking about why…”
  • “My classmates in elementary school always talked about how my eyes looked “different.” I also used to want blue eyes and blonde hair.”
  • “The [first] time might be middle school when I learned about beauty standards.”
  1. Socio-Political Consciousness
  • “Learning more about how people treated other Asians in media and in life (attitude, stereotypes, etc.), a lot more conflict than what my young mind believed before.”
  • “I only really started learning about APIA issues and topics when I joined AALEAD back in sixth grade. It definitely opened my eyes to some of  the struggles that Asians or Asian Americans may have dealt with.”
  • “I discovered lots of Asian news coverage when I started going online. There is so much news that’s glossed over! In the near future, I aim to learn more about Asian-American history.”
  • “The first year of my life in the U.S., I joined this club, AALEAD. I discovered a lot of people that share [a] similar background as me. I made a lot of Asian-American / Asian immigrant friends.”
  • “I’ve started learning about them in high school through social media and different articles. Many of my friends are asian american so I am able to talk with them about these issues.”
  1. 5. Redirection, Incorporation
  • “I advocate for equal rights as  the student chair of the Anti-Racism Education Committee as a part of the Equity Team at my school. “
  • “I’m not sure if I’m there yet, but AALEAD has made me feel secure. As I meet new youth and people who are just like me, the more stories I hear. I’m more than proud of being in this community.”
  • “Not there yet 🙂 Eventually get to a point where I truly understand where/who I am, not shying away from opinions I or others hold in fear of conflict.”
  • “I’m in the APIA club, but also, I make a constant effort to spread my culture, experience, and my interest in other asian cultures with my peers. I’ve also talked about my experiences as an Asian American in my writings.”
  • “Am I there yet? Hmm, I think the train just reached the station. I am learning more about loving myself and my Asian culture!”

VA Day: Lunar New Year Edition

Every month or so, the VA region holds “VA Day,” a special event filled with fun, food and community bonding. In celebration of a holiday central to many Asian-American families, our February VA Day was Lunar New Year-themed. A few Saturday afternoons ago, youth received a yummy drop-off treat, filled with New-Year-themed-and/or-generally-delicious snacks like mochi, pineapple tarts, and Pocky. We played a few games and wrapped up the day with a paper crafts session. Check out some beautiful youth and staff creations below!

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