Loving Ourselves and Our Cultures

By Yonsoo Kang, VA Middle School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Yonsoo Kang

Hello everyone!  Happy 2016.

Youth from Poe and Holmes Middle Schools have been busy learning about one another’s culture as well as celebrating their own.  In December and January, AALEADers used icing to draw flags representing their heritage on cookies (Credit for this idea belongs to our Mentoring & Volunteer Programs Coordinator, Stephanie Lim).


.                    Muyly O. shows off her Cambodian flag.                             Daniel H. wanted to represent his Korean heritage.
.                                       Muyly O. shows off                                                              Daniel H. wanted to represent
.                                      her Cambodian flag.                                                                      his Korean heritage.


I was happy to see the youth exhibiting such nuances in how they identified themselves.  One youth, Nora T., wanted to draw the Free Sryian Flag, while other youth drew the flag of former South Vietnam.  A youth from Poe Middle School, Kelly L., divided her cookie into thirds and drew the designs from the South Vietnamese, Chinese, and South Korean flags to represent her multi-ethnic background.  


Nora T. just finished decorating her Free Syrian Flag

Kelly L. is part Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese

In another lesson, we addressed the fact that many of our names sound “foreign” not only to non-Asian people, but also to other Asian-Americans.  I’m sure many can relate to the cringing and annoyance felt by those who constantly have to correct people who mispronounce their names.  We discussed why a name is an important part of one’s identity and how many names also represent their heritage or even tell a personal story.  




.    Nora T. just finished decorating                                                                                                                  Kelly L. is part Korean,
.               her Free Syrian Flag.                                                                                                                          Chinese, and Vietnamese.


A recently enrolled AALEADer, Melany Shoji A., explained how she related more to Japan in spite of being ¾ Mexican.  She told her classmates a story about how her father is half Japanese and Mexican because her Japanese-American (Nisei – second generation) grandfather fled the US to Mexico during World War II to avoid being interned by the American government.  Our AALEADer now prefers to be called Shoji in honor of her grandfather’s culture and courage.

Shoji A.'s colorful description of who she is.

.                                                                     Shoji A.’s colorful description of who she is.

Some AALEADers admitted that they tailored the pronunciation of their names to make things easier for others. Our activity was to make a concerted effort to pronounce our youths’ names correctly. It was also an opportunity to acknowledge the diverse world we live in.  For example, at Holmes MS, one Vietnamese student saw Arabic script for the first time and surprisingly exclaimed to Dinan S., who is from Sudan, “these little lines are your name??”  “Yes” Dinan replied, “I’m not good at it though.”

Each youth wrote their name(s) on a sheet of paper (in English and any other languages they speak), how to pronounce it, and then three positive adjectives about themselves.  These activities provided the youth a chance to affirm and celebrate their cultures and identities.  

Yeabsira G. writes her name in English and Amaharic.

.                                                          Yeabsira G. writes her name in English and Amaharic.

Stay tuned to hear about what’s next for our youth in programs!  Youth will be learning about:

  • Networking
  • Black History
  • Confronting sexual harassment
  • How to have healthy relationships

Happy Lunar New Year!

It’s gonna be great!



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