Youth Voice and Power: Responses to AAPI Discrimination

By Rochielle Canare, MD Middle School Program Coordinator

Photos & Media courtesy of AALEAD Staff and Youth

As our country continues to grapple with anti-Asian racism, youth are speaking up and stepping out to lead change. From op-eds to AALEAD after-school programs, youth are demanding to address anti-Asian violence and are expressing a desire to see more Asian American studies in their education. In March, Maryland region AALEAD middle school youth engaged in a youth-led workshop addressing anti-Asian discrimination.

Youth-Led Workshop: Anti-Asian Discrimination

Middle school AALEAD youth Marc led a workshop titled “Annihilate Asian Discrimination!” Marc facilitated group discussions with his peers to uncover their experiences with Asian American discrimination, contextualized violence against Asians within the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, and shared steps youth can take to support the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. When asked why he wanted to create this workshop, Marc shared he felt the topic resonated with him and that he “wants everyone to take away that we, my generation and the AAPI community, have to be the ones to speak up about this and at least be informed.”

Image Description: Title slide reads “Annihilate Asian Discrimination! By Marc. Another slide reads “Opening Question: How have you been impacted or What have you seen regarding racism, anti-Asian discrimination/violence since the start of COVID-19?”

Marc opened the space by asking what his peers have observed or experienced regarding anti-Asian discrimination. Some youth shared examples of headlines they saw on social media, such as basketball player Jeremy Lin being called ‘Coronavirus’. One youth shared an example of a family member experiencing discrimination, while others shared general fears and worry of what may happen to their family when out in public. Their responses reveal that youth are not only aware of anti-Asian discrimination at this time, they also are feeling the impacts of discrimination on top of the mental and physical toll from enduring a pandemic. In turn, they are turning feelings of helplessness into actionable ways to create change in their communities and support one another.

Image Description: Left, a slide lists 4 Things you can do to help fight anti-Asian rhetoric: 1. Use your voice, 2. Standing in solidarity, 3. Donate, donate, donate, and 4. Support local communities. Right, a slide lists links to AAPI organizations to support and links to a compiled resources document.

After holding space for his peers, Marc presented statistics and cases of reported Asian hate incidents to highlight the frequency and severity over the past year alone. Then, he guided participants through four action steps they can take to support the AAPI community and shared a resource document he compiled of organizations to support, donations for AAPI survivors of violence, and sources to learn more about AAPI discrimination. At the end of the workshop, youth formed small groups to discuss concrete actions they will take once they leave the meeting. One youth stated that he will “share the message anyway I can like talking about it in my classes.” 

Youth already have their own voice and power; they are seeking the community members and adults who will support them in us. When youth ask to lead workshops in AALEAD, they are asking for spaces where their voices will be heard and valued. For many youth, this workshop was comforting to them that they are not alone in their feelings or experiences. Further, by seeing their peer lead this presentation, this workshop encouraged many youth that they too can use their voice and that they have power to influence change.

After the workshop, Marc reflected on his experience saying, “I feel like I accomplished my goal. But at the same time I feel like there’s still more work to do.” 

Image Description: Diagram of a brainstorm web youth used to list and organize workshop ideas. At the center is a yellow box labeled “AALEAD Workshops: What topics interest you?” Connected to the center box are green boxes labeled with categories, such as Geography/History, Human Rights Issues, Mental Health, Music, and Sports. Connected to each category is a youth generated idea labelled in a blue box.

For the next two months, youth will continue to own their space, voice, and power by leading projects to share in May, coinciding with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) and their last day of programs. Youth will then showcase their projects at our End of Year Celebration. Youth in our regular after-school programs, YELP!, are creating their own workshops focused on AAPI-related topics of their interest. Topics include Asians in film, important Asian American figures, false Asian stereotypes, and many more. Youth Council leaders and Youth Program Allies are working together to create a video project on the origin and importance of APAHM. They will share the video with their middle school administrators to post on school websites in order to provide Asian American history education to a wider audience of their peers. 

In a year when factors have, at many times, felt out of our control, it is an exciting honor to witness youth take hold of their passions and lead the way. Youth projects can be seen during AALEAD MD’s End of Year Celebration on Wednesday, May 26th.

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