At the close of Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month

As May draws to a close, so too does Asian/Pacific Islander Month. Like all recognition months, though, our acknowledgment of the diverse stories and contributions of those in our community who identify as Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) carries well beyond just one month.

When we think about further educating ourselves to create greater understanding and a more inclusive environment, here are some things to consider.

  • Some perceive individuals in the AAPI community to be model minorities. This is the belief that AAPI populations have not suffered or are privileged, despite working very hard for their place in life. This is an inaccurate and harmful perception. The stories members of our community have shared this month have been aimed at dispelling that myth. 
  • It can be frustrating for AAPI individuals to be misidentified. Similar to other minorities, the AAPI community is not homogenous. There are many diverse groups within each of these populations that have overcome their own obstacles and achieved their own accomplishments. Highlighting these differences and honoring that individuality and identity are critical for an inclusive college culture and society.

We close this month with two additional stories from our community.

Cindy Ma
On April 30th, 2021, my father and his siblings celebrated 30 years of living in America. Even before I was asked to share this story, I was already feeling grateful for the sacrifices that my parents and family have made to get us where we are now. When my dad arrived in Temple City, CA in 1991, he lived with 11 other family members in the 4-bedroom house that my second oldest uncle owned. They left Vietnam in search of a better future. He and his siblings worked long hours every day in clothing factories so that the 5 of them that had just moved from Vietnam could afford their own apartment, and eventually their own homes.

Pictured left to right is Cindy’s brother, aunt (mentioned in her story), and her parents.
Pictured left to right is Cindy’s brother, aunt (mentioned in her story), and her parents.

In 1977, my mom’s older sister and brother fled from Vietnam when they were 21 and 19. They stowed away on a boat headed for Cambodia and barely had time to send a message to their family to let them know they were leaving. They passed through many refugee camps and eventually settled in Torrance, CA. They worked multiple jobs for years and were eventually able to buy a house and sponsor the rest of their family to come to the US. The family of 10 lived together in the house that my aunt and uncle bought.

My mother eventually met my father while working in a clothing factory. They worked 14 hours a day, 6 days a week and eventually saved enough money to purchase the home that I grew up in. Throughout my life, both of my parents emphasized that opportunities in America surpass those from their home country. While they were only able to afford an elementary level education, my brother and I are now both in college. When I got my first job, my starting wage was higher than what my mother was earning. Because of the sacrifices my parents and their families made in the past, we get to have privileges that they did not even know were possible when they lived in Vietnam.

Dianna Nguyen
In high school, my classmate told me, “You only were admitted because they needed to hit their quota.” My classmate was hurt because I had been admitted to their top university choice while they had not. In that moment, I felt empathetic because I only hoped for their success. However, my classmate made this comment beside knowing my GPA, test scores, and extracurriculars outweighed theirs. This sentiment dangerously plays into the “model minority myth” about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). A facet of this myth is that AAPI members face less discrimination or systemic racism. While AAPI members should recognize our privilege, it is important to acknowledge the adversity the AAPI community continues to face.

Dianna and her parents
Dianna and her parents

In my first pharmacy job, a co-worker asked me, “Isn’t your name Ching Chong Ling?”

My legal name is Phi-Linh Nguyen (pronounced: “fee-lin win”). My grandparents advised my parents to give my siblings and me “American” names. They hoped this would help us assimilate to avoid discrimination. I have gone by “Dianna” my entire life. When starting my new role as a pharmacy technician, I requested that my name badge read “Dianna”. However, the new manager had written “Phi-Linh” on the schedule board before they had met me. As I made my way back to the pharmacy, a staff member stopped me with this inquiry based upon the schedule board. This statement particularly took me by surprise. I had never experienced a microaggression in a professional setting before. It is extremely problematic when society makes BIPOC names seem “complicated” or “difficult” to pronounce/spell. We must respect one another enough to ask rather than assume. Aside from this, poking fun at Asian accents or names just because they are foreign may seem light-hearted. Yet, I have always viewed broken English as a sign of great intelligence beyond my own ability and inherently not a joking matter.

These examples are only a few of which I have faced. Although I was born and raised in America, my experiences have made clear that I am sometimes perceived as “other.” I used to wonder what entitled others to claim American heritage more strongly than me. However, I have grown to understand that my identity is just as equally American as it is Vietnamese. My family’s history of resilience instills confidence in me to continue to confront and oppose discrimination.

Many thanks to Cindy and Dianna for sharing their stories. All of the narratives shared this month have a common thread of pride in what their families have accomplished and overcome. While recognizing people who identify as AAPI still struggle in America, as evidenced by ongoing and recent violence and discrimination, the college is proud of everyone who has courageously shared their stories with our community. Please continue to share them with one another. When we work together, we move this work forward.