Asian-American month to kick off

Yale students will get a head start in exploring Asian-American cultures this April as the University celebrates an early version of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

APA Heritage Month events will include a dinner and keynote address by architect Maya Lin ’81, designer of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C., a Master’s Tea with the CBS Survivor winner Yul Kwon LAW ’00 and a performance by Asian-American theater group Jook Songs. Cultural dinners and shows will also be hosted by the Chinese American Students Association, the Taiwanese American Society, the Korean Students Association at Yale and the Vietnamese Students Association. The month of cultural events will officially kick off this Saturday with the first annual Asian American Students Association Spring Formal dance at Bottega Lounge.

Yale’s celebration comes one month earlier than the federally recognized Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. Yale APA Heritage Month organizers said they decided to observe the annual celebration in April because it will offer students a full 30 days to commemorate Asian American heritage before they leave campus.

The group planned APA Heritage Month to consist mostly of events that various AASA subgroups had already been planning to hold, AASA Co-Moderator Marisa Landin ’08 said, rather than generating a new series of events. The decision was made in part to encourage the campus’s various Asian groups to attend each other’s events, she said.

“Sometimes we feel that organizations are more focused on themselves and not as much focused on the Asian American community as a whole,” Landin said.

APA Heritage Month co-chair Nicole Fish ’09 said she hopes the month-long celebration will help Yalies realize that AASA is a pan-Asian organization that includes the Muslim Students Association and the South Asian Society, groups she said students might not normally associate with the term “Asian.”

While some students said they were not aware of APA Heritage Month, many said they are looking forward to attending the scheduled events. Others expressed doubt that some of the events would provide a useful forum for learning about Asian American culture.

Xiaochen Su ’10 said it is important for Asians living in the U.S. to be federally recognized with an annual celebration because the Asian American population is growing across the country and becoming more of a political force. But while Su said he appreciates the events of APA Heritage Month at Yale, he thinks students should take the time to reflect on their cultures rather than just attend events.

“People need to realize that they have roots somewhere else, maybe on the other side of the Pacific Ocean,” he said. “Recognizing these deep cultural connections is more important than something superficial like just putting on a show or dinner and using that as a symbol of Asian culture.”

But Korean American Students of Yale Treasurer Janet Noh ’09, who is organizing the annual KASY cultural show, which this year is based loosely on the movie “Hitch,” said she thinks the shows effectively communicate aspects of Asian culture, in addition to amusing the audience. Noh said advertising the shows as both cultural events and entertainment has traditionally been successful in attracting students.

“Would you rather go to a lecture about Korean culture with someone speaking to you on stage or have it be more interactive with students performing and engaging the audience?” she said.

Landin said that while this year’s month-long event focuses more on publicizing the various activities of AASA member groups, next year’s event will feature more politically geared events and dinners.

The federal Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month was formally established as a week of celebrations in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter and later expanded by President George H.W. Bush ’48 to honor the contributions of Asian Americans to the country. May was selected as the month of recognition because it marks the date of arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States.

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