AAPI month ‘May’ just bring people together

By Colette-Janae Buck, Contributing Writer

From the struggle-filled experiences of Chinese immigrants to the showcasing of traditional Hawaiian celebratory dances, EWU’s first-ever Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage month celebration highlights the contributions made and the obstacles faced by AAPI persons in the United States.

Originally proclaimed only as a heritage week in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter, the AAPI celebration was later resolved to be month-long by former President George H. W. Bush in 1990. Since Carter’s proclamation, a university-sponsored annual May AAPI celebration has never been held at EWU, until now.

Diversity services library liaison Qing Meade said the idea for a department-sponsored celebration came from a conversation with sociology professor Pui-Yan Lam, Ph.D.

“It was during an informal dinner last winter that we were talking about what kind of events the library could do with the college of social sciences,” said Meade. “We realized that we celebrate other historic and cultural months, but we have never celebrated Asian-American and Pacific Islander month here at Eastern.”

EWU freshman Sharon Kuamo’o-moli said having an AAPI heritage month raises more awareness. “As a Pacific Islander, I didn’t even know we had a month where other cultures can learn about our heritage,” Sharon Kuamo’o-moli said.

Stephanie Kuamo’o-moli, an EWU freshman, also believed having cultural months helps other cultures connect with each other. “It broadens your horizons, and opens you up to other cultures that you may not have known about,” said Stephanie Kuamo’o-moli. “Students can see other cultures and experience new things without having to travel when events like AAPI month are held.”

Sharon Kuamo’o-moli, along with her sister Stephanie Kuamo’o-moli, are a part of EWU’s Hawaii Club. Both Sharon Kuamo’o-moli and Stephanie Kuamo’o-moli participated as dancers in EWU Hawaii Club’s annual May Day Hui o’ Hawaii Luau on April 30. The luau featured traditional Hawaiian foods and the much-anticipated traditional entertainment of Hawaiian dance.

“May Day is a huge celebration in Hawaii, and dancing and parades are a part of that celebration,” said Stephanie Kuamo’o-moli. “For the luau we focused on different islands and the styles of dance they have.”

“Every island has their own different type of hula,” Sharon Kuamo’o-moli said. Some types include Kahiko, a traditional hula; Auana, a modern hula; and Ha’a, which is similar to a warrior’s chant. These three were some of the seven dances shown at the luau.

A month-long display of historic AAPI culture in the Northwest and the broader United States is one of the events agreed upon for the AAPI celebration. The display includes an array of books from the Spokane Historical Project regarding the history of Chinese and Japanese persons in Spokane, and a display of films on Asian-Pacific American histories and cultures in the United States.

Meade said she hopes not only the display but the month’s celebration itself will help educate people on what AAPI culture really is. “AAPI culture is not viewed fully as a part of American society, it’s seen as exotic,” Meade said.

“When we think of Black History Month we think of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his activism; we think of the contributions he made to American society. However, when we think about Asian-American and Pacific Islander heritage we think of mainstreamed aspects of culture, like Chinese New Year and sushi, not activists who helped shape American culture,” said Meade. “Our events are going to focus more on AAPI persons who made significant contributions to the United States.”

Both library displays went up on May 1 and will be displayed until May 31.

The second event, held yesterday, was a lecture by head of the history department, Liping Zhu, Ph.D. Based off his most recent book, “The Road to Chinese Exclusion: The Denver Riot, 1880 Election, and Rise of the West,” Zhu’s lecture focused on Chinese exclusion in the 19th century.

“The lecture is an overview of Chinese immigrants, and their experiences in 19th century United States,” said Zhu. “I tried to put the Chinese experience into a larger framework of American history.”

Written and researched from 2005 to 2011, Zhu said he stumbled upon the book’s topic while researching in Washington State University’s library approximately 20 years ago. “I found one document, diplomatic notes on the subject and events, and I thought it would be an interesting topic to research and write about,” said Zhu. “No one was really writing about it.”

Zhu said he hopes students will gain a greater understanding and awareness for Asian-American and Pacific Islander culture from not only his lecture, but the entire celebration.

“What I can contribute is telling a story about what happened in the past and what Chinese immigrants went through. It’s a part of our Asian-American heritage,” said Zhu. “I just hope that students will become more interested in these topics, or at least be open-minded and gain a little more awareness.”

Zhu has been teaching Asian-American history for 20 years and has written four books regarding Asian-American history in the United States.

The last university-organized event will be a film screening held today from 1-2:30 p.m.

“American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs” is a documentary film that focuses on Asian-American activist Grace Lee Boggs and the course of her life and activism. Boggs was not only a voice within the Asian community, but also made significant contributions to Detroit’s black community throughout her lifetime.

Meade said by showing this documentary, the idea that America is a melting pot is affirmed. “This country was made by people of different backgrounds,” said Meade. “We hope the celebration will expose individuals to AAPI culture, and help them learn to fully associate that culture with the broader culture of the United States.”

The month of May at EWU will be dedicated to highlighting all aspects of AAPI culture that exist within the United States, its reputation as a part of American culture, and the contributions its people have made to society.

“What I really hope the larger campus gains is an understanding for our culture,” said Sharon Kuamo’o-moli. “I want the celebrations to show them what we truly are, what we represent and the problems that we face.”

“I think in multiple cultures we all face similar things, but we don’t realize it,” said Stephanie Kuamo’o-moli. “Hopefully, having others experience our culture will allow them to identify with us and maybe even realize that we do face the same struggles. AAPI month may just bring people together.”