On May 7, the Princeton Day School Upper School gathered virtually to acknowledge Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM). Student heads of the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) affinity group, Milan Shah '22, Sanjana Paramesh '22 and Vinay Rao '21, provided background about AAPIHM and called for their peers to come together.
As the student leaders explained, in this country May was designated as the month to celebrate Asian American heritage in remembrance of the arrival to the U.S. of the first Japanese immigrant on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the trans-continental railroad on May 10, 1869, a massive effort in which Asian American immigrants played a major role. "There must be a place for celebration to show the diversity of the community. Throughout Asian American Heritage Month, it is important to learn about those cultures and unique traditions in each of our own communities. Everyone is so unique, especially within our community at PDS, and it is important to celebrate us all," Vinay Rao shared.
Addressing the rise of anti-Asian hate and rhetoric in the country, Sanjana Paramesh stated, "While it is a time for celebration, it is also a time to acknowledge the spike in anti-Asian hate in the United States. It is a difficult time for us all. We have all lost something due to the pandemic and coming together in support of one another is the best way that we, as a community, can not only combat the issues in the U.S. and abroad, but also move forward and recognize the achievements of our Asian American peers."
Highlights of the program included:
- Reflections on the Model Minority Myth, a pervasive stereotype of Asian Americans in the United States, were shared via a news segment, which explored the origins of the stereotype and its harmful effect on individuals and Asian American communities.
- Japna Singh '22 shared her perspective as a second-generation American Sikh and the importance of her faith while learning to embrace her identity.
- Kyler Zhou '23 shared about transitioning from living in a predominantly Chinese community to private school, where he was surrounded by many other cultures beyond his own and faced his own questions about identity and the pressure to conform. As he put it, "I know I am Chinese-American. I am a little bit American, a little bit Chinese and a whole lot of both."
- Science Department Chair Jason Park reflected on the historic racial tensions between communities of color and the Asian American communities, which he personally experienced growing up in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating and the killing of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old Black teenager, by a Korean convenience store owner shortly after the acquittal of the officers caught on camera beating Mr. King. "Racism is as real today as it was 30 years ago," he said as he encouraged everyone in the PDS community to stand together to eradicate hate and bias.
- Arthur Zhu '21 read a passage from Eddie Huang's book, Fresh Off The Boat, imploring Asian Americans to "be the Americans we all want to know" rather than succumbing to stereotypical expectations, followed by a Time interview with the author in which he describes his goals for portraying Asian culture in his media works.
- Actor Daniel Dae Kim's remarks at his appearance before Congress earlier this year, about the importance of Asian Americans in the country's history and social fabric, were also shared. "There are several moments in a country's history that chart its course indelibly for the future. For Asian Americans, that moment is now. What happens in the coming months will send a message for generations to come as to whether we matter; whether the country we call home chooses to erase us or include us, dismiss us or respect us, 'invisibilize' us or see us. We are 23 million strong and we are united. Asian history is American history," he stated.
- To conclude the gathering, Asian American members of the PDS community honored their families and ancestors, including PDS Wellness Director Dr. Candy Shah, who made a dedication to her late father Dr. Antonino Hernandez Calon, who recently passed away. She shared how he inspired her throughout her life, all the way up to following in his footsteps and becoming a doctor. "His influence has shaped my identity, the way I work, what I value and how I serve my community," she declared. Family photos of many of the School's Asian and Asian American families and their ancestors were accompanied by an audio recording of Katherine Ho singing "Yellow" by Coldplay in Mandarin. The video concluded with a message of love and support to families in India.