Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, Heritage Month is celebrated in May to honor Asians and Pacific Islanders who have contributed to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States.
The Pilipinx American Student Society, or PASS, at MSU is a member organization affiliated with the university’s Asian Pacific American Student Organization (APASO).
Victoria Sisomsouk, senior in human biology, is president of PASS and has been involved with the organization since its first year, serving in various positions on the board of directors.
“PASS is a very diverse place, especially within APASO,” Sisomsouk said. “I’m not Filipino, I’m Laotian, so just knowing that they are very welcoming people and pointed me towards, not only PASS, but also the APASO community, says a lot. I hope PASS can do the same not only for Filipinos, but also for other Asian Americans in the MSU community.
Sisomsouk said she believes AAPI Heritage Month originally started as a space for Asian Americans to celebrate who they are and where they come from, but it has evolved over the years.
“I think it’s just more than a celebration,” Sisomsouk said. “It’s also a month to shine a light, a platform to tell stories and traditions and a sense of unity and coming together despite where we come from.”
AAPI month is an important way to highlight and represent all groups on the Asian continent, Sisomsouk said. When people think of Asia or hear the term Asian, Sisomsouk says they usually think of East Asia, such as China, Japan and Korea, but she pointed out that Asia also includes South Asians, Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders and Indigenous peoples.
“We are a very diverse group of people and we deserve to have our voices heard,” Sisomsouk said. “We are seen and heard, we also see ourselves and other people. Whether it’s looks, manners, skills, or experience, it provides us with a kind of connection.
Sisomsouk said AAPI Heritage Month also plays a role in highlighting the difference in experiences between Asian Americans and Asians who grew up in their home country or on the Asian continent.
“Here in America, Asian Americans are subject to American culture, and we also face a different type of discrimination or racism,” Sisomsouk said. “We also learn to interact with people who are not like us and who do not have the same traditions or values, and that just adds to the experience.”
Gian Batayola, senior in data science statistics, is the vice president of PASS. Batayola said the significance of the AAPI month to him changed over time as he got older.
“Coming from where I grew up, the community was a predominantly white community,” Batayola said. “So I ended up growing up with a bit of an implicit bias towards myself, basically I was kind of very used to being the token minority in a group.”
Batayola said he didn’t experience much racism in his hometown growing up, but to some extent it affected him psychologically.
When Batayola arrived at MSU, he was introduced to a more diverse range of people, especially those from his own racial and ethnic background. Batayola said that was when he realized there were times in his life, in high school and college for example, where he was trying to conform to a past or an identity that did not represent him.
“Things like AAPI month, I’ve become very grateful for that because looking back and realizing how much of an issue I had with visibility – I never really saw other Asians in my classes. or in my community,” Batayola said. “It’s just something to remind that there is this very large and growing community in the United States that needs to be recognized for what it is.”
Batayola said ethnic community days and months, such as AAPI Heritage Month, are important due to changing demographics and increasing diversity in the country.
The shifting and fluid racial identities in the United States, as well as the sub-identities within them, must be acknowledged, Batayola said.
“Many of these backgrounds have varied and different experiences, because even among East Asian people, Korean culture and Japanese culture can vary greatly.” said Batayola. “It’s those things that need to be recognized, recognized and celebrated, because those differences are something that, by going to the collective culture, can bring a lot of new ideas and have that cultural diffusion.”
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