Asia-A kicks off Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month with portrait gallery

By Anh Ta

This month of May has special meaning to the Asian and Pacific Islander communities as it pays tribute to the diverse and unique narratives of these groups. Celebrating the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Asia-A has planned out a series of events to explore all of the different narratives, as well as specific issues concerning these communities. It is an experience in self-knowledge not only for the Asian and Pacific Islander communities, but also for the entire Lawrence community.

For Asia-A, this is their first time celebrating this important cultural event; planning and preparation began at the beginning of the academic year. Starting with a self-expression portrait gallery titled “This Is Me” in the Warch Campus Center Gallery, Asia-A also hosted screenings of the documentary “Vincent Who,” followed by a panel discussion on the film as well as issues faced by the Asian and Pacific Islander communities on Wednesday, May 6.

Sharing with us the thought process behind this celebration, Asia-A’s Co-President and sophomore Veronica Thao believes there is a need for greater understanding of these communities’ voices and greater discussion.

“We feel that there is not much awareness, a sense of identity, a sense of empowerment among the Asian community here on campus,” said Thao. “We want to create a chance for the Asian community here to really speak their mind.”

Asia-A’s Co-President and sophomore Evelina Vang also chimed in: “Through events like Cabaret, there has been a lot of entertainment, but there has not been a platform for [Asian] students to voice how they feel about themselves,” said Vang. “All we have seen was to give a show […] there is so much more than that […] [The audience] can see your performance, but they don’t see how you feel.”

In addition, although this month is dedicated to American-born Asians and Pacific Islanders, Asia-A hopes to expand it to anyone with roots in an Asian culture, regardless of their origins. With this, Asia-A wishes to illustrate a characteristic of the Asian community: the diversity.

This is highlighted through the black-and-white portraits of individuals from different Asian cultures on campus. Each photo is accompanied by a short paragraph written by the models themselves, reflecting on the meaning of their own identities to themselves. This is one of the key events of this month as, according to Thao and Vang, there has not been such a strong statement for the Asian community at Lawrence. The gallery will be in showing until Sunday, May 10.

Thao expressed her views on the gallery: “Part of the reason why we do the “This Is Me” gallery is to show people the diversity within the Asian community, the different voices that each of us has within our individual culture. Being Asian is more than just being Asian; it is also being Korean, Japanese or Chinese. They are all very different.”

Besides trying to present all the different Asian cultures and let voices be heard, Asia-A also aims to unite all of the very diverse Asian cultures together. They also feel that the lack of presence of the Asian and Pacific Islander narratives on campus might also be due to the lack of platform for different cultural groups to come together. “Although we have so many different Asian cultural groups here […] I feel that these groups are more geared towards their own cultures,” said Thao. “The Korean Cultural Club is more geared towards Korean students […] As Asia-A, we want to become the center for groups to come together […] to celebrate each other.”

As one of the pioneers for initiating conversation for Asian students at Lawrence, Asia-A has to deal with many uncertaintes. Thao and Vang also look forward to gauging the interests of the community to achieve their long-term goals beyond this month: to continue raising awareness and generating further discussions.

“The most important thing is we want to know what [an Asian student] wants,” said Vang. “We want to know what a non-Asian student wants or what the community wants; so we can provide discussions or events for them to make them feel comfortable sharing their experience.”

Charging ahead into unknown territories, Vang and Thao are making their way into Lawrence history. “This is our time for the Asian community to not be passive,” Thao shared. “We have to step up, get out of our comfort zone and start talking about these things to make a change. It is really scary because we don’t know what to expect […] But that’s okay.”