5 Suggestions to Celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Month

May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Month, which serves to celebrate one of the fastest-growing minority groups in the United States. In spite of good intentions, it is one of the most often forgotten heritage months in the country. This is largely due to the model minority myth, which states that ostensibly due to their own hard work, Asian Americans live largely outside the confines of structural racism. This, however, is untrue, as Asian Americans continue to face glass ceilings at work, day-to-day microaggressions, and increasing, racially-based violence.

Many Dual Language (DL) programs across the country are seeking to expand their offerings of Asian languages. For instance, there are Vietnamese-English Dual Language programs in large cities such as Boston and Portland. Districts such as Capistrano Unified School District in California and Cambridge Public Schools in Massachusetts have Mandarin-English DL programs. Furthermore, districts such as the Houston Independent School District have been seeking to open Hindi-English DL programs due to the growing number of Hindi speakers amongst their Emergent Bilingual population. However, even if your program does not focus on Asian languages, under the third pillar of Dual Language, sociocultural competence, it is important for us as educators to ensure that students are able to work across the aisle with and fight for the justice of people from all backgrounds. Therefore, every heritage celebration is important in a DL classroom.

Here are 5 suggestions for what you can do to celebrate AAPI Month:

  1. Have students research Asian countries. Asia is home to nearly 60% of the world’s population. Unsurprisingly, this means that there are many cultures and traditions housed within the continent, so have students research Asia. You can divide students into 6 groups and assign a subregion to each group. The subregions are South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Some questions that can be asked are: What are the traditional clothes of the region? What are the religious practices? (Be careful of stereotypes or treating religious practices that are less familiar to westerners as mere legends.) What are the foods eaten? How have the people of this region been affected by colonialism? What systems of governments do they have, and how do these systems affect the people? What languages are spoken in these regions and how different are they from one another in script and vocabulary?
  2. Have students share their research with the school. AAPI Heritage Month is often ignored or downplayed by the mainstream media in comparison to Hispanic Heritage Month or African American History Month. Our students can support the AAPI cause by sharing their learning with others and thereby, promoting the month-long celebration. For example, my own Spanish-English DL students would create a museum to share with the rest of the school and exhibit maps that they drew, artifacts that they collected, and research that they had done to highlight AAPI contributions.   
  3. Let AAPI students take the lead but don’t force them to do so. If you have AAPI students at your school who would like to feature their cultures, allow them to have a leading voice in your school’s presentation; however, remember that no student should feel like a token representative of the community and be forced to speak or represent their culture. For example, although I once taught in a One-Way Developmental Spanish-English DL program, I invited any interested student in our entire school to help put together our presentation. Many of our (but not all of our) Indian and Pakistani-descent students came from other classes and took the initiative to teach our Dual students how to sing and dance to Bollywood music. The kids, then having forged deep friendships, performed in front of the entire school together. In the process, the students learned from each other about each other’s cultures and dreams, thereby expanding their intercultural competence.  
  4. Read works about the Asian American experience. Young children can be introduced to prominent Asian Americans through books like Yes We Will: Asian Americans Who Shaped This Country by Kelly Yang, which features AAPI individuals from Vice President Kamala Harris to cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Other good books include Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, which redefines beauty standards for girls to include East Asian features and I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne, which highlights the difficulties all immigrant children face when they leave their extended families to come to the United States. Furthermore, older students can explore transcultural acculturation through the Amina series by Hena Khan (3rd-8th grades) or Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas (8th-12th grades).   
  5. Discuss Civil Rights issues that have impacted AAPI individuals. From the Japanese-American internment during World War II to the Bellingham Riots, which targeted Indians living in Washington State in the early 1900s to the denial of citizenship to immigrants from Asian countries, American history is fraught with racial violence against Asian Americans. This same racism recently reared its ugly head recently during the recent pandemic. Discuss the racism experienced by Asian-Pacific Islander Americans. What causes it? What can we do to help the community and ensure that we do not take part in the harm being done?  If you have AAPI students, how have they felt throughout the recent uptick in racial violence against the AAPI community?

I encourage you to try any of these five activities to fill your May, and ensure that Asian American Pacific Islander month doesn’t go by the wayside. As DL educators, it is our responsibility to build our students’ sociocultural competence. AAPI month is an essential part of this endeavor.

Pictured: Grandmother and granddaughter making “kolam,” traditional Indian rice flour art. 

Aradhana Mudambi
Author: Aradhana Mudambi

Dr. Aradhana Mudambi is the founder and Chief Advocate for Students at Language and Equity Education Solutions LLC, a consulting firm that supports schools and school districts to build and improve their multilingual programming, especially their Dual Language Education programs. Through Language and Equity, she provides professional development, consulting, and coaching. For the past few years, Dr. Mudambi has run her popular blog, Social Justice and Education. She has taught several courses such as Intercultural Communications, TESOL Methods, and Assessments for Bilingual Students at Eastern Connecticut State University. Furthermore, she serves as the Director of Multilingual Education at Framingham Public Schools in Massachusetts where she oversees Dual Language programs in Spanish and Portuguese. Additionally, she worked as the Director of Bilingual Education at Windham Public Schools, not only overseeing and restructuring Windham’s Two-Way Dual Language program, Compañeros, but also founding and building Dos Ríos, New England’s first One-Way Dual Language program. Dr. Mudambi has served as a building leader, a Dual Language teacher, an ESOL teacher, and a Spanish teacher. She has worked in India, Mexico, France, England, and The United States. You can reach Dr. Mudambi at arm977@mail.harvard.edu.

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