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Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month

What is Asian Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month?

Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a time to honor and celebrate the culture, traditions, history, and contributions of Asian American Pacific Islander people in the United States. In 1977, a resolution and a bill were introduced in the House and Senate to proclaim the first ten days of May as Asian-Pacific Heritage Week. In 1992, the month of May was permanently designated as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. As with other "Heritage" themed months, it's important not to limit ones learning or isolate the celebration of AAPI people, history, and culture to one month of the year.

What does AAPI Heritage Month mean for me?

As a yon-sei (fourth generation) Japanese-Okinawan born and raised in Hawai'i, I lived "AAPI Heritage" every day. I was immersed in the daily experience of seeing myself, my stories, and the stories of Pacific Islanders reflected in the local news, the songs we sang, and the people around me who represented many ethnicities that comprised our local culture. Being Asian, Part-Asian, mixed-race, Native Hawai'ian, Samoan, Tongan, etc. was and continued to be "normal". Growing up on the Big Island, these racial and ethnic identities were the norm, the worldview from which we evolved our understandings about the people and places around us.

Now that I live in Oakland, California and work in schools where my culture and lived experiences are not reflected back to me in the way it once was in Hawai'i, AAPI Heritage Month has more significance; it is an opportunity for me to lift my voice, honor the beauty and brilliance of fellow AAPI people, and speak proudly from the "I" perspective.

Making the Invisible Visible

At a recent webinar about teaching AAPI Heritage Month led by people from Learning for Justice, teachers were asked:

Windows and Mirrors are a metaphor that teachers can use when making decisions about what to include in their curriculum. It asks teachers to balance the representation of stories, texts, authors, and other curricular content so students can see both windows into others' experiences and mirrors, or reflections of their lived experience in the classroom. While I was exposed to many mirrors in the stories I listened to and the people learned from outside of school, I did not see mirrors in the books, textbooks, and lessons in my public school curriculum. Outside of my Japanese language class, in Civics, History, AP English and other classes where curricular mirrors could have been included, there were none.

Looking back, I see these glaring gaps, where the stories and history of my people (beyond the context of American imperialism and war) went untold, and still see these gaps today in "progressive" schools and educator programs. This is what is meant by the words "erasure" and "invisibility". The stories and histories that were intentionally erased in the past have continued to be largely invisible in today's modern curriculum.

In learning my history and uplifting the stories that honor my heritage, I affirmed my belief that there are many different ways to learn about AAPI culture; be it through traditional means like webinars, books, and lectures, as well as through food, music, art, and shopping AAPI owned!

Below is a mix of traditional resources and contemporary ways to explore and embrace AAPI heritage; some of which is through the work of folks I am honored to call friends. Uplifting their contributions and accomplishments to our community brings me feelings of joy and deep gratitude.

Wat? Like Go Holoholo?

Chef Mark ”Gooch” Noguchi is one "Japanee local boy" who grew up in Manoa, Oahu. I met Gooch years ago at a friend's house years ago and he's one of those people who you can't help but end up being friends with. One of my favorite memories of Gooch was when I ran into him at a coffee shop at Manoa and he asked, "Eh, you like poi?" He then gave my friend and me each a pound of fresh poi and told us to pay it forward; that he didn't want to take our money. That's quintessential Gooch -- aloha spirit for days.

Watch this video and I know you'll understand what I mean -- you can feel the warmth of his spirit and genuine love for our people and land transcend through the screen. Gooch travels the backroads of Hawai’i in this six-part series where he guides us and pushes us to think about how we restore and honor the traditions of Native Hawai'i while existing in a modern world.

Mai Hilahila

Mai Hilahila is a Kanaka-owned/wahine-owned small business, promoting shameless self-love and empowerment. Annette Chew, the owner, has always impressed me with her creativity, advocacy, and love for her community of sisters. She is someone who unapologetically and fearlessly speaks up for herself and others -- I try to channel her spirit when advocating for myself as a woman of color in white male-dominated spaces. I have always admired the way she centers beauty in the fight for women's justice and love how she captures this beautiful balance in her product line. Annette and I are pictured below, rocking some of her pieces. I highly recommend you follow her on Instagram to get your daily dose of beauty in activism!

Kalani Pe'a

I got to know Kalani through my cousin Noe and their work on his Grammy award-winning debut album "E Walea", where he won the Grammy® Award for"Best Regional Roots Music Album" and made history by being the first Hawaiian Recording Artist to ever win in the category. Kalani was an educator at Kamehameha Schools before he decided to pursue his music career full-time. One of my favorite memories of Kalani was meeting up before a Beyonce concert to talk story, and diving deep into our reflections on the importance of identity work in schools and the challenges of owning one's identity in school systems that explicitly uphold values that exclude people who represent marginalized identities (e.g. Christian values that normalize exclusionary practices as a result of codifying these values into a schools mission and bylaws). Our conversation left a lasting imprint on my mind and heart, adding a critical layer to the lens through which I look at the policies and practices within a school system.

I love this quote from Kalani,"THE FOUNDATION of Hawaiian cultural values and practices start from home. We must become the pouhana (pillar) for our families and the communities we serve. We must seek courage and thrive together by becoming the kumu waiwai (primary and profound resources) for our people. That is essential. We can only thrive this way. But first, the Hawaiian language is the foundation to everything thinking and being Hawaiian."

“Ku’u Poli’ahu” is an original song written by Kalani Pe’a off of Kalani Pe’a’s GRAMMY® Award-Winning & Na Hoku Hanohano Award Winning debut album titled “E Walea” released August 5th 2016. Credit: Native Arts and Cultures

Webinars + Online Resources

Asian American iRL (Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center)

Asian American K-12 Resources (Created by: Sarah Park Dahlen, Assoc Professor in the Library and Info Science Program at St. Catherine University)

Teaching Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage (Webinar led by: LFJ Professional Development Trainer Sarah-SoonLing Blackburn and Teaching and Learning Specialist Jon Tobin)


Asian Author Alliance (a group to celebrate Asian Kidlit and the diversity of stories that originate from the Asian Continent)

Native Books (an independent bookstore and publisher focused on books and literature from Hawaiʻi and the Pacific)

Lee & Low Asian Pacific American Heritage Collection (a family-run, minority-owned, independent company)

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