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Monday September 20th

'We should celebrate': Reflecting on UNC's Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month celebrations

<p>The Asian American Center Campaigns team poses for a portrait on the steps of Wilson Library. Photo courtesy of Lynne Chen.</p>
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The Asian American Center Campaigns team poses for a portrait on the steps of Wilson Library. Photo courtesy of Lynne Chen.

In April, to celebrate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, the UNC Asian American Center hosted campus-wide events, performances and panels, and created a community cookbook. 

May is dedicated as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month as a way to celebrate the contributions, history, culture and achievements of the Asian American and Pacific Islander American community. 

Lynne Chen, a senior majoring in public relations and advertising at UNC, said that, although it is nationally celebrated in May, most universities celebrate the month in April, since the majority of university semesters end in early May.

The UNC Asian American Center, which was founded in 2020, has a mission to spread a critical understanding of Asian American cultures and histories through education, advocacy and organizing, according to its website.

This year, the celebration of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month was centralized around building up community infrastructure, while simultaneously trying to offer programming and community support during an extraordinarily difficult year, Heidi Kim, director of the AAC, said. 

“Unfortunately, due to the timing of the recent mass shootings and the general wave of anti-Asian sentiments, as well as other traumas that communities of color are dealing with, like COVID impacts, we're celebrating at a difficult moment,” Kim said. “But, I was really determined that we should celebrate, because it's important to show that we're not just victims but that we have a really rich, diverse history and culture.”

Chen is one of the senior advisors for the AAC. She said that celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in April was inspiring, since she got to hear other Asian Americans and have a space where she could share her experiences and learn about others.

“I feel like oftentimes, the stories from Asian American communities are often ignored or not talked about in our public education systems," Chen said. "So, I feel like this month is really important to highlighting and giving people the platform to share their stories and to spread the things that are important to them." 

The AAC hosted numerous events, ranging from educational webinars to celebrity panels to featuring recipes sent in by the community. 

UNC senior Abhishek Shankar, chairperson of the AAC's campaign team, said the AAC created an all-online multigenerational cookbook, where students, faculty and alumni can submit family recipes, photos and stories. 

Partnering with Carolina Dining Services, the AAC was able to feature some of the recipes, as well as serve them to students at Chase Dining Hall, Kim said. 

“It was just really special to see that they posted photos on social media, and it was great to see students of all backgrounds enjoying those new dishes,” she said. 

Through events and celebration for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, Shankar said that, regardless of the trauma Asian Americans have faced over the past year, it is important to remember to be proud of history, culture and identity in order to get through any obstacle.

“We deserve the opportunity to still celebrate who we are, without the fear of anyone else,” he said. “I think it is really good that colleges celebrate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in April, because we actually get the whole month to celebrate it. It really feels like it's a place to call home, especially during the full month, and it’s really a place to be unapologetically yourself.”

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