Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month creates space for celebration and change



Students from the Asian Pacific American Club (APAC) presented about their proposed changes in the curriculum.

A time of celebration for a multitude of reasons, the month of May marks the end of the school year and all-around better weather. May is also Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time to create change and celebrate diversity.

Keya Waikar, senior and co-president of the South Asian Student Association (SASA), said that AAPI Heritage Month is important both around the world and at the high school because it helps create a space to address racism towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. According to data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the 2021-2022 school year, Asian American students make up 19.52 percent of the high school population.

“This is a month where other people get more insight into what it’s like to be an Asian American in a predominantly white school. Oftentimes, being Asian American, I think, ‘I don’t face racism; only certain people of color face racism.’ But Asian Americans do face racism, and bringing that to the spotlight is so important,” Waikar said.

Senior Samuel Lee, a member of the Asian Pacific American Club (APAC), said that after the vigil on March 26, 2021, which honored those who lost their lives in the Atlanta shooting, the AAPI community at the high school has gained more visibility.

“We’ve always had a presence, but we only recently gained a voice,” Lee said. “We became closer as a community after the Atlanta shooting. It took a really big toll on all of us. Ever since the vigil, we’ve gained exposure that we’ve really needed.”

Karen Wong, science teacher and co-adviser of APAC, said that AAPI Heritage Month has helped her reflect on her experience as an Asian American teacher.

“This is my fifth year teaching at Brookline High School, and in my previous years, I have not always spoken up about my own identity. After the Atlanta shooting, I’ve been thinking about how much support I have been giving to my peers and to my students that identify as AAPI. It’s made me think about how I can speak up, whether it’s being an adviser for this club or correcting others’ views on AAPI people,” Wong said.

According to Waikar, AAPI Heritage Month gives students and faculty a chance to explore AAPI history and current events.

“We talk about things like the model minority myth and explain why it’s a myth. We also talk about how all of these stereotypes came about, given our immigration history,” said Waikar.

This past month, students in APAC and some of the curriculum coordinators came together to discuss curriculum changes in the English and History departments to include more AAPI history. Wong said that representation for AAPI students is important, and this month creates both momentum and an opportunity to begin educating more people.

“It’s important that we highlight the accomplishments of AAPI students at the high school. My hope is that AAPI Heritage Month is a reminder for people to have conversations. It’s not something where you just check off the list saying, ‘I’ve talked about this month and now I’m moving on.’ You have to continue to better yourself,” Wong said.

AAPI Heritage Month is also a time of celebration. Jean Hurr, a member of APAC, said that the AAPI community has found a balance between addressing racism and celebrating their community.

“I think a lot of the time, our community is brushed under the rug, especially when it comes to racism, hate and violence. But during this month we get time to highlight those things and also celebrate our community,” Hurr said.

APAC has placed posters around the school that change weekly and highlight different parts of AAPI heritage. They are also collaborating with Tappan Green to include a special menu with Asian cuisine. This past month, the Brookline Asian American Family Network (BAAFN) hosted an award ceremony for essay contest winners about this year’s topic: what it means to be Asian American.

Hurr said that these events have been some of her favorite parts of AAPI Heritage Month, as they help her already tight-knit community become even closer.

“I love how we get to celebrate how beautiful all of our cultures are. There are so many beautiful cultures, like Korean culture and South Asian culture,” Hurr said. “The AAPI community as a whole is so beautiful. Right now we get to celebrate our many Asian cultures and come together as a community.”