Asian American Heritage Month Ends
In 1978, Congress passed a joint resolution to celebrate Asian American Heritage Week during the first week of May. This week marks two important and symbolic events in American history: on May 7, 1843 the first Japanese immigrants arrived in America, while May 10, 1869 marks the completion of the transcontinental railroad, a feat that would not have been accomplished without the backbreaking work of Chinese laborers.
In 1990, Congress voted to expand Asian American History Week from a week to a month-long celebration. This spring Oberlin activists and educators brought to campus about a dozen events in a celebration entitled, “Arts, Activism, and Asian America.”
Disagreements have arisen about the month’s name. Asian American Heritage Month is officially referred to as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month by the government. The month is supposed to honor both Asian and Pacific Islander heritage. However, the Asian American Alliance at Oberlin does not wish to include “Pacific” in the description of Asian American Heritage Month.
College sophomore Cheska Tolentino, a member of Oberlin’s planning committee for AAHM, was quick to explain the controversy behind the use of the phrase “Asian Pacific.”
“We did not include Pacific in our title because Asians are not the same as Pacific Islanders, and vice versa,” Tolentino said. “The compound term ‘Asian Pacific’ was conveniently coined around the time of the 1990 U.S. Census because the government and other agencies did not recognize that the different Asian cultures and issues are significantly unlike those of Pacific Islanders. Pacific Islanders are rarely included in dialogue and academic texts regarding Asian Americans, so including them in the title marginalizes them, especially considering their vastly separate cultures and politics.”
This year, the members of the planning committee and the Multicultural Resource Center chose to celebrate AAHM from April 13–May 5. The events were purposely scheduled early in the month in order to avoid student conflicts with finals. However, attendance still suffers, as it is scheduled during the most hectic time of the school year.
“This is a very busy time of year for people at the College, and the committee has been putting in a tremendous effort,” said College first-year and AAHM planning committee member Juli Marin. “I am glad to see people at our events, but I would love it if there was more attention paid to Heritage Month. We have definitely faced some challenges in reaching the broader Oberlin College community and obtaining their support and respect.”
Rising above obstacles and end-of-the-year-stress, a committee of only 13 active members successfully planned 14 thought-provoking events that both educated and entertained anyone willing to attend.
Although the planning committee would have liked to see more Oberlin students coming out to the events, it regarded this year’s celebration as highly successful.
“I am very pleased with how the month is turning out,” said College senior Alex Kondo, chief organizer of the committee. “We have tackled a much broader range and larger number of events than in years of recent memory. I believe that people who have come away from our events enjoyed them and came away with an increased awareness of some of the issues pertaining to Asian America.”
This year’s events featured many notable Asian and Asian American speakers and performers and included poetry, music, lectures and political and social discussions. A performance by Japanese Taiko drumming troupe by Ichi Daiko attracted the greatest attendance. Other notable events included a discussion titled “Virginia Tech: Implications for Asian Americans,” facilitated by sociology professor Pawan Dhingra and a workshop on multiracial and multiethnic identities facilitated by Chris Harley, OC ’02.
“I hope that [attendees], especially those who came to multiple events, came away thinking about the relationship between the arts and activism,” said Kondo.
First-year Emily Chu Finkel enjoyed the historical and social perspectives that speaker Oliver Wang discussed in his talk “Pacific Time: Hip Hop in Asian America.”
“The lecture helped me to see how Asian Americans have used hip hop as a venue to celebrate their heritage, while at the same time resisting oppression and marginalization in American society,” said Finkel.