Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Celebration returns to campus with in-person cultural events

Media Credit: Courtesy of APIHC

Groups like the Chinese American, Asian American and Taiwanese American student associations held events for the month's celebrations.

The Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Celebration returned in person this month with an array of events throughout April for the first time in three years after transitioning online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Multicultural Student Services Center hosted the annual month-long event in partnership with nine Asian-American student organizations to provide 10 cultural events for students, like dumpling-making nights and open conversations in the University Student Center about the impact of Asian hate on campus communities. Student leaders said turnout dropped from pre-pandemic years, but the in-person events resulted in more “engaged” crowds and a more lively experience than the online events during the pandemic.

The APIHC co-sponsors that held events this year included the Chinese American Student Association, Taiwanese American Student Association, Chinese Students and Scholars Association, Philippine Cultural Society, Sigma Psi Zeta, Asian American Student Association, Kappa Phi Lambda Sorority, Japanese Cultural Association, Hawai’i Club and the Multicultural Student Services Center.

Claire Gunawan, a junior and the community outreach co-chair of the Asian American Student Association, said students were able to partake in cultural events that aren’t usually offered at GW, like AASA’s Open Mic Night. She said the events promoted are not only social but also a space to have “critical discussions” about heritage through programming including AASA’s “Cloud Conversations,” which led discussions on serious topics, like discrimination against Asian Americans. 

“I think sharing your own talents in a space within your own community is very different than just a normal open mic night that isn’t identity-centered,” Gunawan said. “Being able to sing a song from your family in a space that’s intentionally for that is very different.”

After the pandemic broke out in 2020, Asian American student organizations transformed the celebration into a social media challenge where participants posted photos of their Asian heritage as a way to virtually observe heritage month. APIHC programming took place virtually for the second straight year in 2021 and focused on the rise of anti-Asian American hate crimes during the pandemic through cultural shows and guest lectures. 

The University created April’s annual APIHC programming in 2004 to allow students to celebrate Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month – nationally recognized each May – before the academic year ends in May. 

Gunawan said the transition from virtual programming to in-person events has been “difficult” because student organizations are still trying to find their footing after two years online.

“This is our first time doing it in person, so I feel like there’s this disconnect of what the celebration looks like because no one except the seniors has experienced it,” she said.

Gunawan said she hopes students who are not directly involved in Asian American student organizations feel encouraged to attend APIHC events and learn more about Asian and Pacific Islander culture.

“The celebrations are absolutely for the community, but it’s also for people not technically in the community to celebrate in solidarity and see what that looks like,” she said.

Gabriel Young – a junior and the president of the Chinese American Students Association, co-cultural coordinator for the Philippine Cultural Society and programming chair of Taiwanese American Student Association – said he helped organize events with the three organizations.

He said the Philippine Cultural Society held Tandaan, a show featuring cultural dances and a skit about Filipino identity, and the Taiwanese American Students Association held a meetup with Taiwanese student associations from nearby schools like the University of Maryland, the College of William & Mary and Georgetown, American and Johns Hopkins universities. He said the Chinese American Students Association held a dumpling-making event, a karaoke night and a discussion with the Chinese Students Scholars Association about Chinese-American identity. 

Young said organizations involved with organizing APIHC events are navigating their “historic” first month of in-person programming since before the pandemic. He said he is still learning how to conduct events in person and has faced difficulties with responsibilities like finding venues. 

“Now that some of us don’t know what has been done in the past or how important it is for this month to be, this year has just been a rebuilding year for us to be able to have a better one next year,” Young said.

Katarina Nguyen – a sophomore and the president of Sigma Psi Zeta, an Asian-interest sorority – said she felt excited to be considered as a co-sponsoring organization for this month’s programming because she is proud to be part of an Asian-interest organization on campus. She said her sorority has held social events like cooking nights and dropped off food they made to a local women’s shelter as a way to incorporate philanthropy into their cultural events.

“I think it’s just so great that we’re having so many events and programming from these orgs.,” Nguyen said. “Sigma feels really proud as a fellow Asian-interest organization.”

Nguyen said although engaging is difficult after two years of online programming, it is exciting to be back in person because there are greater opportunities for social interaction and fewer limits on the types of events that can be held.

“As for cultural orgs, I think this is just such a great month for us to reflect back onto ourselves and our organizations with the values that we hold and also just think about our program then learn for the future,” she said.

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