Some DePaul organizations celebrate APIDA heritage month despite setbacks


Courtesy of DePaul's Office of Multicultural Student Success

May is Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American (APIDA) heritage month, and APIDA members at DePaul are utilizing this time to raise awareness for issues the community faces. Although in-person events cannot be held, the DePaul APIDA community engages in remote programming to keep the month long celebrations alive virtually.

What began as a seven-day period of observance designated by Congress in 1979 has evolved into a full month celebration of pride and remembrance. The DePaul APIDA community annually celebrates May’s heritage month, making this year’s theme “amplify.” 

According to the DePaul Office for Multicultural Student Success (OMSS), “amplify calls us all in reflection and action to magnify the knowledge, history, resilience and awareness of issues of diasporic Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi communities.”

They added, “through these programs, we hope to increase the volume of APIDA voices. We welcome all of DePaul University to participate and through collective participation, our voices are amplified.”

Virtual programs are conducted over Zoom and include a variety of topics centering around cultural identities and well-being. 

DePaul senior Ty Yamamoto is involved with numerous cultural organizations, including the Asian Cultural Exchange (ACE) and the DePaul Japan Table.

While Yamamoto said he’s upset that some events simply can’t be held, the APIDA center still has celebrations scheduled. 

“The APIDA center has also started a bi-weekly series called CHA(I) Time where APIDA students can lead a workshop or discussion of their choice,” Yamamoto said. “I did one where I taught origami to students and next week there are some awesome ones featuring activities like cooking, spoken word and makeup.” 

APIDA members like Yamamoto are engaging in online events to overcome obstacles presented by the pandemic like physical distancing. Students say celebrating heritage month has always been important, but celebrating in light of the pandemic is more pertinent than ever before. 

“The sense of community during this month is especially comforting, and during this pandemic, very much needed,” DePaul sophomore Jenni Nguyen said. “My experiences as an immune-suppressed Asian American woman has definitely affected my experience during this pandemic.”

“Although I am fearful and anxious a lot of the time, I am also steadfast in my commitment to using this time for self-reflection,” she added.

The past few months have been a trying time for the DePaul APIDA community. In a video by Mariko Dowling, DePaul senior and programming assistant at OMSS, students address anti-Asian antagonism during the COVID-19 crisis. 

“This year has pushed APIDA students to step up and advocate for ourselves more than I’ve ever seen in my time at DePaul. We are fiercely challenging systems that work to disenfranchise us and unapologetically celebrating our power. This month is truly about amplifying our collective love and strength,” Dowling said in an interview with the DePaulia.

Students like Dowling are speaking out against cultural appropriation and increased anti-Asian sentiment as a result of the virus.

“Our communities are still healing from cultural appropriation by the DePaul Men’s Ultimate Club and DePaul Men’s Basketball,” Dowling said in the video. “We were already feeling hurt and dismissed by the university’s handling – or lack thereof – these incidents and our subsequent student organizing.”

In March, the APIDA Sisterhood Uprising created a petition, “Get The DePaul Men’s Ultimate Team to Revoke their Culturally Appropriated Merch.” They explained how the team’s use of Japanese letters for their jerseys was an act of cultural appropriation. 

“This culture that they are using and profiting off of is one that has historically and is currently being erased and taken away from actual Japanese diaspora,” the petition stated.

556 signatures later, the petition was successful and the team apologized for the jerseys saying they would no longer be using them. 

Although the Men’s ultimate team apologized for their behavior, the Men’s basketball team failed to do so. 

“Just a few months ago, DePaul’s Men’s basketball team hosted a Chinese New Year themed game involving culturally and religiously disrespectful activities like rubbing a Buddha statue for good luck,” Yamamoto said.

Students like Yamamoto want others to know that acts of cultural appropriation are insensitive and offensive to communities of color. 

“The MC of the game also appropriated Chinese culture by wearing a cheongsam and putting chopsticks in her hair. The APIDA community has still not received an apology for this and DePaul has failed to acknowledge the situation as a whole,” he added. 

The DePaul APIDA community has also experienced increased anti-Asian rhetoric since the COVID-19 crisis began. 

“The exposure of underlying anti-Asian sentiments and the mishandling of such, makes this a critical point in DePaul’s history,” Nguyen said.

The Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council is a coalition of community-based organizations that advocate for the rights and needs of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. They reported 1,497 incidents of Coronavirus related harassment towards Asian Americans between March 19 and April 15. 

“APIDA heritage month is no more important to us than it was before; it is, however, now obviously important for the administration, the student body, and the country whose misunderstanding of our cultures, histories, and struggles expose themselves in disgusting displays of xenophobia and racism,” Nguyen said. 

APIDA heritage month is a time for members to celebrate different backgrounds while raising awareness to community faced injustices. They also encourage non-APIDA members to take part in the month’s cultural celebrations. 

“Non-APIDA members could and should celebrate by checking in with their APIDA family, friends and community members. I encourage them to take the time to educate themselves,” Nguyen said.

APIDA heritage month is also a time for Non-APIDA members to learn more about different cultural identities. DePaul’s OMSS encourages all students to attend the month’s events to learn more about APIDA faced issues. 

“It’s especially important to go into these events as a listener and to not talk over the voices of the APIDA community,” Yamamoto said. 

It’s imperative for non-APIDA members to support their peers in the Asian diaspora, especially amid increased anti-Asian rhetoric.  

“There are so many ongoing struggles our community faces that cannot be solved with just one month of recognition,” he said.

Although May is dedicated to celebrating APIDA heritage, students emphasize how important it is to continue raising cultural awareness throughout the year. 

“The APIDA diaspora constitutes the majority of the world population — it is huge and diverse. There is so much to learn in, across, and outside of our communities about our robust heritage,” Dowling said.