On Tuesday, March 26, the Asian Culture Center kicked off Indiana University Bloomington’s annual Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with an opening reception at the University Club President’s Club. Supported by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs (OVPDEMA), the theme for this year’s celebration is “Building and Empowering Underrepresented Communities,” with programming including a film series, panel discussions and student-led conferences throughout April.
The opening reception began with a few remarks from Dr. Yolanda Treviño, assistant vice president for strategy, planning and assessment at OVPDEMA, who spoke about the month’s importance.
“It is inspiring to be with you as we kick off the month in April,” Treviño said. “I am encouraged that there are so many people here today who see the importance of the programming from student organizations, cultural events, panel discussions and campus partnerships.”
Vicky Huang, a first-year master’s student, graced the reception with a violin performance of “Sojourners” by Hsiao Tyzen, who was inspired by his homesickness for Taiwan while living in the United States. Huang described the importance of the song and read part of the original lyrics. “We are all sojourners coming from faraway Taiwan,” she read aloud.
The opening reception hosted special remarks from Elaine Wagner, the first Chinese American city council member of Columbus, Ind., who was elected in 2016. Wagner, a Kelley Business School alum from the class of 2009, spoke of her appreciation for the Asian Culture Center and its programming. “Thank you to the ACC for the work that you do in promoting Asian talent, and talent in general, in the state of Indiana,” Wagner said. Afterwards, Wagner inspired the audience with a personal story of her parents’ first move to the United States.
"My parents moved away from home and to a country they didn’t know. They weren’t fluent in the language, they didn’t know anyone or had friends or family for support. Since then, my parents have worked to establish a Chinese Association in Columbus with over 400 members, and they helped establish a Chinese language school that has over 70 students enrolled this year,” Wagner said. “They both became U.S. citizens, started their own business and they have since been invited to and gone to a presidential inauguration. They have been through things that are a lot scarier and harder than I can imagine, to try to build a better life for my brother and I. So they are my inspiration and why I am here today.”
John Chen, a senior from Carmel, Ind., majoring in neuroscience, said that council member Wagner’s speech inspired him. “I enjoyed the part where she relayed to us about her parents first immigrating here and how they felt really out of place. I feel like it resonated with me because it reminded me of what my parents went through when they first immigrated here,” Chen said. “I can’t imagine what it was like for Elaine’s parents because Indianapolis has a stronger Asian presence and community and Columbus had to build it from scratch. It was inspiring to hear what she said about that.”
Melanie Castillo-Cullather, the director of the Asian Culture Center, spoke of how Wagner’s story highlighted the significance of celebrating stories by Asian American and Pacific Islander.
“This is what Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is all about: remembering and honoring the accomplishments and also the history, the place, and the position of Asian Americans in the community,” Castillo-Cullather said.
Castillo-Cullather also listed many ways that students could be more involved and learn about AAPI heritage, including through personal connections.
“There are so many ways to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month,” Castillo-Cullather said. “Number one is to make time to know your classmate, neighbor, roommate and find out their story, their roots and their aspirations.”
The program ended with the launch of the introductory video to the Asian Culture Center, titled, “20 Questions with the Asian Culture Center,” produced by the Office of the Provost. Along with being entertaining, the video put a friendly face to the culture center, as it followed IU student Tara Kim through the center and all that it had to offer. The video highlighted staff members and events at the house, including discussions like “Over A Cup of Tea,” the Asian Language Learning Program and mentoring services like the English Tutoring Service.
For more information about events taking place throughout Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month at IU Bloomington, visit the ACC’s website.