Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Stop Hate & Promote Change
The month of May in the United States of America is Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Typically this month increases the awareness of the cultures and areas in Asia and the Pacific Islands, but this year takes on increased importance and will be a reflection of the times. Due to the increase of hate crimes against the very same population this month celebrates, Dancing with Class presents 5 important ways to promote social change, create a culture of empathy, and stop hate.
History of Asian Pacific Islander Month
Asian Pacific Islander Heritage awareness originally occurred for only one in week in May in 1979. From there, presidents annually passed proclamations for an Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week in May. In 1990, Congress finally expanded the observance to a month. Finally in 1992, Congress passed Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month annually in May. This month is notable as the the first Japanese people to immigrate to the United States arrived on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad was on May 10, 1869 (most of the workers were Chinese immigrants).
An Especially Important Time
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is rise in Asian hate crimes, harassment, and xenophobia. Dictionary.com defines xenophobia as:
“an aversion or hostility to, disdain for, or fear of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers. Fear or dislike of the customs, dress, etc., of people who are culturally different from oneself.”
This month allows us to celebrate the many influences and contributions Asian and Pacific islanders have made to the United States’ culture, and reminds us not to categorize a whole group of people as a virus or an excuse to take COVID frustrations out on. This month is to recognize that the people of the Asian and Pacific islands are more than just a race.
How to be part of the solution:
- Be mindful of how you speak about the COVID-19 virus and Asian-Pacific Islander people. Avoid using negative nicknames like “Chinese Flu” which can be very insulting and promote a culture of ignorance and hate around the subject. When talking about the pandemic overall, do research beforehand which is a good practice to cultivate regardless.
- If you experience or witness someone experiencing hate crimes or harassment, there are several places you can report this to including your local law enforcement and the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council.
- Attend a virtual bystander hate intervention training organized by Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago, CAIR-Chicago, and Hollaback! This one-hour virtual training is aimed to teach trainees how to safely intervene during a witnessed harassment and/or support the victim by learning about typical scenarios, learning about the “five strategies (5D’s)” while prioritizing your own safety, and practicing the interventions.
- Recognize this is an issue and have a conversation with children. Remind them who the proper adults are to go to if they witness their own classmates being harassed which in turn promotes their empathy development.
- Support and learn more about your Asian Pacific Islander communities and organizations. This can be a particularly emotional time filled with fear and sadness.
What About Dance?
Teaching about the rich cultural traditions of the many Asian and Pacific Island nations is also a good way to teach children to appreciate cultural differences. If you live in a place that has many cultural resources, there are likely local dance companies that specialize in teaching and performing dances of Asian origin. Whether it’s Indian, Chinese, a Pacific Island or any other Asian country, it can be a fun and enriching experience to invite dancers from these groups into your schools to perform and/or teach a workshop. At Dancing with Class, we have worked with dance professionals who have expertise in Asian and Pacific Island dances and they have helped us incorporate a taste of some of these dance styles into our Dance Around the World program.
No matter what small steps you take to combat hate against any group of people, you can make a difference. Continue to be a part of the social change — there are many small ways to build empathy and set an example for students and your community.