A banner against a blue sky in Lexington
AAPI Heritage initiatives and events this month have included a collaborative effort between several community organizations to display banners celebrating AAPI trailblazers in the Town Center. (Sophie Culpepper / LexObserver)

LexObserver reached out to members of six Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) cultural groups in town to hear about how they are celebrating, experiencing and thinking about AAPI heritage  – and how Lexington embraces that heritage – within and beyond this month. We heard back from members of four groups; Bangladeshi Americans of Lexington (BALex) and Korean American Organization of Lexington (KOLex) could not be reached for comment by press time.

Alongside celebration, a meaning heightened and changed by pandemic anti-Asian attacks for some

Ally Wang has been involved with Chinese Americans of Lexington (CALex) for several years; today, her son is a youth volunteer as well.

“As the communities across the country celebrate the achievements and contributions of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans with different activities, such as festivals, seminars, sharings, AAPI Heritage Month makes me feel belonged and a stronger connection with others,” Wang wrote in an email to LexObserver. In her 20 years living here, the meaning of AAPI Heritage has changed, she added — “especially after I became a U.S. citizen.”

“AAPI month is an opportunity to be thoughtful about the important role that AAPI folks and the larger AAPI community have played in building this infrastructure of this country and the role of AAPI today right here in Lexington,” Indian Americans of Lexington (IAL) member Mona Roy wrote in an email to LexObserver. “As a member of IAL…I am proud to say that Lexington’s many Indian Americans along with other AAPI contribute to the fabric of Lexington on a daily basis just as regular Lexingtonians who volunteer and take on leadership positions to better life for all Lexingtonians.”

Roy stressed that the AAPI community is anything but a monolith, and being both seen and remembered is essential for all identities within that complex umbrella. “Some people have older histories that have made lasting impacts on this country while others were driven out or…had their identities erased,” she wrote. 

“Our stories are still being uncovered and our history is still being written,” she added.​ “We are proud to be American, and we are not going to be…anyone’s model minority and sit with a quiet voice and not highlight our strengths and our concerns.”

For Reiko Miyagawa, who was among the founders of Japanese Support Group of Lexington (JPLex) in 2017, the “many contributions and events of AAPI that [have] changed and formed…American history” are critical to celebrate. She believes “hearing the personal stories may be the most powerful way to convey the message” of AAPI inclusivity. When youth are involved in organizing events, she finds “adults and [older] generations not only reflect what happened in the past, but look more positively toward the future.”

Grace Ou, a Lexington High School student, began to get involved as a leader on the AAPI Youth Celebration team in collaboration with Chinese American Association of Lexington (CAAL) after witnessing many hate crimes during the pandemic. She’s also taking AP U.S. History now, and has thought about how little Asian American history seems to be included in that curriculum. 

For Ou, “AAPI Heritage Month just means I’m showing what our culture looks like,” she said. “I feel like a lot of ….discrimination or implicit stereotypes come from just not knowing what our culture really means.”

Melanie Lin moved to Lexington in 2007. By 2011, she had started to notice “very little representation from the Asian community in a lot of community events,” she said – so she asked around about why there was a lack of involvement, and formed a community Task Force to promote Chinese Americans and “basically increase our profile in community volunteering,” she said. Today, she serves as CAAL co-president.

Lin, too, cited the increase in pandemic hate crimes – by 339% last year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. “We all think that we should do something about it, even though in Lexington, we are fortunate enough that it is such a welcoming and inclusive community,” she said.

“The need for celebration of AAPI Heritage Month has become even more important after the series of anti-Asian attacks in the past few years,” Wang wrote.

An abundance of events this month

Many events this month have already paid homage to the Asian American community in Lexington. 

CAAL has organized four weeks of events categorized as history, art, food and education week – Food Week starts Monday, and there’s still time to submit your own recipes.

Just this week, CALex hosted My American Story for the second year in a row, an event co-sponsored by several other groups in town where “seven Asian-American panelists who have deep roots in Lexington shared their American stories with an audience of over 70 people in a two-hour Zoom conference,” according to Wang. “Coming from different walks of life, they shared their personal stories on their upbringings, their awakening to their Asian roots when growing up as Americans, or their journeys of becoming American with their unique cultural heritages.”

Roy pointed out the banners hanging in the center of town “which highlight just a few of the AAPI people who have changed the fabric of our country” – from Kamala Harris to Sal Khan. She credited the hard work of Amy Chi and Helen Yang for bringing together several AAPI groups in town to complete this project, including BALex, JPLex and KOLex.

Creating the banners took a lot of emotional labor, Roy said. “It was very hard for a group of diverse Asians from different backgrounds and different lived experiences to come together and agree on a finite set of banners,” she reflected.

Roy also praised the South Asian Festival organized by Girl Scout Harshini Pathivada which highlighted experiences “that sometimes can get lost during AAPI month and other discussions on AAPI.”

Lexington’s strengths, and room for continued growth

Roy and Lin both praised the Town’s proclamation last year recognizing May as AAPI Heritage Month. But group members agreed that nobody should think about AAPI appreciation as limited to one month.

“We are AAPI and Lexingtonians everyday,” Roy wrote. “AAPI is a broad term and we have a lot of diversity even within Lexington so I know that ‘recognizing and appreciating AAPI heritage and cultures’ will be a work in progress as more groups engage and there are more opportunities for input.” She expressed special appreciation to the Town’s Chief Equity Officer Martha Duffield as well as the Human Services Department and Cary Library for their consistent support of that recognition and appreciation.

Ou hopes to see more recognition of AAPI history and topics in the school curriculum and everyday activities moving forward, she said, and feels the community is moving in the right direction. “Seeing that we’re currently working on an AAPI history elective, it really just gives hope for the future that we’re slowly starting to increase diversity and increase… fair representation in the town.” Lin, in turn, hopes to see more collaboration with youth on AAPI celebration and awareness.

On the school front, “I so appreciate Lexington being leaders in this very challenging work on curriculum reform,” Roy wrote. She, too, hopes this leadership will lead to Asian and AAPI history and culture being better presented.

“I think Lexington is trying,” she summarized. But “there is a lot more work to do.”

“Recognizing and appreciating AAPI heritage and culture is not a one-month event,” Wang concurred. She emphasized the need for increased curricular inclusion of Asian Americans as well: “Inclusion of AAPI history and contributions in K-12 education is critical in achieving equity for the AAPI community,” as well as incorporating AAPI topics in community programs and increasing media coverage of AAPI communities. She thanked the Town of Lexington for their support.

Seiya Saneyoshi is a LexObserver intern and junior at LHS.

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