May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, and with the pressing issue of violence and discrimination against Asian communities across the country, celebrating Asian cultures is especially important. On Wednesday, April 28, student club leaders from the Multi-Cultural Student Association (MSCA) and the Asian Pacific Islanders Club (APIC) at Berkeley High School (BHS) led a workshop featuring guest speakers and students who shared aspects of their different cultures.
“We mainly wanted to put this event together in light of all the Asian hate crimes, to educate people about the many different Asian cultures,” said Amanda Sieu, a senior in Academic Choice (AC) at BHS and co-president of APIC.
Along with Sieu, the celebration was organized by Gabriella Lerman, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), and Desiree Solis, a senior in AC, who together co-lead the MCSA.
The event consisted of multiple students and teachers from BHS, all talking about their own experiences and traditions within their Asian culture. Ana Jacob, a senior in Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA), shared a slide presentation with their favorite Filipino dishes. Among those were Hopia, Ukoy, and Longanisa recipes, along with mouth-watering photos and restaurant recommendations.
Mexica Greco, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), taught everyone how to play her favorite Vietnamese gambling card game, Heo, which is extremely popular throughout the country. Both Jacob and Greco shared that cooking their favorite foods and playing their favorite games helped them connect to their Asian roots.
Sieu taught participants about Cambodian culture through celebratory traditions. She walked through Cambodian weddings, funerals, and New Year celebrations in a slide show. “I don’t think many people know about Cambodian culture — in contrast to the more popular Southeast Asian cultures — so I feel like it was a good opportunity to educate people,” Sieu said.
“I’m so proud of the API (Asian Pacific Islander) students at BHS because they make up 8 to 9 percent of the student population, but their presence, impact, and voices are much louder,” said David An, a college counselor at BHS, and one of the guest speakers at the event. “I grew up in the ’90s, and I think about how far Asian youth have come [in] utilizing their voices, [and] that event was just one moment and one experience that proved that even more.”
An shared a presentation about his childhood growing up in Los Angeles, struggling to connect to both his Korean and American identities. He shared with attendees how he learned to embrace his Asian roots, and how inspiring it is to see young BHS students share why they love their Asian cultures.
Solis started her journey in MCSA during her sophomore year at BHS. “I am not multiracial — I am full Filipino — but I joined with the intention of learning about other people’s cultures … so I had no intention of joining and speaking about my experiences,” she recalled. Despite that, Solis gained a leadership position in the club after immediately bonding with the other club members and connecting with the club’s values.
Sieu, on the other hand, had a very different start in APIC than Solis. “I have been a part of APIC for all four years of high school, my sister and cousin were both parts of the club, and my cousin was the last co-president before me,” she said. Despite these differences, both Solis and Sieu became presidents of their clubs with the intention of strengthening the community and educating BHS students about different cultures.
AAPI History Month is not a universally well-known celebration, and even schools with a very diverse population like BHS don’t always give it enough publicity. “None of my teachers have ever really [said] it’s Asian Pacific Islander month, we are going to talk about why it takes place in May … and educate each other on the different Asian cultures,” said Solis.
When asked, all club leaders agreed that the most important way non-Asian students can get involved in Asian history month was through education. “[Learn] about where to support Asian charities, and small Asian businesses, spreading awareness about hate crimes and attending rallies when you can,” Sieu recommended to those hoping to get more involved.
The MCSA and APIC welcome students to attend meetings and future events that celebrate the many Asian cultures in and out of BHS.
Disclaimer: Ana Jacob is a staff member on Jacket.