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Asian/Pacific Islander American Heritage month already in full swing

By
April 3, 2007

Swarthmore’s annual APIA month started this past weekend with the Mangoes with Chili cabaret by queer performers of color, but there are still many events left to attend–to eat tasty Asian food, to discuss issues of Asian-American identity, and most importantly to learn and celebrate APIA heritage.

According to Toby Wu ’09, one of the co-presidents of SAO, attendance has been good so far. “There were over forty people at the screening and discussion of Bizzy Hemphill’s documentary [about lesbian culture in Beijing]… we’re looking forward to engaging the campus at our other events.”

Wu also told me in an e-mail interview about new additions to the A/PIA lineup. “Neal Dandade ’06 will be back for two nights of performance — Mango Chutney on Mesa Street [Friday the 6th] and a performance with Stir Friday Night, a pan-Asian comedy troupe from Chicago [Saturday the 7th].”

Some events are cultural, but others are more overtly political. “We have hapa filmmaker and political activist Eric Byler coming to give a presentation on media representation of Asian Pacific Americans in the media and in government [April 19th]… another speaker is Tsiwen Law, who will talk about anti-Asian violence and hate crime legislation in Pennsylvania [today at 7:30 PM in Science Center 199].”

Although the group has done a Sharples takeover in the past, Wu says that this year, “we’re holding a big dinner with different Asian cuisines in late April.” The A/PIA month strives to represent a large variety of different cultures. Wu said that “Friends of Taiwan is holding a campus-wide discussion on pan-Asianism,” and many other groups with a tie to Asian culture are also taking part in the event.

One of these is Deshi, Swarthmore’s group focused on South Asian heritage. Ailya Vajid ’09, one of the co-presidents of Deshi, spoke to the Gazette during the well-attended Chai House last night. She pointed out the photo exhibition, which will be going up in Shane Student Lounge next week, about “what it means to be South Asian to us.” Deshi sponsors its own week of events in the fall, but Vajid says they also feel it’s important to take part in the A/PIA month because “Asia can’t be reduced to one identity… it’s important to represent as many cultures as we can.”

One event sponsored by Deshi will be “the Cultural Show on April 14th… there will be spoken word, there might be some dancing, and people will play instruments.” Vajid was also particularly excited about the Bollywood-inspired student-written musical that will be performed on the 22nd of April. “We wrote our own script based on the premise of a Bollywood movie… it focuses on the South Asian diaspora, and students will be singing and dancing.”

Deshi members could also be seen this past weekend throwing colored powder and water at each other on the beach–this was part of Holi, a Hindu holiday celebrating the coming of spring. The group threw a paces party the same night. “We had a really good turnout,” said Vajid of both events. “We called the party Holi Hungama… they named the drinks after Kama Sutra positions!”

Wu explained that “Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month is nationally observed in May. Because we’re not around for the entire month and for logistical and practical reasons, we hold many of our events from late March to late April.” For him, “being A/PIA is in part about how we are perceived, so A/PIA Heritage Month is about exploring the assumptions we make about this racial category… this is a time for the campus, perhaps especially A/PIAs, to reflect on the heritage that exists not just in Asia but also in the U.S.”