Wellesley Celebrates Asian Awareness Month with Humor, Insight, and Artistry

March 20, 2017
Wellesley Celebrates Asian Awareness Month with Humor, Insight, and Artistry
Credit:
Photo by Jennifer Mou ’18

Every March, Wellesley celebrates Asian Awareness Month with a variety of performances and events that spotlight the achievements of Asians and Asian Americans, as well as some of the challenges they face.

This year’s events began on March 7 with a screening of Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a humorous take on the subject of depression and suicide among Asian American women by comedian and activist Kristina Wong. A panel discussion on mental health, featuring two Harvard students and two Wellesley students, followed the movie, along with a Q&A session in which Wong participated.

On March 8, Wong performed The Wong Street Journal, a solo piece that examines the complexities of global poverty, privilege, and economic theory and tells the story of how Wong became a hip-hop star in northern Uganda while researching and recording a rap album with local artists. During the show, which has been described as part travelogue, part TEDx talk, and part hip-hop demonstration, Wong also addresses her desire to save the whole world, a feeling many college students experience.

“Both of her performances were intentionally crafted to leave the audience with a different perspective of several important issues inside and outside our community. Personally, I found it refreshing to see art performance combine with activism, especially because the complexities of the Asian American experience are hardly represented in Hollywood and the media,” said Josephine Kim ’19, a socio-cultural anthropology and history double major and the alumnae liaison of the Pan-Asian Council at Wellesley.

On March 10, the Pan-Asian Council presented the keynote event, “Asians and Asian Americans in Movement,” which included a student-alumnae dinner and an alumnae panel titled “Asians/Asian Americans in Movement.” Four alumnae who have excelled in academia, the movie industry, law and reproductive justice, and creative writing, spoke about the personal and professional challenges they have faced since leaving Wellesley. Afterward, five more alumnae joined them to lead attendees in small group discussions over dinner about the daily realities Asian Americans face.

“As with all human beings, we want to know what’s ahead of us, including the ‘hard stuff’ that can stem from being a person of color in the U.S. However, we don’t always have the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with older role models,” said Kim. “I think the night was meaningful because we got to hear stories of how things actually are from real people we met personally.”

Panelist Sejal Shah ’94, an award-winning writer and editor, told the audience not to be alarmed if life doesn’t turn out as they had hoped. “Be brave, be hopeful, work hard, and believe in your dream—have a dream. And be practical,” she said. “I will never regret pouring my heart and energy into writing and into creating a life as a writer and artist. However, I also warn my students that banking on an academic career and being a full-time professor, as I once did and I once was, is impractical right now given the realities of the academic job market. So do your research and also dream your dream—your larger life dream. And learn personal finance.”

Panelist Jennifer Chou ’08, an attorney with the Reproductive Justice Project at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, also urged attendees to pursue their passions, and to draw strength from one another.

“Asian Awareness Month gives us the opportunity to reflect intentionally about the fact that even though Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) come from over 30 different countries, speak hundreds of different languages, and have a collective immigration history that spans a century—the AAPI experience is a uniquely American one,” she said in an interview. “With all that’s going on in the world today, it’s becoming more and more important for AAPIs to recognize and honor our shared values and experiences and to come together as a community. I hope that the keynote panel inspired students to explore how history and identity can give us the language and the tools we need to be better advocates and better allies.”

Asian Awareness Month events continued on March 15 with a coffee house that included art by Wellesley students and music and poetry featuring musician Mateo Mendoza, a multiracial, first-generation American from South Central Los Angeles, and Kaitlin Pang, who works with YW Boston, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women, and founded A-WAY (Allies Working with Asian and Asian American Youth), a high school slam poetry team.

The final event took place on March 18, when Tania Ahmed ’16 and her dance partner, Nirmala Lynch, performed a classical Indian dance accompanied by a live orchestra performing Carnatic music. Their show, called Faces of the Divine, included nine dances, each introduced by an ancient Hindu story explained in English.

“It’s important to highlight the accomplishments of Asians and Asian Americans, who share such rich diversity and contribute so much to society,” said Karen Shih, assistant dean of intercultural education and advisor to students of Asian descent, who organizes Wellesley’s Asian Awareness Month. “I have been excited to see students engaged in dialogues, share experiences, and gain new insights at these events.

 

Many individuals and organizations helped make this year’s Asian Awareness Month possible, including Terry Park, a lecturer at Harvard and formerly a visiting professor at Wellesley, who brought Kristina Wong to the College; the Pan-Asian Council and the alumnae panel for the keynote event; and students Shahara Ahmed, Ally Ang ’17, Elizabeth Exton ’17, Kat Hyslop ’17, Fiona Lau ’19, Sharon Lu ’20, Vanmey Ma ’20, Karen Moorthi ’18, Aya Ross ’19, and Jodi Wei ’20, and Tania Ahmed ’16.