May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage (AAPI) Month. May 1843 is when the first known Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii, and the first Transcontinental Railroad was completed in May 1869 thanks to a labor force mostly made up of Chinese laborers

But as May approached in the year 2021, we were reminded again that despite the essential contributions of these immigrant and refugee communities, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders continued to live in the shadow of racism. Increasing anti-Asian hate crimes and the recent mass shooting of spa workers in Atlanta are weighing heavily on people’s minds.

Liza Boardman, ECOSS Multicultural Outreach Coordinator, led a discussion for AAPI Heritage Month.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the transition to remote work life, ECOSS staff held virtual weekly meetings. These check-ins not only helped with communicating important business, but also served a crucial role of continuing to share support and build community.

In recognition of AAPI Heritage Month, ECOSS Multicultural Outreach Coordinator Liza Boardman led a discussion around AAPI history, personal identities and how our privileges show up in the way we interact with the world. Our supportive culture provided a safe space for staff to engage in these challenging conversations. Below are some thoughts from Liza on this experience:

What does AAPI month mean to you?

To me, AAPI month is a time to not only honor and celebrate our Asian and Pacific Islander communities’ successes, but to also educate ourselves on the struggles we continue to face. With recent events leading up to this year’s AAPI month, it feels less like a cause for celebration and more of a call to action for solidarity and support. It’s also a friendly reminder to check in on your Asian American and Pacific Islander loved ones because the AAPI community is all about family 🙂

Why did you feel it was important to have this discussion within ECOSS?

As an organization that centers BIPOC voices, I felt that having a discussion on AAPI issues would provide us with useful knowledge in the work we do with these communities. Especially with the recent attacks on the Asian community, I felt that it was necessary to interrogate the root causes and history of othering of AAPI people in America. Although conversations on these topics can get uncomfortable, it gives us the opportunity to learn each other’s stories and brings us one step closer to the DEI work we do together as well. 

Any takeaways from the discussion?

Intersectionality as a tool in this conversation really helped us to connect on a more personal level when engaging this topic. By interrogating our own identities and recognizing places we hold or lack power, I feel that it began to introduce us to a new lens through which we can view our work holistically and inclusively.

Wheel of Power and Privilege, by Sylvia Duckworth, adapted from ccrweb.ca.

These conversations are important for grounding work in anti-racist practices. This wasn’t the first time ECOSS has had similar discussions, nor will it be the last.

You can be part of the change as well. Here are some actions you can take:

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