On May 1, the Asian/American Center at Queens College held a celebration for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at the Q-Side Lounge at the Dining Hall during free hour. A presentation was held honoring the students receiving the A/AC scholarship award and also awarding students and benefactors of the A/AC.
Following the award ceremony, guest speaker Carl Takei, Esq., presented his speech, “Asian Americans, White Supremacy and the Importance of Solidarity.” After Takei’s speech, members of the A/AC’s student council read aloud their personal reflections about their experience as an Asian American.
The celebration started with “Silk and Bamboo” music played by Professor Liu Li and Professor Chen Tao, members of the Melody of Dragon music group. This music is a style of traditional Chinese instrumental music composed of a combination of mellow-sounding string and wind instruments. Melody of Dragon continued to play throughout the celebration during the interludes between the various awards and presentations.
Professor Hong Wu presented the seven A/AC scholarship award recipients. Recipient Asma Amin, a junior majoring in psychology, said, “Financial challenges added up when I had to leave my job to take care of my one-year-old baby. Hearing back from the scholarship was a great hope for me. It’s a pathway for me to progress toward my dreams with the support of the generous donors of the scholarship.”
Nabila Chowdhury, another recipient who is a junior majoring in political science, said, “As an Asian-American, I feel that our community is not a community that is perceived to have needs. As Professor Khandelwal will mention, we are viewed as eternal foreigners and are brushed past. So because of that, I am so grateful for this scholarship and for the Asian/American Center for creating a space where you can be vibrantly Asian American and for really emphasizing all of the students to connect past our specific Asian cultures and really create a Pan-Asian culture on campus.”
After the scholarship recipients received their awards, Professor Wu and Professor Khandelwal presented the student recognition award to Amanda Mercado, a junior majoring in secondary education. They also presented recognition awards to Mr., David Ames and Mrs. Eugenia Ames, supporters of A/AC programs, and to Professor Yunzhong Shu, chair of the Department of Classical, Middle Eastern, and Asian Languages and Cultures.
“Over the course of the many years I worked with Professor Wu, I heard stories about the highly intelligent, strongly motivated Asian students at Queens College who are often at risk to drop out or forfeit their goal of graduation,” Ms. Ames said. “I felt it was important to support their continued academic progress and complete their studies toward graduation.”
Carl Takei, the Senior Staff Attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Trone Center for Justice and Equality, spoke on the hardships Asian Americans have faced over time and continue to face in a paradigm of white supremacy in the United States. Takei shared his own story of his grandparents who emigrated from Japan to the U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century during the era of Jim Crow. His grandmother had to enroll in a racially segregated school because local laws prohibited her from studying alongside white students, and in 1942 was rounded up with her family and imprisoned in special concentration camps for anyone with as little as one sixteenth of Japanese ancestry, including U.S. citizens. Takei also gave a brief history of the various racist policies against Asian Americans in the U.S., such as the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and the Japanese American Internment during WWII. Takei emphasized the importance for Asian Americans to stand in solidarity with other minority groups in the U.S. against white supremacy.
Following Takei’s speech, members of the A/AC’s student council read aloud reflections about their experience as an Asian American. The students spoke about discrimination and fragmentation of the Asian American identity in society as eternal refugees. These reflections parallel the same sentiments made by Takei and other speakers at the celebration. As much as the event was celebrating the achievements of the Asian American students, it was also recognizing the trials they face as well.