AAPI Heritage Month & Commanding the Narrative

Charles Truong | May 11, 2022

[This month we celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month with a column from guest writer Charles Truong, who is the new Internal Communications & Antiracism Strategist at SPH. I encourage you to connect with and engage our guest writers as much as you have with me. — Lauren Jones, DEI Director]

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI or AANHPI) Heritage Month — a recognition established to celebrate the diverse histories of AAPI people — but I’m not wearing a party hat. I don’t have the energy to maintain positive optics. We continue to see a disturbing rise in anti-Asian hate throughout the country, fueled by the scapegoating of Asian Americans during the pandemic, and even devastating acts of mass murder are being dismissed as not racially motivated.

White supremacy has historically manipulated AAPI narratives. In the 1960s, it created the model minority myth — a pervasive stereotype that implies all Asian Americans are well off and high achieving — to imply that being a person of color should not hamper success. That myth was used in attempts to derail the Civil Rights Movement as well as disguise the diversity and oppression of AAPI people.

Before the pandemic, 3 out of 4 Asian people reported experiencing racial discrimination. That xenophobia has since exploded. We have been recast as the perpetual foreigner: the recurring trope that depicts Asian people as inherently strange, un-American, and even dangerous (recall the horrific internment of Japanese Americans during World War II). Asian Americans are in a balancing act, holding the weight of a global pandemic on one shoulder with the hate of being blamed for it on the other.

We are not a monolith. We are not your dragon lady or your virus. The acronym AAPI encompasses more than 50 ethnic groups and 200 languages and dialects, each with their unique cultural stories. Our complexity is beautiful, and in a society that constantly tries to typecast us, one of the greatest forms of personal resistance we have is to be ourselves. And I am amazed by our community’s powerful and authentic voices that celebrate the diversity of our stories, express our creative talents, and recognize intersectional identities.

In addition to commanding our narrative, we must also tear down the systems that oppress us. This May, we commemorate AAPI Heritage Month, Mental Health Awareness Month, and the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. These recognitions emphasize the importance of addressing racism as a public health crisis — a move that 240 local and state leaders have committed to. Racial healing requires racial justice, and justice can only be achieved through collaborative, upstream measures that eliminate the potential for injustices to occur.

I am grateful to contribute to the School of Public Health’s work to promote antiracism and to be amongst leaders working to advance health equity and racial justice. There are many ways that we can and will continue to move forward together, including:

My colleague and friend, an Asian American woman, jokingly signs all of her emails to me, “With you in joy and despair.” I never took it seriously until now. I am with you in joy from our victories. I am with you in despair from unjust tragedies. I am with you in the pursuit of justice, and I am with you in celebrating our truest selves.

I am with you.

Charles Truong
Internal Communications & Antiracism Strategist
UMN School of Public Health

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