The Importance of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is an important opportunity for pride within the Asian community and education of non-Asians. However, it is often overlooked.


Hana Burkart

Hana Burkart, 12, right, participates in a traditional dance at sports festival at her previous school in Japan.

Each year, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage (AAPI) Month celebrates the cultural and historical contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Since the 1970s and 80s, events have been held and resources have been shared across the country to aid in the celebration. However, at Liberty, Asian American students often feel that AAPI Month is overlooked.

“I had never heard it talked about at Liberty until this interview,” said Aisen Loew, 11. 

According to US News, Liberty’s student body is about 30 percent minorities and only two percent Asian. 

“I think it’s hard to focus on something that represents so little of the student body,” said Loew, referring to AAPI Month. 

Due to the small Asian populations, it is hard to truly celebrate the cultures and histories of the group. 

“There aren’t a lot of Asians at Liberty and all the Asians I knew at Liberty moved to West,” reflected Loew.

According to US News, West High School is more racially diverse as a whole. The student body is about 50 percent minorities and 11 percent Asian. This means West High School’s Asian population is over five times the size of Liberty’s. 

This representation results in more focus on Asian community and culture at West HiIgh School. Many events such as the multicultural fashion show and the Last Harvest Festival are held by the student body to highlight these cultures and others. This year, the Last Harvest Festival was held at Liberty but many Liberty students had no idea it was happening.  

“I had no idea that was a thing but it sounds super fun,” said Hana Burkart, 12, referring to the Last Harvest Festival. “I wish there were more Asian students [and teachers at Liberty] to share culture with. There is only one other Japanese student I know here and I wish I had more of an outlet to share that part of myself.”

“I wish there were more Asian students [and teachers at Liberty] to share culture with. There is only one other Japanese student I know here and I wish I had more of an outlet to share that part of myself.”

— Hana Burkart

In addition to these factors, other issues also hold back celebration of AAPI Month. May is also the Mental Health Awareness Month. Since 1949, May has been designated as a month to discuss and educate about mental health. 

“I think people tend to focus on mental health awareness over the other things May celebrates… Both [AAPI and mental health awareness] are super important and both should be celebrated,” said Burkart. 

Mental Health Awareness Month plays a large role in bringing awareness to issues related to mental health. It celebrates discussion of topics that were previously, and sometimes still are, viewed as taboo. 

“Mental health isn’t a thing in many Asian communities… Mental Health Awareness Month needs to be celebrated hand in hand with AAPI heritage month,” said Loew.

Mental health within Asian American communities is often ignored. According to the CDC, Asian Americans are the only racial group for which suicide is the leading cause of death for young adults. The Newport Institute linked this to shame surrounding mental health within many Asian communities. Asian Americans are 60% less likely than white people to receive mental health treatment. 

Asian American students were not surprised to hear these facts. 

“That sounds about right. Mental health is super taboo in Asian communities… This is why having [Asian community] with youth specifically is so important,” said Burkart.

Additionally, an increase in Asian hate post COVID-19 has caused additional stress to the demographic. Many have drawn a correlation between this phenomenon and the decline in mental health within Asian communities. 

Celebrations like AAPI Month are important forms of pride within Asian communities and education for non-Asian individuals to help combat these issues. 

Asian American students at Liberty are hopeful that, as a newer school, Liberty will continue to build the AAPI community and celebrate the diverse cultures of the group. They are hopeful that this will allow future AAPI students more opportunities for sharing their culture in unique ways and support for the unique struggles of the AAPI community. 

This May, Asian students are reminded of their pride for their cultures despite feeling that the celebration is overlooked.

“I am super proud to be Japanese… I hope that non-Asian people use this month to learn more about my culture and other Asian cultures,” said Burkart.  

If you would like to support AAPI Month, there are a few opportunities throughout the Iowa City area. For example, Asian Fest takes place in Coralville on Saturday, May 13 from noon to 6 p.m. at St. Morrison Park to celebrate the cuisine, fashion, dance, and more of this culture.

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