During Asian Pacific Islander (API) heritage month, the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC) at Mesa Community College is focusing on hate crime and mental health issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic as an effort to bring awareness and discuss solutions.
The student club has hosted virtual events since the beginning of April that address topics ranging from racism to cultural traditions and the recent crest of anti-Asian hate attacks. MCC and district colleges are extending the celebration until the end of the semester.
Club advisor Ken Maruyama said the celebration has been different from past years as the recent wave of hatred has exposed issues of racism that need to be discussed.
“We addressed API community issues as part of the heritage month celebration this time,” said Maruyama. “It is important for us to think seriously about what we can do to mitigate or eliminate those hate crimes.”
APIC student leader Meggie Tran hosted two Facebook live events where guest speakers have discussed some of the challenges unique to the API community.
“These were topics that we had to address,” she said. “We haven’t really talked about mental health–especially in terms of the Asian and Pacific Islander experience–enough.”
The two live panels focused on mental health in the API communities, addressing concerns like intergenerational trauma and the Model Minority Myth. She was also interviewed during a third virtual event where she talked about her college experience from her API student perspective.
As a second-generation American born to Vietnamese parents, Tran further engaged with the club activities this semester to learn more about her Asian roots. She said applying what she has learned was one of her motivations to become a student leader and educate other students about mental health in a minority group with a long history of discrimination.
Tran added that the emotional impact of the growing hate crimes against Asian Americans since the popularization of COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” has opened opportunities to spread awareness about mental health issues in the community.
“Unfortunately a lot of the incidents that are happening lately are so tragic,” she said. “That hits us emotionally, too, and that empowers us to make a difference.”
The coalition has been working since its creation to encourage students like Tran to engage with their cultures. The club is also open to non-API students who want to learn about Asian cultures and participate in the search for solutions.
“We would like to be visible… and API heritage month gives us an opportunity to do so,” said Maruyama.
The national month-long celebration takes place in May, but most college celebrations open in April because of the closure of academic activities that usually happens in May.
Maruyama said he encourages more students and faculty to participate in upcoming events to learn about the issues affecting API communities. Some include Let’s Celebrate Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, hosted by Rio Salado Community College on May 18, and the API Heritage Month Trivia Quiz Contest, which ends on May 20 and is available through the APIC Canvas page.
Students are also encouraged to visit Meggie Tran’s website where she posts mental health resources for members of the API community.
Maruyama said the student club will continue spreading awareness and looking for more representation in society.
“We feel like we need to speak up, otherwise our needs and concerns are likely to be overlooked, and it is our responsibility to let others learn about who we are and what we do,” he said.