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Middle School Students Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

With contributions from administrators and teachers Gilberto Olvera, Laurie Piette, Audrey Enriquez, Yifan Xu, and Anu Menon

Just a few weeks ago, in mid-April, Board of Trustees Chair Ian Shrank '71 updated the Pingry community about the Board's DEIB Resolution to support Pingry's ongoing commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. Now, in May, Middle School students are taking the lead on initiatives to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, in support of Pingry's re-commitment to DEIB.

"I'm so proud of the Middle School," says Audrey Enriquez, Middle School English Teacher and Middle School Asian Affinity Group Co-Advisor. "Our students are making good on Pingry's promise to step up our DEIB efforts. They are taking that commitment to heart, coming up with all of the AAPI ideas and activities—writing poems, choreographing dances, volunteering to dance and become Henna tattoo artists—they are taking DEIB seriously. It's not hard work when you love it, and the kids love it."

Some of those student-run activities are taking place on Monday afternoons in The Wilf Family Commons, during Flex periods: a chopsticks competition (China), Henna painting (India), origami (the Japanese art of paper folding), and jianzi (a Chinese game in which players attempt to keep a shuttlecock in the air without using their hands). Two other projects are Middle School–created videos: "Mashing the Model Minority Myth" (Middle and Upper School students talk about living up to a myth as well as debunking it) and "Know Me, Know My Name" (Middle and Upper School students teach the audience how to say their names and what they mean in English). There is also a showcase of students' AAPI identity poems.

What are the motivations behind the students' eagerness to celebrate their AAPI identity this year? Inside Pingry: the creation of Middle School Affinity groups, including Asian and South Asian Affinity Groups, in the winter of 2020, this year's  first-ever Middle/Upper School AAPI Heritage Month Assembly, representation among the Middle School faculty, and the return to in-person learning. Yifan Xu, Mandarin Teacher and Middle School Asian Affinity Group Co-Advisor, adds, "In our affinity groups, the students explored concepts and examples of the Model Minority Myth through research, discussions, and video production. Most importantly, they bravely used their voice and knowledge to tell the larger community how diverse and different Asian individual students and ethnic groups are."

Outside Pingry: the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes; the New York City art by Indonesian Thai American neuroscientist and artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya; inspiration from Vice President Kamala Harris (who has Indian Jamaican American heritage); recent victories in the Winter Olympics* and Grammy awards** by those with AAPI heritage; and the movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, featuring the first Asian American superhero.

"If you want to see DEIB in action, head to the Middle School!" Ms. Enriquez says.

In the future, Pingry's Multicultural Team would like the entire school community to build traditions and collaborate on the celebration of different Heritage Months through a variety of mediums such as Flex activities featuring cultural traditions that are open to all; students volunteering to give history presentations about underrepresented groups at Morning Meetings; teachers across different subjects helping students with one-minute shout-outs about a famous figure; and brief announcements over the intercom by faculty and students celebrating AAPI leaders and their accomplishments. "We must be intentional in how we cultivate students' sense of belonging, and the programming around AAPI Heritage Month was empowering and affirming," concludes Gilberto Olvera, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

*Winter Olympics winners Nathan Chen (Chinese American—figure skating), Chloe Kim (Korean American—snowboarding), and Eileen Gu (Chinese American—skiing)

**Grammy winners Anderson Paak (Korean African American), Bruno Mars (Filipino Puerto Rican), HER (Filipino African American), and Olivia Rodrigo (Filipino American)

The slideshow above includes some of the AAPI identity poems, as well as a C.B. Newton Library display of photos of Pingry families with AAPI heritage, and a self-portrait by a Grade 8 student depicting her Chinese American self enjoying her favorite steamed buns.

Greg Waxberg '96, Communications Writer, Editor of The Pingry Review