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Name: Li Zeng
Position: Associate professor of film studies and president of AsiaConnect at Illinois State University
1. What is AsiaConnect?
AsiaConnect is an association of Illinois State University faculty and staff and Bloomington-Normal community members who work together in the interest of the Asian community.
2. What does Asian Pacific American Heritage Month present opportunities for?
It serves as a reminder for the country to remember and pay tribute to the cultural and historical contributions of people of Asian, Asian American or Pacific Islander ancestry. It also provides an opportunity for different communities to connect. Asian communities often organize cultural activities and events to celebrate Asian heritage, open to the general public. They are great venues to build understanding, connection and respect.
3. Has your group done any events this month, or are there any still planned?
AsiaConnect is an ISU affinity group. In May, most students and faculty have left for the summer break. Thus, we celebrated Asian heritage in April instead of in May. This year, we celebrated Asian Heritage Week from April 22-25. We partnered with Normal Public Library, Illinois Art Station and ISU Laboratory Schools and offered a series of activities, including Chinese art painting, Indian henna art, Thai cuisine demonstration, martial arts, Japanese art of paper folding, Chinese and Taiwanese tea tasting, Asian face painting, Asian music, and a fashion show.
I know that University High School also celebrated Asian Heritage Week, featured with Asian American movies, Asian games, arts, music/dance and Asian cuisines.
Metcalf also hosted the first Metcalf Asian Heritage Festival together with the Korea Academy of Language and Japanese Saturday School. Activities included Chinese kung fu, yoyo, Dai dance, Korean song, Japanese Kendo, India-Sri Lanka fusion dance, and music performance.
4. How can Asians advance into more leadership roles?
It is important for more Asians and Asian Americans to take leadership roles, to advocate for the rights and interests of the Asian community. For a long time, Asians and Asian Americans have been invisible and thus were almost viewed as neglectable. The rise of Asian hate crimes during the pandemic made many people in the community realize the significance of speaking up and the need for more leadership roles to push forward equitable and inclusive policies.
To advance into more leadership roles of course calls for more people from the Asian community to step up, but it also needs support and resources. For example, it requires organizations and institutions to structure leadership positions to reflect diversity, equity and inclusion, thus opening positions to the Black, Indigenous and people of color communities.
5. What issues does the Asian community still face?
Though there are not many reported hate crimes in Bloomington-Normal, anti-Asian racism is a serious issue that the Asian community faces. In addition, the model minority stereotype still dominates popular discourse about Asian Americans. We need to confront and address “the invisibility of anti-Asian racism.”
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