Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month Still Needed on Campus

It’s nearly half way through May. Has an Asian-American aggressively hugged you? Have you hugged back?

Breaking news: You’re not being mugged. You’re being hugged.

Just in case, you didn’t realize it, this is Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

You think African-Americans feel short-changed when Black History Month is in February — the year’s shortest month?

Asian-Americans sort of feel the same way by the academic calendar. Asian-American Heritage Month in May? What with finals and graduation, who has time? Most just say, “Pass the egg roll, please.”

Some schools try to sneak it in during another time of year, like UCONN does in the fall. Sometimes, it just happens coincidentally.

For example, an Asian student group at Stanford University debuted last week a special production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” — with an All-Asian-American cast.

Still, more often than not, AAPI Month is an afterthought for some campuses.

That’s great if you think a month devoted to cultural understanding is passé.

Just when you might think you can get away with that sort of thinking, along comes an incident recently at Columbia University, where police have arrested and charged a student in a racially motivated assault.

Police say Chad Washington, a defensive lineman on the Columbia football team, followed an Asian-American student out of a dorm and then pushed him against a wall while yelling racial slurs.

Washington was charged specifically with misdemeanor aggravated harassment as a hate crime, according to The Associated Press.

He was later released without bail. His attorney, Daniel Fetterman, later disputed the allegations.

Somehow, I would have expected more from Washington, an African-American student from Oakland, Calif. — a city which has a sizeable Asian-American community, as well as a Chinese-American female mayor.

Washington, apparently, was also a fairly outspoken and articulate student. He had recently published an op-ed piece for the Columbia campus newspaper saying student-athletes deserved more respect than they’re given on campus.

He sure didn’t feel compelled to write about AAPI Heritage Month, though, I suspect, perhaps now he does.

Others sure have.

Since the incident happened last week, more than 55 groups, including the Black Student Union, have signed on to an Asian American Alliance statement to the university administration condemning the act.

It’s an important sign to show that there’s solidarity between the Asian-American and African-American students.

But more important is that we recognize that the fight for cultural understanding in our quest for diversity is ongoing and never-ending.

Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month? Just like all the heritage months we celebrate, after nearly 40 years, AAPI Heritage month is more important now than ever.

It’s that annual reminder that we’re still a ways from reaching diversity’s sense of the promised land.

Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist who writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.