The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Asian American Commission’s (AAC) 13th annual Unity Dinner took place at the Crown Plaza Boston in Woburn on May 3. Hundreds of attendees honored Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, celebrating victories for Asian heritage, diversity and identity.
Pralhad KC, AAC chairman, cited U.S Census data showing 85 percent increase of the Asian American population in the Boston area from 1990 to 2010. “We firmly remain committed to our conviction and ongoing advocacy works, addressing disparity affecting our Asian community: economic, education, healthcare, and many more,” he said.
Treasurer Deborah Goldberg said, “We are nothing without our immigrant population, and those who have come before us have paved the pathway, as in my family and as in your families. The contributions of the Asian community have achieved is extraordinary, is to be valued.”
Jean Wu, Tufts University professor, has had decades of experience as an educator and mentor of Asian students. She was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“While Asian American numbers in high education are, of course, much larger than when I started to teach, the everyday lived experiences, the experiences on the ground of most Asian American young people in schools and universities are not that much different than when I started to teach,” she said.
Wu said 50 years after the birth of Asian American studies in higher education, Asian students are still affected by similar problems.
“They report that they continue to face daily, latent and subtle anti-Asian racism, on and off campus; they report that they are still imprisoned in stereotypes, that some of them do not even understand,” Wu said. “They talked about a feeling of floating in a society in which race is mostly discussed about black and white, leaving Asian Americans to wonder where or how they, or we, fit in. … They have come to realize that a degree from a famous school, good grades and a well-paying job, do not heal the wound infected by racism — nor does the silence.”
Wu recalled telling her students there is no Asian American, or Asian in America, whose life has not been touched by western colorism and imperialism. She urged attendees to liberate Asian Americans from “deep, structural inequity.”
State Sen. Dean Tran, the first Vietnamese American senator in Massachusetts, was elected in 2017. At the time, only two people of color were among the 40 senators.
“We still have much, much more work to do,” Tran said.
State Rep. Tackey Chan was a founder of the AAC. He spoke about the Asian American Caucus in the Legislature, promoting Asian American culture and heritage.
Keynote speaker Vichet Chhuon, a professor at the University of Minnesota, showed a photo of a Starbucks cup in Cambodia, with his name written in Khmer.
“For a lot of you, I’m the only Vichet you know, but in Cambodia, it’s pretty common — like John or Michael,” Chhuon said. He recalled the mixed feeling when he told the barista his name without encountering any problems with pronunciation, which “had never happened to me before, ever.”
Chhuon said these incidents of mispronunciation “are the kinds of things that bind us together.” He felt these experiences reflect the longing to belong.
Chhuon spoke about the deportation of Cambodian Americans and other immigrants, which has increased.
The majority of Cambodians in the U.S. are refugees, displaced by violence. Chhuon said, “They have children, they buy homes, get jobs, pay taxes. They have responsibilities to their families and the communities. ”
Lowell, Massachusetts has the second largest Cambodian community in America, and is being hit hard by the forcible separation of families, Chhuon said.
The AAC also presented the Community Hero Award to the Bhutanese Society of Western Massachusetts and the Leadership for Inclusion and Diversity Award to Saffron Circle.
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