Sylvie Bowman (18) from this year’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Celebration earlier this month at @dairymarketcville
I was raised equally Asian and white. I found value in working hard and excelling in my academics, and I cherished learning kung fu, growing more in touch with my body and my culture. but Asian food wasn’t always on the table (although I found myself to be quite fond of fish sauce, something that sticks to me to this very day and will always), and I was most certainly an American growing up in America, riding four-wheelers and rooting for the Tennessee Vols with my dad and cousins.
Because I was American, even with dark-skinned family members and friends always surrounding me, I would scrub my skin red in embarrassment because I was so dark, so dirty; I remember being jealous of my sister and her paler complexion in comparison. I was ashamed to be me. I have come a long way in unlearning those harmful thoughts. Today, I embrace my skin, my hair, and everything else that makes me me.
I started to insist on eating more Asian and Filipino meals. I learned Chinese. I visited the Philippines. As a Gen Z Asian American, I am fortunate that it only took me 18 years to realize that my culture is beautiful and not something to hide. That’s what today, what this month and this first-of-its-kind event in the heart of Charlottesville is all about.
Today we are celebrating Asian lives, Pacific Islander lives, and Desi lives together in Charlottesville, and we are celebrating the beauty of our combined cultures through the shared love of food and family. We are celebrating our lives and our presence here in Charlottesville, Virginia, and we’re telling the world that we’re tired of being feared, of being attacked, of being discriminated against. We are more than just kung fu movies and sexualized objects.
We are here to make a change by starting small, by starting in Cville. This is what Asian America History month should look like. This is what Black History Month, Veterans Month, and all other celebratory periods of the marginalized yet deeply important and integral parts of this community here in Charlottesville history month should look like.
That being said, Asian American History month is not just “Asian American History month.” By taking a stand for ourselves, we take a stand for our black and similarly brown brothers, sisters, siblings, parents, and ancestors. This past year, I wrote a 27-page thesis paper detailing exactly how important solidarity is to us as Asians and as Americans. In the 1960s, Asians and African Americans stood as a United front, protesting for civil rights and against the Vietnam war.
Today, we have lost much of that, and we have grown complacent and separate from those who look like us. We are hellbent on sticking to our own minority groups, afraid to progress, afraid to change, afraid to grow closer to those most like us and reach out to those so different from us.
This month is a month to yell that yes, we are here. Asian Americans are here, and we have ALWAYS been here, and we will always BE here. But it’s also a month for us to unite, for us to put aside old rivalries, for us to reach out to our fellow African Americans, to the indigenous peoples of America, to Latinx families, to the welcoming arms of marginalized religious groups, to the diverse LGBTQ community, to the strong, powerful feminist movement and let them know that we are here for them too and that we are proud. We are all fighting the same fight. We should fight it together.
“We Are More” poster by @alonglastname