The University’s celebration of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month began with celebrations of the cultures, traditions and histories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States Wednesday with an opening ceremony featuring Virginia Del. Kathy Tran (D-Springfield).
In 2017, Tran, a Vietnamese-American, became one of the first Asian-American women to be elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.
Wednesday’s event was hosted by the Asian Student Union and marks the 30th anniversary of APAHM celebrations at the University.
While APAHM is nationally celebrated during the month of May, the University celebrates in April in order to designate a full academic month to Asian/Pacific American culture and heritage.
Other events for the month aim to both foster discussion on issues in the Asian American Pacific Islander community and celebrate “social and cultural awakenings.” During the first week of APAHM month, the ASU put up a wall by the Whispering Wall as a place for students to gather to write and talk about their own awakenings.
Tran spoke to members of the ASU and held a roundtable discussion with Asian student leaders and faculty on her experiences and multicultural background.
First-year College student Aileen Zhang, who organized the opening ceremony, said that Tran’s background and experience relates to this year’s theme.
“Our theme for the month is ‘awakenings,’ and I think that we wanted to do something with political awakenings and a rise in activism,” Zhang said. “Looking at Delegate Tran as an example, a first in our community in Virginia, it felt like that kind of represents an awakening of sorts.”
Tran began the celebration by discussing her family’s multicultural background. At seven months old, Tran and her parents left Vietnam by boat as refugees amidst the Vietnam War. Her family was offered asylum in multiple countries, but waited 13 months to come to the United States as they felt it offered a better future than the other nations.
“My parents were determined that they would raise their family in a place that offered hope, opportunity and freedom,” Tran said.
One month after her daughter Elise Minh Khanh was born, Tran decided to run for public office. She said she named her daughter Elise after Ellis Island and added that Minh Khanh is Vietnamese for bright bell, inspired by the Liberty Bell.
For Tran, her daughter’s name “means to ring the bells of liberty and champion opportunity for all.”
In November 2017, Tran won the race for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, becoming the state’s first Vietnamese-American elected official and one of the first Asian-American women elected to state office. Tran serves the 42nd District, which covers parts of Springfield, Lorton, Fairfax Station, and Mount Vernon in Fairfax County.
“I realized that the time was now and the place was now to fight for these values myself,” Tran said.
As a delegate, Tran said she has four focuses — health care, gun control, immigration and environmental justice.
“To me, [immigration] is a deeply personal issue,” Tran said. “What we’re facing right now is a political administration that is trying to erase the roots of immigrants in our country.”
Tran said that she hopes students at the University use their collective voices to bring awareness to issues that matter to them.
“I hope that they heard my call to action to step up and get engaged in an organization or an issue that they care deeply about … whether it’s volunteering for something or … running for office here at ASU,” Tran said. “I just think its so important that our student voices are heard and our Asian American voices are being heard as well.”
Lauren LeVan, a fourth-year College student and outgoing ASU president, said the opening ceremony was meant to raise awareness of the accomplishments and contributions of Asian Americans in the community.
“What a lot of people don’t really see is the complexity and love in the Asian American community,” LeVan said. “But it’s there and I think that it is easy to sense that presence once you’ve really taken the time to put yourself in and see what it’s like.”
LeVan added that she feels the Asian community does not have a very strong presence on Grounds, and APAHM gives the broader University community a greater insight into the community’s culture.
“There’s a bunch of different parts of representation on Grounds,” LeVan said. “I feel like at an administrative level, we aren’t really well represented … I feel like we aren’t represented at the most elite levels of the University and I think that’s a really big shame considering how much space we take up at the University and how many great things are accomplished by Asian Americans at the University.”
By bringing students together, LeVan said she hopes to increase understanding both within the Asian and Asian American community as well as the University community as a whole.