Thayer’s Asian Student Association celebrates AAPI Heritage Month

Thayer’s Asian Student Association celebrates AAPI Heritage Month

Thayer Academy’s Asian Student Association (ASA) chronicled both the challenges and the success stories of the Asian American experience during an Upper School assembly held earlier this month in the CFA’s Hale Theater. The multimedia presentation — which included students, faculty, and staff — was part of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. 

The day itself was historic for at least two reasons. First, it marked the first time that AAPI Heritage Month had been celebrated with an all-school assembly at Thayer. Second, it was the first all-school presentation by ASA, a student club formed this year with Creative Director Paul Kahn P ‘27, ‘30 as its advisor. Kahn also serves as advisor for the Asian Student Affinity Group at the Middle School. 

The morning assembly began with a short video lampooning the folly of making assumptions and then addressed common Asian American feelings of “being invisible” or being seen as “the perpetual foreigner” or “the model minority.” One graphic noted a study in which 78 percent of Asian Americans said they do not fully feel that they belong or are accepted in the United States. 

Student voices were strong that day. Henry Fan ‘24, who will serve as co-president of the ASA next year with AJ Choo, discussed growing up in China, attending an international school where classes were conducted in English, and randomly choosing the name “Henry” as a kindergartner. He also recalled taking the four-hour TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) at age 12 and arriving in the United States at age 13. 

Matt Miller ‘23, the current co-president of the ASA with Alena Mulhern ‘23, provided audience members a glimpse of life in the Philippines, where he lived for 12 years before coming to the United States. He discussed everything from traditional Filipino food to the nation’s strong sense of community, but he focused on its welcoming attitude to the stranger. 

“The hospitality of the Philippines is unparalleled,” said Miller. 

Upper School World Languages Faculty Kim Gilmore discussed her Filipino heritage, growing up in Boston, and her years spent practicing and mastering Tinikling, the national dance of the Philippines. 

Kahn served as an emcee of sorts for the multimedia presentation, which informed the audience about a number of Asian American trailblazers, including: 

  • Wong Kim Ark, a California man of Chinese descent whose landmark case before the United States Supreme Court firmly established the birthright provision of the 14th Amendment. 
  • Sgt. Bhagat Singh Thind, who came to America from his native India, served in the U.S. military, and subsequently applied for citizenship. Thind lost his citizenship case before the United States Supreme Court but successfully exposed the racially charged hypocrisy of the citizenship process. 
  • Yuri Kochiyama, a noted political activist who was sent with her family to an Arkansas internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II because of then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. Kochiyama’s work for social justice eventually led her to a close working relationship with Malcolm X. 

Despite obvious progress over the decades, Kahn spoke to students from the heart when he discussed his own experience as a Korean American growing up in Arizona. A passionate devotee of all things film, Kahn conveyed the shock, anger, and disappointment he felt while watching such movies as Sixteen Candles, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, or the 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The Asian characters in those and similar movies, he said, were always presented as either some sort of martial arts expert or a comic relief sidekick. 

“They always spoke in broken English, and they never had real names,” said Kahn, who added that even such groundbreaking movies as 1993’s Joy Luck Club featured a promotional poster without the names of any cast members for fear that including the names of the Asian actors would mean failure at the box office. 

Kahn, who called it “an honor and a privilege” to work with students in both the ASA and the Middle School affinity group, said the work continues when it comes to racial justice. However, he ended the presentation with a video from February 2012 when the New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin, an undrafted basketball player out of Harvard University, torched the then New Jersey Nets with 25 points and triggered “Linsanity,” a roughly two-week period where the Asian American hoops player could do no wrong on the basketball court. 

“It was the most incredible, the most glorious two weeks,” Kahn told students who were in elementary school at the time. “This is something that lifts me up.” 

Kahn also playfully boasted of another “first” for the assembly: the first time that the sounds of BTS, a world-renowned K-Pop (a genre of popular music originating from South Korea) band, wafted from the speakers of Hale Theater. 

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