Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders recognized and celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in the month of May.
On May 20, the Asian American Collegiate Association held a rally in Washington Square Park in Salt Lake City to “celebrate the contributions that generations of AANHPI have made to Utah history, society and culture.”
The rally consisted of speeches by government officials, university students and diversity advocates, as well as performances by K-pop dance team Golden Hour and Buddhist taiko group Ogden.
Tessakiree Garber, a sophomore at BYU, performed at the rally with the K-pop dance group Golden Hour. Garber’s mother is from Taiwan. Garber said that AAPI Heritage Month has helped her appreciate Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, particularly on social media.
“It helps me appreciate the privilege I have because I can hear all the stories from my friends and family. It helps me appreciate what I’ve been given. I cherish my Asian side and I cherish my white side,” Garber said. “As a result, I appreciate both sides of my culture equally.”
Representative Karen Kwan, who serves as the Minority Caucus Whip and represents District 34, spoke at the rally. Kwan said she feels it is her responsibility to be a representative of the AAPI community and share the stories of her ancestors. The story of their ancestors begins with a small ghost town called Terrance.
Kwan said that Terrance used to be one of the largest railroad towns built in Utah. Today Terrance is a rich archaeological site.
According to the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, 75% of the Transcontinental Railroad’s workforce were Chinese immigrants. These Chinese immigrants left their families and homes in search of economic opportunities.
Utah worked with the Bureau of Land Management to conduct the first-ever archaeological dig at a Chinese railroad worker’s home.
“We learn so much about what my ancestor might have been because I don’t know the stories. This is literally my lifeline to my ancestor. This site has such spirituality to me. It’s such an important place that we have to protect it,” Kwan said.
Franscine Anmontha Malieitulua is Student Advisor for the Pacific Islander Student Association at the University of Utah and Communications Officer for the Republic of the Marshall Island National Nuclear Commission. Malieitulua told the story of her grandfather who was a victim of nuclear testing.
“This is part of Marshallese history, which not only belonged to us, but also belonged to the US,” Malieitulua said.
Malieitulua said that for many years it was the Marshallese who fought for justice, but now they have many communities, organizations and partners standing by them. Malieitulua reminded the audience that they are not alone.
“Today we have opportunities to share our voice and our stories with others. I encourage all young people today to ask their elders about their experiences. You will learn so much about your story,” Malieitulua said.
Malieitulua said she often wonders what life would be like if she didn’t ask her grandfather about his upbringing. She said the answer was lost.
“When you learn something from people or a culture, you accept it as a gift,” Malieitulua said, quoting Yo-Yo Ma, “and it is your lifelong commitment to preserve it and build on it.”
Malieitulua encourages the younger generation to continue the legacy of their ancestors and create their own.