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Winchester celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander culture

Students of Ku’s Taekwondo Academy show off their skills at the AAPI Heritage Celebration at the Griffin Museum on May 8. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/CAMERON HOPKINSON

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Winchester’s second AAPI Heritage Celebration kicked off at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester downtown last Wednesday. The event featured a variety of activities, events, and performances relating to the celebration of Asian American culture.

In the United States, May is officially recognized as Asian American and Pacific Islander month and is the time to commemorate the important contributions made to the country by Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islander Americans, and other peoples of Asian descent.

Hakyoung Choi sings a Korean song called ‘Arirang.’ WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/CAMERON HOPKINSON

For example, Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, who was a significant women’s rights activist in the early 20th century, campaigning for women’s suffrage that was eventually won in the 19th Amendment.

It is this crucial role that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have had in the United States, combined with America’s history of mistreatment of its AAPI citizens, that prompted former President Jimmy Carter to sign into law a resolution dedicating the first week of May as AAPI week in 1979.

There was also a growing number of AAPI senators around this time, notably Hiram Fong, who was one of the first Hawaiian senators to the U.S. Senate and the first senator of AAPI descent.

Calligraphy was among the crafts stations residents could try out during the festival. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/CAMERON HOPKINSON

Slightly over a decade later, President George H. W. Bush established May as “Asian Pacific American Heritage Month” which is celebrated to this day.

While the celebration was intended to be held on the Griffin's terrace last week, the forecast of heavy rain forced the event planners to move the event indoors. Nevertheless, the evening was a smashing success, even in the small confines of the museum’s interior.

At the event that night were families from all over Winchester —  and while many were members of the AAPI community supporting their children from the Asian American and Chinese Culture Clubs at the Winchester High School (many of whom did cultural performances that night) —  many families were not and were there simply to learn more about the vibrant AAPI community in their town.

Residents placed a pin in this world map to show where they came from. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/CAMERON HOPKINSON

There were plenty of performers during the evening, including a traditional Chinese dance by a local girl, a student playing a traditional Korean instrument known as the gayageum (a 12-stringed instrument played by plucking), as well as an exhilarating and action-packed performance from the students of Ku’s Taekwondo Academy (involving flying boards pieces and plenty of kicks!).

After the performances, and a few words from the interim executive from the Network for Social Justice Rebecca Slisz, guests could be seen enjoying the plethora of dishes and desserts brought by parents.

For the dishes, there were Japanese Takoyaki (battered and grilled octopus balls), noodles, savory dumplings, and fried rice, among other dishes. Not to mention the delicious milk tea being brewed freshly which, along with bottled water, kept residents hydrated throughout the event.

After sampling the delicious food, guests could be seen with their children at the various activity stations scattered around the room. These stations were staffed by student representatives from the Asian American and Chinese Culture Clubs, who have been integral in helping the Network for Social Justice run this event now for two straight years.

Near the center of the room on one of the tables, there was a giant world map (along with a bucket of thumbtacks), where people could drop a pin on the places around the world where their ancestors originated (or where they used to live).

Sophia John plays a traditional stringed instrument while an onlooker snaps a quick photo. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/CAMERON HOPKINSON

Seeing the diverse and different places that people at the event originated from was a true testament to the success of this event, exposing Winchester residents of all backgrounds to the AAPI community in this very town.

At another table a few feet over was a face painting station where a student from the Chinese Culture Club was busy carefully drawing a green dragon on a small boy’s face.

“The students are from the Asian American and Chinese Culture Club and one way we got connected was an officer in the Asian American Club who has been a networking intern,” Slisz said. “The officers of those clubs got their members together last year so this year students are doing repeat events such as a chopstick game and several fun games”

Winchester residents shared their favorite foods with one another during the AAPI festival on May 8. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/CAMERON HOPKINSON

It turned out that one of these crucial students who helped make this event a reality was Raymond Yang, the president of the Chinese Culture Club and a graduating senior at WHS, who helped organize the brilliant performances.

“As a president of the Chinese Culture Club, seeing we didn’t have an AAPI event we started planning [...] different people had different connections,” he said. “We had a lion dance last year and certain people knew different performers so we all brought people in.”

Lu Yan plays the liuqin during the AAPI festival. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/CAMERON HOPKINSON

Wei Han, a former board president of the Network for Social Justice, talked about the broader impact of an event like this on the AAPI community.

“I founded the Chinese American network of Winchester eight years ago to help people in the Chinese community connect and showcase our culture, especially during the pandemic and isolation,” he said. “A lot of sophomores and Winchester students are very proud of their culture and I’m happy about this.”

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