The United Asian American Organizations kicked off its celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month last night and began their goal of “opening eyes and challenging minds.”

Paul Wong
Marie Weng, keynote speaker for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, spoke yesterday evening at the Michigan Union. (LAURIE BRESCOLL/Daily)

The event featured speakers with various ties to the University and to multiethnic groups, who highlighted the importance of activism in the Asian American community.

“What, in your minds as Asian Americans, are you able to contribute to making this place a better place for all of us?” keynote speaker and University alum Marie Weng asked the audience.

“This is what it’s really all about. We are here to see in what ways we can contribute and leave a legacy for those who follow us,” Weng said.

Weng spoke about her experience as a child growing up in war-torn China and her transition from teacher to activist. Until her retirement two years ago, when she first began to take an active part in the Asian American community, Weng said she rarely faced the issue of racism.

“Activism and empowerment took on a new meaning for me once I moved into the community to continue what I had been teaching in the classroom,” she said.

“If you don’t give out in a positive manner, then you stagnate and fall behind. You will become a very self-centered and very sad person,” Weng added.

Ishmael Ahmed, co-founder of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, also spoke at the kickoff, reminding students of the importance the University plays in the Asian rights movement.

UAAO “has been really on the forefront of the civil rights movement on this campus. The potential for you to change this world is tremendous,” he said. “Even one single activist can make a difference. I invite you to be that activist.”

UAAO decided not to celebrate its heritage in the nationally recognized month of May.

Members said they hope that by holding events in March they will increase student awareness of the importance of Asian American influence to the history of the U.S.

“It’s important for people to recognize that our culture plays an important part of our lives at the University,” UAAO member Avani Kothary said.

“We want people to recognize that we have a history in the U.S. as well.”

The celebration of Asian American heritage began in 1978 due to the efforts of Jeanie Jew, who claimed that Asian Americans “were literally ignored even though we were part of building this country.”

Originally a one-week event, former President George Bush dedicated the entire month of May to the observance of Asian American history and achievement in 1992 with the unanimous support of the House and Senate.

More than 12 percent of the University’s undergraduate population is Asian Pacific American. When the celebration first began, the Asian Pacific American population at the University was less than 2 percent.

UAAO will be hosting several events in honor of APAHM throughout March.

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