VCU celebrates AAPI heritage throughout April, bridges cultures

VCU student Justin Tran serves Asian American food to fellow students, faculty and staff at the ‘AAPI Connect: Bridging Cultures’ event, which is a part of a series of events celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Photo by Belinda Daniels.

Samantha Granados, Contributing Writer

The Office of Multicultural Affairs, You First and the Office of Inclusive Excellence collaborate to host month-long events in celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, according to Jair Lecky, the assistant director of OMSA.

OMSA is known for celebrating each heritage month year-round, cultivating a sense of belonging among all students, Lecky said. 

Although Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is nationally recognized in May, it is celebrated during April at VCU as finals take place in May, according to Lecky. Students may have other priorities, so VCU works around that and hosts celebrations, activities and events during April.

The collaboration intends to create a space for Asian American and Pacific Islander students, faculty and staff to come together, connect and build community, Lecky said.

OMSA hosts mixers such as the “AAPI Connect: Bridging Cultures” event, which occurred on Tuesday, April 16, according to Lecky. The event offered origami and conversation starters on every table to help stimulate organic conversation and ensure everyone felt comfortable engaging with each other. 

Lecky said it’s not everyday VCU students look to build and find a community with a similar cultural background, which makes these events the perfect opportunities to socialize. 

While curating a personalized space for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is the main goal, the collaboration seeks to create a space for students of all backgrounds to learn and be exposed to cultures they may not be familiar with, Lecky said. 

These events are intended to be a microcosm of home or a haven for students, according to Lecky. Food plays a big factor in creating this familiar atmosphere.

“Food is a spiritual experience for a lot of people, and it’s transformative,” Lecky said. 

Tulsi Indian Cuisine and Crazy Thai, two restaurants with Asian roots, were catered at the AAPI Connect mixer, Lecky said. 

The feeling of being at home can be experienced through food, music or by simply being in a space with others that share the same cultural background, according to Lecky.

Anson Zhong, a first-year forensic science student, said he attended “Diaspora Dialogues: A Queer & AAPI Panel Discussion” on April 9, after hearing about it through his Asian American and Pacific Islander peer mentor. 

The event was a collaboration with the OMSA, P.R.I.S.M and the Asian American and Pacific Islander Affinity, according to RamsConnect

During the panel, Zhong expressed his struggle to find a community he can relate to regarding his Chinese heritage, he said. 

Vivian Chu, a panelist from Hong Kong, reassured him to have patience and to follow the food.

Going to local Chinese or other Asian restaurants can be a spot outside of VCU for community building, Chu said. 

After the panel discussion, Zhong said he now believes his people are out there, he just has to find them. He also believes these events are a resource VCU students are fortunate enough to have.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month at VCU is a celebration that ensures visibility by allowing the Asian American and Pacific Islander community to feel heard sharing experiences, said Julie Nguyen, the AAPI You First student success coach.

“It’s about creating an intentional space,” Nguyen said.

College isn’t only about academics, it’s a very holistic experience when engaging in new social encounters, according to Nguyen. There are many different factors to being a college student so prioritizing student development is essential. 

Data and research shows underserved communities benefit more when there is tailored programming for them, according to Nguyen.

Nguyen considers what students’ needs are when planning for events, she said. She wants students to feel events are personalized specifically for them. 

Since VCU is about diversity, students can naturally connect and learn from each other, but it’s essential to create those intentional opportunities for students to gather and learn when they choose to, Nguyen said. 

Other events for the monthly celebration include “Being My Own Boss: Nafis Narsinghani” on Thursday, April 18 and “Resettled: A Survivor’s Story” on Wednesday, April 24, according to OMSA’s website. Students can register through RamsConnect.

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