The diverse cultures of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are celebrated this month as we recognize their contributions across the nation and in our own community. AAPI encompasses the cultures from the Asian continent, including East, Southeast and South Asia and the Pacific Islands. In Alexandria City Public Schools, 5.6% of our students are Asian and fewer than 1% are Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.
As Afghanistan is referred to as the Heart of Asia, a new student organization within Alexandria City High School (ACHS) is called the Heart of Asia Afghan Club. “I believe that the importance of the Heart of Asia club is to keep our culture and traditions alive in our second country and the important part is to share it with other communities who are seeing only the dark side of Afghanistan as a war-torn country,” explains student member Zahra Rahimi. She says the group provides an outlet for young Afghan girls to share their voices with the community and the experiences they had in Afghanistan as Afghan girls. The club reaches out to the community by providing monthly presentations at school about Afghan culture to include historical places, traditional foods, music, clothes and sports. Programs also include speeches about the difficulties that Afghan girls have faced in Afghanistan, including not having the right to an education. The students also address how they are improving their lives by the opportunities now afforded to them in the U.S.
Kim-Anh Aslanian, who heads the Asian Pacific Islander Student Union at ACHS says, “being able to have a voice through a club that is entirely focused on identity and inclusion can be very impactful on a school-wide scale.” She is pleased by the response to this new club in the high school and the opportunity they have been given to attend cultural events hosted by leadership, view presentations from exchange students and form a social media account. To Aslanian, it is important, in a large school, to have “a space where you can find other students like yourself.”
In celebrating AAPI Month, Alexandria City Library provides book and database recommendations, local resources and starting points for browsing books and DVDs by and about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Various events, including Take and Make crafts for children ages 3-12 are also offered. Michelle Biwer, Beatley Central Library youth services manager, encourages families to attend library events for all ages and check out amazing books, ebooks and movies by and about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders all year.
“Whether you are interested in learning a new language, traveling with a book or just trying to finish that homework assignment, Alexandria Library is a one-stop shop,” says Biwer. “We strive to build community by providing opportunities to learn, explore and connect with one another.” Through the ConnectEd program all ACPS students have an Alexandria Library card automatically issued to them, providing a great way to learn more about the world around them.