Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Pilipinx American Student Society members discuss what AAPI heritage month means to them

May 31, 2022
<p>Victoria Sisomsouk, president of the MSU Pilipinx American Student Society, on May 30, 2022.</p>

Victoria Sisomsouk, president of the MSU Pilipinx American Student Society, on May 30, 2022.

Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, Heritage Month is celebrated during May to honor Asian and Pacific Islanders who contributed to the history, culture and achievements of the United States.

The Pilipinx American Student Society, or PASS, at MSU is an affiliate member organization of the university’s Asian Pacific American Student Organization, or APASO.

Human biology senior Victoria Sisomsouk is the president of PASS and has been involved with the organization since her freshman year, holding various e-board positions. 

“PASS is a very diverse place, especially among APASO,” Sisomsouk said. “I am not Filipino, I am Laotian, so just knowing that they are very welcoming people and pipelined me to, not just PASS, but also to the APASO community, speaks volumes. I hope that PASS can do the same for not just Filipinos, but for other Asian Americans in the MSU Community.”

Sisomsouk said she believes AAPI Heritage Month initially started as a space for Asian Americans to celebrate who they are and where they come from, but it has evolved over the years. 

“I think it's just more than celebration,” Sisomsouk said. “It's also a month to spotlight, a platform for us to tell stories and traditions and a sense of unity and coming together despite where we come from.”

AAPI month is an important way to highlight and represent all groups within the Asian continent, Sisomsouk said. When people think of Asia, or hear the term Asian, Sisomsouk said they commonly think of East Asia, such as China, Japan and Korea, but she emphasized Asia also includes South Asians, Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders and native indigenous people.

“We are a really diverse group of people and we deserve to have our voices heard,” Sisomsouk said. “We’re being seen and heard, we're also seeing ourselves and other people. Whether that be looks, mannerisms, skills or experience, it provides us a type of connection.”

Sisomsouk said AAPI Heritage Month also plays a role in highlighting the difference in experiences between Asian American and Asians who grew up in their homeland, or in the Asian continent. 

“Here in America, Asian Americans are subjected to American culture, and we're also faced with a different type of discrimination or racism,” Sisomsouk said. “We also learn to interact with people who don't look like us who don't have the same traditions or values, and so that just adds more to the experience.”

Data science statistics senior Gian Batayola is the vice president of PASS. Batayola said the importance of AAPI month to him changed over time as he got older. 

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“Coming from where I grew up, the community was a predominantly white community,”  Batayola said. “So I ended up growing up with a little bit of implicit bias towards myself, basically, I was kind of very much used to being the token minority in a group.”

Batayola said he did not experience much racism in his hometown growing up, but, to an extent, that impacted him psychologically. 

When Batayola came to MSU, he was introduced to a more diverse array of people, especially those of his own racial and ethnic background. Batayola said this was when he realized there were times in his life, during high school and middle school for example when he tried to conform to a background or an identity that was not representative of him.

“Things like AAPI month, I have become highly appreciative of because looking back and realizing how I have experienced such a visibility problem — I did not really see any other Asian people ever in my classes or in my community,” Batayola said. “It's just something as a reminder that there is this very large, growing community in the United States that needs to be acknowledged for what it is.”

Batayola said ethnic community days and months, such as AAPI Heritage month, are important due to the changing demographics and growing diversity in the country. 

The changing and flowing racial identities in the United States, as well as the sub-identities that belong within them, need to be recognized, Batayola said.

“Many of these backgrounds have varying, different experiences because even within East Asian people, Korean culture and Japanese culture can vary widely.” Batayola said. “It is those things that need to be recognized, acknowledged and celebrated, because those differences are something that as going in towards the collective culture, can bring a lot of new ideas and have that cultural diffusion.”

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