Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage celebrated at Western

Contact: Erin Flynn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—From food and music to industry and technology, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month celebrates these cultures' vibrant contributions to our country.

"Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month offers us an opportunity to reflect on the many ways that members of this community contribute to making our campus a strong, vibrant institution,” says Western President Edward Montgomery. “We believe that our strength lies in our commitment to supporting diversity and promoting inclusion so that everyone in our community can fulfill their potential to learn, to find their passion and to work to make our world a better place.”

Asian Americans are the fastest growing population in Michigan and the United States. Asian American heritage is celebrated during the month of May in honor of the immigration of the first Japanese people to the United States on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which was built by many Chinese immigrants, on May 10, 1869.

"There are a lot of people of AAPI heritage everywhere, especially in WMU’s diverse student community. We don’t just look different on the outside, but our values and ideals are also different because of our unique cultural backgrounds," says Joseph Wen-Hsin Yang, a statistics doctoral student who is president of Western's Taiwanese Student Association. "By raising awareness and allowing everyone to learn about our different backgrounds, we can make a step towards being more understanding and peaceful with each other—especially after repeated incidents of hate and violence towards people of AAPI heritage this year."

"Heritage month is the time of year that reminds me to be unapologetically me," adds Dominic Reaume, a music education student from Dowagiac, Michigan, and senior advisor of the Asian Pacific American Student Association (APASA). "It reminds me of the beauty of AAPI cultures and traditions.

Support and Fellowship

Members of the Asian Pacific American Student Association (Photo taken prior to pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.)

APASA is one of several Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) on campus that celebrates Asian and Pacific Islander cultures, offering a place for AAPI students to find support and fellowship through events and outreach.

"I joined the Asian Pacific American Student Association to connect and share experiences with people who share a similar background," says Amy Nobouphasavahn, a biomedical sciences student from St. Joseph, Michigan.

"My favorite thing about APASA is being around people who share similar experiences. I've really gained a family and support system in this group," adds Jasmine Vue, a marketing student from Warren, Michigan.

The RSO hosts and collaborates on a variety of events throughout the academic year on campus, from panel discussions and history presentations to Asian food fundraisers and International Festival. Recently, APASA organized a discussion on Asian American identity in 2021, which it streamed on Facebook.

"APASA gives us a place to share our cultures and traditions, which in turn helps us become more visible on campus. I'm thankful APASA has given us this opportunity," Reaume says.

Welcoming International Students

Mosharrat, center, stands with other members of the Bangladesh Student Association. (Photo taken prior to pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.)

While APASA's membership is mostly domestic students, there are a number of RSOs created by Asian international students that have become families for Broncos looking for comfort and community hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles from home.

Yang, left, helped demonstrate how to cook a traditional Taiwanese dish during this year's International Festival.

"I joined the Taiwanese Student Association (TSA) before coming to WMU in 2017," adds Yang, who was born in the United States but mostly grew up in Tainan, Taiwan. "I didn't know anyone in Kalamazoo. So, having a community of people who had similar backgrounds and getting to know them made it easier settling in."

Anika Mosharrat, an industrial and entrepreneurial engineering student from Bangladesh, founded the Bangladesh Student Association in 2020 with three other students. Because pandemic restrictions began soon after, the group didn't get to hold large gatherings or events, but members still found a way to support one another.

"Our Facebook group became a hub for new incoming students from Bangladesh. During fall semester, we received the students who arrived in Kalamazoo from the airport and helped them get proper transportation and food," she says. "Members with cars took turns getting groceries for students who did not have access to transportation."

In addition to finding commonality among students with similar backgrounds, organizations like the Bangladesh Student Association and Taiwanese Student Association also proudly share their cultural traditions with the Western community.

"The two biggest traditions and holidays we celebrate are the mid-autumn moon festival and Chinese New Year. During these two holidays, we always hold dinner events to get together," says Yang. "My favorite memory is when we prepared for this year's virtual International Festival. I couldn't be prouder of the videos we made and how we could make an impact in sharing the Taiwanese culture."

"Our culture is full of love. We believe in unity. We love food, and food is also the medium to bring people together," adds Mosharrat. "Each and every festival is so colorful; it's a treat to watch."

Other Resources

Members of the Bangladesh Student Association performed traditional dances for this year's International Festival.

The Haenicke Institute for Global Education provides a number of programs and resources for international students and domestic students interested in exploring other cultures. Western is home to students from 99 countries around the world, including more than 700 from the Asia/Pacific region.

"We value the importance of welcoming a diverse group of students and faculty from around the world, further enriching the campus experience at Western," says Lee Ryder, senior director of international student and scholar services. "Additionally, we develop global education programming that contributes to infusing the curriculum and co-curriculum with global issues and international perspectives."

Many international students come from the more than 50 institutional partners the University has amassed in the Asia/Pacific region—partnerships that bring degree-seeking students, short-term exchange students and exchange faculty to campus. The institute's goal is to ensure that all of them feel valued, included and supported.

There are also a number of resources on campus for students, employees or community members to explore AAPI heritage and cultures, including:

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.