Community members from across South Jersey gathered at the Cherry Hill library for an afternoon of cultural celebrations by the Asian American Alliance in South Jersey on May 15.
The event was part of the alliance’s second annual Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month Festival. This year’s version featured prominent speakers such as Congressman Andy Kim, the first Asian American congressman from New Jersey; Congressman Donald Norcross; Cherry Hill Mayor Susan Shin Angulo; and Christina Lu, a Philadelphia high-school student who intervened and became a victim of racially motivated attacks on a city train in November.
“I’m sure a lot of people in the crowd have heard words to the effect of, ‘You don’t belong here’ or ‘You’re not really American’ or ‘Where are you really from?’” Kim noted. “And I think we’re all here because we say, ‘We’re from here. This is our home. This is our community.”
The congressman acknowledged recent racism and discrimination aimed at Asians, but also acknowledged the victories. Earlier this year, New Jersey became the second state to require schools to teach AAPI history. While the details are still being worked out, alliance President Nina Gao noted the import of the change.
“I think we’re moving (forward) and people understand that being part of the narrative is really important,” she said. “We need to write our own stories, our own history, our own narratives. I don’t think we understood that — at least I didn’t 20 years ago.
“Most of us were thinking we were becoming a member of the American society,” Gao added, “but I think now people have the awareness that society should include various members.”
In the parking lot at the library were Asian food vendors serving Chinese, Korean and Indian food. Megu, Hung Vuong Supermarket, Dunkin’ Donuts and Nimit Palace Indian restaurant also donated food. The festival garnered support from schools like Sharp Elementary School PTA and churches like Grace Ministry Youth Group. There were also activities that included henna, the paper game ddakji from the popular Korean show “Squid Game,” and chess.
Taylor Uem, president of the Asian Culture Club at Cherokee High School, helped with her family’s Korean food business, the Cub and Bunny Cafe and Karaoke in Cherry Hill.
“I think it’s amazing that we can expose ourselves to different cultures during these times right now,” she noted. “A lot of what we need is empathy and being able to just step into people’s shoes and cultures in our surroundings, especially in South Jersey.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to understand what our differences (and) what our similarities are.”
To celebrate the AAPI community’s diversity, the library event featured cultural performances by all age groups, including traditional children’s dances by Huaxing Chinese School, Korean drumming from the Korean School of Southern New Jersey and a Mongolian dance by ArtEast Studio. There were also performances on traditional Chinese and Indian instruments.
When The Sun asked the owner of Nimit Palace in Voorhees what he would like to see reflected in the culture, Ashu Singh talked about his experience as a hate crime victim. He is a Sikh who had practiced his religion by wearing a turban and beard. In 2009, he endured a violent attack on the streets of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania for resembling a Muslim in a post 9/11 world.
“We need to respect each other,” Singh advised. “That’s the only thing we need to be. Instead of being so racist, or discombobulated, just be one.
“Because no matter what culture, what country, what color you are, human is human.”
To stay up to date with the AAASJ, visit https://sites.google.com/view/aaasj/home.
This article was updated June 6 with the correct website for Asian American Alliance in South Jersey.