Utah rally celebrates Asian American Pacific Islander community

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The Asian American Collegiate Alliance celebrated Utah Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month with a rally on Saturday, May 22 at the Salt Lake City and County Building.

Sam Lam, Katrina Lam, Kayleen Lam, Lehua Koon, Amber Lam (from left to right), Utah State University and University of Utah students support the rally in honor of the Utah Asian American Pacific Islander community for its Heritage Month in May. (Kristine Kim)

The rally had a turnout of several hundred people, and many members of the Utah Asian American Pacific Islander community and others from different Utah communities came in solidarity.

The event included speakers and performances from the SLC Ballet, Chinese Classical Dance; Ogden Buddhist Church Taiko Team, Laotian dancer Samantha, and Korean traditional dance group UT-Arirang.

The theme for this rally was unity, community and celebration. A proclamation from Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s office was read by Senior Advisor to Gov. Cox, Mike Mower. In the proclamation, Mower read “there is no room for hate in the Beehive state, we are here to come together to celebrate cultural and multicultural diversity and cooperation.”

Tiffany Chan, University of Utah student body vice president, was one of the main youth speakers at the event.

Chan said her personal story was about perseverance and resilience. “By standing here right now, I’m trying to make my parents proud and make their efforts and struggles worthwhile.”

She also said Asian Americans have historically been oppressed, but the month of May should be a time for celebration and embracing cultural roots.

Chan said while it’s difficult to find a community in Utah because there aren’t as many Asians as other states, “we can’t change our circumstances and we can’t change that we are the minority. What we can do however, is to stand in solidarity with one another.”

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City and Assistant Minority Whip was the first Asian American woman to be elected in the state of Utah in 2008 when she joined the Salt Lake County Council. She was elected as Utah state senator in 2014.

Iwamoto gave tribute to the eight people who lost their lives in the Atlanta spa shootings, six of whom were Asian. She also gave tribute to the brutal attacks on the elderly, including the attack and murder of a 84-year-old Thai man.

According to the US Census Bereau, Asian Americans are the fastest growing minority population in the nation and Utah.

“Although Utah’s reported incidents’ numbers are not indicated, we know the incidents are occurring,” Iwamoto said. “We know the fear exists within our Asian business and community; we are not immune to these horrific and unspeakable acts of hate, discrimination and xenophobia.”

Iwamoto finished her speech by reminding the attendees the importance of remembering the past history of racism and discrimination Asian Americans faced in the U.S. “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Utah City Council Member Darin Mano, District 5 encouraged the Asian American Pacific Islander community to stand up and speak up about Asian American hate. He invited everyone to call out racism when it occurs. “Today, I’m asking the AAPI community to speak up and stand out,” he said. “If you experience anti-Asian hate, call it out.”

He also said to draw attention to injustices to stop them and never ignore microaggression. Report whatever anti-Asian hate crime occurs so that it won’t go underreported, he added.

“If there’s a promotion you deserve, ask for it, if there’s a leadership position you want, apply for it,” he said. “If you have a business idea that you’ve been too afraid to try, go out on a limb and do it, if you have an interest, run for something.”

Headline celebrity speaker and author of Setsuko’s Secret, Shirley Ann Higuchi JD, shared her story of moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1981 with her family and being told by others to assimilate and become as “white” as possible.

She said she hopes everyone will embrace their roots, and stay together as an Asian American community. “We are stronger together than we are apart.”

Miss Rocky Mountain Utah Sisilia Kaufusi is the only Pacific Islander running this year for Miss Utah, and the only person of color out of 49 girls.

Kaufusi said her goal is to change perception and how people see themselves and their futures. “We need to be the change we wish to see in our community.”

Sara Dansie Jones is the president of InclusionPro, a company focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. She shared her story of how she, as an ethnically-born Korean, was adopted into a white Utah family. She grew up in Utah and was able to go visit Korea in 1999. This gave her the opportunity to reconnect with her Korean roots.

She spoke about the discrepancy of Asian-Americans in the workplace. “Asians tend to be more highly represented in professional roles, but ironically, Asians are high underrepresented in leadership roles, even though Asians are the most educated community,” she said.

Google reports 42% of its employees are Asian, but only 30% of leadership is Asian, Jones said. When both gender and race are intersected, white women hold over 20% of corporate board seats now and Asian women only hold 1% of board seats.

As the last speaker, Jones concluded with this statement:

“There is no one story or stereotype that can possibly capture the richness and depth of what it means to be Asian. We are so much more than our loss and sorrow. We are worth knowing, loving and celebrating.”

Sara Dansie Jones, a Korean American and president of InclusionPro, speaks on the importance of the Asian American Pacific Islander community during the rally. (Kristine Kim)
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