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APIA Heritage Month: Innovation and Unity Transforming Communities and Understanding

A recap of the 18th Annual Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Celebration and preview of upcoming events

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UC San Diego's 2024 Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Celebration Planning Committee. Photo by Jeremy Alameda.

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On May 2, members of the UC San Diego community joined together to launch a monthlong celebration of the culture, traditions, experiences and contributions of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans (APIA). Hosted by the 2024 Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Planning Committee and the Pan-Asian Staff Association (PASA), the 18th Annual Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Celebration Kickoff and Scholarship Awards featured live cultural performances, various speakers, student awardees and more. The event was attended by more than 400 members of the UC San Diego community and sponsored by 51 units across the campus. 

Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Becky R. Petitt opened remarks for the event, noting that UC San Diego has experienced a 133% increase in underrepresented undergraduate students on campus over the last decade, 40% of whom identify as Asian American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

 “Through events like this, we learn more about one another, about our cultural heritage, the challenges we have faced and the triumphs we have experienced,” Petitt said. “As we celebrate today, we reaffirm our commitment to building an inclusive and equitable campus where each community member feels empowered and respected.”

This year’s APIA Heritage Month Celebration is centered on the theme “Transformation through innovation and unity, an embrace of change through solidarity to drive progress.” The theme emphasizes how people can inspire innovation, foster understanding and pave the way for a brighter future when they come together in solidarity.

Stories are power

a portrait picture of a man smiling

Alex C. Villafuerte, executive director of the Pacific Arts Movement

“If a person can make you feel, you are less likely to hate them,” and “bring your full self to every room.” These are two takeaways that Margaret Marshall, co-chair of PASA, received from keynote speaker Alex C. Villafuerte. 

Villafuerte, a native of Southeast San Diego, was invited to speak at the APIA Heritage Month Celebration Kickoff to demonstrate a different type of innovation — one that creates space for personal authenticity and leverages artistic expression to dismantle stereotypes and racism, mobilize civic and economic power, and uplift voices in marginalized and intersectional communities. 

Since 2016, Villafuerte has been an advocate and community organizer, giving rise to various organizations and programs including the San Diego Queer APIMEDA Coalition, San Diego American Pacific Islander Coalition and the San Diego Pride Youth Art Show. And in his current role as executive director of the Pacific Arts Movement, a media arts organization that focuses on Asian American and Asian international cinema, Villafuerte continues to support positive social change through the telling of stories. Stories that he believes allows compassion and understanding to bloom. 

Did you miss him? Watch him introduce himself along with a few other voices in the APIA community in a 2023 video from Pacific Arts Movement. 

Pacific Arts Movement Executive Director Alex Villafuerte shares his passion for storytelling and spotlights community voices.

The APIAC Scholarship and Awards

For the third consecutive year, the Asian and Pacific Islander Alumni Council (APIAC) presented a scholarship and awards to students who demonstrate a commitment to the advancement of Asian and Pacific Islander education and community building at UC San Diego. 

Nhi Uyen Tran​, a first-year undergraduate in Warren College majoring in human biology, received the 2024 APIAC Scholarship. Five other students were selected as winners of an essay contest and received an APIAC award: CJ Hattori, Mira Gupta, Andie Ongaco, Emily Pan and Nicole Tsuyuki. These scholars received a monetary prize for their essay about an Asian American or Pacific Islander person who inspired them with their resilience and innovative spirit. 

Celebrate all month long

To learn about ways to celebrate the 2024 APIA Heritage Month at UC San Diego or make a gift to APIA Heritage Month Scholarships or the Asian Pacific Islander Middle Eastern Desi American Programs and Services Fund, please visit the APIA Heritage Month webpage. A sampling of events is below. To access the full calendar of events, please visit the APIAHC calendar.

May 7 | 6 – 8 p.m. 
Poetry Slam

Listen to original poetry by students in a warm-hearted competition for prizes. Hosted in the Cross-Cultural Center Art Space, all are welcome to join the audience and score student poets through three rounds. Support creative expression and snap your fingers in the spirit of APIA Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. Register for the Poetry Slam to attend!

May 9 | 1:30 – 2:30 p.m.
Pacific Islander Community Mixer

The Pan-Asian Staff Association (PASA) invites all Pacific Islander identifying students, staff and faculty to engage in community through music, food and conversations. Strengthen existing bonds and make new connections in this lively event taking place in the Thich Nhat Hanh Room of the Student Center. 

May 15 | 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.
Immersed in the First: Discussion with Ate, Manang, Chi and Euy in Higher Education

This workshop focuses specifically on the topic of eldest daughter. The “first daughter” is the first to learn how to speak English fluently, the first to attend college and the first to work in an office. Hear from four first daughters who will share and invite others to talk about how their first-daughterness has shaped their worldview and outlook on higher education. Registration for the Immersed in the First workshop is recommended.  

May 17 | 12  – 1 p.m.
Tai Chi Workshop 

Register for a Tai Chi workshop led by UC San Diego recreation instructor Matthew Tay. Practice and learn about the background of one of the most well known styles of internal martial arts that focuses on understanding proper body alignment and mechanics. The signature slow speed of Tai Chi centers the mind and provides time to align body structures.

May 23 | 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Stories of Survival: Discussion on Asian American College Students’ Mental Health

Visit the Cross-Cultural Center to hear from distinguished scholar and author Amy Wong, EdD, speak about Asian American college students who have experienced suicide ideation from a strengths-based perspective. Learn how her narrative research honors the tradition of storytelling and recognizes that each person has an important journey that is worth sharing. Registration for the Stories of Survival event is recommended. 

May 30 | 1 – 3 p.m. 
AAPI x APIMEDA Spring Mixer

This semi-annual AAPI x APIMEDA mixer is a perfect opportunity for the AAPI students, staff and faculty on campus to meet one another and network. The event will also celebrate the graduating AAPI Studies minors. Please register to attend the AAPI x APIMEDA Spring Mixer

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