On Saturday, March 7, students packed Levin Ballroom, ready for the Brandeis Asian American Students Association’s show – BAASA Presents: APAHM Opening 2020: Reclaiming Voices. Everyone waited with anticipation and excitement to witness the incredible talent and important messages this event offered.

APAHM 3.7.20 NW 0184.jpg

NOVA DIABLO: Nova is a Massachusetts-based Diablo performance team that blends traditional art with contemporary influences.

The event began with opening remarks from APAHM Coordinator Kelly Zheng ’22, BAASA President Alison Kan ’20 and BAASA Vice President Regina Tham ’20. Zheng explained that APAHM stands for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which is usually celebrated in May. However, because finals are in May, BAASA decided to hold the event in March. 

The BAASA leaders and APAHM coordinators also discussed the theme of this year’s event, which was “Reclaiming Voices.” They explained that there are many stigmatized identities and stereotypes in the Asian community. Kan said, “Through having this event, we like to showcase a variety of Asian American talent and also provide a space for the community to reclaim their identity.” A note in the program states, “We are dedicated to defying the identities forced upon [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders] and empowering our community. Through holding this event, we hope to provide a space for marginalized voices, to stand up for the arts and to stand up against stigmatized beliefs in the AAPI community.” 

Cards placed on the tables at the event that said “I am ___ and proud” resonated with the event’s goal of emphasizing that everyone, particularly the AAPI community, should embrace and accept their identities. In the opening statements, Tham encouraged everyone to write something about themselves after each performance with the hope that it would inspire people to feel excited about and proud of their identities. This was a nice way to immerse those who attended the event in its themes.  

Next, the executive board presented a video about a family watching TikToks that reflected on Asian American culture. For example, one of the TikToks spoke about phrases Asian parents stereotypically don’t say to their children. I thought this video was a great way to emphasize the theme of reclaiming one’s identity because of the way Asian Americans used popular aspects of teenage culture to reflect on aspects of their cultures and show that they are proud of their identities. 

This led into several performances, including music, dance and other talents. Groups from the Brandeis community and other groups from around Massachusetts performed. One group that I found very interesting and exciting was the Nova Diabolo Team. The program states that they “strive to present an exciting performance that blends traditional art with contemporary influences.” Diabolo has such a unique talent and did so many amazing moves, such as throwing the diabolos to each other and jumping over them. They even turned off the lights and used light-up diabolos. 

I was also impressed by all the dance groups. The Brandeis dance groups that performed were XL Girls, a hip hop dance team, and Chak De, a Bollywood Fusion dance team. Both groups had powerful performances that were wonderful to experience. Another dance team that performed and created a lot of excitement from the crowd was Hip Hop Culture Organization, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The program explained that this group “continues to recruit dancers of all different backgrounds, giving their members a platform to grow together as dancers and individuals.” The idea of bringing people from different backgrounds together connects to the show’s theme of embracing one’s identity. Their performance was a lot of fun to watch and you could really see the talent in this group’s dancing. 

Another presentation I was glad to see was Asian Task Force speaker and Brandeis alumnus Max Tang ’19. As explained in the program, “ATASK is a nonprofit, community organization serving Pan-Asian survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence.” The program and presentation further explained the organization’s mission. The program said the group’s mission is to “prevent domestic and intimate partner violence in Asian families and communities and to provide hope to survivors.” Tang’s presentation included many important statistics and facts emphasizing the domestic violence that Asian communities can experience. Tang shared that “Asian communities experience domestic violence twice as much as white, Latinx and Black communities.”

Tang also explained that many of the people who turn to ATASK for help are immigrants who speak limited English, which creates barriers for them to seek help from other sources. Including this presentation in the show was a great way to raise awareness about this problem and to reflect on ways that students can help, such as by financially supporting ATASK. During the event, there was a boba sale and all the proceeds were donated to ATASK.

One of the coordinators also spoke about the Brandeis Asian American Task Force. The event program explains that BAATF “is a grassroots, Brandeis University based and focused, student organization created to advocate for the needs and betterment of the Asian American community here at Brandeis University.” The organization’s purpose “is to gather and mobilize students around finding solutions to issues specific to the Asian American community here at  Brandeis,” it added. The coordinator explained that this organization “is advocating and organizing for the establishment of an API studies program here on campus,” and that some classes for this program have already begun. The API Studies program has helped their work on a project “to recover some of the history of Asian American students organizing on the campus at Brandeis,” she said.  

This event was entertaining and educational. It brought students from both Brandeis and the larger Massachusetts community together to celebrate APAHM and create a space for people to be proud of their identities. Specifically, this event celebrated Asian American cultures and identities through the performances and gave students the opportunity to learn more about circumstances affecting the Asian American community at Brandeis and beyond. Through the event’s theme, Reclaiming Voices, the event also debunked stereotypes toward the Asian American community. 

—Editor’s Note: Justice Editor Noah Zeitlin took photos of APAHM for BAASA.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of APAHM coordinator and Digital Media Chair Kelly Zheng as "Kelly Zhang." The article was changed to include the correct information.