By Alex Tao
On November 16, 2019, the annual Asian American Heritage Council (AAHC) Student Achiever Awards Ceremony took place at the Orange County Library. For the past twenty five years, AAHC has commended Asian-American students for academic excellence, community service, preservation of culture, and language. On top of the scholarship awards for each grade level, AAHC hosted their 2nd annual essay contest which asked this question: As Asian Americans, how and in what ways can we promote unity in diversity? Please explain. Junior Alex Tao won 1st place with his thought-provoking and inspiring essay, written below.
(More information about this event, pictures, and a list of winners can be found at Asia Trend: asiatrend.org/lifestyle/education/aahc-four-letters-that-represent-many-cultures/)
"Five-point six percent. Each time I look at this number my heart fills with pride at what it represents. Our population of Asian Americans in the U.S. has grown more than 72% in the last two decades alone – a change unprecedented in the history of the United States for the Asian community. This shift also exhibits the nation’s melting pot demographics, with many different nationalities cohabiting together. As Asian Americans, we can promote unity in diversity by being aware of not only the different cultures that surround us, but also being conscious of the differences among our own race of people. In order to make change and bolster unity in our community, we must first be honest with ourselves. As human beings, we all hold inherent biases against those not of our in-group and even those who are. As a second generation Asian American, I often find what I like to call “behind the door discrimination” occurring in the community. We may not be up front with our prejudices against others, but from time to time, I find myself observing fellow Asian Americans exhibiting prejudice towards other people. If we fail acknowledge this and don’t realize that we have the power to improve our cohesion, how can we ever expect to close the gaps between our community and the rest of America? The crux of the issues relating to the maintenance of unity in diversity lies in the dogmatic attitudes that we are prone to embody. Many a times, we often rest on what separates us from others. While recognizing our individual cultures and celebrating what makes us unique is important, it is equally important to be aware of both the commonalities that we share and the aspects of what makes others distinct from us. As mentioned prior, we must also be cognizant of the differences within our own community. Clumping our community under “Asian” can make one forget about the differences that reside in our own race. America houses more than 20 distinct Asian ethnic groups that each speak their own language, have their own food and other special cultural aspects. We must be aware of this and be open to learning about the culture of our peers and coworkers. Unity without uniformity is what we should be striving for. Completely assimilating into a culture leads to a loss of identity, something that should be avoided at all costs. That being said, there should also be an effort on our part to reach out of our individualistic mindsets and to make a genuine attempt to understand other people. As Asian Americans, we can promote diversity through simple things like asking someone about their culture with the intent to broaden your perspective. At the root of it, we are all human beings living in the same nation, the same planet, breathing the same air. We can promote diversity by changing our mindsets to include others and adopting the ideals behind one of my favorite quotes – we all bleed red."
By Jiselle Lee
This year, the REACH dragon boat team encountered defeat; not by other racing teams, but by a tornado warning.
For the past eight years, REACH has participated in an annual dragon boat festival in Orlando. We begin practices at the Orlando Rowing Club at the end of summer vacation, and we practice once or twice a month until the race in October.
In June, Praveen Sundar was voted Captain, and Emme Lee and I were voted Co-Captains. Together, we led the team, distributed waivers, and collected fees to prepare them for the race. Although we admittedly struggled to meet the member requirements during the first few practices, we managed to solidify our team before the race.
However, the night before the race when we checked the latest weather reports, we were worried to find that there was a high chance of thunderstorms all Saturday morning. While we hoped that the weather would not prevent us from racing, things took a turn for the worse the next day.
On the morning of October 16th, the team received tornado warnings occurring in the area. At the lake, it was pouring rain and the harsh wind forced us to bundle up and stay under our tent. The team leaders attended the race’s Captains Meeting, where the organizers announced that the races would continue as scheduled. However, the harsh weather was incessant. Our competitors are seasoned racers and have practiced all year round. Not to mention, they were all adults; meanwhile, most of our team was under the age of 18.
After much thought and consideration, the team leaders ultimately decided to back out of the race. Most of us went home to stay in the comfort of our homes, but a few stayed to watch the race. They reported that there was flooding all around the lake for the rest of the day.
Then, coincidentally, on November 9th, 2019, four REACH dragon boat team members raced with Team CHARGE at the Lake Hernando Dragon Boat Festival. Yet once again, we faced challenges during the race due to the weather. During Team CHARGE’s first two races, the racers were at the mercy of the wind and waves, which caused the other racing boats to nearly crash into us. Ultimately, after those two attempts, CHARGE won bronze!
As a Co-captain of the 2019 REACH Dragon Boat Team, this win made me feel victorious. Although we all wished Team REACH could have raced on October 16th, in a way, our hard work paid off. The training and dedication we made to practice our technique allowed us to contribute to Team CHARGE ‘s win.
I hope that the REACH underclassmen who were introduced to dragon boat this year try out for the team again in summer 2020, and I encourage everyone to try racing with CHARGE at any time during the year.
Former REACH captains Kevin Chu and Duc-Thanh Nguyen, REACH VP of Communications Takkai Wong, and 2019 Co-President and Co-Captain Jiselle Lee paddle with Team CHARGE.