By Ashley Ding
This year many students participated in the annual Asian American Heritage Council (AAHC) Student Achiever Awards. The ceremoney took place on November 18th at the Orlando Public Library to celebrate the great accomplishments in academics, community service, and representation in culture of all the students who applied.
In addition, AAHC also hosted their third annual essay contest, this time giving a prompt regarding Asian protrayal in media: Based on recent media portrayal, Asian Americans and their way of life have amassed a massive number of mainstream interpretations. How do the accurate depictions of Asian American struggles influence public opinion and reflect upon your own life? How does it allow you to reconnect with your community and heritage? Ashley Ding, a junior from Lake Nona High School, won first place with her response. You can read the essay below:
During the Bank of America Student Leaders Summit this past summer, I had the privilege of viewing a documentary called "38 at the Garden." This powerful film chronicles the journey of Jeremy Lin, an undrafted Harvard graduate who overcame discrimination and skepticism as the sole Asian American basketball player on his team. Lin's historic 2011-12 season with the New York Knicks, which ignited "Linsanity," is a key focus of the documentary, particularly when he scored 38 points against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers at Madison Square Garden, hence the film's title. By the end, I had tears in my eyes.
This film fundamentally changed my perspective on Asian American discrimination. What makes this film particularly impactful is the representation it provided and its resonance with my own experiences. While I am definitely no NBA player, I could relate to Lin’s experiences of being perceived as passive and diminutive by his teammates and coaches. Beyond its relatability regarding the challenges Asian Americans face, the film emphasizes how Lin overcame these obstacles. His journey from couch-surfing to stardom showed everyone watching to not let society put you in a box in terms of what you can achieve.
Upon returning from the summit, I applied these lessons to my ongoing activities. While interning at the Boys and Girls Club—a program for underprivileged youth—I encountered stereotypical remarks from some students who had never seen someone who looked like me before. Instead of responding negatively, I realized that their perceptions of me stemmed from misunderstandings, not ill intentions. I began teaching the youth about Chinese culture and language. They loved it, as “Ms. Ashley, how do you say this in Chinese?” became a common question at the Club.
Additionally, I organized the inaugural Multicultural Expo in Taft, Florida. This unique event brought together hundreds of students, parents, staff, and community members. Nine countries were represented, all with kids presenting. I showcased China, with an informative presentation and jiaozi for everyone to try. Students, parents, staff, and even the local police officers gathered in this family-based event. Everyone left the event with a smile on their face and new knowledge. I left the event with a rekindled appreciation for my culture through sharing it with others.
As Co-President of REACH of Central Florida, I am committed to creating an inclusive environment that celebrates and spreads awareness of Asian culture. Through helping organize events such as the Asian Cultural Festival or the Dragon Boat Festival, I’m committed to facilitating cross-cultural connections in the diverse Orlando community.
38 at the Garden was one of the most moving films I have ever watched. Lin's success extended beyond his athletic abilities; it was his unwavering confidence that truly inspired people, including me. By teaching others about my culture, I hope to promote a deeper understanding and discourage stereotyping. I aspire to channel my own version of “Linsanity”, in which we can all recognize that societal perceptions should not limit us from making our mark on this world.
By Meira Lee
This year’s dragon boat season began in mid-August. Shortly after the Captain election, our team was created with a handful of new paddlers. Throughout August, September, and October, our team trained through online and in-person practices. With the guidance of an experienced paddler, C.K. Lau, our team was quick to adapt to the new environment. As captains, it was our responsibility to make sure our team understood the necessary commands and was comfortable with the rigorous activity. Despite the unexpected delays, we were able to participate in the annual GWN Dragon Boat race. We were grateful to have this opportunity to partake in the competitive atmosphere that the race offers. Many of our paddlers enjoyed their time on the team and we are excited about what next year’s season will bring.
This was my first time as a captain and I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. After being a paddler for the past two years, I’m glad that I was able to teach other paddlers what I’ve learned and also improve my own paddling skills. I definitely think that as captain, I was able to exercise my leadership skills and punctuality. I hope to continue as the team’s captain in the future and strengthen the skills I’ve learned along the way.
Click here for some photos from the season!
By Travis Duong
On October 16th Reach participated in the 11th annual Asian Cultural Expo which featured Dragon Boat racing and performances. The team may not have come in first place but it was an enjoyable experience for all those involved. It was an amazing opportunity to see the other teams race and get a taste of the race environment. From my own experience, the races were extremely fun to participate in and the performances were very fun to watch. John Aeron Ruiz, one of our paddlers, said, “The races were really exhilarating. It took up a lot of my energy and attention to finish the course. The expo was cool and I liked seeing the different attire the performers were wearing as well as the different cultures and traditions they presented. The Henna also turned out really nice after flaking off.” Each performance had been showcasing a different culture. For example, there was traditional Tai Chi and Kungfu which showcased Chinese culture with a Kpop and Jpop performance showcasing today’s modern culture. Another paddler Eileen Ng said, “The dragon boat races took every drop of energy out of me but they were a lot of fun. Our performance showcased our great teamwork and I’m really proud of us for beating our previous times after each race. The cultural performances were great to watch and culturally enriching. What I loved the most was how each team, whether they were performing on stage or rowing, cheered for other teams.” Overall the Asian Cultural Expo was an amazing experience and well worth the effort put in by everyone involved. I hope that REACH will be participating in the Expo for many years to come.
By Rebekah Joe
Back in sixth grade, I attended my first Dragon Boat Festival, volunteering at the Asian Cultural Expo while watching my older sister row with REACH. I remember her coming home with a medal and having a desire to join dragon boat, not only to earn a medal but also because of the sport's uniqueness. Finally, once I was a freshman in high school that had reached the eligibility to row, I eagerly took opportunities to immerse myself into the sport.
My first experience of dragon boating was at the Duanwu Festival, where I proudly came home with a second-place medal. Although my back and arms were extremely sore the next day, I knew that dragon boat was something I loved. As I attended both REACH and CHARGE practices and finally rowed at my first festival, I felt the thrill and adrenaline of the boat gliding through the water with 20 people paddling in sync with each other. Attending more races as a rower helped me gain an appreciation for the sport as well as the culture behind it. In 2020, I was elected as the captain of REACH’s dragon boat team which proved to be a challenge, especially with navigating virtual practices and many restrictions. However, we were still given the opportunity to row in a mini race which reminded me of the exhilaration and teamwork that make the sport enjoyable.
During my senior year as co-captain external and a lead paddler, we finally had the opportunity to race and experience that euphoria and joy of racing one last time. Although we only had four in-person practices and three virtual ones, we got second in the Consolation B Final and improved by 5 seconds in each race. I am extremely proud of the perseverance and growth of our team despite the circumstances thrown our way.
My last race was a bittersweet moment, but I am so grateful for REACH, Mr. CK’s coaching, Mrs. Pauline’s constant support, the fun memories in captain meetings and practices, and most importantly, our team. Though we may not have won an official medal this year, I am thankful for the opportunity to participate in this distinctly Asian sport and for what dragon boating and our team has taught me about the importance of communication and teamwork. Although I'll miss dragon boating with REACH, I look forward to what they will accomplish in the future. And as always, REACH LONG!
By Rebekah Joe
Despite many of REACH’s festivals and volunteering opportunities getting canceled or moved online because of the coronavirus, REACH had the chance to serve at the Sharing Center during December. This non-profit organization works with the impoverished in our local community to prevent hunger and homelessness. They also provide essential resources to relieve the burden of poverty and food insecurity for families in crisis. During our time there, we were split up into different categories: sorting clothes, testing electronics, and other items such as toys and household items. I worked in the clothing department, checking clothes for stains, rips, tears, and imperfections. We sorted the clothes in good condition and put them in bags to be used later for underprivileged families. For the other clothing, we sorted it in other bags to send to third-world countries in need. It was rewarding to work with other REACH members while following the safety protocols and getting to serve our community. It was a joy working with The Sharing Center, and I look forward to working with them more in the future!
By Serina Kaochari
During the month of November, REACH had the opportunity to volunteer at The Sharing Center, which is an organization dedicated to providing resources to those in need. I had volunteered on the 28th, and it was a very stimulating experience. Each group had different tasks assigned, ranging from: packing books in boxes, testing out electronic devices, and sorting pillows and clothes. It was an amazing experience, and all groups were able to efficiently work through our tasks. The environment in the Sharing Center was very friendly and welcoming, as workers were encouraging and helped to motivate all the volunteers by giving orders and clear instructions. I was able to grasp the idea of the community which REACH is built on, and further see the impact REACH has made on others throughout our many projects. This was my first volunteer experience of this year with REACH, and I look forward to more similar events in the future.
By Emme Lee
On November 28th, REACH volunteered at The Sharing Center. I believe that it was one of the most fun volunteer experiences I’ve had with REACH. We had a blast! When the volunteers arrived, they signed in and were split up among the sorting departments. These departments included clothes, toys, and electronics. I was one of the volunteers who sorted clothes. My job was to check garments to see if they were in good condition, and then place them in the corresponding labeled bins. I was excited that I could converse with my fellow volunteers, as we were stationary for most of the time. Then, after we had been sorting for hours, we went to the break room to eat pizza. It was really nice to eat after we had been working for so long! Although I had to leave early, I was glad that I sorted the most clothes that I possibly could. I can’t wait to volunteer at The Sharing Center again!
By Rebekah Joe
Despite the unprecedented year with COVID-19, many students still took part in the the annual Asian American Heritage Council (AAHC) Student Achiever Awards. The ceremony took place through Zoom on November 7, 2020 to celebrate the great accomplishments in academics, community service, and representation in culture of all the students who applied.
In addition, AAHC also hosted their third annual essay contest, this time giving a prompt regarding the coronavirus: The coronavirus disease ( COVID‐19) pandemic has upended family life around the world. School closures, working remotely, physical distancing ‐ it’s a lot to navigate. From your own experience, describe what you learned from virtual school and real life and how you cope with social distancing during the pandemic. Rebekah Joe, a homeschooled junior, won first place with her response. You can watch her read the essay here or read the essay below.
"I thought that 2020 was going to be the crowning year and start of a new decade, filled with great accomplishments, more opportunities, and more bonding with my community than the previous years. Then, COVID-19 came crashing like a storm and wreaked havoc everywhere, upending our typical lives and making those hopes seem impossible. However, the pandemic changed my perspective on life, helping me realize the importance of supporting my community through thick and thin.
At the beginning of the coronavirus, while people overbought toilet paper and students rejoiced over an extended spring break, I unaffectedly sat at home, taking online classes that I was already accustomed to because of our homeschooling choice. However, after the shutdown, I desperately missed the community activities I took for granted: soccer practices, volunteering, board meetings, and even speech and debate tournaments. Other than doing the typical quarantine activities like going outdoors, baking, reading, taking a road trip, and connecting with friends, I learned how to use my time intentionally to benefit those around me. Each experience of online meetings, wearing a mask, and sanitizing hands reminded me that I sacrificed comforts for the sake of those around me. Next, besides staying focused academically, I found opportunities to mentor and connect a group of 5th-grade girls through Zoom. Additionally, through volunteering for 120 hours as a junior camp counselor at the science center, I found the joys in making kids smile, bonding with them, giving them exciting memories from the summer, and helping each child doing their part to keep the community safe. Each experience opened my eyes to the blessings and comfort that comes from being there for others. Although staying at home is by no means easy, I am grateful that COVID-19 demonstrated the value of a resilient community that compromises and works to support others.
Though I thought that all my plans had been shattered because of COVID-19, I now see that they simply happened differently. While the pandemic has drastically impacted my life, in the last seven months I’ve seen the beauty of people mourning, celebrating, fighting for justice, and supporting each other in unity. Through video calls, online socials, and even leading online dragon boat training, I experienced that community will always encourage me, as I did for others. Thanks to the support of those around me, I've learned that accomplishments aren’t just a trophy I take home, but adapting to my new normal by learning, having flexibility, empathy, and resilience instead of wishing for life to return to normal. Even though my soccer season, speech and debate tournaments, specific volunteer opportunities, and retreats have been canceled, community itself isn’t canceled. Instead, coronavirus helped me reflect on community, racial justice, and how I could support others by actively seeking ways to reach out to them. Though the coronavirus has upended life, each situation since then taught me that despite a global pandemic, community is unstoppable and can never be masked."
Overall, REACH congratulates and is extremely proud of all the student applicants, whether or not they received an award, for all of their hard work!