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.
By Andrea Sison
Festival Indonesia was a tiring but fulfilling experience. Since I volunteered for the first shift, I saw how the festival came to be. It was very exciting to see how the festival started coming to life. It was also fun to see how the number of people who came to enjoy this event gradually increased. I helped with setting up signs and the umbrella designing contest. The umbrella designing contest was mostly joined by kids. I enjoyed my time helping the participants and conversing with them. The kids were very creative and made fun designs that attracted a lot of people’s attention. The people from VIDA Florida, the organization that organized the festival, were also very nice. They were constantly asking if we were okay and they always tried to make sure we are comfortable when we are doing our tasks. They offered us food and drinks constantly, especially because it was a hot day. While volunteering I also met a few people who I got to be friends with. This was a great opportunity for me to meet other students from different schools. In between tasks, I was allowed to enjoy the festival as well. I was fascinated with the different booths that were there. There were booths that had traditional clothes, art, and food. It was a fun way to learn and experience Indonesian culture.
By Emme Lee
My name is Emme Lee and I am the newly elected Co-Captain External of the REACH Dragon Boat Team.
On Saturday June 15th, REACH participated in the CAACF Duan Wu Festival at Lake Fairview Park.
The Duan Wu Festival, also known as the Dragon Boat Festival, is a Chinese traditional holiday held every year on May 5th. According to legend, the festival started when a beloved poet named Qu Yuan drowned himself in a river. The locals, who admired him very much, rushed out in boats to find his body. Unfortunately, he was never found. In despair, his admirers threw rice balls into the river, in hopes the fish would eat them instead of Qu Yuan’s body. Eating rice balls, also known as zong zi, is now a tradition enjoyed by many at the Duan Wu Festival.
At the festival, REACH members learned the basics of dragon boat paddling and had the wonderful chance to row in a race. I know I speak for all of the paddlers when I say we had an exciting time. I genuinely hope all REACH members can experience how invigorating a dragon boat race can be, especially with a team as amazing as REACH.
For this year’s Dragon Boat season, my aim is to introduce new REACH members to the sport and get them excited about it. I believe that the Dragon Boat Team is a crucial part of REACH because of the time we spend practicing and bonding with each other.
By Jiselle Lee
On Saturday June 1st, the Asian American Heritage Council (AAHC) held the Asian Cultural Festival at Enchanted Nights Banquet Hall.
Each May, AAHC holds this event to celebrate Asian Pacific American Cultural Heritage Month, a time where Asian Americans can come together to celebrate their cultures.
The venue is filled with booths to showcase business vendors, ethnic cuisines and merchandise that are representative of Asia. A cultural show is presented by the various Asian countries, such as China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and more.
In addition, sponsorship of the festival benefits the AAHC Asian Student Achievers’ Scholastic Awards. Held in November, the scholarships awarded at the event will honor and recognize deserving Asian American students for their academic excellence and outstanding community service. REACH members are encouraged to apply for these scholarships, as they are extremely beneficial to high school students planning for college.
For REACH, the Asian Cultural Festival always marks the beginning of the new term for our Executive Board. During the preparation process, we undergo a transition of power from senior officers to new officers. This event is the perfect opportunity for the officers to learn the ropes of volunteering with REACH. Through job shadowing, the high school coordinators can pick up on the tips and tricks that in-charges have acquired from their years of volunteer experiences with REACH.
In conclusion, the Asian Cultural Festival is always a fun event to take part in. Over the next few events, the new officers will be able to teach incoming members everything that they have learned from volunteering with REACH by the time the Asian Cultural Festival comes around next year.
By Chloe Sakr
The Asian Cultural Festival was electric, exciting, and insanely fun. Being apart of REACH and volunteering at events like this is always an opportunity I am eager to take part because it allows me to not only meet students from other high schools and counties, but also be apart of the Asian American community of Central Florida. Being able to do a double shift was a great way to see the whole festival come together, flourish, and then come to a close at the end of the day. I love participating in volunteer groups because it’s fun to see how all of our work behind the scenes helps it come together and orchestrate while we ourselves, are making new friends and bonding with each other. Entertained with live music and dancing, we were able to make sure everything ran smoothly while being able to enjoy the food and performances. As a new member and officer of REACH, I am slowly becoming more assimilated into the Asian American community to expand my involvement and learn about other Asian cultures and other Asian countries.
Written By Alex Tao
This year was the second year that myself and REACH participated in the UAP Christmas Mall event. For those who don't know what the Christmas Mall is, every year, United Against Poverty, an Orlando-based organization that fights poverty, holds a mall where parents can shop for Christmas presents at an affordable price. This event always happens on the second Saturday of December and requires many volunteers and donations. This is where REACH is involved in the process. REACH officers from different schools collect toys from ASA's, honor societies, and other clubs that they are associated with. These brand new toys are then sold in the mall at either $1, $3, or $5. In addition to supplying toys, REACH officers and volunteers also help out on the day of the event. This year, we were able to have around 50+ volunteers show up and help around the center. One of our main focuses this year was in the recruitment of Spanish speaking volunteers, since many of the families shopping at the mall are of Hispanic origin. We were able to get around 8 volunteers from different schools by contacting Spanish Honor Societies and offering hours for their members if they came to the event. This year, I worked in the parking lot and I can definitely say that it was a lot more smoother than last year. UAP was able to assign families specific time slots, so, this year, there wasn't any congestion in the parking lot. My second shift was working in the grocery program, where I stocked and cleaned the shelves with a couple other volunteers. Overall, the event was a success, and we were even able to finish cleaning up ahead of schedule.
Written by Jiselle Lee
REACH volunteered at United Against Poverty (UAP) Christmas Mall for the second time on Saturday, December 8th, 2018. At this event, I was an in-charge of the grocery market volunteers. It was my first experience as an in-charge, so I learned a lot about my leadership abilities. Stepping out of my comfort zone, I directed the large group of REACH volunteers by separating them into smaller groups, and I managed their workload by assigning them specific jobs to do. Together, we were able to finish cleaning and sorting through all of the shelves in the grocery market in under eight hours, as well as help out some of the customers along the way. This was an exciting experience of self-discovery for me; we achieved such great success from our hard work. The UAP Christmas Mall is a great event to practice taking initiative and team building. Future REACH officers and volunteers should keep an eye out for this event because it is a great opportunity to exercise these fundamental life skills.
If you are interested in United Against Poverty and want to learn more about how you can help their cause, visit their website: https://uporlando.org/get-involved/volunteer/
If you want to volunteer for the REACH in the near future, look out for the volunteer registration sheet for our next event, the 2019 Dragon Parade Lunar New Year Festival.
Written by Alex Tao
I started dragon boating around mid July, linking up with C.H.A.R.G.E and practicing with them almost every Saturday morning. Although it was grueling to wake up at 6 in the morning on the weekend, I still decided that I was going to make the commitment and try it out. Since I wasn't able to dragon boat last year due to my age issue, this year was my first year as a paddler at the festival. It was an amazing experience to compete in an actual race with my fellow REACH members. Although we didn't place, we were still able to make it into Division B, seeded at 24. It was impressive to see a team full of high schoolers take on teams that had professional dragon-boaters. At the final race I was approached by Anthony, one of the team captains, he told me that I was going to have to drum in the last race, something that I had never done before. Since a girl had not shown up and we had to keep the gender ratio balanced, the boat seating had to be moved around. I weighed light enough for them to choose me to be the drummer. I was really nervous in the beginning, but came to realize that being the drummer was actually quite fun. Overall, it was a good first time experience for me and I definitely plan on coming back next year!
Written by Takkai Wong
Dragon boat is a great, fun experience that I would recommend to anyone! I paddled in REACH's 2018 Dragon Boat team for the Dragon Boat Festival/Asian Expo. Honestly, I was honored to actually paddle with the team. Dragon boat, to me, is a great way of keeping touch with my Chinese cultural heritage. Even so, everyone participating in Dragon Boat were friendly and helpful. Dragon boat, as a whole, taught me many new values that I would keep to heart. It taught me commitment and perseverance. Honestly, at the beginning of paddling, I was not a very good paddler. I'm still not even that great at it. But the feeling of passing the finish line, the feeling of wanting to accomplish a goal, is something that no one ever wants to forget. What's a better feeling than crossing the finishing line with your team? Rather than stick to the bottom, I loved the feeling of the team sportsmanship I encountered in Dragon boat. The teamwork in Dragon boat intrigued me. There was a variety of different characteristics in the people paddling for Dragon boat, but somehow, a group of teenagers from different schools banding together and synchronizing, utilizing their own strengths were able to create the REACH team. If given the chance to take up the paddle again and again, I would do it as many times as I am able to.
Written by Jerry He
As this was my first time attending the Duanwu Dragon Boat Festival, many of the things we did were new to me. With the help of my fellow REACH and friendly CHARGE members, I was able to learn the basics of rowing. During the races, there was a friendly, competitive atmosphere and that made the races extremely fun and exciting. Additionally, I was able to learn quite a bit about the traditions of the dragon boat festival through the many trivias and games we played. Throughout the event, I met a lot of new faces and connected with many different people. Overall, the Duanwu Dragon Boat Festival was an amazing experience and I look forward to attending it in the years to come.
Written by Tammy LeVan
The Duanwu festival was a interesting and cool experience. It was a great opportunity to learn about parts of Chinese culture like Dragon Boat. At the festival, I learned how to paddle and ended participating in a fun race. I also got to try some delicious sticky rice and play a rock-paper-scissor game with water. Overall, it was a fun experience that allowed me to try new things and meet new people. I would definitely go to this again!
Written by Rebekah Joe
Although I have volunteered at many REACH events over the past few years, I recently attended the Duanwu Festival for the first time. Through the festival, I paddled for the first time, ate zhongzi, played games, met new people, and got to hear about the history and story behind the festival. I enjoyed being able to finally paddle and race after watching REACH paddle numerous times. The festival was a great experience for me as a new paddler to not only see how Dragon boat works, but also to see how I needed to improve to join the REACH Dragonboat team. Overall, the Duanwu Festival was a great experience, and I look forward to attending more!
Written by Jesson Medenilla
Personally I was really excited for this event. Having to participate in the 1st annual REACH out as a high school coordinator for the organization was a blast in my opinion and having to take part of the 2nd REACH Out field day was truly an honor. This event helped me become more open towards other people, shaping me into a better person in a way, realizing that the world we live in isn’t always so gloomy. That we high school students (and even high school graduates) can always have fun and still meet new people that’s outside our respective realm. Personally, this event is a great gateway for new members to understand the “human” side of REACH, having to interact with past and present members in games is always a joy in my opinion.
The event’s main purpose is to have members interact with other members, getting to know each other through playing games and/or simply just interacting with one another. This event is a pretty good gateway for fresh, new members to come into the organization and meet the current officers of REACH. Personally, this is the closest thing you can have as a family reunion with having games, food and fun, and being part of REACH already feels like having a second family, helping one another no matter who you are, it’s literally Reaching out.
Being part of this event and participate in it for 2 years always feels like an honor. I highly suggest new members to participate in it and to show the “human” side of REACH. This is a great way for relationships to build up with one another and a great way to improve one’s social skills and add up in those confidence points. Overall, 10/10 would do this event again, and will be excited for next year’s version of it.