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Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month focuses on unity, resilience

Jesse Vad

The Jakarta Post

California, United States  /  Fri, May 29, 2020  /  04:43 pm
Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month focuses on unity, resilience

Raisa and Dipha Barus will be featured in the ‘Identity: Project Blue Marble’ performance on Saturday. ( Courtesy of Mathias Manderos/-)

Agnez Mo, Andrew Yang and Jeremy Lin are just a few of the big names headlining Identity: Project Blue Marble this month. But the event isn’t taking place on a stage. It’s happening on screen as a collection of performances by Asian artists that will be live-streamed around the world.

May is Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month, but celebrations are looking a bit different this year. Some initiatives have gone digital because of the COVID-19 crisis, and organizers are addressing increased racism against Asians as a result of the pandemic. Whether it’s through music, education or policy, their message is the same: the way forward is through unity. 

James Roh, also known as Prohgress, and Kev Nish are two of the three musicians that make up Far East Movement, a popular electronic hip hop group. Over the past few months, they watched as COVID-19 crippled health care systems and provoked xenophobia against Asian communities. In response, Nish and Roh spearheaded a project to provide aid and represent Asians in a positive way during the month of May.

Identity: Project Blue Marble is their creation along with companies Gold House, Transparent Arts, Pacific Bridge Arts and Amazon Music. The event will be streamed on Twitch and YouTube on May 31. All proceeds will be donated to nonprofit United Way’s COVID-19 relief efforts. 

“It’s a celebration of how much our people have accomplished over the last couple years,” said Roh. “Although there’s a lot of struggle and a lot of issues that we’re going through, there’s also a lot to be very, very proud of.”

The lineup features more than 50 Asian artists and public figures, including Indonesian musicians Agnez Mo, Raisa and Dipha Barus.

Raisa and Dipha Barus are both excited to be part of the collaborative project and to represent Indonesia. Raisa said she immediately jumped on board when Nish approached her because it was for a good cause and it would be the first time she’d be able to represent Indonesia on a global scale.

“Although we are from different parts of the world, expressing different kinds of music, we still stand strong, together as one through adversity,” said Dipha Barus.

Nish and Roh have both faced discrimination throughout their careers. Despite that, they believe that fighting racism with more hate is the worst response. Instead, they hope to inspire understanding and unity.

“We really hope people are able to gather hope and positivity,” said Nish. “We have a passion to help, we have a passion to be heard, we have a passion to represent. And that’s what we hope people get from tuning in.”

Other initiatives have also come together to stand up to racism this month. PEN America, a nonprofit that works to protect human rights and freedom of expression, partnered with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop to develop a day of education about racism.

United Against Hate: A Day of Solidarity consisted of a teach-in, poetry readings and panels, all aimed at providing a space for learning and conversation about racism against Asians.

Pawan Dhingra, a professor of American studies at Amherst College, was one of the academics who took part in the teach-in.

Read also: Agnez Mo, Raisa to perform in international charity concert

Dhingra discussed the history of racism against Asians, which he believed would help people understand the bigotry happening today. He also emphasized the importance of Asians working together to resist hate.

“I don’t want to see Asian Americans fracture among themselves in an effort to avoid being targeted,” said Dhingra. “Instead we should be united against this hate.”

United Against Hate streamed on May 27 and a video of the event is available online.

In addition to internet initiatives, people are developing new ways to defend Asian communities.

The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans is a coalition of 36 Asian American organizations. The NCAPA has responded to racism by advocating for Asian communities before Congress and policy makers to ensure Asian Americans are not overlooked. 

The NCAPA also helped beget the Asian American Pacific Islander Emergency Response Network, a compilation of resources that help people report hate incidents and find COVID-19 support.

“We will overcome these circumstances,” said Gregg Orton, national director of NCAPA. “It really can be done when we come together and band together to meet the challenge head on as opposed to allowing ourselves to be pulled apart by fear, uncertainty or anger.” 

Cheryl Chow, a musician who goes by the stage name Cehryl, isn’t involved in coalitions or politics and doesn’t want to make music about issues like racism. Still, she has an idea for how to solve the current crisis.

“I think I have to invent a vaccine,” said Chow, laughing.

Chow is one of the up-and-coming artists performing in Identity: Project Blue Marble on Saturday. She feels that because music is universal, it can help to break down barriers.

And even though Chow’s music isn’t political, she thinks the initiative is important. 

“I hope that the music reminds us that we’re all the same,” said Chow. “That should be something that goes without saying.” (wng)

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The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post.

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