Asian American Alliance of Athens makes its mark in the community | Culture

Athens County has not been immune to the spike in anti-Asian hatred that rocked the country during the pandemic. When the child of Fan Jiang, president of the Asian-American Alliance in Athens, received an email death threat in the spring of 2021, Fan realized that more had to be done.

“As we urged the Athens School District to conduct a thorough investigation,” Fan said, “we realized that people don’t automatically recognize the fear and hurtful feelings that are specific to Asian Americans.”

Instead of giving in to fear, Fan asked for support and saw an opportunity for positive and lasting action. A resident of Athens for 14 years, Fan has also realized that while there seems to be a lot of multicultural experiences within Ohio University, the community outside the university offers none. not that much.

“So Yi-Ting, Noriko and I decided to start a community organization to hopefully bridge this gap,” Fan said. At the end of May, the Asian-American Alliance in Athens was born.

“The reception has been overwhelming,” said AAAA Treasurer Noriko Kantake. “We received so much support. A disability rights advocate and resident of Athens County for 18 years, Noriko is also the founder and president of the Appalachian Family Center for Autism and Disability Resources and Education.

AAAA Vice-President Yi-Ting Wang said the group was responding to a community need. “We hope we can provide an entry point as an organization to fill a need for community connection outside the university,” she said. Yi-Ting works at the Academic Achievement Center at OU.

Some OU students felt the same. Along with the formation of the AAAA, the Asian American Pacific Island Student Union was established. These two groups have supported each other in their efforts to raise the voices and visibility of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans. In September, they attended the Tri-State Conference on Diversity and Inclusion. In October, with AAPI Lead, the OU employee affinity organization, the three organizations co-hosted their inclusion in the reunion parade.

“On the parade, we wanted to show that Athens is racially diverse and change the way we imagine what our community should look like,” Yi-Ting said.

Non-Hispanic Asians make up 6% of the population of the city of Athens and 3% of the county as a whole – the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the United States. As such, the AAAA believes it is important that Asian voices are heard and “join the efforts of other minority groups to promote diversity and inclusion as well as social justice,” Fan added.

Since the founding of the organization, they have gathered 167 members on Facebook. While this number does not represent true members, there is still a good turnout from people attending events and engaging with AAAA.

“Every time we had a social event, we had at least 20,” Yi-Ting said, “although we haven’t done a lot of outreach at this point. Their first social event, a back-to-school picnic in Richland Avenue Park, drew over 50 people.

Additionally, membership is not limited to Asians. “We have a lot of non-Asian people,” Fan said. The crowd is quite diverse at their events, “with all kinds of people,” Yi-Ting noted.

They try to have an event every month. Besides the picnic, the AAAA visited the West Side Community Garden with Rural Action’s Tom Redfern to plan an Asian vegetable workshop in the future and hosted a Thanksgiving hike to The Ridges.

Collaboration, social justice and inclusion are essential to the group’s mission. They actively encourage members of the Asian American community to participate in public surveys and become involved in community service.

They joined forces with Athens Parents for Racial Equity and the Racial Equity Coalition of Athens to oppose Bills 322 and 327, which proposed to ban and restrict how teachers can discuss racism, sexism and other “divisive” concepts in Kindergarten to Grade 12 classrooms. as well as limiting professional development training related to such topics. In fact, Fan and Laura Zhang, a high school student in Athens, testified at Ohio State House in September to oppose the house’s bills.

In partnership with Tom O’Grady of the Southeast Ohio History Center and Angela Hall of Athens Middle School, the AAAA is undertaking a long-term project to recognize the historical contributions of Asian Americans in county and change the notion of Asian Americans as lifelong foreigners. .

“One of the problems for Asian Americans is that we are constantly seen as foreigners,” Fan said, “even though many of us were born here, raised here, speak perfect English.”

Through this oral history project, the community will learn that Asian Americans have been in the country since the 1800s, “that the history of Asian Americans is part of American history, that we are part of American history.” here, ”Fan continued. She said the center will feature some of the audio recordings as well as transcripts on its website.

“We also want to create an archive at the history center for people who want to share their story,” Yi-Ting said. “For example, there are people whose parents lived in the (Japanese) internment camp. We have a long list of people to interview.

Their first interview for these archives was with Dr Sushila Gawande, mother of Dr Atul Gawande. A graduate of Athens high school, Atul Gawande received degrees in medicine and public health from Harvard, where he now teaches. A bestselling author and advocate for health care policy, he was recently confirmed as Deputy Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.

“At first we thought we were trying to preserve Asian American stories, but in reality all the stories are about this city,” Yi-Ting explained. “This is the story of our entire community. It turns out that Dr Sushila Gawande was the city’s first female doctor.

They hope to have a special exhibit on Asian American history with both oral and archival history projects. AAAA Secretary Galia Williams will be involved in part of the transcription and archiving process, as she is also a graduate student in history at OU.

The group hopes that documenting the history of Asian Americans in Athens will help fill this knowledge and perception gap. This project became possible through conversations with Athens City Council Chairman Chris Knisely and Mayor Steve Patterson. The AAAA originally contacted them to put the AAAA in the Visitors Bureau brochure to connect people with their organization.

Going forward in 2022, the AAAA will continue to collaborate with other organizations and organize gatherings to promote awareness, engage in community service, and increase the visibility of Asian Americans in the community of ‘Athens. These include panel discussions, STEM tutoring, civic education for first generation immigrants, and cultural events.

Shei Sanchez is a writer, photographer and teacher who lives on a farm in Stewart.

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