Attendees of the AANHPI Heritage Event got to sample several Asian spices.

In celebration of Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, a captivating event took place at the end of May, offering attendees a multisensory journey through history and personal stories. The gathering, led by speakers DEI Program Administrator-Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Mendrick Banzuela, Future Focus Program Assistant Asia Bridell and English Professor Margaret Wong, explored the rich tapestry of AANHPI cultures and their impact on American society.

Banzuela began by discussing the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that connected China to countries as far as Norway. This network facilitated not only the exchange of goods, but also the spread of languages, cuisines, and cultural practices. He emphasized how unique cultures along this route were often lumped together, oversimplifying their diverse heritage.

Wong delved into Asian American history, highlighting the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Japanese American internment camps during World War II, which influenced the negative attitude that Asian Americans weren't assimilating "properly." She also shared a poignant story from Seadrift, Texas, where community solidarity triumphed over racial tensions in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

The discussion then shifted to the power of food in Asian cultures, which the audience could taste firsthand with cuisine from Mint Kitchen & Bar and Worcester Filipino Cuisine.

They were also able to touch, smell and taste spices like fenugreek, turmeric and cardamom, which are often used in South Asian cooking.

Banzuela addressed harmful stereotypes surrounding Asian cuisine, including the unfounded vilification of MSG and media portrayals of "exotic" foods, but shared recent examples of positive representation in modern culture. Bridell shared her personal experience of traditional Laotian dining practices such as pouring beverages, using hands to eat and community sharing of dishes.

While Bridell shared that many traditions were lost when older generations tried to adapt to American customs, Wong addressed the reclamation of culture by second and third-generation Asian Americans, noting the resurgence of authentic cuisines after years of assimilation. 

This enlightening gathering served as a reminder of the importance of preserving and celebrating the diverse heritage of AANHPI communities, while also acknowledging the challenges they have faced and continue to overcome in shaping the American narrative.

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