How Grand Rapids is honoring AAPI heritage this month

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After a year in which Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have reported increased discrimination, organizations are celebrating their stories in West Michigan this AAPI Heritage Month.

“I just want everyone to learn that we’re not a monolith and every Asian person has their own story here and every Asian ethnic group has a different story here in America,” Samantha Suarez with Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. said.

Suarez, who is Filipino, said DGRI is celebrating AAPI heritage month by posting on its Facebook page about a different Asian historical figure or place significant to West Michigan each day. Suarez said it has celebrated Black History Month in years past but this is the first time marking AAPI Heritage Month.

In the first few days of posts, the page tells the story of the Asian American artist Maya Lin, who designed The Ecliptic at Rosa Parks Circle — and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C.

It also details the story of one of the first Chinese immigrants to become a U.S. citizen, Wong Chin Foo. DGRI said Wong did not live in Michigan but received his naturalization papers in Grand Rapids in 1874.

The organization says it is especially important to share AAPI stories after a year in which there were more instances of hatred against Asian Americans and a mass shooting in the Atlanta area that killed six Asian women.

“It kind of woke people up and made them realize maybe AAPI folks are kind of forgotten or the invisible minority and they’re working to change that,” Suarez said.

According to Stop AAPI Hate, there were nearly 3,800 attacks against Asian and Pacific Islander Americans reported during the first year of the pandemic. Activists believe coverage of the attacks has inspired more people to take note of AAPI Heritage Month this year.

“We shouldn’t have to mark a date or reserve a month because (AAPI history is) something we should be aware of all the time, but since we have it, we should utilize it and really focus on what makes us unique,” said Zyra Castillo with the West Michigan Asian American Association.

Castillo said now is the time to support local Asian-owned businesses. She said she also recommends allies check in on their AAPI friends who may be struggling

“For the Asian community in particular, a part of that pain is not being recognized as an American. When you have a face like mine, essentially a nonwhite face and you’re from the Asian continent/the Pacific islands, you’re seen as a perpetual outsider,” Castillo said. “This year especially I think it’s important to pay attention and listen.”

The Grand Rapids Public Museum is also putting AAPI stories on display this month. It has an exhibit called Newcomers: The People of This Place that highlights the stories of the immigrants that make up our community.

To follow Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.’s daily history posts, head to its Facebook page.

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