Asian American Pacific Islander heritage month sparks dialogues about mental health

source: The Stamp

The celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month on campus kicked off April 1 with FUEL the Unity Leadership Conference and Taiwanese American Student Association’s Night Market 2017. This year the theme is “Mental Health: From Silence to Strength.”

For the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, there is “an urgency” for discussion about mental health, self-care and healing, said Danielle Ocampo, internal vice president of the Asian American Student Union at University of Maryland.

“The Asian American Student Union brainstormed themes with different organization members in the Asian American Pacific Islander community,” she said. “We ultimately saw a need to create dialogues about mental health.”

“This year’s theme is different from past years because it’s concrete. It’s tangible in everyone’s lives,” added Ocampo, who is majoring in psychology and minoring in Asian American studies.

Last year’s theme was Reimagine Everything, which was “more of an idea or a standard that the community strives for,” Ocampo said. This year the Asian American/Pacific Islander community wants “to bring awareness about what it really means to live life as AAPI,” she said.

“Without being mentally healthy, we are unlikely to get anywhere successfully,” she added.

According to 2014 data from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 13 percent of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders had a diagnosable mental illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Asian Americans generally report fewer mental health concerns than white people.

“We know that some of our members have directly experienced the effects of mental health and want to eliminate the stigma that surrounds it,” a representative from Taiwanese American Student Association said. “Many times it is difficult for those suffering with mental illnesses to voice their needs, but we hope that we … are able to stand as a beacon of light for them.”

The Asian American Student Union, along with the Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy office and various AAPI, Greek, professional, and cultural organizations are hosting events for almost every day of the month.

There are cultural events like Philippine Culture Night, Taste of Japan and Heritage Gala, workshops like Queer + Asian American Monologues and Community Building Across Communities of Color, and practical sessions like Mental Health First Aid Training.

While some student organizations are sticking to events they have done in the past, others are creating new events for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month.

“Normally, we don’t have a big event during AAPIHM because there are already so many events hosted by other organizations such as TASA’s Night Market, FCA’s Philippine Culture Night, Tianyi’s Showcase, JASA’s Taste of Japan,” Public Relations for the Vietnamese Student Association, Anh Le said.

This year, however, VSA is hosting VietVenture, which will focus on bringing awareness to all aspects of Vietnamese culture. Le said VSA wanted to challenge themselves to host a big event and to share Vietnamese culture to the university.

“Mental health is really important and we are glad that this year’s theme is about mental health,” said Le, sophomore chemistry major. “There is usually a stigma regarding mental health within the AAPI community and I am excited that there are opportunities for the community to openly discuss about mental health.”

Something new that the Filipino Cultural Association did to celebrate this month was a joint general body meeting with another student organization. FCA collaborated with Coalition of Latinx Student Organizations.

“The reason why we chose an organization that wasn’t in the AAPI community was so that we can spread awareness of AAPIHM to students outside our community,” said Gabby Enguillado, director of public relations at FCA.

The joint general body meeting consisted of teaching both organizations about different Filipino and Latin American traditions, Enguillado, junior architecture major, said.

FCA’s biggest event, Philippine Culture Night, will feature a play written and performed by their members, cultural dances and their a capella group, MezzoPinoys. Enguillado said this year’s play will focus on how Filipino Americans “keep true to our cultural roots” but also balance and adapt to new traditions.

Celebrating AAPIHM is important, Enguillado said, because it unites all the different organizations in our community.

“We often forget that there are other cultures and different organizations in our community as well,” she said. “This month gives us a chance to take a look into other cultural organizations and learn about their traditions, too.”

What should everyone take away from this year’s theme?

“We were not made to live under the weight of mental illness, but we were made to rise above the stereotypes and misconceptions,” Ocampo said.