Diversity Matters: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May 3, 2018  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources

While many Michigan Medicine community members look forward to May for warmer weather and Memorial Day weekend, others excitedly welcome the month as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM). APAHM can be described as a celebration of both members of the Asian population and Pacific Islanders in the U.S., as well as their contributions to society.

Many individuals are unsure of what the terms, “Asian” and “Pacific Islander,” truly entail. Per the U.S. Census Bureau, both “Asian” and “Pacific” encompass the Asian continent (in its entirety), as well as the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

Similar to other heritage-based commemorative months, APAHM originated in U.S. Congress several years ago. While APAHM first began as “Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Week” in 1979, it was later expanded to an entire month in 1990.

In order to better understand the importance of community within the Asian American and Pacific Islander population, Headlines caught up with Rohan K. Achar, first-year medical student and treasurer of the United Asian American Medical Student Association (UAAMSA) at the U-M Medical School.

Q: Why do you feel it’s important to build bridges within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community at Michigan Medicine?

RA: Our work at UAAMSA has many focus points, including a social focus, a mentorship focus and a service focus. So many people here at Michigan Medicine have shared backgrounds and experiences, and bringing those individuals together helps build stronger and more beneficial relationships. For instance, UAAMSA hosts dumpling night and dim sum night, activities that help members bond over something they have in common.

But you don’t need to share a cultural background for events like these to be worthwhile. I’d encourage anyone to host such an activity in their unit or department, as it may help others engage in deeper conversations, learn important things about cultural traditions and/or become more supportive colleagues and caregivers to patients and families.

Those same benefits can be found through mentorship. That’s why we host a program entitled, “MedSibs,” where M1s are partnered with upperclassmen “siblings” who offer advice on how best to navigate medical school. We also host a yearly “Into the Wards” event, allowing upperclassmen to share their wisdom regarding best practices for succeeding in clerkships. Getting advice from others who have come before you makes it easier to find success at Michigan Medicine.

Q: Tell us more about your service focus; how does UAAMSA effectively reach the Asian American and Pacific Islander community outside of Michigan Medicine?

RA: For our service focus, we utilize funding from departments throughout Michigan Medicine, such as the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion, to host our annual health fair, which provides free health screenings and medical resources for the local Asian American population. This allows us to leverage our skills in medicine to both uplift and assist our community in a positive way.

We focus most of our advertising toward the Asian American community around southeast Michigan, posting information in temples, Asian grocery stores, churches and Asian American newspapers. We have had great success with this event, as physicians, medical students, dental students and undergraduate volunteers truly rally together to serve the community every year.

 Q: Why is APAHM important to you and other members of your organization?

RA: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is a wonderful opportunity for members of our community to celebrate our roots, histories and traditions. My Asian heritage is an important part of who I am, and I am grateful APAHM provides us the platform to reflect upon and share the cultures we are so proud of.

In an effort to fully showcase what this month means, I also surveyed other members of the leadership of UAAMSA about the importance of APAHM. Here’s what they had to say:

  • “May is always an opportunity for me to reflect on my heritage and connect to others who identify as Asian American. As proud as I am about my ethnicity and cultural background, I rarely get the chance to hear others’ stories of being bicultural. The experiences that are shared during this month emphasize the importance of celebrating our heritage and the power of providing a platform to our community,” Juno Cho, co-president.
  • “This is a vitally important time of year to recognize the vital role that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders play both inside and outside of health care,” Vivian Ling, co-president.
  • “As a first generation Vietnamese-American, APAHM is a yearly reminder to be grateful that I have the means and resources to pursue my dreams, whereas my parents and extended family had to pursue their careers out of survival and necessity. While it is easy to forget in the midst of the daily chaos, I like to remember that I come from humble beginnings,” Duyhoang Dinh, social chair.

To learn more about the initiatives UAAMSA does to support the Asian American and Pacific Islander community at Michigan Medicine and beyond, visit their website by clicking here!