Embracing Unity: Reflections on AAPI Heritage Month and the Immigrant Experience

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As I reflect on Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, I am reminded of my journey from the vibrant streets of India to the embrace of America, recognizing that my story is built upon the incredible contributions and struggles endured by countless immigrants who have paved the way before me.

Growing up in India as the youngest of five siblings, I faced the harsh reality of gender bias, where sons were often favored over daughters, perpetuating archaic norms that valued male lineage over female potential. Despite these barriers, I was determined to defy societal norms and pursue my dreams. Blessed with access to education and surrounded by supportive mentors and friends, my aspirations grew with each small victory, propelling me forward to become a computer science engineer, the first in the family. Moreover, I was also fortunate to receive subtle yet profound spiritual teachings in my upbringing that instilled important lessons on righteousness, resilience and karma in me.

In 2007, my husband and I made the courageous decision to seek better opportunities in America, the land of promise and opportunity. With the support of a few acquaintances, we started adjusting to the new landscape. The initial years were arduous — navigating parenthood for the first time, with minimal familial support in a foreign land, facing the uncertainty of job loss during the 2008 recession, and striving to cultivate a sense of belonging. Despite the obstacles, our journey has been incredibly rewarding. Both of our children were born here and are now 15 and 10 years old. My husband and I have built fulfilling careers, and we’ve had the privilege of forming deep friendships with remarkable people from diverse backgrounds.

Through my own experiences, I come to appreciate and humbly recognize the complexities of navigating life in a new country and the countless sacrifices and injustice faced by the broader AAPI community. My heart goes out to people of South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, and South West Asian descent who became targets of Islamophobia following the events of 9/11. During this time, places of worship experienced increased vandalism and attacks, tragically exemplified by the shooting at the Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin. Furthermore, in 2020, we witnessed a disturbing spike in anti-Asian American hate crimes during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s crucial to note that discrimination is not always explicit or interpersonal, it can be coded and ingrained within the fabric of society, requiring a broader approach to prevention and healing. Although it can be harder to detect, non-explicit discrimination is potentially more pervasive and just as harmful.

I also think it’s essential for the immigrant community to actively and authentically cultivate friendships across ethnic and economic divides, as we often discover there is more that unites us than separates us. For most South Asians and Asian Americans, cultural discomfort is hard. In the words of Mother Teresa, “The true and sure path to friendship is through humility — being open to one another, accepting each other just as we are, and truly getting to know each other.” Therefore, it’s crucial that we engage with others by asking about their stories. Each person has a unique narrative, and by fostering curiosity and openness, we can bridge divides and foster genuine connections.

In conclusion, as we commemorate AAPI Heritage Month, let us not only celebrate the rich cultural contributions of the AAPI community but also acknowledge the challenges and injustices that many have faced and continue to face. By embracing empathy, humility, and a genuine desire to understand each other’s stories, we can bridge divides, foster solidarity, and create a more inclusive society for all. Let us stand together, united in our diversity, and continue to strive for a future where every individual is valued, respected, and empowered to thrive. AAPI Heritage Month serves as a poignant reminder of the resilience, strength, and beauty of our community, and it is through collective action and unwavering solidarity that we will shape a brighter tomorrow for generations to come.

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