Focus Asia Month, an annual April celebration of Asian culture, will bring Asian tradition and experiences to life for Ithaca College beginning April 1. The Asian American Alliance organizes this annual celebration, and this year will be focusing on issues of Asian representation and portrayal in media, inclusivity across all capacities and challenging Asian stereotypes.
The larger theme of this year’s Focus Asia Month is “Embrace,” as the Asian-American community embraces its cultural heritage and histories. In addition to this theme, the AAA is also exploring the idea of breaking stereotypes with its “Going Against the Grain” campaign, which the group has been discussing all year. The AAA, while working to dispel harmful prejudices based on race, is offering a counter-perspective to typical Asian stereotypes, said sophomore Candice Tan, co-president of the AAA.
Focus Asian Month is also sponsored by the African, Latino, Asian and Native American community and the Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs.
The month of celebration kicks off with AAA’s Identity Panel event April 1, a yearly staple of Focus Asia Month at the college. Tan said this panel is an opportunity for those who identify as Asian-Americans to express their culture openly and have discussions about their individual experiences as Asian-Americans and how they are affected by racial stereotypes. For instance, Freshman Kenny Li, treasurer of the AAA, said he tries to go against the grain of racial stereotypes by engaging in sports, something he said many Asians are discouraged from doing. Countering another racial prejudice, Tan said many categorize doctors and lawyers as stereotypical Asian professions, when in reality, Asian-Americans hold a wide variety of jobs just as white Americans do.
“We’re talking about the path of the unstereotypical Asian because there are a lot of stereotypes that define Asian-Americans within their daily lives,” Tan said.
Furthering this discussion, Tan said the group has been considering the different perceptions of Asian-Americans who fit into Side A, stereotypical Asian paths, and Side B, the unstereotypical path, and incorporating these discussions into Focus Asia Month.
Other events include the Asian Cultural Dance Workshop, which will feature four dance groups from both the college and Cornell University that specialize in break dancing, Filipino line dancing, Bhangra and lion dancing.
Another highlight of Focus Asia Month is the AAA’s second annual Pan Asian American Film Festival, which will take place April 15–17. The festival will feature film screenings, theater workshops and panel discussions that explore Asian-Americans’ stories, which are often not represented in mainstream media. On April 15, Asia Night will feature traditional Asian food and performances to celebrate Asian culture. The month-long celebration concludes with a concert featuring former contestant on “The Voice” J.R. Aquino on April 21.
Senior Lucy Chen, co-president of the AAA, is one of the main organizers of Focus Asia Month’s Anti-Black Racism in Asian American Communities event, a discussion about race relations at the college and beyond. She said she hopes the discussions will help create change in the community.
“The overarching goal is to find a way to combat anti-black racism in the Asian community and find out why that’s happening,” Chen said.
As a whole, themes of this year’s Focus Asia Month also reflect on the racial tension and protests that occurred on campus throughout the last year.
Chen said the AAA tends to be very responsive to current events in relation to the Asian-American community when planning Focus Asia Month events. Following the Black Lives Matter and POC at IC movements, Chen said Focus Asia presents the opportunity for the Asian-American community to reflect and find ways to express solidarity with the movements.
“Usually with Focus Asia Month, we try to react to current issues,” Chen said. “Especially because a lot of time, Asian-Americans aren’t always necessarily always seen as people of color, so that was something that we wanted to bring up.”
Li said he is using Focus Asia Month to lead by example and promote Asian-American culture free of stereotypes through his own experiences.
“What I’m really trying to do is break the mold and not have everyone on campus put Asians in a box,” Li said. “We’re one of the smaller minority groups on campus. I try to do things that Asians aren’t ‘supposed to’ do, and as treasurer, I try to constantly put that in people’s minds. That’s really what I want to do with Focus Asia Month.”