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Celebrating AANHPI Heritage Month and the promise of an inclusive nation

At the UW, we celebrate the incredible diversity that makes us who we are and reflects the promise of the nation we aspire to be. May is recognized as National Asian American, Native Hawai’ian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and it’s our opportunity to recognize the diverse Asian American (AA) and Native Hawai’ian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) people, cultures and communities whose stories and contributions have always been — and continue to be — a vital part of our nation’s life.

Throughout our history, and today, the University of Washington has been home to a wealth of AA and NHPI pathbreakers and change-makers. AA and NHPI communities are also at the heart of our region’s history and heritage, with roots that extend back to the 1860s.

Today, many in those communities are still struggling as we continue to witness rising incidents of anti-Asian hate, including violent attacks. We have a shared responsibility to not only forcefully denounce hateful acts and rhetoric, but to proactively celebrate the impact of AA and NHPI people and communities, raising awareness of the extraordinary accomplishments that have made our world more knowledgeable, innovative, creative and equitable.

Last week, at the annual Office and Minority Affairs & Diversity Celebration, we had the opportunity to celebrate Frank Irigon, ’76, ’79, who has devoted his life to serving the region’s AA and NHPI communities. Honored with the Charles E. Odegaard Award, the UW’s highest achievement in diversity, he was the first Filipino American to serve on the ASUW Board of Control and later as ASUW 2nd VP, co-founder and editor of the first pan Asian periodical in Seattle, and co-founder and executive director of the International District Community Health Center.

Frank Irigon’s leadership and activism in peace and social justice movements and service to community originated at the UW. His story is emblematic of how a culture rooted in diversity and equity contributes to the UW’s public mission to enrich the lives of all people — on and off campus.  Today, from our Board of Deans and Chancellors, to a wide array of student leaders and organizations, to coursework and research, AA and NHPIs continue to strengthen our community and our collective impact on the world. Their many contributions reflect the fundamental principle that diversity, equity and inclusion are requirements for excellence, for our University and for every organization that aspires to be a force for progress.

This month — and every month — let us celebrate the many ways that AA and NHPIs make, and have made, our world a better place, and let’s take this opportunity to reflect on the incredible tapestry of identity, experience, history and culture that makes us a pluralistic and multiethnic democracy. In celebrating AA and NHPI’s lives, stories, voices and impact, together, we can realize our vision of a more equitable, inclusive and vibrant society.