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Honoring Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander heritage — past, present and future

Each May, the nation and our UW community are proud to honor National Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month and to recognize the enormous impact and influence of our AANHPI community members here on campus and across the globe.

Connections to our Asian American (AA) and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) communities run deep at the University of Washington and across the Pacific Northwest. This year’s theme, “Advancing Leaders through Innovation,” offers a terrific lens through which to celebrate the significant role these diverse communities have had in the shaping of America, each through their own language, heritage and culture.

UW Medicine began this month by raising a flag to acknowledge the staff, faculty, patients and AA and NHPI community members across the UW. From the Board of Deans and Chancellors to the Asian and Pacific Islander American Faculty and Staff Association to UW students, student organizations and leaders—we honor the tremendous impact our AA and NHPI communities have made across programs and disciplines.

We honor innovators like Yejin Choi, UW professor of computer science, who was awarded the 2022 MacArthur Genius Grant and named one of Time’s 2023 “100 Most Influential People in AI,” for her groundbreaking research and discoveries in artificial intelligence. Another trailblazing faculty member, Jaki Yi at UW Bothell’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, recently published an article for the Journal of Counseling Psychology titled “Reinforcing or Challenging the Status Quo: A Grounded Theory of How the Model Minority Myth Shapes Asian American Activism,” exploring the contributions of Asian Americans working toward social justice.

We also celebrate artists like UW Bothell artist-in-residence Anida Yoeu Ali, whose current debut solo show “Hybrid Skin, Mythical Presence” marks Seattle Asian Art Museum’s first exhibition by a Cambodian American artist. And the work of Native Hawaiian astrophysicist Brittany Kamai, cofounder of the Society of Indigenous Physicists (SIP), whose UW course, Pacific Indigenous Astrophysics, focuses uniquely on Indigenous navigation and is available to all UW students.

UW alumni include many talented creators from the AANHPI diaspora, as well, including Washington State Book Award winner E.J. Koh (’23) and Rita Banerjee (’06), whose essay “The Female Gaze,” explores the concept of keeping one’s cool as a woman of color.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of  the publication of “Aiieeeee!” by the UW Press. This foundational compilation of nearly forgotten works by 14 Asian American writers was anthologized by Shawn Wong, now a UW professor of English. For over five decades, the UW Press has been at the forefront of Asian American scholarship, from republishing work by Filipino novelist Carlos Bulosan in 1973 to the establishment of the Classics of Asian American Literature series, which recently published Willyce Kim’s groundbreaking queer novel, “Dancer Dawkins and the California Kid.”

This month of awareness is also a time to re-affirm our commitment to fighting anti-Asian racism and take collective responsibility in battling all forms of hatred, bigotry and discrimination here on campus and beyond. Let’s celebrate AA and NHPI communities and contributions — in May and throughout the year — for how they contribute to the University’s uniquely diverse and beautifully rich tapestry of cultures and identities.