Mrs. World, politicians, and community members celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage @THHS

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Politicians, activists, a surgeon, and Mrs. World 2018 all convened at Townsend Harris High School today for the Sixth Annual Asian American Heritage Month Celebration.  Assemblywoman Nily Rozic hosted the event, which included many political speakers, a FON performance by Harrisites, and an awards ceremony honoring accomplished Asian Americans in our community.

Rozic stated, “We tried to pick honorees who are unsung heroes, people you don’t necessarily hear about or read about. This year, we had the theme of youth empowerment and civic engagement and we were trying to focus on honorees who could really speak to them.”

Among these honorees was Gabriel Hisugan, a Youth Organizer for Asian Americans for Equality’s (AAFE) Youth and Family Development Program. Mr. Hisugan appreciated that he was awarded for the “work I am lucky to do every day.” He encourages students to follow their dreams, gives college advice, and plays games with them.

The other awardees include Bright Limm, the president of Korean Americans for Political Advancement; Julie Ae Kim, the ActionNYC Program Manager at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; and Dr. Raj Bhayani, a surgeon and businessman. Mr. Limm works to increase Korean American support for progressive candidates and Ms. Kim is an activist for immigrant inclusion and Asian American feminism. Dr. Bhayani is on the Hindu Center Temple’s Board of Trustees. All four recipients of the Community award have been active members of their communities and striving to improve them.  

Similarly, Mrs. World 2018 and former Townsend Harris alumna Alice Lee Giannetta has been working on a global scale. Having immigrated from Taiwan to America when she was eight, Mrs. Giannetta learned that education granted her several opportunities. Since then she has traveled to many countries to speak about the value of education for girls. Additionally, she believes that Asian Americans are underrepresented in media and that stereotypes, such as the perception that all Asians are “doctors, lawyers, or nerds” must be dispelled. Mrs. Gianetta worked as the managing editor of The Classic and was accepted to Syracuse University for journalism, but rejected that career because her parents preferred her becoming an attorney for its greater salary. Today, Mrs. Gianetta said that she would tell her seventeen-year-old self to choose journalism and urged Harrisites to “Pick a major or a college or a career that you really really love. Don’t think about money. Obviously, take your parents’ advice. But think about what makes your heart happy, what you enjoy. If you love what you do, you’ll do it and excel at it.” She believes that if more Asian Americans pursued their passions, they could break stereotypes by being involved in more fields than the ones they are associated with. Council Member Peter Koo supported this idea, stating the lack of prominent Asian Americans in sports and entertainment.

Mrs. Gianetta urges Asian Americans to “always be advocates of the fact that we are Americans. I think that there is a perpetual foreigner stereotype to people who look Asian. I have been told even now… ‘Go back to your country,’ ‘Go back to China,’ or ‘Why is your English good?’ They assume that I just arrived and I think that we need to change that perception. We need to show that we contributed to this country and that the American history is our history too.”

Mrs. Gianetta also emphasized that Asian Americans can learn about their culture by “going to a [language] school if you have time and participating in all these events like the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month to get in touch with your roots and see the people that came before you. I learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act— being well-versed in our history will help you connect with your heritage.” She also believes that simply being yourself and “doing unexpected things, the things you want to do” will help one break stereotypes about Asian Americans.