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Part 3: “We Can All Be Lifted Up” - The Power of Belonging for the APIA Community in Schools

“This is an opportunity for us to look at this map of beautiful people that Asian and Pacific Islander-Americans are and to be able to recognize the power in us coming together in the spirit of moving this work forward.”

Arun Antonyraj , Teacher Leader

Earlier this month, we shared parts one and two in our ongoing Mukbang series in which Asian and Pacific-Islander American educators from across the EL Education network gathered to:

  • Build solidarity as Crew
  • Share perspectives on what it means to be an APIA educator, and
  • Discuss ways in which schools can help to nourish the souls of APIA students and educators during challenging times and times of joy.

We invite you to join us one more time at the table for the final session of the Mukbang and engage in deeper learning around the themes that members of the APIA community continue to face daily that led to the significance and urgency of this Mukbang. It was hosted by EL Education senior coach Genie Kang and participants included:

  • Arun Antonyraj: Teacher Leader, MS 839, Brooklyn, New York
  • Scill Chan: Principal, Brooklyn Collaborative Studies, Brooklyn, New York
  • Elaine Hou: Director of Literacy Grades 3-8
  • Lauren Kosasa: 7th Grade Social Studies Teacher, MELS, Queens, New York
  • Priya Natarajan: Teacher Leader, Casco Bay High School, Portland, Maine
  • Ingrid Wong: School Designer, NYC Outward Bound Schools, New York City, New York

Genie: We talk about this idea of “the head” as being shorthand for intellectual approaches and “the heart” as being emotional. People are sometimes more comfortable intellectualizing and entering into conversations about race and identity from a detached place. When we take it to the personal level, that's where it can get hard for people. What kind of work is happening in your particular context where you're finding a balance between doing both “head” and “heart” work as adults?

Priya: We have a student-led Crew called “Courageous Conversations” that meets five or six times a year. Last April, we held a conversation about APIA month. Typically when we have these conversations about what a community is struggling with and how to support them, we look to those students to guide us in supporting them and what language to use to discuss the issues. However, we realized that those APIA students themselves were not ready to support the adults because this was the first time they had discussed this topic. So much of what they were saying was raw and needed to be said, but it also made us realize that there’s so much that hasn’t been done to support our students–expecting them to rise and help others, to be leaders on this and to know what to say when they have so much to process themselves. I myself had so much to process as I was trying to provide leadership, and it just was not enough.

Lauren: Affinity groups have been a powerful place for me to connect the head and the heart because it is safe to talk about where I am failing and need to do better. They are a place to talk to other Asian teachers about what solidarity actually looks like.

Affinity groups allow me to connect with other people who understand where I am coming from and know what it is like not to be part of the Black/White binary, but still be a part of issues.

Genie: What are your hopes for how we go forward as educators?

Lauren: One of the barriers to having an anti-racist school is who gets counted as a disruptor. When people are pushing for anti-racism, they’re seen as the disruptor. People who want to opt out and say, “I’m not ready,” are okay and seen as reasonable people. I would love to see that shift, saying, “Actually, you’re the one stopping us from doing this important work; you’re the disruptor.”

Priya: For me, these students are my kids, and one of them is literally my kid. It’s not theoretical; it’s not impersonal; it’s very personal. I know the parents; I am a parent. We need more than just one discussion and we need spaces separate from White colleagues to allow ourselves to heal from the heart, and then maybe we can feel comfortable engaging with others.

Elaine: I would like more spaces like this. I have really been enjoying reading the EL blog features created by APIA educators in our network. I have personally been very nurtured by them because I get to know the diverse stories of other APIA educators.

We have to continue to share resources and share the diverse stories of APIA educators doing this work, but also to be honest with each other. We need to ask hard questions like, how do you engage with white silence or unpack tensions between the Black community and the APIA community? How do we create safe and brave spaces where we can lean into discomfort together and all be transformed?

Scill: For every joy that you have, you have all these setbacks that you have to keep processing and you have to keep getting up. Almost every day, I’m like, “Okay, what’s on the news? Is there another anti-Asian violent crime?” Because it has been nonstop. I feel like sustainability for me is a keyword in this work.

Arun: I think so many of these things that are happening right now remind me so much of how I experienced life as a South Asian American after 9/11 happened. Part of it is really nerve-wracking because it feels very familiar, but I also remember that it was a time in which there was such an amazing radical movement of South Asian folks coming together to think about these same conversations, to think about intersectionality and about what we need to do as a community to protect ourselves, but also to be in solidarity with other folks who are experiencing vastly different forms of violence under the same system. That’s where the hope is for me, that this is an opportunity for us to look at this map of beautiful people that we are and to be able to recognize the power in us coming together in the spirit of moving this work forward.

*EL Education is proud to host diverse voices and offer a platform for dialogue on topics impacting educators and students. Views of guest bloggers are their own and may differ from the views of EL Education.

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