U.S. Department of State's Kennedy-Lugar YES Abroad Program (year in Dakar, Senegal)
This piece discusses the efforts of Asian American Civic Scholars in Saint Louis, Missouri to educate the community about the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Emily Chien knows how racist teens can be. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was bullied for being Chinese American. Her peers told her to kill herself so her “chink virus” would die off. “I was told I was a disgusting ching-chong creature. I was told to stay 6 feet away while they would pull back their eyes to make fun of me,” she said.
Chien is one of many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who faced hate incidents related to the pandemic. According to Stop AAPI Hate, over 10,000 hate crimes ranging from verbal harassment to physical assault were reported in the United States by December 2021. Nearly half took place in public spaces and almost two-thirds were against women.
In response to bullying, Chien created a petition in her school district and raised hundreds of dollars in support of causes related to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. She has grown increasingly convinced that education can help reduce racism and increase the understanding of the contributions AAPI persons make to the community.
The sophomore at Marquette High School in Saint Louis, Missouri has continued her AAPI related efforts by joining the executive team of Asian American Civic Scholars. The local group, she says, is “powerful and alleviating,” allowing local AAPI youth like her to work together to create positive change.
Launched prior to the pandemic in 2017, Asian American Civic Scholars started as a way for AAPI youth regionally to engage in civic action while informing the community about AAPI contributions regionally.
“I am proud of this being a truly youth-led initiative, providing a platform for AAPI youth of different cultural, linguistic, religious, and educational backgrounds throughout the region to get involved,” said Dr. Min Liu, a professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who has been an advisor to the group since its inception.
Several members of the current executive team joined Asian American Civic Scholars to help address issues of AAPI discrimination during the pandemic.
“Seeing people who looked like my grandma being beat down in the street for no reason was the breaking point for me,” said Kathy Bian, a senior at Ladue Horton Watkins High School in Saint Louis, Missouri. Through Asian American Civic Scholars, Bian seeks to inspire additional Asian American girls to follow their drive to create change.
Based on research at the Missouri Historical Society, members of Asian American Civic Scholars created profiles of AAPI people who lived in the area in previous decades, offering insights into how the activities of those people benefitted the region. While presenting profiles at a gathering of the Missouri Council for History Education, these AAPI teens asked: “if we aren’t learning the history of everyone, are we learning history at all?”
One more achievement of the group is a podcast launched by Cassie Sun, another executive team member and a schoolmate of Chien’s. Through “The Asian American Story,” she aims to educate about the need for inclusivity in storytelling and expand diversity across creative industries.