Over the past few weeks, local and national news programs have shown graphic videos of hate crimes against Asian-Americans in U.S. cities. It seems as if there is a new vicious attack every night. One study found that hate crimes have increased by 164% in 16 jurisdictions across the country compared with the same period last year. The largest increase was in New York, which increased by 223%. In Orange County, California, a woman was pelted with rocks. Six of the eight women murdered in the Atlanta spa shooting were Asian, leaving many to believe it was also a hate crime. Just this week, two women were attacked by a man with a hammer on a New York City street.
How does one combat this spike in anti-Asian sentiments? One way these teens are doing it is by educating the American public on Asian culture. High school seniors Alex Makoid and Nicole Cheng are doing their part in their school and community. Last November, they started an Asian Culture Club at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor. The mission of the club is to create a forum where students can share aspects of their ethnicity and culture with others. The club sends newsletters to its members on a weekly basis, as well as hosts Google Meet get-togethers. In the January newsletter, articles were written by students on hot pot, Feng Shu and the ancient Chinese game of Mahjong. The February issue highlighted the Lunar New Year celebrations.
How did you become involved in Pierson’s Asian Culture Club?
MAKOID: The club started in the fall of this year and our first monthly newsletter was in December, which was centered around Asian food. I was contacted through our advisor and I helped recruit our current club members, including Nicole. We have weekly meetings to discuss themes for our newsletters and try to brainstorm for future events. COVID-19 limits our abilityto meet in person and host events, so we are restricted this year. In the future, we hope to provide chopsticks to kids in the cafeteria and host events when it is safe to do so.
CHENG: The club was made this year by our advisor Zoey Zhu [teacher at Pierson]. I actually found out about it through Alex and decided to join because I resonated with the club’s values and liked its sense of community.
What aspects of Asian culture have you highlighted in your newsletters and Google Meet meetings? Why have you chosen these cultural topics? Are there any common questions/comments about Asian culture that participating students have expressed interest in learning more about?
MAKOID: People are interested in learning about mainly Eastern Asia [Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand] and about customs and traditions. I think most people enjoy the current events newsletter we wrote for last month, as students could share their experiences and favorite television shows, music and books. This month, April, will focus on various places we have travelled or want to travel and a teacher wrote an article as well. We have also covered family life, food and dessert.
CHENG: Our newsletter’s themes range from pop culture to more traditional ones like Lunar New Year. We try to be as well-rounded as possible so we are able to fully express every aspect of Asian culture.
Have you discussed the recent spike in Anti-Asian American hate crimes in the U.S. in the club? What reasons would you attribute for why people are committing these attacks on Asian-Americans?
MAKOID: I was initially outraged and I felt horrified. It is not a surprise because Asians have experienced discrimination in the past. However, seeing the current statistics was a wake-up call for how bad the violence and hate crimes against Asian and Asian-Americans is right now. It honestly didn’t hit me at first. Growing up in a mostly white community and having non-Asian parents sometimes leads me to forget that I am Asian. When it finally dawned on me that not only was another minority group being targeted, but a group I belonged to was being targeted, I was devastated.
CHENG: We briefly touched on it. Anti-Asian hate has been going on for centuries, but due to the pandemic it has unfortunately spiked. It is disheartening to see that members of our community are being blamed for COVID-19, and the indirect encouragement of it from government officials does not help either. The attacking of innocent people is not only absurd, but does not make a single difference to the decline of COVID-19.
What is one of the most interesting things that you have learned about Asian culture through the club?
MAKOID: I enjoyed the section about pop culture. I felt that many members felt included and were able to write about something that they were passionate about. Sometimes, our members struggle with getting started or brainstorming a topic, but this month seemed easy right from the start. Everyone volunteered their ideas and the articles reflected their enthusiasm. I enjoyed learning about other pastimes from other countries and found the TV section intriguing.
CHENG: I really liked our special Lunar New Year newsletter as it is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, holidays celebrated throughout eastern and southeastern Asia. It was intriguing reading about how different countries celebrate the holiday, as I have only been able to experience it the Chinese way.
How many students receive the newsletter or participate in the Zoom meetings? What has the feedback to the club been like in the Pierson community?
MAKOID: Our club has sixteen members in our club announcements, however about four to six people come every week. The newsletter is posted on our website which anyone can view. As far as I know, the club has received positive feedback in our school district and multiple teachers complement us on our work this year.
CHENG: Newsletters are sent to the community through an email blast and they are also on our website if you miss one. We’ve actually had pretty positive feedback and some staff members have even reached out to write articles.
What do you envision for the future of the club?
MAKOID: Although Nicole and I are going away to college, we hope the club manifests into something larger than a few members. In terms of general goals, I hope the club continues to spread awareness and accurate information through social media and the Pierson school district.
CHENG: I hope the club expands past newsletters, such as hosting club events and fundraisers, and continues to represent Pierson’s Asian community.