Celebrating AAPI Month with Heather Chang

When the average person thinks of the month of May, they think of Mother’s Day, but to me it is more than that.  May is a very important month where I not only celebrate Mother’s Day and my wedding anniversary, but I also celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) month. 

AAPI is significant because it provides a platform to recognize and celebrate the cultural heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. During AAPI month it’s a time for me to reflect on the individuals who have influenced my life and served as role models. It is also a time to remember the obstacles and hardships that many AAPI people faced and continue to face to this day.  

As a 5th generation Chinese American, my family on my dad’s side, has been in America for more than a hundred years. I am reminded that my maternal grandma, whom we called Popo (grandmother in Chinese), immigrated to the United States in 1948.  She came over on a boat from southern China along with other wives of Chinese veterans of World War II.  My Popo brought with her a young boy whom she had adopted as her son. 

The boy’s mom gave her son to my Popo to take to America so he could have a better life.  They were very poor in China.  As a mom myself, I can’t imagine what it was like for my Popo’s friend to give her son up for adoption and taken to a foreign land for her to never see him again.   

I thank my Popo, Shew Ong Ng, and my Gung Gung (Chinese for grandfather) Chew Hee Ng, for all that they have contributed and done for our family and for our country.  My Gung Gung was a WWII veteran and was awarded a purple heart and numerous medals.  

 If my Grandparents had not immigrated here, I would never have met the love of my life, my husband Paul! 

I met Paul in 2011 as we bonded over our love for eating crab at a dinner party.  Paul is the first person of Korean descent to join my family and I am the first person of Chinese descent to join his. In the past 13 years of knowing my husband, it has been fun learning about each other’s culture, visiting each other’s countries and enjoying our culinary adventures trying new foods.  One of my favorite Korean dishes is tteokbokki which is a spicy rice cake and my husband loves Chinese style hot pot.  

Although Paul and I both don’t speak our family’s native languages, we do know a little more than just swear words. We have taught each other simple common words and love hearing our kids repeat them back to us. 

Today, we live in Irvine, CA with our three children – two Pokemon obsessed boys (ages 7 and 4) and a Gabby’s dollhouse loving 2-year-old girl who is definitely the princess of the family! It’s very important for us to celebrate AAPI month with our children so they can learn about their Asian culture and be proud of their heritage and who they are.  

We make it a priority to keep family traditions alive through a few simple traditions: 

– We teach them to bow at appropriate times to show respect 

– We celebrate Lunar New Year with a big family feast where red envelopes filled with money are given out to the children 

– We eat rice cake soup on the first day of the new year and make homemade dumplings. 

Cooking with my children reminds me of making Chinese tamales (joongs) with my mom, which is always something special to me as the art of making this food was passed down to my mom from my Popo. Popo used to take pride in her joongs where she took special care in washing the bamboo leaves thus making her sticky rice whiter in comparison to others who also prepare this dish. Although my Popo is no longer with us her legacy lives on through these traditions that we all carry on with our kids now. 

Growing up in the 90’s, I almost never saw any Asian dolls in the toy stores and there were not many Asians in the media. Why weren’t there more people on TV who looked like me and my family? I’m so proud that today, we see more Asian representation in film, which gives the next generation even more role models to look up to.  

Recognizing AAPI month is just one example of how action was taken with cultural awareness and inclusivity and even though we always have room to grow, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come since I was a kid.  

This month my kids and I will be engaging in various activities to honor our Korean and Chinese heritage by watching films like: 

  • Finding Ohana 
  • Mulan 
  • Turning Red 
  • Shang Chi 

We will also be reading books with Asian characters to emphasize their culture: 

  • No Kimchi For Me! By Aram Kim 
  • Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin 
  • Boba Emotions written by Lacey Benard and Lulu Cheng 

I’m also excited to create a few family tree art projects while we flip through old family albums.  

I am honored to share with you how I celebrate this special time of the year and as I sit here on my laptop sipping on a latte at Morning Lavender Café in Tustin, CA owned by Kim Le, a Vietnamese Mom and entrepreneur, I am devoted to seeking out and supporting AAPI-owned businesses especially during the month of May and encourage you to do the same.  

Happy AAPI month from my family to yours! 

Vittoria Allen

Vittoria is a writer based in San Diego. A lover of good food, slow living, and a good novel, she shares her life with her husband and two daughters trying to squeeze out the beauty in every moment.