Celebrating Cultural Identity

by: Angelina Kam

Life moves at such a rapid pace, but we all need to take the time to look back, reflect, embrace and highlight cultural identity celebrations that we will continue to celebrate for generations to come. We all come from different backgrounds and walks of life and makes us all unique. For those of you who don’t know, AAPI Month (Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month), as well as Jewish American Heritage Month are celebrated in May and in the UML community, it’s celebrated in April with the spring semester coming to an end just before the beginning of May. As someone who is part of the AAPI community, AAPI Month is extremely important and has a very personal meaning to me and is the reason why I’m the person I am today. I also have so much love and respect for both Jewish Americans and the entire Jewish community as a whole and I stand with them.

Both groups have experienced so much hate and racism throughout history just because they’re different, they embrace who they truly are, and see things from a different light. According to the US Census from 2020, approximately 5.9% of people living in the United States are Asian, and 0.2% are Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. In addition, Jewish Americans are part of the 57.8% Non-Hispanic White on this particular census, though they are traditionally part of the MENA category, which represents those from the Middle East and North Africa. Unfortunately, the MENA category wasn’t included so in a sense they weren’t represented properly in the 2020 census. It’s our responsibility to be inclusive, as well as support not only these minoritized identities but all groups equitably and ethically regardless of what group or groups we may be a part of. We cannot be by-standers anymore. If we see something, we have to say something.

We need to be mindful that any negative action toward minoritized groups can have detrimental consequences and worsen the problem.  Even if you aren’t contributing to the racism and hate of these groups, this topic is still relevant to you. Why? It’s because there’s so much that stems from racism and hate and we don’t always know or have the answer, and we can always learn something new.

For example, Cultural Wellness is an extremely important concept that isn’t considered before an action or decision surrounding racism or hate is made. It is applicable in all kinds of different settings and situations and you probably didn’t even know it or consider it. So, what is cultural wellness, you may ask? Cultural Wellness is the way you interact with others who are different from you whether it’s ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, customs. It’s accepting, valuing, and celebrating different cultural ways and how people interact in the world. It’s like “wellness” in general, incorporating your physical, social, and mental health together to ensure that you’re happy, healthy and balanced and it’s always made a priority. But if one aspect of your health is off-balance or out of sync, you’re not going to feel happy or healthy, though weirdly enough, Cultural Wellness is equally as important, but isn’t made a priority, and recommend it to be. If you’re stuck or don’t know how to start or have these types of conversations, the Office of Multicultural Affairs(OMA) at UMass Lowell is here for you. OMA is a safe space and support all students, regardless of gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation.

We all have the power to break boundaries, come together and end racial stigma and hate that pulls people apart and creates division, chaos, and violence. It starts with all of us being more mindful of what we say to one another; things can get misinterpreted or blown out of proportion and can have ill-fated consequences that might not only hurt a single person, but rather an entire population. It starts with all of us rethinking racial stereotypes and actually giving each other a chance to show our colors. It starts with us accepting our differences and celebrating our various identities and heritages, not only during these special months, but in fact everyday. If you’re stuck or don’t know how to have these conversations, the Office of Multicultural Affairs(OMA) at UMass Lowell is here.

How do we celebrate? We participate in cultural traditions, like special holidays and meals, we share stories and listen to them, we watch movies, and we learn about historical pioneers and trailblazers who defied racism and hate, rewrote stereotypes, chased their dreams, and the paved the way for all of us to do the same!! It’s truly a celebration like no other and you’re all cordially invited. Finally, be proud of your heritage and who you are…there’s only one version of you and you shouldn’t let anyone or anything change that.