May 10, 2024

Highlighting Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander role models this AANHPI Heritage Month

Be sure to check out the suggested Huddle question at the bottom of this article to discuss this important topic with your students in class, if you feel it is appropriate.

Did you know May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage (AANHPI) Month in the United States and Canada? It’s a special time dedicated to honoring the incredible cultures, histories, and achievements of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities. This month allows students to learn more about these diverse groups of people in the United States, fostering cultural understanding, empathy, and inclusivity among students.

To promote this inclusivity and cultural diversity in schools, educators can spotlight the remarkable stories of AANHPI people throughout this month and every month. One example is Kristi Yamaguchi, a two-time World champion figure skater and the 1992 U.S. Figure Skating Champion. She is a Japanese-American and a positive role model for students to work hard and follow their dreams. Her determination during the 1992 Olympics ultimately led to a gold medal in figure skating. Over the past 30 years, her incredible talent and hard work have captured the hearts of those worldwide. Now, her achievements are celebrated with a special Barbie doll as a tribute to AANHPI Month. For many students, Barbie dolls can become role models in a lot of different ways, such as when Barbie released its first-ever doll with Down’s syndrome, inspired by Ellie Goldstein, a British model with Down’s syndrome. This inclusivity and diversity in both Barbies showcase the importance of inclusivity and representation for students. 

As we explore the stories of AANHPI individuals and communities, we celebrate their successes and help students understand the importance of representation in positive influencers they choose to follow on social media. This month, students will have a chance to learn more about different cultures, promote understanding and inclusivity, and foster a sense of unity and pride. 

How role models are helping students celebrate diversity

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States, with their population increasing by 81% between 2000 and 2019. This growth in the Asian American and Pacific Islander population allows educators to enrich their curriculum with diverse perspectives, histories, and experiences. By incorporating content that reflects the cultural richness of these communities, educators can foster a more inclusive learning environment and empower students to appreciate and respect diverse content. 

Unfortunately, in the United States, these identities often get pushed down or reduced to a single identity rather than a diverse group of people. A 2023 survey by the Pew Research Center revealed that over 80% of Asian Americans in the United States come from many different cultures and backgrounds. However, when asked if they were more likely to identify with their nationality or as just Asian, over 60% of respondents said they were likely to identify as Asian. 

In many ways, this comes down to how Asian Americans are portrayed in American media. Traditionally, Asian Americans have been portrayed as a singular group. For this reason, many Americans have struggled to identify AANHPI public figures. And over 58% of people in the United States were unable to name a prominent Asian American public figure when asked.

Empowering students to find positive role models and representation enables them to embrace diverse perspectives and learn new ideas and experiences. As Kristi Yamaguchi shared, “I’m proud of my Asian American heritage, and being able to blend the two cultures together and to learn from each is fulfilling. I feel the values and traits of my Japanese ancestors have been instilled in me through my parents and grandparents, and I know their sacrifices paved the way for me to live the American dream.” Yamaguchi serves as a testament to the resilience and strength gained from cultural heritage, inspiring students to take pride in their own identities and appreciate the sacrifices made by previous generations.

Research has found that an inclusive classroom with diverse perspectives has various academic benefits, such as improved critical thinking and higher overall achievement. This enhances students’ understanding of different cultures and promotes respect, empathy, and inclusivity within the school community.

Connecting to AANHPI communities online

The growth of social media and technology over the past two decades has revolutionized how students learn and gain access to information. With a simple click, students can now readily access many resources, from historical documents to diverse cultural perspectives, shaping their understanding of the world. This connectivity can revolutionize how students explore AANHPI stories, empowering students to engage directly with these narratives and communicate with individuals globally through a simple button click. Students can leverage social media platforms to connect with positive influencers within AANHPI communities, allowing them to find role models who inspire and represent diverse perspectives.

As Asian Americans rank among the most digitally connected groups in the United States, educators can leverage social media to enrich classroom learning by actively curating and sharing diverse cultural perspectives. They can follow and engage with social media accounts that highlight Asian American history, heritage, and issues, bringing in content that aligns with their curriculum goals. By sharing resources, facilitating discussions, and spotlighting Asian American role models, educators empower students to explore and contribute to conversations about cultural diversity and identity. 

One powerful example of a student leveraging social media for positive change is Mina Fedor. In 2021, she organized a march in Berkeley, California, against the rise of anti-Asian hate and discrimination as a middle schooler. Her organization, AAPI Youth Rising, looks to promote inclusion and safety among Asian American students around the United States. She says she would like AAPI Youth Rising to be an organization that “takes action within the community” by advocating for issues that face AAPI youth. Fedor’s approach underscores the potential of social media to amplify voices and catalyze meaningful change within communities; she is also a great example of a positive role model that educators can bring into the classroom.

Educators inspire students to aim high and pursue their dreams by showcasing role models such as Kristi Yamaguchi. Similarly, by spotlighting the impactful efforts of individuals like Mina Fedor, educators encourage students to leverage their voices for positive change and contribute meaningfully to society.

How to empower students to engage with AANHPI education

AANHPI Month allows educators to promote cultural diversity, foster empathy and understanding, and empower students to find positive influencers. 

Here are some ways educators can bring these ideas to the classroom:

  1. Encourage Cultural Exploration: Encourage students to dive into the cultural heritage of AANHPI communities through research projects or presentations. This approach broadens students’ perspectives and promotes empathy and respect for cultural diversity within the classroom.
  2. Amplify Student Voice: Highlight positive role models and success stories from AANHPI communities across various fields, such as Kristi Yamaguchi or Mina Fedor. When showcasing these success stories, encourage students to see themselves in each role model or story. 
  3. Showcase the Power of Community: Forge connections with local AANHPI communities and organizations to enhance support for AANHPI students and their families. Collaborate on cultural events, workshops, and initiatives that promote inclusivity and celebrate diversity.

By exposing students to diverse perspectives and positive role models, educators inspire students to embrace their identities and reach their full potential, fostering a brighter future for all. If you want more ways to support your students, check out the newest #WinAtSocial Lesson, Embracing inclusion and student leadership as we honor the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community.

#WinAtSocial Huddle Question

Huddle with your students
What can we learn when we study specific stories of AANHPI individuals? What strategies can we implement in our classrooms to ensure that AAPI heritage is celebrated year-round and not just during designated heritage months?

The Social Institute (TSI) is the leader in empowering students by understanding students. Through #WinAtSocial, our gamified, peer-to-peer learning platform, we equip students, educators, and families to navigate their social world – in the classroom and beyond, online and offline – in healthy, high-character ways. Our unique, student-respected approach empowers and equips, rather than scares and restricts. We incorporate timely topics about social media, tech use, and current events that are impacting student well-being and learning. #WinAtSocial Lessons teach life skills for the modern day, capture student voice, and provide school leaders with actionable insights. Through these insights, students play an essential role in school efforts to support their own health, happiness, and future success as we enable high-impact teaching, meaningful family conversations, and a healthy school culture.