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Town celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Day with music, food and student essays on identity

May 20, 2024
  • Performers display traditional costumes for a show held at Hunneman Hall at Brookline's celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Day. Photo by Zoe Zekos

Brookline celebrated Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Day last week.

On Saturday, Brookline Village lit up with student performances, crafts and food at an event sponsored by the town, the Brookline Public Library and the Brookline Asian American Family Network (BAAFN).

And on Wednesday, five Brookline high school students were honored by BAAFN for their essays on the theme of “What it means to be Asian American,” part of an annual contest now in its eighth year.

Read excerpts from the five winners, chosen out of 26 applicants, below. You can read the full essays by clicking on each student’s name.

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Geo Elasmar: “I know I am American. No less American than I ever was, for that is an ingrained quality, one glued to my skin like the sticky heat. And, as my grandmother’s hands push the bowl of thoroughly prepared jackfruit towards me, I realize that I am Malaysian too.”

Kiran Bhatia: “I used to revel in the smell of my grandmother’s freshly cooked pooris, the aroma of the hot oil and the sight of her famed mint chutney warming my heart when we visited her suburban New York home in the summer. Every afternoon, my grandmother, my Dadi, would make pooris that I would excitedly fill with keema and leftover chicken tikka.”

Bella Wang: “My mother says I have a fear of public speaking, but when I say words in Chinese, they flow together, like they’re all connected on a piece of string, without me needing to think about what to say next.”

Melanie Ho: “Mahjong tiles are dealt randomly, some hands luckier than others, but regardless of your hand, you must carve your own path. Mahjong’s square formation of four walls, each eighteen tiles wide and two tiles tall, allows for rapid-fire gameplay, gossip, and a great metaphor for what it means to be Asian American.”

Haly Kim: “I often question to what extent I have earned the right to call myself a Korean. Because how can I retain the fact that I am Korean despite not speaking any? Does that mean my “Koreanness” becomes finite with my appearance and is incapable of reaching any further? Am I just an American, cosplaying as a Korean with no qualifications or perhaps is it the other way around?”