When Karina Chen (11) immigrated from Shanghai in fifth grade, she had the unique experience of remembering life before America, keeping in touch with her Chinese side as well as immersing herself in American culture. After living in various areas such as Massachusetts, Los Angeles and the Bay Area, she formed deep connections with her family through their shared heritage and traditions.
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month, which takes place in May, originated as a way to celebrate the different ethnicities that make up the American nation. In 1990, Congress designated this month to commemorate the important milestones of the Asian community in America.
“It’s nice to have two perspectives to observe the difference [between Chinese and American culture],” Karina said. “But at the same time, it’s kind of sad to see how there’s such a big difference between these two ideologies.”
A tradition that is particularly celebrated among the Chinese American community is the Mid Autumn Festival, which is usually commemorated by eating dinner with family. In America however, the Asian community is often more isolated from the rest of their family and instead celebrates with more local means.
“After I came here [from China], there really wasn’t that big of a cultural theme or sense of family,” Karina said. “But we still sit down [and] we make dumplings together as a family.”
In addition to dumplings, Asian Americans commonly eat mooncakes with the circular shape of the delicacy symbolizing the fullness of the moon. Family members usually divide up the mooncakes into pieces in order to share it with each other.
Asian culture is commonly seen appearing at the upper school, especially with the large Asian population of the Bay Area. Specifically, on Multicultural Day, many of the booths represented different countries of Asia.
“I think the Multicultural Day that we had was a really great start for implementing different types of cultures, since we got to experience a lot of different cultures and traditions,” Sahngwie Yim (9), who identifies as Korean-American, said. “I think some other ways that Harker could implement more of my culture is … by posting information on Pacific Islanders during that month and then the same for Black History Month and other months as well.”
Upper school history and social science teacher Jonathan Rim, who immigrated to the U.S. from Korea as a child, believes that America is a place where multiple cultures can thrive together. As a result, he often blends American and Korean traditions when celebrating holidays.
“For Thanksgiving, instead of having a traditional turkey, quite often we would have a Korean meal or have both turkey and some Korean cuisine,” Rim said. “We do bring in lots of Korean traditions to New Year’s Day. Depending on the year, we might celebrate it on January 1 or follow it on the lunar calendar.”
Rim views America as a place where different cultures all have a place to thrive, contributing their own traditions and customs.
“If I had to pick [between Korean and American], I would identify myself as American,” Rim said. “But I disagree with that analogy [that America is a melting pot]. I think America is really like a salad. We all bring in different [cultures], and we don’t have to necessarily melt together to be one, but that we could bring our own uniqueness.”
Middle school history department chair Keith Hirota, who lived in Hawaii and identifies as Japanese American, reflects on his time as a resident and teacher alongside the native Pacific Islander population. He acknowledges the diverse ethnicities of Hawaii and how they are often overlooked in modern society.
“The great thing about Hawaii is it truly is a mixture of many different cultures, but if you live outside of that area, you may not even know anyone who is a Pacific Islander,” Hirota said. “If you take every culture here at Harker, there were at least a dozen more different ethnic groups at the school I taught at [in Hawaii].”
Additional reporting by Sarah Mohammed.
A previous version of this article included Aishani Singh and Sidak Sanghari as “additional reporters” rather than reporters with full byline. The article has been updated on June 6, 2022, to reflect the correction of this error.