More Than a Model: Community members collaborate with us to share cultural heritage

In May, Oak Park residents Pem Hessing, Nicole Sumida, and Yoko Terretta organized a family celebration at the Main Library in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.

In addition to literary readings, fine art, food, and martial arts demonstrations, they celebrated notable Asian Americans and also challenged definitions of who is considered Asian American. 

Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) includes those who identify as South Asian, Southeast Asian, East Asian, Pacific Islander, and multiracial or multiethnic Asian American or Pacific Islander. For this celebration, the organizers used “Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA)” to specifically include the South Asian community (sometimes called “Desi”). “We continue to examine the best way to push for awareness and inclusion of all AAPI communities,” they write.

‘We are not monolithic’

“We are not monolithic and have a wide variety of interests, talents, and experiences,” Sumida says—contrary to the “model minority” narrative, which stereotypes Asian Americans as studious, quiet, hardworking, and good at math and science. 

“Most people would be surprised to know that many AAPI folks are interested in the arts, sports, social services, or politics,” Sumida adds.

“We don’t all come from affluent families, we aren’t all programmed to be physicians or physicists, nor do we have the wish or opportunity to attend Ivy League schools or pursue aspirational lives defined by the mainstream.”

‘A supportive, central hub’

On why they’ve collaborated with the library to celebrate their culture, the organizers write:

“The Oak Park Public Library is a supportive, central hub in our community, the perfect spot for a family event, accessible to all.

“While we seek to create community among the Asian American families in Oak Park, we also want to invite our friends and neighbors to learn more about our culture, our history, and the issues that impact us as a wider community.” 

“With the growing population of Asian American families in Oak Park and surrounding communities, we feel an increasing need for culturally informed representation in events, programming, and school curriculum. As a community, we are often overlooked and certainly underrepresented, so this event creates a space for us to meet, share our experiences, and plan future collaborations. We hope to be included in all discussions related to building community in Oak Park.”

Collaborate with us

Are you a community member who would like to co-host a multicultural program with library staff, supported by library resources?

Learn more about the process for community members to collaborate with the library on a multicultural program, and submit your idea through an online form on the library’s website.