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Reflections on AAPI History, Accomplishments and Impact

Fletcher voices pay tribute to diverse experiences and express hope for the future

This May, in observance of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Fletcher honors all Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities and their vast contributions to the cultural, social and economic landscape in the U.S.

Learn more from members of our Fletcher AAPI community who share reflections about their AAPI background, accomplishments and impact, how Fletcher helped shape their worldview, and the importance of AAPI culture and contributions to our broader society.  


 

Headshot of Shinsuke Tanaka

Shinsuke Tanaka

Assistant Professor of Economics, The Fletcher School 

As spring has arrived at Boston, my family visited the Boston Common and Public Garden to enjoy their beautiful cherry blossoms. The history of cherry trees in the U.S. dates back to 1912 when Japanese people planted cherry trees in Washington DC as a gift of friendship.

The cherry blossoms, Sakura, symbolize renewal and are one of the most significant flowers in Japanese culture. The blooming season coincides with the beginning of the school year in April, when people gather with friends and family beneath the blossoming trees to eat, drink and celebrate new beginnings.

This year, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders face ongoing COVID-19 related Anti-Asian racism and violence. The recent incidents are the latest in a longstanding history of discrimination that the AAPI community has endured in order to obtain diverse and equal representation.

Like the cherry trees that withstand severe winters only to flower vibrantly in the spring, this year’s AAPI Heritage Month must be a time to take a stand against hate and violence, and renew our determination to realize a better society for all.

Click through the accordions below to learn more from members of the Fletcher community. 

Lami Kim (F13, F18)

On your AAPI background, accomplishments and impact:

I’m an Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at the U.S. Army War College and a naturalized American citizen.  Coming from South Korea and previously serving as a diplomat there has given me a unique perspective on the US’ complex relations with countries in the Asia-Pacific region, especially about the growing influence of China and how US allies and partners in the region view the US’ role in regional security.

On your Fletcher experience:

My classes and experiences at Fletcher in a diversity of fields such as international law, international security, energy policy, and economics have given me a well-rounded perspective on international affairs. Tackling international issues requires the kind of interdisciplinary approach that is prioritized at Fletcher.

 

On AAPI culture and contributions:

People of AAPI background, just like immigrants to the US from other backgrounds, are one of the US’ greatest strengths. They bring a multitude of different experiences and perspectives that could otherwise be difficult to learn about and appreciate.

 

Kudrat Chaudhary (F19)

On your AAPI background, accomplishments and impact:

Belonging to a family that migrated from Pakistan to India during the Partition and built everything from scratch, the value of hard work and a sense of giving back to the community has been thoroughly instilled in me. My work deals with women from South Asia and Africa seeking asylum in the United States. I feel that my AAPI background helps me understand cultural norms that women had to break to flee, the guilt that they might feel for standing up for themselves and their desire for a safer life, especially because I can relate to their experiences. My AAPI background has helped me make an impact in the lives of women fleeing gendered violence. 

On your Fletcher experience:

One of my main takeaways from Fletcher was that ‘change’ can look different for different people and that there is no one solution to a particular problem. If you’d bring a class of Fletcher in one room to discuss the gendered implications of COVID, not only will we be able to analyze the problem and the stakeholders but we’d also be able to analyze the impact of domestic policy on the situation, the role of non governmental organizations, fundraising programs for them and paths to advocacy amongst many others.  Studying at Fletcher made me realize that it does take a village to raise a child (in our case to foster systemic change) and that as long as we are doing our best in order to impact the world, we are on the right path. 

On AAPI culture and contributions:

Working in a field like gender based violence asylum can be challenging because at times it’s hard to distance yourself from your work. Yoga and meditation have always helped me restart myself, and spirituality, an important part of the Indian identity, helps keep me grounded on days when I need it most.  There are countless material contributions that the AAPI community has made for the broader society but I feel that those are more spoken of than the subtle cultural contributions that have the power to change one’s life trajectory.  Self care is so important and we have to thank the AAPI community and our ancestors for making these tools available to us today. 

Grace Choi (F12)

On your AAPI background, accomplishments and impact:

My background as an Asian American and Korean American has greatly influenced my career accomplishments in policy and politics. I’m constantly drawing from my experiences as an AAPI woman. For example, when I led the first-ever U.S.-Japan-Korea trilateral event on women and girls’ empowerment, I knew that it was critical to include the voices and participation of young Asian American women and civil society members so we had Asian American young women and nonprofit and private sector  women leaders as part of the US delegation and made it a non-negotiable to have civil society participation in the Korean and Japanese delegations.

On your Fletcher experience:

My Fletcher experience has affected my worldview by broadening my connection to many like-minded foreign policy leaders from around the world who want to make a difference in our own country and in the world so we can partner together, but also truly be friends. During my time at the State Department, I ran into my Fletcher friends in work receptions and through meetings with my counterparts in the DC-based embassies. The world is really small, but even smaller when you’re part of the Fletcher network.

On AAPI culture and contributions:

The culture and contributions of Asian American and Pacific Islanders to US society and beyond is incredibly vast and diverse—from the food you eat, the designer clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the beauty products you use, and the civil rights you have, AAPIs are entrepreneurs, educators, artists, activists, policymakers, scientists, and many have been and continue to be on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic recovery and response. 

Ted Kim (F ’99)

On your AAPI background, accomplishments and impact:

While I was born in the U.S., my parents immigrated here from South Korea. Having an appreciation for the immigrant experience has given me a perspective that I have now taken to my professional role in helping some of the world’s most vulnerable populations find refuge in the U.S.

On your Fletcher experience:  

Fletcher introduced me to a diverse community of people who want to make a positive impact in the world by engaging internationally and across cultures. Working in the humanitarian space in Washington D.C., I feel fortunate to run into Fletcher alums regularly and even count them as colleagues in my own office!

On AAPI culture and contributions:

The culture and contributions of Asian Americans are as broad and diverse as American society itself.  Asian Americans have a long history in the U.S. going back generations and have made contributions in many fields, including the arts, film, sports, academia, business, science, and government.

Tawni Sasaki (F19)

On your AAPI background, accomplishments and impact:

Growing up in a multicultural household played an enormous role in shaping my interest in international relations and fostering cross-cultural interactions. Just as my upbringing taught me to appreciate the beauty in every culture, it also provided many lessons that aren't easily learned in a classroom, such as mitigating a tense situation or confronting an offensive comment. Although I didn't appreciate it as much growing up, as a Foreign Service Officer, I am proud to represent a diverse part of the American population and contribute my perspective to the work I perform.

On your Fletcher experience:

I credit my time at Fletcher as some of the most impactful years of my education; I gained an incredible alumni network and had the chance to pursue relevant, fascinating coursework. However, the most meaningful takeaway was living in a community that prized intellectual curiosity and encouraged us to engage in difficult conversations with colleagues from around the world. I found that this space to dialogue - whether over a coffee in the Blakeley kitchen or during class discussions - gave us the chance to learn about our counterparts' point of view rather than focus on getting to an endpoint in a discussion. 

On AAPI culture and contributions:

The members of the AAPI community have made countless contributions to the United States throughout our nation's history. From laboring on pineapple plantations, as my own ancestors did, to serving as Vice President, the AAPI people make up an important piece of the beautiful mosaic that is the diversity of the United States.  

Phuc Phan (F15)

On your AAPI background, accomplishments and impact: 

As the continent with the world’s largest population and land area, Asia is becoming more and more important from a geographic as well as economic and political perspectives. As a born Vietnamese, I’m proud to contribute Vietnamese and Asian colours and experience to the world’s picture and to solving global puzzles, either in my professional capacity regarding Viet Nam’s participation in the G77 (UN), OECD, G20 dialogues or in my research regarding Viet Nam in CPTPP or WTO.

On your Fletcher experience:

Fletcher enriched my knowledge, nurtured my passion and strengthened my confidence about making an impact in the world. I met friends from around the world who volunteered to carry missions in conflict and remote areas, which in turn extended my own geographic and scope of work limitations. I have become more confident and willing to go further, to take on more challenging assignments.

On AAPI culture and contributions:

Our values -- such as diligence, social engagement and resilience -- have helped AAPI people find our place in international communities. Many are timid and afraid to speak up, and I hope they will become more outspoken and more confident in sharing their values and joining efforts with friends of all origins.

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