Holland Museum hosts AAPI Conversation

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and to recognize it, the Holland Museum hosted the Asian Pacific American Heritage Panel Discussion on Thursday, May 19. The panel was a conversation highlighting the diversity of voices within the Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in West Michigan.

The goal of the discussion was to highlight the range of AAPI experiences and to address ongoing issues like racism and xenophobia. In the 1960s, the label ‘model minority’ was placed on many Asian Americans.

“It was used as a wedge between Asians and African Americans,” Bing Goei said. “In many ways, it is offensive and derogatory. I think we need to get away from the model minority myth.”

Goei is the CEO of Eastern Floral and the Goei Center. He was born in Indonesia and immigrated to the United States in 1960. Goei was the first Director of Michigan’s Office for New Americans, an organization that promotes the entrepreneurial spirit of immigrant communities.

“Not many people understand that if you’re Asian you aren’t Chinese,” Goei said. “The largest Asian community in West Michigan is Vietnamese. What we’re suffering from is a lack of understanding of the AAPI experience and their contributions to our community.”

Another member of the panel was Stella Michael. She was born in India and moved to the US with her family when she was 12. Michael is the Director of CRM Platforms and Applications at Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health (BHSH). She started an inclusion resource group at BHSH to bring attention to the challenges of Asian Americans.

“The biggest challenge is Asians are very quiet,” Michael said. “I think you have to provide a platform to invite them in. This was a platform for them to talk about what they were going through. We celebrate culture and we share it with our colleagues.”

Another panelist at the discussion was Ace Marasigan, who created the annual Grand Rapids Asian Festival in 2017. Marasigan moved to West Michigan from the Philippines

“It was a culture shock when I first got here,” Marasigan said. “But the experience isn’t always negative.”

Pujita Sieplinga was also on the panel. Sieplinga was born in India and immigrated to West Michigan as a 2-year-old after being adopted. Sieplinga is an Assistant Vice President and Consultant for PNC’s Organizational Financial Wellness group.

The panel was hosted by Jennifer Pascua. She works as Lead Community Relations at BHSH, with a focus on relationship management. She is also the founder/owner of Halo Halo Multimedia, LLC, a freelancing micro media service that works to elevate BIPOC and women entrepreneurs. Pascua was born in the United States, but her parents both immigrated from the Philippines. She is also an adjunct professor for Hope College’s Communication Department. Previously, Pascua worked as a journalist and anchor at WZZM-TV from 2005-to 2018.

The panel was part of an ongoing series at the Holland Museum called Cultural Lens. These events explore culturally relevant historical and contemporary topics. Cultural Lens is a series of talks, performances, family programs, and panel discussions supporting the museum’s DEI mission.

Contributed by: Aaron Ofseyer, freelancer