Fostering community for AAPI students at Garfield.

On Friday, May 26th, Garfield’s Asian Pacific Islander Student Union (APISU) will host AAPI Fest in the Garfield gym. The affinity event for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) identifying students will feature food, games, and celebration. The event represents the combined efforts of Garfield’s numerous AAPI clubs, including Chinese Student Association, Japanese Student Association, Filipino Student Association, Korean Student Association, Vietnamese Student Association, and South Asian Student Union.

Many of these Asian affinity groups are relatively new to Garfield. Tula Kurashige is the founder of JSA and presides over all GHS AAPI clubs. “I founded it coming out of COVID, which was obviously a very isolating time to be an Asian American,” Kurashige said, referring to the increase in anti-asian hate crimes during the pandemic. “I wanted to build [AAPI communities] here to make sure that other people didn’t feel the loneliness or isolation that I felt when I was an underclassman.” JSA, along with the other Asian affinity groups, were founded to provide a safe space and community for students. 

The typical weekly meetings consist of history lessons, snacks, and activities to promote a shared sense of identity and pride. “The club is trying to provide a safe space for Japanese American students to engage in conversations about identity and race, and to learn their history; especially because at Garfield, there’s a really rich Japanese American history,” Kurashige said. While some of these clubs are affinity groups, meant only for people who identify with it, others are not. “A common misconception is that you have to be Filipino to go to our club meetings when it’s not the case; it is open to everyone who wants to learn about Filipino culture,”  Carlo Lesaca said, the Co-Founder of FSA.

While each of these clubs represent very distinct, unique groups of people and cultures, they often collaborate with each other. “We also have more casual collaborations because we share a lot of members, like earlier in the year, our dumpling event was put on by CSA and KSA…it’s really easy to collaborate between the clubs,” said Olivia Fann, one of the officers of CSA. In addition to these casual collaborations, the clubs are also officially united under APISU. “We have a monthly meeting where we go over our plans for the month, and where we plan school wide events,” Kurashige said.

One such event is this upcoming AAPI Fest. Last year marked the first year of them holding this celebration, and it really marked the beginning of the cooperation between Garfield’s AAPI clubs. “It started last year with our May event. JSA teamed together with VSA and CSA…We wanted to put on this heritage Month event, so the collaboration really started there,” remarked Kurashige. While the event was predominantly planned by students, they received a lot of help from Spanish teacher Olympia Lai, who recently left Garfield. “Last year’s event was definitely a lot rockier, but it came together because of the people who were working on it at the time, and largely thanks to Ms. O,” Kurashige said. “Ms. O was an absolute godsend. She was amazing and she was so dedicated. She did so much for us, and the AAPI community would not have any grounds to stand on today if not for her diligence.” 

This year, they are going all out for AAPI Fest. Each club plans on having a station, which will feature a presentation and food. As an example, FSA will have a karaoke machine and serve ube (purple yam) ice cream, a flavor of ice cream originating in the Philippines. “This is an event for Asians to educate and celebrate different Asian cultures.” Lesaca said. “We’re hoping that this can be an event for anyone of Asian descent in this school,” Fann said. “It is an affinity event though, we want to show people that there is a community here at Garfield of AAPI students,” she added. In the future, however, APISU does also want to host events for the entire school, not just AAPI students. “Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is, how can we make our work more intersectional? So, in the broader context of multicultural week and in other schools, I want to have more events that maybe aren’t affinity based,” Kurashige said. 

No matter what, the officers are optimistic about the future of AAPI clubs at Garfield. “We are definitely going to have more snacks and drinks prepared for the future. Additionally, we would have a more set in stone constitution/ plan for how to run the club smoothly,” reflected Lesaca. Kurashige is hopeful for the clubs’ future leaders. “I’m so proud of the younger officers. It has made me really happy to see them come into their own, to watch them build things on their own, and to watch them lead things, and to throw their own successful events,” she said.