Photos and Story by Emily Blalock/ Contributing writer
The Asian Student Association hosted its first Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Night on Thursday evening in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Although Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is set in May, the Association wanted to host the event when students would be on campus to celebrate.
Several organizations had booths set up for attendees to visit, including the Indian Cultural Exchange, the Caribbean Student Association, the Asian Language Partnership, the Office of Education Abroad, MTSU’s Power of One, MTSU’s Shodo Club, the Center for Chinese Music and Culture, the Murfreesboro Muslim Youth and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.
After people had a chance to walk through the booths, Yer Xiong, the president of the Asian Student Association, and Jether Yohanon, the vice president, introduced Mina Johnson, the keynote speaker for the event.
“I want to introduce everybody to our very first keynote speaker for this event,” Yohanon said. “She was born in Tokyo, Japan, and moved here in 1989, and ever since has been living here.”
Johnson is the first Japanese-American person to be elected to Nashville’s Metro Council. She represents District 23 and serves on committees for Planning and Zoning. She also works on the Homelessness Commission.
Johnson started by reading a resolution that will be introduced at the next council meeting, which concentrated on the importance of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
She also explained some of the challenges that she faced when she first came to America.
“When I came to Atlanta, I could not speak any English, or very little. But I could not understand what they were saying,” she said.
She explained how she would carry a giant English-Japanese dictionary with her to translate for about eight months before something clicked for her and she actually had a dream in English.
She also explained how she became a council member.
“That’s the furthest thing I ever imagined I would be doing. So why am I being a council member? So that all started with small community activism,” she explained.
She explained some of the problems that Nashville faces due to rapid growth and development and talked about how she got active in her neighborhood to fight for what was best for her neighbors.
“If you are living in a nice area away from the downtown, you would like to have nice, quiet, not hustle bustle. So we have to have some planning zoning policy. So that’s how I became (a) very, very frequent visitor of the planning commission,” she said.
One of her friends suggested that she should run for council, and she reluctantly agreed to try since none of her other friends were stepping up. She didn’t intend to win at first, until she eventually picked up four male opponents that she noticed hadn’t been to any of the community meetings that she regularly attended. That’s when she decided that she had to win.
She ended her talk by offering advice about how to get involved in community issues and make a difference.
“Find somebody who shares the same ideas as you. If you are so concerned about climate change, or if you are so concerned about traffic, or if you are so concerned about food safety, and clean water, whatever the cause may be, if you care about some issue you find a candidate who shares the same value. But if you cannot find the candidate who shares the same value, you have to run for yourself,” she said.
Johnson’s lecture was followed by performances by MISO, a group under the Asian Student Association that dances to popular K-pop songs, Ryan Doole from the Center for Chinese Music and Culture, singer Mulan Throneberry, the Indian Cultural Exchange, singer Kabao Xiong, the Filipino Martial Arts Academy of Middle Tennessee, and singer Shekinah Yohanon.
After these performances, audience members were invited to join a karaoke tournament.
Victoria Luangrath, a sophomore and international relations major, said she really enjoyed the event.
“I actually feel proud, because I’m Laotian and being represented at MTSU as an Asian American club, is like really fun. And plus you get to interact with people,” she explained.
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