Welcome to MSA's Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month newsletter!
Each May, AAPI Heritage Month serves as a time to remember AAPI history, celeberate AAPI culture, and remind us of how vital AAPI stories are to the ongoing story of America. MSA recently sat down with Ruby, an AmeriCorps member, and Matt, a Commonwealth Corps member, to talk about service and representation during AAPI Heritage Month and beyond.
Both Matt and Ruby ended up finding meaningful communities of their own by building them for others during their service years.
"Working at a queer-youth drop-in center," Matt, a Commonwealth Corps member serving with Safe Homes in Worcester, explained, "I have been able to meet so many creative and kindhearted people and help create a small, but meaningful, community.”
“Being able to provide a safe space for youth that was not offered to me at that age has also allowed me to grow as a queer person."
Ruby, an AmeriCorps member serving with Mass Poetry in Boston through SCI AmeriCorps, had a similar experience: "I was looking to get more involved with my community, specifically in the creative arts, and be very hands-on with building relationships and having an impact.
Prior to [serving at] Mass Poetry, I would go to open mics and do some creative writing, but I never reached out to the community because I've always been shy with my own writing. My time [with AmeriCorps] ended up opening me up to my community more.”
“It also made me realize that I definitely want to [continue] working with youth in the nonprofit arts, which has been really good for me because I didn't have such a great teenage experience. Mass Poetry has been a chance for me to connect with others in an interest [I've had] since being a teen, when I felt more isolated."
Why Representation Matters
"When growing up," Matt said, "I never got the opportunity to see an Asian queer character in TV, movies, politics, or anything like that. If I did see an Asian character, they were usually the butt of the joke.”
"Having genuine and positive representation for young people gives them confidence and the chance to say, 'I can do something like that because someone who looks like me already did.' That is my goal personally and professionally, to be a representation for others and be able to pave the way for those like me." Today in Commonwealth Corps, Matt is actively the representation he wished he had while growing up.
Ruby added a valuable perspective on representation and community: "AAPI Month is such a good chance to come together as a community and acknowledge all the ways we are so unique and expressive," she said. "I think we can often feel very separate from each other — for me personally, I feel a lot of the time like I'm just floating around in search of connection. I think AAPI Month is a reminder that you are a part of something greater, and you are welcomed as you are."
"Representation for me goes beyond checking off the boxes of different [ethinic groups]," she added. "It means sharing from your heart and sharing your truth.”
“Something that I realized with poetry is that [the main] difference between the audience and the poets on stage is the courage to say your truth out loud and to be honest. Knowing and sharing from our hearts what's specific to us… and feeling heard and seen — that means so much more to representation than anything [performative].”
A Year of Service
When asked what they'd tell someone considering a year of service, Ruby and Matt gave insightful answers.
"The reason that we do AmeriCorps,” Ruby said, is because we want to give back and contribute with our all, and we really care — it's all done from a place of deep caring. But I think at the same time, it's important to remember yourself and take time to slow down and not just rush into everything — to take time to breathe. I think also being honest and having clear communication about what capacity you have is really important."
"I would encourage anyone to sign up for a year of service," Matt said. "Especially as a young person who just finished college, Commonwealth Corps provided so many opportunities for my personal and professional growth. The experience has also deepened my appreciation for civil society organizations and their role in Massachusetts.”
“If being involved in your community and creating a more inclusive society appeals to someone, my advice would be to sign up and see where it goes."