Blog Post

Honoring Asian Pacific American Heritage Month With National Geographic Explorers

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we talked to a few of our National Geographic Explorers who identify as part of this community about how they celebrate and honor their background.

May’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is coming to a close, but we are still reflecting on the powerful stories we’ve heard all month long from our Explorers who identify as part of this community. From how they’re celebrating to how their culture plays a part in their journey as an Explorer, keep reading to hear their unique perspective in honor of APAHM.

Stephanie Pau

“I am a first generation Asian-American who grew up in an immigrant household. I was not raised to associate science with the outdoors. I was conditioned to think that science meant white lab coats, petri dishes, and Bunsen burners. Now I am a field ecologist and biogeographer who connects satellite observations of the Earth to boots-on-the-ground measurements of vegetation growth and productivity. Although Asian Americans are not considered underrepresented in STEM, I had no role models doing what I do now when I was growing up. Asian Americans are underrepresented in field ecology and conservation.

I am also recently a mother with a now fourmonth old! When one thinks of a field ecologist and a National Geographic Explorer, they should know that we are women of color doing this work, and we are mothers doing this work. My daughter will be coming to do fieldwork with me this summer and I can't wait!”

Photo by: Kyozo Shimbo

Narareet Boonchai

“I am grateful and appreciative of this month’s celebration because it means the works by AAPI and our presence are being recognized. I feel connected. I have learned more about Asian/Pacific Americans in history, which is inspiring.”

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Natasha Barrett

“Geology as a scientific discipline has a very long way to go in supporting women of colour. Growing up as an Thai-Australian, I always felt that I did not fit the expected stereotype for a geologist and faced ongoing microaggressions throughout university that I could never complain about because they were considered the ‘norm.’ While many more women are choosing geology as a career and have a growing support network, there still remains very little support and recognition for diversity beyond gender. In Australia, where I did most of my studies, this is a huge problem that few even recognize today. For instance, I never met a single geology professor in Australia who is a woman of colour.

Because a large amount of my field work is also based in the Pacific Islands, for Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month I want to support those in the local communities that I work with. I'm currently in the process of organizing online lectures and virtual teaching activities to encourage more high school and undergraduate students in the southwest Pacifc to enter the geological sciences. The long-term goal is to provide training to create more local experts in both industry, government, and the university system.”

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Sandhya Narayanan

“I always have had conflicting feelings about AAPI Heritage Month. On the one hand, it was the ONE time of the year that Asian American and Pacific Islander experiences are highlighted and showcased. Growing up and even today, it is very much still a type of exposure that just does not happen or take place everywhere, and in a way where the Asian American background of explorers or creators or storytellers are highlighted as part of their contributions. But I have also found it problematic, in that it is one month for a broad, highly diverse group of people and set of experiences. And I have always found that sort of collective lumping to be equally dismissive of that diversity, and reflective of the general treatment of racial and ethnic diversity in the Americas. I still have both those conflicting feelings today. But with recent events, I have also begun to appreciate what AAPI Heritage month offers the various backgrounds and identities that are encompassed by 'Asian American and Pacific Islander'. Having a month like this, and especially one that is broad, allows for us to build community and form networks of connection and solidarity. It is a time that allows us who identify as AAPI to celebrate each other's accomplishments and contributions, while also engaging with the challenges that we still face. It is a reminder not only of the ways that we have to come together, but also use these connections to make alliances with other minority groups and allies to create change.

Today, I think I see Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month not only as a time to celebrate the history and creativity of my community, but also as a reminder of the work that we still need to accomplish together, within the broader AAPI community, and with other racialized and marginalized groups in the Americas.

As a linguistic anthropologist, a lot of my work focuses on the intersection between language and culture. My first interest in this field came from the fact that I could understand a community of people through their languages, where I could see how [the way] people spoke their languages told a story of where they came from and how they were living their everyday lives. But a lot of my interest in the field also came from my own experiences growing up South Asian American and with other Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and families. For us, language was important in helping us define our communities and shape our everyday lived experiences. This was not only important for us as minority communities who were trying to redefine our lives as part of the larger diaspora, but also as a way to create safe spaces and affinity groups in settings where we faced racial hostility and intense xenophobia. Yet all of those experiences were important in becoming a linguistic anthropologist, where my experiences with language and growing up AAPI has informed the work that I have done with language in South America. I also know that there is so much about the AAPI experience that still has not been told, but it is something that I hope to explore in my future work in the years to come.”

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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