Asian Student Union Making Their Voice Heard

Asian Student Union Making Their Voice Heard
Posted on 05/20/2022

Debra Erdenemandakh is a senior at Tahoma High School who moved to Maple Valley with her family a few years ago from Seattle. She, along with her peer colleague Tanveer Grewal, have made it their mission to help raise awareness against harmful Asian stereotypes in their community and to provide a space for individuals to come together to share lived experiences and provide support to one another. This space, known as Tahoma's Asian Student Union (ASU), is now an official Associated Student Body (ASB)-affiliated organization after its constitution was approved through a 5-0 vote by the Tahoma School Board on Tuesday, May 10, 2022.


ASU students before presenting to the Tahoma School Board

“When I came to Tahoma as a freshman, everyone had their distinct groups, and it wasn't really a community sort of thing. I felt like there needed to be that community where individuals from all backgrounds or individuals who want to share their backgrounds have a place to talk and discuss,” said Debra, who is a Mongolian American student. “I have three nephews who are in the Tahoma School District, and I don't want them to have that feeling that I had when I came here, like not having that community to talk to or having those people who I share experiences with.”


And so she gathered some of her peers and set out to create the ASU last school year. Creating a brand-new affinity group during remote learning was no easy feat, however. 


“We began with our Instagram,” said Tanveer, a Punjabi American student who was integral in getting the ASU off the ground floor. “And then we eventually had monthly meetings over Zoom. Now it's grown to about 50 people, whereas it started then with a dozen people.” 


Tanveer says that process was really about growth, but also having purposeful meetings and discussions that were all under that mindset of creating that type of space for growth. “For example, we had one [meeting] about Lunar New Year where we presented a slideshow about what that means, and how it varies between all of the different cultures in Asia, both historically and in the modern day.”


An ASU Meeting

The group also uses their meeting time to organize advocacy events in the community. “Leading up to the Culture Fair, which was in late March, the majority of our meetings were workspaces,” said Tanveer. “We had about a dozen people participate in the Culture Fair, showcasing their booth and their culture.” 


Last weekend, you may have seen another of the group’s advocacy efforts at Four Corners in Maple Valley, where students rallied with signs and a bullhorn, shouting “Stop Asian Hate!” and “Protect our Communities!”


A large part of what the group is advocating for is confronting, challenging and deconstructing harmful stereotypes about Asians and Asian Americans, one of which is known as the Model Minority Myth. According to Debra, this myth sometimes becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


 “When stereotypes are always being thrown at you, it can make you identify as that person,” Debra said. “And I think, even at home or at school, I noticed that I surrounded my identity around being an Asian person.” She continues, “Asian students are expected to be good students, kids who are in all these clubs, kids who do all these activities, but the Model Minority Myth doesn’t look beyond the surface of the person.”


Debra, Tanveer and other members of the ASU aim to bring awareness to the potential for stereotypes like the Model Minority Myth to erase the individuality and personhood of Asian American students, expecting them to fit into a generalized set of characteristics.


The club’s faculty sponsor, THS Counselor Amanda Duarte, is half-Japanese and half-Black herself. “When Debra was talking to me about becoming the club sponsor, I got it. I got it,” said Duarte. “Even just the first few virtual meetings last year, hearing the kids say, ‘I never get to talk about what it feels like to be Asian in this community,’ and hearing some of their unique struggles, drove home the point that many times their experiences are lumped together.” 


Students at an ASU rally

Pictured: Debra E. (left), Amanda D. (center), Tanveer G. (right)


“I think that the greatest thing that the community can do to help is honestly just see and support. And there are so many different ways to do that,” said Tanveer. “It's really important to look past predispositions and false ideas, and grow.”


“The ASU is not just for Asian individuals– It's for everyone. If you want to learn about Asian cultures, if you just want to make a friend there, it's open for anyone,” Debra said. “It’s a more empathetic way of seeing yourself in our shoes and just being an ally.” 


She advises that “rather than making assumptions, go a step further and educate yourself by either going to seminars regarding AAPI experiences or listening to your AAPI friends or people of color regarding their own personal experiences.”




May is AAPI heritage month. Learn more here: https://asianpacificheritage.gov/


Check out the Tahoma ASU Instagram page: @tahoma_asu

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