Local students organize a festival to honor Asian American cultures
On Saturday, May 13, the Great Neck community came together to celebrate AAPI Month (Asian American and Pacific Islander) at Firefighters Park. Great Neck South High School students Sophia Long and Yujin Lily Wu came together to organize the festival to share various Asian and Pacific Islander cultures and promote acceptance.
In recent months, hate toward Asian American communities has spiked, leading organizations, local government officials and young activists to speak out and take action against hate crimes. Long and Wu’s AAPI Festival is one of the many ways Great Neck has banded together to help encourage inclusivity and positivity.
“The AAPI community has made numerous achievements throughout history and especially in the past few years. From Michelle Yeoh winning the Oscar as the first Asian American actress to the AAPI small business owners in the Great Neck community, every single one of them is breaking the status quo and shining in their own ways,” said Wu. “As a new immigrant myself, I think our achievements and beautiful cultures should be seen and heard. Meanwhile, I’m proud to be a member of our community, which is getting increasingly diverse in the past few years. Therefore, through organizing and hosting this festival, Sophia and I hope to foster more interest in learning about the AAPI cultures and contribute to the diversity and inclusivity of our society as the youngest generation.”
“In December of 2022, I came across a New York Times article, where two Asian teens were harassed for being Asian. Even through a screen, I was deeply distressed from the constant pain the AAPI community experiences on a regular basis,” said Long. “One of our goals was to gain a cultural experience with our fellow community. We wanted to demonstrate the pride in AAPI heritage by sharing music, dances, and food. But, we also wanted a legislative change. We see that elected officials have been pushing for change; however, it has yet to showcase today. We will always continue to fight for legislative changes that will mandate the support for Asian Americans.”
Long and Wu began planning the festival in December. Both had roles to organize the event, Wu recruited volunteers, art works, and performers and Long connected with elected officials, and met them over zoom.
Town of North Hempstead Councilmembers Veronica Lurvey (District 4) and Mariann Dalimonte (District 6) attended the event, along with NYS Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti, NYS Senator John Liu and former NYS Senator Anna Kaplan.
“It was truly an honor to meet and hear all of our speakers, but I was inspired by one special guest, Senator Liu,” said Long. “His speech highlighted the constant importance to urge a strict legislative law that would address this concern, and I completely agree.”
“North Hempstead’s diversity makes our town such a wonderful place to live and raise a family,” said Councilmember Lurvey. “Our diversity is our strength, and it is imperative that we embrace the heritage of our friends and our neighbors.”
As a Great Neck resident herself, Councilmember Lurvey has been involved in helping the Asian American community. She and former town Supervisor Judy Bosworth founded the town’s Asian American Advisory Committee to address anti-Asian bias and celebrate Asian American culture.
“One of our goals was to gain a cultural experience with our fellow community,” said Long. “We wanted to demonstrate the pride in AAPI heritage by sharing music, dances, and food. But, we also wanted a legislative change.”
“I really liked every part of the event–it turned out so much better than I thought. The artwork exhibition and performances were really exciting, and the speeches by community leaders were truly inspiring,” said Wu. “Many speakers mentioned the power of the students as the youngest generation to push for conversations and changes; some especially praised the artwork and performances as helping to break the academic stereotype associated with the AAPI community, demonstrating what AAPI artists are capable of.”
The Alliance of Youth Leaders in the United States (AYLUS) Great Neck Branch volunteered time to help Long and Wu with the festival. AYLUS is a student-run non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of communities.
A vibrant celebration was spread throughout Firefighters Park during the festival. Contributions from individuals with connections to Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Hawaiian, and other Asian and Pacific Islander ancestries were displayed to celebrate AAPI cultures. With an art and photo exhibit, dance and song performances, cultural cuisines and more attendees were able to learn more about their neighbors in Great Neck.
“I was honored to watch the Asian performances presented by our fellow community at Great Neck. It was extremely rewarding to watch some of my friends perform so gracefully,” said Long. “It was a tribute to our community; however, I am ashamed of how underrepresented the AAPI community is in the United States.”
Assemblywoman Sillitti said, “Ultimately, when we all learn to embrace each other’s cultures and values, that is truly when we will see a lasting difference. That’s why these events are so important and why I’m so grateful to have been part of it.”
“I am tremendously inspired by the students in our community. Especially the two young women who hosted this event–Sophia Long and Lily Wu,” said Councilmember Lurvey. “You are talented young leaders, and I cannot wait to see what you come up with next.”
“It was an honor to participate in the AAPI Festival, which was organized by two incredible high school students from Great Neck,” said Councilmember Dalimonte. “Sophia Long and Lily Wu did a wonderful job putting on this festive event which was an important reminder that America is a diverse nation.”
“Overall, we just feel truly honored to have everyone at the festival. It was an unforgettable experience,” said Wu.