#WikiAsianHeritage: Celebrating people of Asian descent and Pacific Islanders worldwide

Each May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month, a time to celebrate the legacies and histories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders throughout the history of the United States and the world.

Illustration by Jasmina El Bouamraoui and Karabo Poppy Moletsane, (CC0 1.0).

Yet this year, the celebration resonates differently. My community is still reeling from horrific attacks on Asian American women in Florida, attacks on older members of AAPI communities across the United States, and continued acts of xenophobia and racism related to the misinformation about COVID-19 around the world. These acts of hate are urgent and pressing, but sadly they are not new. They are part of a pattern of marginalization and exclusion of people of Asian descent throughout history.

“My community is still reeling from horrific attacks on Asian American women in Florida, attacks on older members of AAPI communities across the United States, and continued acts of xenophobia and racism related to the misinformation about COVID-19 around the world.”

Although AAPI month began as a U.S. initiative to recognize the role of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders throughout American history, it is also a time to deconstruct these harmful global stereotypes.

We are facing a compounding crisis of injustice and racism, on top of the emotional toll of continuing to live through a pandemic. It can feel overwhelming sometimes and especially at this moment as COVID-19 cases rise across Asia. This month offers us an opportunity to not only celebrate the legacy of the AAPI community, but to also take action; call out racism in all its forms; and elevate visibility of the AAPI community through highlighting our accomplishments, our struggles, and our role in world history.

“This month offers us an opportunity to not only celebrate the legacy of the AAPI community, but to also take action.”

I was born in the Philippines and coming here to the Bay Area in California, I was surrounded by a vibrant community of first and second generation Asian immigrants. My circle extended beyond my own Filipino relatives to immigrants from all across Asia who had moved to Daly City in the 1960s and 70s. Hearing parents yelling to their kids down the street in Vietnamese, Mandarin, Tagalog and Hindi, among many other languages, was the norm. It wasn’t until college that I realized how unique my experience had been, compared to those for whom I was the first Asian American they had ever met. The communities and the history that formed a core part of my identity were invisible and unknown to so many.

“The communities and the history that formed a core part of my identity were invisible and unknown to so many.”

This lack of awareness is not limited to the United States. Around the world, persistent stereotypes about Asian communities lead to misconceptions and wide-ranging biases on everything from entertainment to education and public health. These biases continue to dominate Western media coverage and shape the narrative of major issues affecting countries throughout East and South Asia.

At the Wikimedia Foundation, our vision is to create a world in which every single human can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. As the global nonprofit supporting the world’s largest collection of free knowledge in human history — Wikipedia — we have an opportunity to break down the barriers of privilege and power that have influenced our collective understanding of the world, and to amplify the voices left out of history. Our organization has made an explicit commitment to knowledge equity, to support the knowledge and communities that have been systematically excluded and overlooked. Through our work, we can expand access and participation in free knowledge to all people.

“We have an opportunity to break down the barriers of privilege and power that have influenced our collective understanding of the world, and to amplify the voices left out of history.”

Throughout May, we will be raising awareness about the gaps in knowledge of AAPI history. We recognize the continuing gaps on Wikipedia that have limited the telling of histories of people of color. Currently, 89 percent of Wikipedia contributors identify as white or Caucasian.

It is important to note, however, that this is not work that Wikipedia editors can do alone. Wikipedia and our other projects are built on citations from secondary sources to create robust, reliable knowledge for the world. If we are to address the bias on Wikipedia and other knowledge projects, we need to catalyze greater coverage of AAPI history in journalism, research, and social media, and change how we tell these stories. Working together with journalists, academics, and others, we can raise the visibility of the AAPI community, recognize their contributions to our world, and improve our collective understanding of our history.

“If we are to address the bias on Wikipedia and other knowledge projects, we need to catalyze greater coverage of AAPI history in journalism, research, and social media, and change how we tell these stories.”

Over the course of this month, we’ll be taking action:

  • On 26 May, the Wikimedia Foundation and the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) will co-host a virtual discussion about how to improve accurate coverage of Asian-American communities across the information landscape. Register to attend the event here.
  • Working with the AAJA and Wiki Education, we will also kick off a training in June for journalists to learn how to contribute to Wikipedia, adding and improving the representation of AAPI communities on the site.
  • The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative will co-host an edit-a-thon to elevate women, non-binary, and transgender people of Asian Pacific American descent on Wikipedia.
  • As part of a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, the Wikimedia Foundation will be hosting several events and activities for staff to participate in, share space, and remain in solidarity with one another.
  • We are calling on people in journalism, academia, research, and other fields to bring more visibility to the stories of AAPI people, reinforcing that secondary sources are required to fill gaps in our knowledge projects.

It is not enough to address the gaps in representation through a single month of recognition. In order to make real and lasting change, we must make inclusion a core part of our daily work, all year long. We must acknowledge that the patterns of inequity and erasure towards the AAPI community, as well as others who have been left out by structures of power and privilege, that we see in society are also reflected in our business models and our workplace.

“In order to make real and lasting change, we must make inclusion a core part of our daily work, all year long.”

When I first started my career, I was often the only woman, and sometimes the only person of color, in the room. Early on, I was confronted with what I know now is the myth of the “model minority.” If I went against expectations and was outspoken about our approach to a particular issue, it was not received well. I had to work to find supportive mentors and leaders who encouraged me to continue to speak out against the “type” that I was cast into.

Now, as head of Talent and Culture at the Wikimedia Foundation, I am an urgent advocate of challenging the status quo. I believe we have a responsibility to have the honest and sometimes difficult conversations with our employees about internal policies that may perpetuate imbalances of power. We must resist the allure of “this is how we’ve always done it,” in favor of re-imagining and reworking our systems to serve all of our colleagues and staff better.

“I believe we have a responsibility to have the honest and sometimes difficult conversations with our employees about internal policies that may perpetuate imbalances of power.”

At the Foundation, we have started this work with active employee resource groups (ERGs), including an “Asian Roots” ERG to amplify the needs and work of our colleagues of Asian descent. This month, we will be hosting internal events for our employees to recognize AAPI Heritage month, to celebrate and also to show solidarity amidst the recent tragic acts of hate against people of Asian descent and appearance.

These are critical foundations to make real progress toward an increasingly equitable future, but we have more to do. There are many ways you can join us moving forward:

  • Register to attend our event with the Asian American Journalists Association on 26 May from 17:00–18:00 UTC.
  • Get involved in Wikipedia communities focused on increasing representation of AAPI issues and notable people
  • Advocate against white supremacy wherever and however it may appear
  • Use #WikiAsianHeritage on social media to help raise awareness. Start by sharing this blog post!
  • If you are a journalist, academic or researcher, make sure these stories get told

We must be more deliberate about raising awareness of the experiences of communities that have historically been excluded. Together, we can fill in the gaps in our history, ensure that the knowledge on our projects reflects our world, and remain in solidarity with one another.

Robyn Arville is the Chief Talent and Culture Officer for the Wikimedia Foundation. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

*These data come from preliminary research from the annual Community Insights report. One-hundred-and-ninety-five U.S.-based respondents provided their race or ethnicity for the survey. None of the respondents identified as Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. The full report will be available in May 2021. Watch for updates here.

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Robyn Arville

Robyn Arville

Chief Talent and Culture Officer, Wikimedia Foundation. Proud Mama to Naia. Champion of being 100% Human at Work.

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