May 12, 2021

AAPI Heritage Month, Part 2: Garnering inclusivity through celebration

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Tse articleAt the School of Medicine, excellence is built and grown through many values—two of which are foundational to our advancement: diversity and inclusion. In addition to our many programs and initiatives, the act of celebration serves as an important acknowledgement of unique lineages across the school.

This month, we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month—a time to commemorate the heritage of our AAPI colleagues and peers.

 AAPI Heritage Month recognizes individuals from the continent of Asia and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island), according to Asian Pacific Heritage.

AAPI Heritage Month began in 1977, when former Capitol Hill staff member Jeanie Jew had attended U.S. Bicentennial celebrations in 1976, and became bothered that there was no observation of Asian American or Pacific Islander communities in the celebration. AAPI Heritage Month became a national recognition in 1992.

 The month of May was selected to acknowledge the immigration of the first Japanese individuals to the U.S. on May 7, 1843, as cited by Asian Pacific Heritage. It also marks the anniversary of the completion of the railroad on May 10, 1869—mostly laid by Chinese immigrants.

Honoring a Chinese legacy 

 A part of the UAB family for over 12 years, Hubert Tse, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, is proud of his Chinese heritage. Tse’s research interests in Microbiology include understanding the immunological mechanisms involved in Type 1 diabetes pathogenesis and islet transplantation rejection. Tse has been published in several peer-reviewed publications, including Journal of Immunology, Immunohorizons, and Diabetes, and has received a number of grants, awards, and honors.

For Part 2 of our AAPI series, the School of Medicine communications team sat down with Dr. Tse to learn about his AAPI heritage, how he celebrates, and why diversity is important in his department.

Q: What is your heritage/lineage?

I am of Chinese descent, but was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. My parents were born near rural villages in Guangzhou, China and moved to Canada separately when they were teenagers. My mother was able to immigrate to Canada because my grandfather helped build the Canadian railroad in the Yukon. My father was able to immigrate to Canada because his uncle worked in a Chinese restaurant in Saskatchewan. My parents saw better opportunities to prosper in Canada than living in China, and while they did not formally graduate from high school, they were able to provide for the family by running small businesses including a grocery store and restaurants.

Q: What are some of the most important values for you as an AAPI individual?

I was the first in my family to graduate from high school and college, and to get a Ph.D. As an Asian Canadian American, I was taught to always work hard, treat people with respect, be proud of my culture, and appreciate the sacrifices that my parents and grandparents had to endure to make my life easier.

As a teenager, I observed this first-hand when I visited the villages that my parents grew up in China. The basic necessities such as toilets, clean water, and clothing were missing, and this experience instilled in me an appreciation of my lifestyle and surroundings that I do not take for granted. Because of my heritage and experiences, my motto in life is a glass that is half full.

Tse article 2Q: What, if any, challenges have you faced in the workplace as an AAPI individual?

As a first generation Asian Canadian American, there were numerous challenges in the workplace that I encountered, including racism, stereotypes, and not knowing which “team” I belonged in. While I am Chinese on the outside, I “speak pretty good English for an Asian,” a comment I would occasionally receive growing up. Similarly, “real” Chinese people would not fully accept me because I was not born in the mainland and would actually be surprised to find that I can speak and understand Cantonese. They would also view me as a foreigner even though I looked just like them.

Q: How do you celebrate your AAPI heritage?

I am proud of my Chinese heritage, but I am also proud to be a Canadian and an American citizen. I celebrate my heritage by participating in Chinese customs to honor my deceased grandparents, celebrating Chinese New Year, Moon festivals, learning how to cook all of the delicious Asian cuisine, eating Asian cuisine, and going to Costco at least weekly to be with my fellow Asians!

Q: What does UAB’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion mean for you in your career?

UAB’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion has been extremely helpful for my career. As a transplant and not familiar with life in the Deep South, it was refreshing to find that Birmingham and UAB are multi-cultural and diverse. Immediately, I felt accepted by my colleagues and fellow Alabamians, and am proud to call this home for the past 12 years. While I was wary coming here in the beginning of my career—because of Birmingham’s history with segregation and racial violence—I have grown to really enjoy my time in Birmingham, UAB, and living in the South.

Q: What does diversity and inclusion in the Department of Microbiology mean to you?

Diversity and inclusion is a key pillar of emphasis in the Department of Microbiology. From day one, I have always felt accepted and included in all professional and social events from my colleagues. I am proud to be a member of the Department of Microbiology and appreciate our commitment to expanding diversity and inclusion.

Celebrate AAPI communities in May

A foundation of diversity is the act of celebrating. Celebration honors our colleagues and peers, and acknowledges the unique legacies of School of Medicine staff, faculty, trainees, and students.

Plus, it breaks through barriers of discrimination and increases awareness of varying cultures. AAPI racism has greatly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. More awareness, understanding, and education is needed to break through barriers of bias.

Here are five fun ways to celebrate AAPI Heritage this month

1. Work with an organization in a volunteer capacity or through philanthropy to create safety and security for AAPI communities. Read through this list of 34 organizations that work to end AAPI racism.

2. Listen to personal stories, see creativity, and learn about AAPI heritage from YouTube's Asian & Pacific Islander creators and artists.

3. Read a few books or articles to stay informed about the AAPI experience: Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, The Making of Asian America: A History, or this New York Times article "What This Wave of Anti-Asian Violence Reveals About America."

4. Listen to a podcast, “Self Evident: Asian American Stories,” to learn more about being Asian, Asian American, or from the Pacific Islands and living in America.

5. Spend some quality time with children to help them understand that representation matters. “Learning about other cultures nurtures empathy and a broader view of the world,” says Connie Chang in an article for Parents. She recommends designing a tasting menu of AAPI cuisine, visiting a museum, reading books together, like Bringing in the New Year, and more.