Leslie Ishii, artistic director for Perseverance Theatre; Dennis Arashiro, Board President of the Alaska Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League; and Adriana Li, program coordinator and instructor for IMPACT; will be featured on a conversation panel that will be held in recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. (Courtesy Photos)

Leslie Ishii, artistic director for Perseverance Theatre; Dennis Arashiro, Board President of the Alaska Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League; and Adriana Li, program coordinator and instructor for IMPACT; will be featured on a conversation panel that will be held in recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. (Courtesy Photos)

Community conversation to spotlight Alaska’s AAPI community

“We have to take a look at how we humanize each other.”

Perseverance Theatre’s Asian American and Pacific Islander community conversation was always meant to be timely. But recent events have given it weight and relevance beyond coinciding with AAPI Heritage Month.

It comes amid a nationwide surge in anti-Asian hate crimes and the passage of a bill to address such crimes. It also comes on the heels of a mass shooting in Atlanta that killed eight, including six women of Asian descent, and months of racist pandemic-related rhetoric.

“We’ve all been conditioned and internalized some of these things,” said Perseverance Theatre’s artistic director Leslie Ishii, who is Japanese-American and will be a panelist in the conversation, in a video interview. “It’s an important time to make sure we interrupt this information.”

While recent events may have fanned the flames of anti-AAPI racism and brought it to public attention, both Ishii and Edric Carrillo, president of Filipino Community Inc. in Juneau who will also be on the panel, said it’s not a new phenomenon.

“This is not a new thing. Ever since Filipinos and the AAPI community have been in the U.S., they have faced acts of racism, to be perfectly blunt,” Carrillo said in a phone interview. “Juneau is a great community, and being born and raised here, I never really felt those overt acts of racism, but they exist.”

However, Carrillo said he had heard from family members who had been told to “go back to China” while shopping locally. He noted that’s wrong on multiple levels. And Ishii said she had recently been accosted while shopping in a grocery store.

“Racism doesn’t know boundaries,” Ishii said.

Carrillo and Ishii said they hoped the event would be a chance to learn about the cultures and people who are part of the community’s fabric, and Carrillo said he specifically intended to discuss the history of Filipino people in Juneau.

“I guess my takeaway for folks that listen is just reinforce we have a large Filipino community here in Juneau and Alaska,” Carrillo said. “We are open, we are welcoming of anybody who wants to learn about our culture.”

The conversation’s goals — emphasizing shared humanity, being mindful of representation and outreach — are generally part of what Perseverance Theatre aims to accomplish, Ishii said.

[Using art to transform experience: Exhibit focuses on work of Black Alaskans]

“We have to take a look at how we humanize each other,” Ishii said. “How do I continue to emphasize and prioritize the relationship building? How am I making sure that space is curated so that we absolutely value every human that walks through the door as fully human? I do think that’s part of the impact of having conversations like this.”

About the panelists, and their work

Ishii and Carrillo will be joined on the panel by Dennis Arashiro and Adriana Li.

Arashiro is a retired social studies teacher who taught in the Anchorage School District for 43 years, has chaired Social Justice at the Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship for the past 10 years and serves as Board President of the Alaska Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League.

“The Declaration of Independence identifies the unalienable rights of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’” Arashiro said in a news release announcing the event. “For many in the Asian American Pacific Islander community, our journey has involved the pursuit of acceptance. Our challenge is to identify what American dream to pursue.”

Ishii said in preparing for the conversation she was reminded of JACL’s long history of civil rights advocacy, and the work it continues to do.

Li, who is a mixed-race Chinese American, is a program coordinator and instructor for IMPACT, an organization that works to prevent violence and abuse through realistic training.

“In this time of increased violence and discrimination based on the excuse of the pandemic, I am deeply saddened and in fear of wanting to protect my community and my loved ones from this senselessness,” Li said in the release. “I am looking forward to engaging in more conversations to build awareness and continuing to teach self-defense strategies to hopefully connect us and truly put an end to this increasing divide.”

Ishii said she became aware of IMPACT’s deescalation, self-defense and bystander and upstander training through her work with CAATA, and she would like to bring such training to Juneau.

“It’s really good training to be a good neighbor and it builds awareness,” Ishii said.

Ishii said she’s eager to hear what panelists say as the conversation unfolds. She acknowledged some branches of the conversation may be difficult, but said it’s ultimately a discussion that can lead to good.

“I know it can sound heavy, but the impact of a healthier, healed community is a happier community that’s thriving,” Ishii said.

• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt

Know & Go

What: Asian American and Pacific Islander Community Conversation

When: 6 p.m., Wednesday, May 26.

Admission: The event is free and open to the public. It will be livestreamed on Perseverance Theatre’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/PerseveranceTheatre/ and YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/c/perseverancetheatre.

• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt

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