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AAPI Heritage Month Highlight: FHS Student Leaders

Featured AAPI student leaders (clockwise from top left), Priyank Patel (12), Ashley Tran (10), Jennifer Truong (12), Austin AJ Angang (12) and Aidan Mottau (11). Photo via subjects.

May is officially recognized by the United States as Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, which is meant to celebrate and acknowledge the historical and cultural contributions of AAPIs to American history. AAPI is an umbrella term that refers to people from the entirety of the Asian continent and many islands in the Pacific Ocean: East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Western Asia, and the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The celebration started as a week-long event but was extended into a month-long celebration under the presidential administration of George W. Bush. For the AAPI community, this month holds a more profound meaning. It is not only an opportunity to develop a connection to their roots, but also a platform for the community to share their wide-ranged narratives and a chance to amplify their own voices. 

With Franklin High School’s racial demographics being predominantly White, concerns over representation, racial equity and inclusion arise. It takes many people to bring awareness and promote change, but it always starts with one. To align with this year’s theme for AAPI Heritage Month, “Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration,” which was meant to be the continuation of the “Advancing Leaders” series started by the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC), here are some of Franklin’s AAPI student leaders who are stepping up to uplift inclusivity and representation at the school, and their thoughts on AAPI representation, school diversity, and inclusivity:

Jennifer Truong (12)

Jennifer is a jack of all trades. She volunteers with Passion Impact, a nonprofit organization that organizes service events for youth, and she is also the president of Franklin’s Red Cross Club. Jennifer, along with the Red Cross Club, hosted 3 blood drive events this school year, accumulating an estimated total of 135 donors and thousands of lives saved. Jennifer expanded her leadership outside of the school by serving as a Bank of America Student Leader last summer, where she worked to achieve affordable housing for low-income families. Her appreciation for the positive changes leadership brings drove her to pursue leadership and make a significant impact on her community. 

When asked about the lack of representation at school, Jennifer says that feeling excluded is inevitable especially when one is in a predominantly White space. She proceeds to explain why Franklin lacks Asian representation in leadership positions: “I think what ends up happening is Asian students feel discouraged to step into leadership roles because they don’t think they’re ‘good enough’ or it’s not ‘meant for them,’ since [the] majority of those roles are occupied by White students.” In addition, Jennifer emphasizes the importance of Asian representation and POC representation in general by stating that, “when students see leaders that look like them, a barrier is lifted and they know that being a leader is something they’re capable of doing too.”

Priyank Patel (12)

Priyank is ASB’s Senior Vice President and is a founder of his own tutoring club at school, with the help of the SUN Program. He also works as a cleaning volunteer at a children’s book bank and as a grocery shopper for an organization called Store to Door PDX which grocery-shops  for the elderly community and people with disabilities. Aside from representing the larger Asian community at Franklin, he wants to represent the South Asian minority that is often excluded from the Asian narrative. Priyank decided to take a role in ASB in order to help fulfill student needs and understand the student body, and the school, as a whole.

He feels that the lack of Asian representation in school leadership is a result of the undervaluing of student government and leadership within the community, saying that “the community as a whole needs to stand up and give representation its lost importance.” He further adds that the student body is weakly represented on district and public levels due to diversity deficiency. “[Diversity and representation] solidif[y] the idea of community and having people in the student government with diverse backgrounds can help better understand the issues and problems our students face and we can work more efficiently together to better solve these issues,” says Priyank. However, he also believes that this state of exclusion and lack of representation is rapidly changing. 

Austin AJ Angang (12)

Austin is another all-around leader. Aside from being the Vice President of Franklin’s Pacific Islander Club, Austin works as the Franklin’s Boys Basketball Team Manager. As the team manager, he ensures that the boys maintain a positive mindset and motivates them to do their best at every game. He also makes sure to guarantee the success of the athletes outside of school. When asked what prompted him to be a leader, Austin asserts that his inspiration and motivation came from deeply observing teachers and peers. 

According to him and another affiliate from the Pacific Islander Club, AAPI— especially Pacific Islander—representation isn’t as evident at school, and even AAPI Heritage Month isn’t really addressed or drawn attention to compared to other celebrations. He also feels that his community lacks recognition, not just from mainstream culture, but also at school. Austin also shared his experiences with being blatantly approached and mistaken as someone from a different race: someone would come up to him and speak to him in Spanish, assuming he is Mexican. When asked what his plans are to ensure and promote change, Austin expresses his plans to speak out and educate people about his heritage in order to encourage inclusion. 

Aidan Mottau (11)

Aidan, currently a junior, has been part of Franklin’s leadership program since his freshman year. He is one of ASB’s staff members who makes all the fun stuff at school happen—from Spirit Week to a lot of behind the scene work. In addition, ASB’s beneficial impacts to the school community motivated him to continue through Franklin’s leadership program. As a student in the leadership program, Aidan was taught how to socialize and create thoughtful solutions that could make the school a fun and safe place. He added that being part of ASB allows him to share his opinions and ideas, which he absolutely loves, and also allows him to help create a better high school life for other students. 

Aidan believes that Franklin’s Asian representation is strong. He says he is surrounded by many  of Asian students consistently, which makes him feel great. According to his observations, he believes that although the school is diverse, the Asian community stays within their bubble. Aidan loves to express his Asian side and is glad to not be a subject of racial jokes.

Ashley Tran (10)

Ashley is one of ASB’s Asian representatives and is also part of Franklin’s Key Club board. She pursued leadership in order to learn what it takes to be a better leader, hoping to understand the qualities leaders have, and learn from other students with these qualities to encourage improvement on one’s self. Most importantly, her classmates from ASB inspire her to be a better leader due to their professionalism when approaching problems. 

She believes that Franklin lacks representation to some extent, but that there are also attempts to avoid exclusivity. She states that affinity groups, such as the Asian American Association, help the community promote positivity and prevent loss of identity and heritage. Ashley tries her best to improve inclusivity at school and be compassionate to other Asian Americans, by listening and recognizing their struggles, which she hopes could eventually lead to figuring out a reasonable solution for everyone. She is also in the process of learning about herself and her ability to help the community.

These students are just some of the amazing leaders who stepped up to improve the current state of Franklin’s diversity in the student body. They serve as the AAPI community’s advocates who could amplify their voices and possibly express the community’s struggles to Franklin’s mainstream culture, which can sometimes neglect diverse narratives while making decisions that affect the whole student body. 

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