Celebration of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage draws a crowd to RJH

Students, staff and parents gathered at Ridgetop Junior High in celebration of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month last week. The event focused on cultural awareness surrounding the Asian-Pacific Islander lifestyle.

In celebration of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, the Central Kitsap School District hosted its fourth annual event dedicated to the culture.

Parents and students jammed into the Ridgetop Junior High gym for an opening ceremony complete with traditional Japanese dance, martial arts and Samoan chanting.

Seventh grader Jourdan Joseph, 13, said his favorite part of the opening ceremonies was watching students perform karate moves, including “pre-arranged sparring.” Students performed various routines side by side, slicing at the air with their hands and feet to show off self-defense skills.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Joseph said of the event. “We can learn about all the cultures (through these events.”

In the past, the event had been highly attended with last year’s program drawing more than 400 attendees, said Cindy Jaquay, a culturally responsive leader and Ridgetop teacher.

Students as well as community members participate in the event, including those of Asian-Pacific Islander descent to cook and prepare foods for sampling.

“It’s been absolutely astounding to me because of the groups that come in and the caliber of the performances they have,” she said.

While the event could be attended by K-12 students from across the district, the fact that a middle school site hosted it makes sense to Jaquay as an educator.

“At this age, their vision is expanded beyond their selves,” she said. “It’s a way to build a bridge between cultures.”

Parents and students were welcomed by decorative signs that lined the hallways in various Asian languages. Tri-fold presentations and tables decorated with artifacts added another educational aspect for students to check out between workshops.

According to the Asian-Pacific American Heritage month website, May was chosen for a very particular reason. The month was selected “to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants,” states the website.

Workshop opportunities included origami, lei making, Chamarro language lessons and the sampling of authentic food.

“It’s just a variety,”said Jeni Zapatka, CKSD’s professional development specialist.

As one of the coordinators of the event, Zapatka noted her favorite part of working with outside organizations is the “energy and excitement people have and the pride they feel.”

Jaquay agreed that the energy is what makes the event fun for students, especially the ones who are truly interested in their roots.

“It’s a great way to expose them (to their roots) and get them to dig deeper in their own roots,” she said.