When Fan Jiang, an Athens city resident of 14 years, was faced with a death threat directed at one of her children last school year, she turned to the city school board for a thorough investigation.
Backed by Jiang and supporters, the Athens City School District Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution to provide support and inclusivity for members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, communities in April. The resolution speaks of celebrating Athens students of diverse identities and condemns “hate speech, racism, and all forms of discrimination.”
A May 2021 report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that hate crimes against Asians went up 164% that year across 16 of the U.S.’s biggest cities. With the increase of anti-Asian crimes and prejudice came a flood of activism, organizations and resources contributing toward the support, aid and increased visibility of members of AAPI communities.
Jiang, in collaboration with Yi-Ting Wang and Noriko Kantake, founded the Athens Asian American Alliance.
“We felt like we just needed a place where all people with Asian heritage in Athens can feel safe and can connect with each other and empower each other,” says Jiang. “We also felt like, if we have an organization like that, we could help other families that face similar challenges down the road.”
AAAA’s mission is “to engage in community services and inclusion, advocate and support for social justice, and provide belonging and friendship, for all with AAPI heritage at Ohio University, Athens area schools and communities.”
Not only does AAAA want to engage with fellow residents of Athens and surrounding areas, but they also want to be a resource for Ohio University Athens’ international students and faculty as well.
Jiang also hopes for more connection between the university and Athens’ residents.
AAAA is constantly brainstorming outreach activities. Some of their ideas include working with Rural Action to introduce an Asian vegetable workshop, collaborations with university organizations such as the employee group AAPI-LEAD (which stands for Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Development), and the Asian American Pacific Islander Student Union (AAPISU).
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, AAAA has been holding their monthly meetings, which are open for anyone to attend, on Zoom and update their Facebook page regularly with news and updates on their ongoing projects.
One of these ongoing projects is AAAA’s community oral history project. For this project, members of AAAA plan to interview Asian community members of Athens and surrounding areas in order to tell the unique stories of residents and display the impact these people have on Athens and the surrounding area.
Audio recordings and transcripts of the interviews will be made available to the public on the Southeast Ohio History Center’s website.
Yi-Ting Wang, a 14-year resident of Athens and vice president of AAAA, says the oral history project is her personal favorite the alliance is working on.
“At first I thought we’re just preserving Asian American presence and contributions,” says Wang. “But as it turns out, it’s a story for the whole community.”