Using art and culture to ring in Asian-American heritage month, the University of Wisconsin celebrates students and faculty representing more than 50 countries across Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Asian-American heritage is celebrated annually on both a local and national level in May. UW students decided it would be more beneficial to celebrate in April, when the student body is still in school. These year’s theme focuses on arts and culture.

Vice Chair of Hmong-American Student Association Maggie Yang said the dedicating the month this way helps break down barrier and build relationships between communities.

“Besides raising cultural awareness and celebrating the success of our APIA community, it is important that our presence and voices are acknowledged and valued for the diversity that we bring,” Yang said.

Pathways Asian American Campus and Community Liaison Office included Pacific Islander identities in the celebration. These identities include Hawaii and other American Islands.

Pao Thao, Southeast Asian Student Services coordinator, said this is because though Asia encompasses more than fifty countries, but Americans do not always recognize all of them. Many Asian-American students on campus are of Southeast Asian descent, which includes some Pacific Islanders as well.

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The month, Director of the Asian-American studies program and professor of English and Asian-American studies Timothy Yu said, is an opportunity to “highlight Asian-Americans on campus.”

Asian American students make up about 5 to 6 percent of the undergraduate student body. Since UW is a predominantly white institution, it is important to make students more aware of the cultures around them, Yu said.

“It’s important for Asian-American students … to see their identity and culture recognized and celebrated,” Yu said. “For non-Asian students [it’s important] to learn more about Asian-American culture and be aware of the fact that Asian-Americans are a part of the UW community.”

Asian-Pacific Islander American heritage month, along with the Asian-American studies program, is a means for dialogue among the UW student body and a way for Asian-American students to connect with one another, Yu said.

Highlights of the Asian-Pacific Islander American Heritage Month includes a guest-reading by Hmong author Mai Neng Moua and a lecture by Bee Lo, a licensed acupuncturist and a certified naturopathic medical doctor.

Yu said these events help students go beyond the three-credit ethnic studies requirement. Yang said the celebration looks to provide a “memorable” experience and sense of familial belonging to all attendees.

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“Three credits … is enough to get a very basic introduction to some of the issues surrounding race and ethnicity,” Yu said. “It’s not enough to get an in-depth understanding that [UW] hopes students can really get from the ethnic studies requirement.”

The original proposal for the ethnic studies requirement was six-credits. But Yu said it’s hard to get students to do more than just this requirement.

Yu encouraged non-Asian-American students to attend one of the events this month. He said those events could help non-Asian-American students understand some of the issues and challenges Asian-Americans may face.

“This is an opportunity [for non-Asian-American students] to learn about some of their peers,” Yu said.