Event illuminates ‘intersectionality of City’s identity’

SPRINGFIELD — It was the first-ever Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage event at Guy Lee Elementary last week — and the sunny, summer evening was filled with families playing games, dancing, and sporting new henna tattoos. 

The event highlighted and uplifted cuisines, music and cultures within the AAPI community. 

Food trucks, vendors, musicians, and dancers snacked on Korean corn dogs, Taiwanese tamales, egg tarts, Asian-inspired empanadas, sushi, and bubble tea. 

The AAPI celebration was spearheaded by a team of dedicated community members, parents, and teachers. 

Melissa Kruse is a mother of two students at Guy Lee, and was the event’s main organizer. For her, the celebration was a way to support her community’s cultural education. 

“Even though my kids are in the Spanish program, I wanted them to have this opportunity to celebrate their culture as well,” she said. “We did a study and found that the second-largest  demographic at our school is Asian and Pacific Islander. So we decided to do something to celebrate that.” 

She noted that events highlighting diversity like AAPI were not around when she grew up and commended the school’s commitment to invest in occasions such as this one. 

“I just want the students to learn more about Asia and the Pacific Islands and Native Hawaiian culture,” Kruse said. “Our school administrators were awesome and were so supportive from the very beginning.” 

The event also highlighted the work of the Springfield History Museum’s ILLUMINATION exhibit — which featured stories and photographs of six contemporary Springfield community members exploring the Asian American, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian (AANHPI) experience in the area. Through interviews, photographs, and personal objects the stories shared “illuminate the intersectionality of our Springfield identity.” 

Guy Lee Vice Principal Josh Donaldson said the celebration was an informal extension of the school’s immersion program. 

“We are the dual immersion school for Springfield and one of the goals of that is biculturalism – exposing students to as many cultural experiences is a huge part of that,” he said. “The collaboration between PTO and community partners has been unlike anything I’ve seen.” 

The family-friendly event featured performances from the Hula Troop, Kumu Akiko Colton and Halau Hula O Na Pua o Hawaii Nei, a Chinese Oboe performace by Brandon Hao, songs by the Eugene-Springfield Korean Central Church and the Eugene-Springfield Chinese Church. Eastgate Kenpo provided a martial arts demonstration and the Eugene Bhangra and Philippine American Association performed some whirling, colorful dances. Eugene Taiko and the Talavou Pacific Arts Academy closed out the jam-packed three hours of song and dance. 

Mayor Sean VanGordon spoke to a crowd of onlookers, commemorating the moment. 

“This event is about community, about all of us working together to recognize the important work of AAPI people in our community and their impact on the culture and history of our area,” he said. 

He also read an official proclamation, which declared this month AAPI heritage month in Springfield. 

“We are so excited by all of the people here celebrating with us,” Kruse said. “What better way to immerse yourself in Springfield’s thriving AAPI community than through food, fun, and friends.”