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Celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May 12, 2021

By Rachel Friederich

Communications Office

Group of men dancing wearing floral skirts

Incarcerated individuals dance traditional haka at a Washington Corrections Center Asian American Pacific Islander celebration event in 2018. The haka is a ceremonial dance or challenge in Māori culture. It is performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment. (Tim Kelly, Communications Office)

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May is Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The term Asian-American/Pacific Islander refers to people whose ancestry encompasses all of the continent of Asia and Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

Approximately 4.4% of incarcerated individuals (approximately 646) are AAPI. The Department of Corrections normally provides diversity, equity and inclusion programs for incarcerated individuals to create awareness of and recognize various cultures and provide opportunities for professional growth. Many outside non-profit organizations and outreach groups bring in guest speakers and representatives from cultural communities to hold the events.

However, group size limitation guidelines and temporary restriction of public entry into corrections facilities amid a pandemic severely limited the department’s ability to fully-execute these programs to the level it normally would.

While facilities aren’t able to provide cultural events on as large of a scale in previous years, the department acknowledges cultural diversity is important to creating safe environments in facilities. With more staff, incarcerated individuals and members of the general public receiving COVID-19 vaccinations and our announcement of limited in-person visitation earlier this month, the department is looking forward to eventually resuming some of these activities when it is safe to do so.

Past Events

One of the largest AAPI groups is an annual event (YouTube video) held at Washington Corrections Center in Shelton. The 2018 event drew more than 200 attendees, including incarcerated individuals, their family members and guests celebrate and learn about Asian Pacific Islander songs, dance, and cuisine. The community advocacy group, Formerly Incarcerated Group Healing Together (FIGHT), helped co-host the event. FIGHT was started by a group of Asian American Pacific Islander men who were once incarcerated in the Washington state correctional system. After their release, they formed a support group that helps bring mentoring, advocacy, outreach and political education to justice-involved members of the AAPI community.

“We would like to see more interactions from people on the outside because it’s not just about criminals or felonies or whatever the stigma may be,” said Peter See, one of the founders and volunteers of FIGHT who attended the 2018 event. “These folks are trying to end the recidivism amongst themselves here first before they return to the outside.