United in diversity: Our AAPI community

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Geeranan Chuersanga with her parents at Wat Thai in Los Angeles, the first and largest Thai Theravada Buddhist temple in the US and the place where she learned to speak, read and write the Thai language.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders contribute in virtually every way to patient care at Boston Children’s Hospital. Many work directly with patients as doctors, nurses and pharmacists. Many contribute to the supply as researchers, laboratory technicians and employees in the catering trade. Some work behind the scenes in human resources and administration, and some help maintain a safe, clean environment at Boston Children’s facilities.

The community at Boston Children’s also reflects the broad spectrum of the US’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) national heritage: Chinese, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Nepalese, Taiwanese, Thai and Vietnamese – just to name a few.

Chart showing countries of origin of US AAPI population: (Asian) Chinese, Asian Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani, Thai, Hmong, Cambodian, Laotian, Taiwanese, Bangladeshi, Burmese, Nepalese, Indonesian, Sri Lankan ;  (Pacific Islander) Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Guamian or Chamorro, Tongan.
US Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage (Graphic: Patrick Bibbins, Boston Children’s)

Unfortunately, many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders live with growing fears of harassment and discrimination. AAPI individuals who have been wrongly blamed for COVID-19 or simply targeted because of their race have faced increasing threats to their safety and well-being since the pandemic began.

We spoke to Geeranan Chuersanga, program coordinator for the Boston Children’s Office of Health Equity and Inclusion and leader of the Boston Children’s Asian American Pacific Islander Collaborative. Here she shares insights into Boston Children’s AAPI community, her own Thai culture, and a simple yet effective way to meet AAPI friends and colleagues.

Countering anti-Asian hatred as a community

Many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at Boston Children’s are linked on a deep level after shootings at three Asian-run spas in Atlanta in March 2021. “Coming together gave us an opportunity to express feelings that many of us have had for a long time,” says Chuersanga. “It helped us to see that we are not isolated.”

Together, the collaboration members found a sense of belonging and a safe space to share their grief and frustration at the early reporting of the violence in Atlanta. For several days after the event, many news outlets focused on the shooter’s backstory and failed to place it in the context of the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes since the pandemic began.

Coming together gave us an opportunity to express feelings that many of us have had for a long time. It helped us realize that we are not isolated.”

The group also spoke about the paradox of simultaneous hypervisibility and invisibility: dangerously visible on public roads through anti-Asian hatred, but often invisible in their pain or contribution to American society. Asian stereotypes contribute to this invisibility by robbing people of their individuality.

“There’s a tendency to lump all AAPI people together,” says Chuersanga. “The truth is that we come from many different countries and have many different roles. Even if we come from the same country, each person has their own experiences and identities.”

The gateway to getting to know an Asian person is their name

If you want to get to know a person, take the time to learn their name and how to pronounce it. This is especially true for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. After generations adopted American-sounding names, many AAPI people are now choosing names that celebrate their cultural roots.

“My parents called me Geeranan because they wanted me to carry my heritage as a first-generation Thai American,” says Chuersanga. Her name also has a special meaning (like many Asian and Pacific Islander names). “Geeranan means ‘one has happiness and joy for a long time,'” she says.

Geeranan means ‘One has happiness and joy for a long time.’”

However, when she was young, most of her classmates and many teachers treated her name as inconvenient. “They said things like, ‘Can I just call you G?’ or ‘I’m not even going to try.’” Chuersanga spent much of her childhood wishing she could change her name to fit in.

This changed in college when she became active in several Thai student organizations. That’s when she embraced her name. “Accepting my name has empowered me to accept who I am as a person.”

Although she recognizes that learning an unusual name takes extra time and effort, she encourages people to make the effort. “When someone asks me how to pronounce my name, it tells me they’re interested in getting to know me as a person.”

Thailand’s art, culture and a mythical creature

Over the past two years, Chuersanga has connected with the global Thai community through art. The pandemic gave her time to create a series of drawings and illustrations celebrating Thai culture. By sharing her artwork on social media, Chuersanga gives back to her community and meets people from all over the world.

For example, one of her illustrations shows the mythical creature Hanuman from the Hindu epic Ramakien. “Hanuman is the son of a monkey princess and the wind god,” she explains.

The mythical creature Hanuman, who looks like a monkey-faced man, wears jewels and a crown.
The mythical creature Hanuman. (Illustration by Geeranan Chuersanga, Boston Children’s)

“This drawing was inspired by my early exposure to traditional Thai art. I played Thai music and often accompanied my friends when they performed traditional dances. Hanuman stood out to me because of his strength, courage and dedication.” Chuersanga brings those qualities to her work at Boston Children’s every day.

Learn more about the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion.

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