Archbishop Molloy High School Hosts AAPI Panel
Virtual Event Seeks to Empower Students, Faculty, and Dispel Modern Minority Myth
by Tenisha McDonald '07, Chair, Council for Diversity & Inclusion
Pictured Above: Panelists and members of Molloy’s Council for Diversity & Inclusion. Top Row: Vicky Higuera, Yvette Villanueva, Colleen Richards, Ya-Ting Yang. Middle Row: Erwin Bernal, Dr. Darius Penikas, Edwin Wong ’90, Tenisha McDonald. Bottom Row: Shaina Wiel, and Ryan Robles.
BRIARWOOD, QUEENS --- In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Month, Yvette Villanueva, Marketing Director and Vice Chair of Archbishop Molloy High School’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion, posed a question to Molloy’s school community—What does forging resilience mean to you?
A 2007 Molloy alumna and graduate of New York University, Villanueva hosted Molloy’s inaugural event centering Asian American and Pacific Islander experiences. The Zoom panel took place on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, at Archbishop Molloy High School in Briarwood, Queens. This panel invited students, faculty, and staff to consider the impact of the model minority myth on the everyday lives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders while taking up questions of how to move forward forging resilience.
“Resilience is something beautiful born from something ugly,” said Villanueva, acknowledging a complex reality of being Filipina in America. “It means standing up for myself and commanding my worth.”
As if to underscore the importance of commanding worth, Ryan Robles, a senior at Molloy and President of the Asian Club, served as Student Moderator of the panel. For Robles, who will attend Cornell University in the fall, resilience means “finding my voice and sharing that in order to create power.” Leading Asian Club, according to Robles, has helped him find his voice through learning more about his Filipino roots. In addition, the panel presented a platform for cultivating the power of underrepresented AAPI student voices by inviting Robles to ask panelists questions on behalf of his peers.
Consequently, Robles had the opportunity to connect with panelist and founder of the Asian Club, Edwin Wong. Wong is a 1990 Molloy alumnus serving as a board member on Queens Community Board 6 (Forest Hills, Rego Park). He worked in commercial banking for fifteen years before becoming a candidate for New York City Council District 29. An advocate for the Queens community for more than 20 years, Wong shared what he calls the “ABCs of stopping Asian hate,” which include “advocacy, budget equity, collaboration, donating to community organizations, and education to increase understanding to combat bullying.” For Wong, sharing resources and building solidarity across AAPI communities remains the foundation from which his resilience emerges as Chinese American.
Sharing resources also remained a point of emphasis for Molloy music teacher and panelist Ya-Ting Yang, who discussed the importance of listening to stories of the elderly. Yang, a graduate of Columbia University and Music Director for a Queens community music program, has been teaching music at Molloy for 10 years. She likened her resilience to “a tree, very rooted in my [Taiwanese and American] identity.” Expanding the simile of preserving her Taiwanese roots, Yang shared how she learned to embrace the beauty in her name, meaning “elegant and ladylike,” when she decided to no longer go by her American name “Tina.”
For 2007 Molloy alumna and panelist Colleen Richards, preserving her Filipino heritage means joining activities that foster AAPI solidarity, such as her participation in her community’s Dragon Boat Club. Richards is a graduate of the University of Denver and Administrative Assistant at Goldman Sachs. She embodies resilience by occupying spaces as her “true authentic self and bringing it to the table every single day.” The significance of being involved in groups and community activities that support her identity remain a crucial aspect of forging resilience for Richards. She brings her authentic self into her work environment as well, where she is encouraged to be who she is and owns her identity.
Erwin Bernal, a 2000 Molloy alumnus and panelist, takes seriously the influence of creating spaces that foster inclusion as a special education teacher at a charter middle school in Queens. Bernal is a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator and currently pursuing his doctorate in education at St. John’s University. For Bernal, as a Filipino American, an often overlooked aspect of forging resilience is “understanding and taking opportunities that come along the way, big or small.” As an educator, Bernal creates more opportunities by encouraging teachers to place an emphasis on Asian history that moves beyond the colonial framework that typically underlies school curricula.
Molloy’s AAPI event is the second panel in a series of open discussions established to empower underrepresented students at Molloy. “This event provided a tremendous opportunity for our Asian American and Pacific Islander students and faculty to gain insights from an inspiring group of panelists,” said Principal Dr. Darius Penikas. “Molloy continues to be grateful to the alumni, parents, and friends serving on our Council for Diversity & Inclusion. We look forward to more enriching programming in the future.
Setting the tone for future events, the Council for Diversity and Inclusion looks forward to designing more panels that center minority voices in the Molloy community. We invite our community to watch the event via the video player below.
Tenisha McDonald is a 2007 alumna of Archbishop Molloy High School and serves as Chair for Molloy’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion. She is a PhD candidate at Princeton University and founder of Writer’s Ink NYC.