STG celebrates Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month

Facebook-Page-Cover-modified From left to right: Priyal Sahai, Sinae Joy Cheh (right) with fellow performer, and Koh Casaba

May is Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month. Here in the Pacific Northwest, our region would not be what it is today without Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander artistry and cultures. A singular "AANHPI experience" does not exist. Rather, each person—each contribution, story, and experience—is a unique piece of a complex tapestry. To celebrate the diverse narratives of AANHPI Heritage Month, we bring you five STG voices. Hear from Moeifaga "Lorna" Sailiai, a group leader for STG's AileyCamp; Koh Casaba and Priyal Sahai, musicians from More Music @ the Moore; Mark Hirayama, board member; and Sinae Joy Cheh, teaching artist, performer, and community partner.

On this AANHPI Heritage Month—what are you celebrating?

"I'm celebrating the pride that I take in my Samoan heritage! When I was younger, I used to be ashamed of being Samoan because of cultural norms clashing with societal norms, and I couldn't find the balance between the two. Now that I'm older and understand things a lot more thoroughly, I'm proud to represent my culture because it's embedded into who I am and how I conduct myself. I think it's important for everyone to embrace all aspects of themselves. I've found a true love for my culture and I show it off any moment I get." Lorna Sailiai

Moeifaga "Lorna" Sailiai was introduced to STG in high school: she danced with a Pacific Islander cultural dance group called NIU Roots, which performed at More Music @ the Moore and Dance This! A few years later, she became a Group Leader for Ailey Camp, and is now celebrating her fourth year with the camp.

"I will be celebrating both my family's Japanese heritage and my mom for instilling her cultural values in me and my sister." — Koh Casaba

"I'm celebrating the small victories such as the increased representation in Bridgerton for example, and an up-and-coming musical centered around South Asian culture and South Asian dance in the form of Bhangra. We need representation on Broadway beyond Princess Jasmine. I'm constantly inspired by the hard work to bring more global perspectives to our industry." Priyal Sahai

"This year, we celebrate AAPI Heritage Month—not just as another forgotten designation, but as a recognized period of festivities. I hope it does not end with a series of events but continues to increase understanding and cultural enrichment year-round." — Sinae Joy Cheh

"I celebrate being a proud American of both Japanese and Filipino descent—my dad is Japanese, and my mom is Filipino. There can sometimes be a tendency to group different Asian nationalities into a single bucket, but they are actually very diverse. I've been fortunate to have been exposed to both Japanese and Filipino cultures throughout my life." — Mark Hirayama

Why does representation onstage/in the arts matter to you?

Representation matters onstage and in the arts because it's a huge part of our self-expression. Dance is a significant part of our culture throughout the South Pacific. For someone like me who wasn't born on the island, I don't speak my native tongue, Samoan. So, growing up, the way I felt connected to my roots was dancing. I've danced since I was 6 and it's something that was passed down through generations. I hope to continue that one day with my kids." Lorna Sailiai

"Representation onstage is important to me, because growing up, I never had anyone to look up to in music who was also Asian (in America). While I pursue music. I hope to inspire young Asian artists and grow a community here in Seattle." Koh Casaba

"I never thought I could be on stage because I always felt there wouldn't be any roles for me. I thought no one would cast me because of the way that I looked. Because my culture wasn't celebrated onstage and in the media, I thought it was not worthy of being celebrated, period. I believe that no one deserves to feel that way, and I firmly believe that every culture deserves to be celebrated. Art is incredibly powerful; it is a universal language that can impact our perspectives, identities, and emotions. It shapes everything about us in the most subconscious of ways. We as artists have a responsibility to use that power to increase open-mindedness and foster community, love and respect for all cultures" Priyal Sahai

Mark Hirayama and family during a post-Hamilton performance backstage tour with Marc dela Cruz in September 2019. Pictured from left to right: Joylinda Hirayama, Kenzi Hirayama, Marc dela Cruz, Mark Hirayama, and Sandra McKnight.

"It is important for all groups to be represented, and for audience members—especially kids—to see performers who look like them. These performers show what is possible by doing what they love. Personally, it's a source of pride and I feel a sense of community when I see Asian Americans performing onstage. Not just Asians playing traditionally Asian characters like in Miss Saigon, South Pacific, Here Lies Love, and Making Tracks, but also, Asians playing any and all characters. For example, we recently had the privilege of seeing Marc dela Cruz as the first Filipino American to play the lead role in Hamilton on Broadway—it was a truly inspiring experience that I will remember forever!" Mark Hirayama

Do you have thoughts on how people can show up for Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities right now?

"There's an organization in Federal Way called the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington (PICA.) PICA provides health services, wellness fairs, food drives, and also offers a youth program that teaches Pacific Islander young adults about advocacy work. If you're ever in the area, they can always use volunteers on various projects, or you can spread the news about their organization." — Lorna Sailiai

"A great way to help is to support family-owned businesses. There are a ton of great restaurants in the area that will welcome your support. On a more general note, we need to continue to educate ourselves on the cultures of people who come from different backgrounds. We need to understand that people may be coming from places with different societal and social norms and empathize with their adjustment. Education is the key!"— Koh Casaba

"One thing we all have in common is our differences. Rather than turning away, if we could share in our common understanding of differences, we would find more ways our lives intersect and celebrate those differences that make us so similar." — Sinae Joy Cheh

"With regards to the alarming increase in anti-Asian attacks, I believe that my perspective on this is fairly privileged considering that I haven't been the recipient of too much hate or racism. Recognizing privilege and having empathy are two things I believe all communities need to do. What divides us is more trivial compared to what connects us as humans. I think we can support Asian and Pacific Islander communities by recognizing microaggressions, being proactive and respectfully shutting them down. We can educate ourselves about cultural appropriation, and support victims of hate crimes in any way we can."— Priyal Sahai 

Seattle Theatre Group unveils its 2022/2023 Perfor...
Smokey Robinson stars alongside Seattle youth in S...