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VOLUNTEER VOICES: Celebrating National Asian American Pacific Islanders Heritage Month

Ginkgo Leaves

Celebrating National Asian American Pacific Islanders Heritage Month

Guest column by Sammee Quong of Augusta

May marks the 25th anniversary of the Gingko trees planted by the Asian Cultural Programs at the Augusta Civic Center in 1997.

May is also National Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Heritage Month.

Asian Americans comprise roughly 50 ethnic groups who speak upward of 100 different languages. It is a month of celebration, homage, awareness and empowerment of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

In 1984 the non-profit Asian Cultural Programs was created in Augusta. The board of directors consisted of Asian Americans, families who adopted Asian children, families who sponsored refugee families, families who lived and taught in Asian countries, English as Second Language teachers, and those who love and want to share the various Asian cultures.

We provided educational programs, assisted in helping the refugees adapt to a new community, engaged local school participation, had music and kite festivals, provided a resource library and held several Asian fairs at the Augusta Armory attended by more than 500 people from around the state. We sponsored the Youth Goodwill Mission from Taiwan, “An Adventure of Chinese Songs and Dances” with a coffee reception at the Blaine House hosted by Gov. John Brennan. The community was very receptive and good to us.

In 1997 we officially dissolved the ACP and decided to give all the money back to the community. We gave $250 to five local libraries for books and videos about Asia, $875 to the Holocaust Human Rights Center to help fund the Diversity Leadership Institute, and $1,375 to the Augusta Tree Board to plant a grove of six Gingko trees at the Civic Center. In front of the Gingko tree, by the sidewalk, a plaque was installed which says: “This grove of Gingko trees is symbolic of the Asians who have chosen to come to the Augusta area, to set their roots, and to contribute to the community.

In Augusta and surrounding areas there are multiple Chinese, Thai and Indian restaurants.  Other Asian-owned businesses are realty offices, and seafood and grocery markets. There are Asian doctors, some in private practice and many with the local hospitals. There are Asians who live in the surrounding communities and work for the state or private businesses.

Some of us are more visible than others. We all have different and interesting stories of how we got here. We have chosen to be in the Augusta area to live, work and contribute to its fabric of culture and its economy.

In the 25 years since the planting and dedication of the Gingko trees at the Civic Center, the numbers of Asians has increased in this community and across the state. There is a long history of the Chinese immigrating to Maine beginning in the early 1900s.

Identify and learn about the other Asians from the other 50 countries. Your local library and the Maine Historical Society in Portland are good resources.

Let’s acknowledge and celebrate Asian American Pacific Islanders Heritage Month in Maine.

Sammee Quong is a volunteer advocate with AARP Maine. She is also an avid volunteer in her community and, in 2019, Sammee was awarded the AARP Maine Andrus Award. Named for the Founder of AARP, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, this annual award celebrates and honors individuals who make a difference in the lives of others. It is the most prestigious and visible award AARP can present to an individual.

For more information, please visit AARP's AAPI online community website here.

Image: GettyImages-185075020
Thank you to for publishing Sammee's column on 5/6/22

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