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Where every person has a story.

HHS Media

Where every person has a story.

HHS Media

Do you feel that HHS and our city are inclusive environments for all cultures/ethnicities?

  • Yes, I do (60%, 67 Votes)
  • We can improve (30%, 34 Votes)
  • No, I do not (10%, 11 Votes)

Total Voters: 112

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Duong, Thompson bring Asian Student Association vision to life

Graphic courtesy of Theo Thompson and Kristi Duong
Junior Theo Thompson and senior Kristi Duong created the Asian Student Association this fall. The club has already had a number of meetings and has an upcoming potluck for all HHS students.

According to the Virginia Department of Education, only 2.6% of the student population of Harrisonburg High School identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander. Out of the just over 2000 students at the high school, that is around 55. Senior Kristi Duong is one of these students.

“I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my ethnicity growing up. I am fully Vietnamese and I’ve always struggled with fitting into the standards of western beauties and stereotypes,” Duong said. “As I entered High School, my growing curiosities about my culture blossomed and I wanted to appreciate who I was. There were only about one or two Vietnamese students that I knew throughout High School. Clearly, the majority of Asian students at HHS was small. Still, I found my way to advocate my roots.”

Duong found the easiest way to share here Vietnamese culture with friends through food, noting that “I always seem to have friends over to enjoy a fresh bowl of Pho” when her mother makes a pot. The exchange of Pho and other traditional Vietnamese dishes led Duong to realize how important it can be to share one’s culture.

“Seeing the interest from my friends, who are from all over the world ethnically, really opened my eyes to the expression of sharing my Asian culture. It means the world to me that I can grow and express my love for my roots through others,” Duong said. “A big part of Southwestern Asian tradition is to gather, share, and express our love through people. Those traits have stuck with me and my pride in being a Vietnamese-American.”

In a similar way junior Theo Thompson, whose is half Japanese, has witnessed the impact of food on his upbringing. 

“Being Asian-American is a big part of my identity and has impacted me so much growing up. Because I’m mixed, I got to experience so many similar and different aspects of both parts of my heritage. I think it’s given me such a broad worldview that I’ve come to appreciate, especially now through high school,” Thompson said. “The presence of food is a big part of my cultural identity and is important to me. I was exposed to a very diverse cuisine at a young age, and as I’ve matured, I’ve become more grateful for that. Without that exposure, I don’t think I would eat many of the foods I really enjoy today.”

However, the sharing of their culture didn’t stop at sharing their favorite ethnic dishes; because this year, Duong and Thompson started the Asian Student Association (ASA).

“ASA came to life in early spring of 2023. I remember thinking about an Asian student-oriented organization and mentioning it in passing to Kristi. We had a ditto moment as she had also been thinking of some sort of similar organization for a long time,” Thompson said.

Starting ASA has been a dream of Duong’s since her sophomore year. Duong drew inspiration from alumni Emily Nyugen, who is currently on the board of the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) at James Madison University (JMU).

Junior Theo Thompson and senior Kristi Duong hold a sign promoting the club they founded this fall: the Asian Student Association. (Photo courtesy of Theo Thompson and Kristi Duong)

When Duong and Thompson realized how passionate they both were about starting the club, they knew it was something they had to do. But, past the idea, they were not sure how to proceed. With the help of junior Addison Mason, who had recently started her own student-run club they were able to get the ball rolling. Shortly after, they found a club sponsor in science teacher Dr. Timothy Bill and got the club approved by assistant athletic director Jonathan Middleton and principal Dr. Melissa Hensley. 

“I never knew how successful ASA would be. I understood that there were not a lot of Asian students at HHS. We were definitely open to the idea of an inclusive organization where all cultures/ethnicities were able to join and learn about Asian cultures. The best part was seeing how many people showed up to our very first meeting. Some were hesitant and some were excited, but at the end of the day, they grew to understand that ASA is a club for everybody and could actually be really fun,” Duong said. “There is never a meeting where there is complete silence. Everyone always has something to say and are welcoming to the ideas we throw at them. They also understand that we’re a very new club, which means that we make mistakes. Our mistakes are always forgiven and we always bring each other up. The energy as they walk into room 115 every month makes me realize that we made the right decision to start this club in the first place.”

The energy as they walk into room 115 every month makes me realize that we made the right decision to start this club in the first place.”

— Kristi Duong

The club has already had three meetings. Thompson has enjoyed everything about running the club, “from creating the Canva presentation slides to the snacks to the great brainstorming sessions.” However, the club still has more in store, planning a potluck for all HHS students and creating a group to perform at the VSA culture show.

At their last meeting, Rachel Vu, a JMU student and former president of VSA, came to speak to ASA members about thow they could get involved with the culture show and Asian student organizations at JMU.

“It was an amazing opportunity for us and I’m so glad that we are able to have these connections with people that are so close to us,” Duong said.

Though Duong and Thompson have already been able to widen the club’s lens to the greater Harrisonburg community, the focus is still on creating a space for students at the high school.

“I think the percentage of Asian and Pacific Islander students at HHS yields both pros and cons for ASA. Of course, we would love an increase in those students as the goal of ASA is to create a dedicated space for them. However, because such a small portion of the student body identifies as Asian, Pacific Islander,  it makes the presence of ASA that much more needed and necessary. Through ASA, I hope we provide that space in a good way that can form deeper and more meaningful connections within our community,” Thompson said.

The club is welcome to any and all students at the school, but both Thompson and Duong noted how important it has been for Asian students to see themselves in a club at HHS. Whether or not they will join ASA or not is up to them, but both believe having the option is a step in the right direction.

“I always found myself disconnecting with my culture throughout High School and half of that reason was because I couldn’t find any friends that could feel the same. With ASA, one of our biggest goals is to make connections and we can do that even with the 2.6% of Asian students at our school,” Duong said.

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