Reflecting on Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month
Artist: Karen Wang, Web Developer, Charles Butt Foundation
Artist’s Note: While brainstorming this artwork, I wanted to utilize a unique perspective on the Asian aesthetic that focused on openness. It’s important to show how we should continually show openness and inclusion between all Asians in America and across the world. The idea of doorways stood out, especially since many gateways / doorways have aesthetics that echo styles across multiple Asian cultures. Additionally, I realize representation of our Asian cultures in America are frequently symbolized by these same gateways. I also included Asian-inspired artwork of water to represent Pacific-Islanders. Being of Asian descent, specifically from Taiwan, I uniquely connect with Pacific-Islanders and understand the major role water plays in the continuity and distinctions of the many cultures represented by Pacific-Islanders.

At the Charles Butt Foundation, we are committed to helping create a more equitable and prosperous future for all students, especially our students of color and those from low-income families. We also believe public schools must continuously improve and innovate to meet the needs of all students. Every child, in every community, deserves access to a high-quality public school so they can pursue and reach their full potential. 

Representation matters in education

The Asian American & Pacific Islander community is one of the fastest growing in Texas. According to the 2020 Texas Census, the AAPI community continues to grow in our state. From 2010 to 2020, the AAPI population has grown by 66.5 percent. This includes those who identify as only Asian or Asian in combination with another race.

According to the Texas Education Agency, 4.9 percent of students enrolled in Texas public schools identify as Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander, for a total of 262,434 students across the state. Ten years ago, in the 2011-12 school year, this number was 182,982, or 3.7 percent of the student population.

The Texas Teacher Workforce Report 2021 found that, while Asian students were the second-fastest growing demographic group between the 2010-11 and 2017-18 school years, the percentage of teachers who identified as Asian, Alaska Native, American Indian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, or two or more races only grew by 1-2 percent. The 2021-2022 PEIMS found the number has only increased to 2.36 percent for the most recent school year. 

A 2021 study from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University found students having teachers of similar ethnicity or race significantly decreased exclusionary discipline for Asian American students.

Through our Raising Texas Teachers program and the Charles Butt Scholarship for Aspiring Teachers, we continue building a more diverse teacher workforce – that commitment is also embedded in our other statewide programmatic initiatives.

Representation in action 

In the small town of Presidio, Texas, Dr. Edgar Tibayan is in the business of inspiring students on a daily basis. As a devoted educator, he uses his own experience growing up in poverty in the Philippines to empathize, relate, and engage with many of his students who face similar challenges. Even though Presidio is one of the poorest districts in the state, there is a deep sense of family and community, and a fundamental belief that education is the door to opportunity. Dr. Tibayan, known lovingly as “Dr. T” by his students and community, champions these values with his students.

“We share the same background,” he says. “When they tell me they are hungry, that they can’t afford to go to school, or buy school supplies, I tell them, ‘These are not hindrances for you to get the best education.’”    

One of seven children, Dr. Tibayan and his family lived and tilled the land on a coffee plantation in the Philippines. The plantation’s owners reaped most of the rewards from each harvest, while Tibayan’s family lived in complete poverty. He would work for hours before and after school each day to help support his family and pay for school expenses.

“Education will change me,” he would tell himself. “There is no other way for me to change everything, unless I study.”

Dr. T shares stories about his childhood with his students, knowing that many of them can relate. He tells them that if he was able to succeed, they can, too, despite the hindrances they may face. He shows his students the diplomas and honors hung on his office wall. “I want them to see that this is a labor of love. A labor of life,” he says. “And I show my Joy Binder to them so they can see the good things that have happened to me. And I tell them. ‘This will happen to you, too.’”