Molloy HS hosts inaugural virtual AAPI panel

Panelists and members of Archbishop Molloy High School’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion were Vicky Higuera, top left; Yvette Villanueva ’07; Colleen Richards ’07; Ya-Ting Yang; Erwin Bernal ’00, middle left; AMHS Principal Dr. Darius Penikas; Edwin Wong ’90; Tenisha McDonald ’07; Shaina Wiel ’04, above left; and Ryan Robles ’21.

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Month, Yvette Villanueva, marketing director and vice chairperson 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 NYU, Villanueva hosted Molloy’s inaugural AAPI event, which took place via Zoom on May 18 at the Briarwood school. The panel invited participants to consider the impact of the model minority myth and addressed questions on 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.”

Ryan Robles, a Molloy senior and president of the Asian Club, served as student moderator. For Robles, who will attend Cornell University in the fall, resilience means “finding my voice and sharing that in order to create power.” The event presented a platform for cultivating the power of AAPI student voices by inviting Robles to ask panelists questions on behalf of his peers.

Consequently, the panel connected Robles with the founder of Molloy’s Asian Club, Edwin Wong. Wong is a 1990 Molloy alumnus and candidate for City Council District 29. He shared the “ABCs of stopping Asian hate,” which include “advocacy, budget equity and collaboration.” For Wong, building solidarity across AAPI communities remains the foundation from which his resilience emerges as a Chinese American.

Molloy music teacher and panelist Ya-Ting Yang emphasized building solidarity through listening to stories of the elderly. She likened her resilience to “a tree, very rooted in my [Taiwanese and American] identity.” Expressing pride in her Taiwanese roots, Yang shared how she embraced 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, embracing her Filipino heritage means joining activities that foster AAPI solidarity, such as her participation in her community’s Dragon Boat Club. Richards is an administrative assistant at Goldman Sachs. She embodies resilience by occupying spaces as her “true authentic self and bringing it to the table every day.”

Erwin Bernal, a 2000 Molloy alumnus and panelist, takes seriously the influence of creating spaces that foster inclusion as a special education teacher for a Queens middle school. Bernal is a DEI coordinator and doctoral candidate at St. John’s University. He creates more opportunities by encouraging teachers to emphasize Asian history beyond the colonial framework that underlies school curricula.

“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. Setting the tone for future events, the Council for Diversity and Inclusion looks forward to designing more panels that empower minority voices in the Molloy community.

Tenisha McDonald is a 2007 Molloy alumna and chair of Molloy’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion. She is also a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University and founder of Writer’s Ink NYC.

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