In front of a crowd of well over 100 people, Bety Le Shackelford spoke Vietnamese publicly for the second time in her life.
It was the only language spoken at home when she was a child. And when she started preschool at age 3, all she heard was gibberish as she tried to understand her teachers and classmates. She begged her mom to only speak English, especially in public.
But on Saturday, as she emceed at the KC Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration, she was proud to speak her first language.
“Today, our city officially recognizes the presence of our community, and in doing so Kansas City sees us, hears us and honors us,” Shackelford said.
People spread out around Ilus W. Davis Park, across from City Hall in downtown Kansas City. They listened to speakers including Mayor Quinton Lucas, Rep. Emily Weber, PaKou Her with API Underground, Cafe Cà Phê owner Jackie Nguyen and community activist Justice Horn. Crissy Dastrup read the city’s declaration of May as Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
This was the first time for the city to do so. The Month has been designated on a national level since 1992.
Japanese drummers from Three Trails Taiko performed, and the Haka ceremonial dance was performed by Pacific Islander Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Lucas asked the crowd to look at each other and at everything Kansas Citians can celebrate and be proud of.
“More than anything, be proud of who you are, share who you are and know that Kansas City has your back,” Lucas said, “no matter where you come from, no matter where you’re going, know that Kansas City respects you, respects your culture, respects your voice, and most importantly, respects your heart.”
He said he looks forward to attending the event in the future.
Missouri Rep. Emily Weber, the first Asian American woman to serve in the Missouri General Assembly, said the hate against the AAPI community goes back before the COVID-19 pandemic. She recalled going to the grocery store the day after the 2016 presidential election and a man told her to go back to where she came from.
She said the city’s declaration shows her that most Kansas Citians want to support the community.
“I know that I’m personally moved to know that the vast majority of our city wants to lift us up, support us, protect us and show us that we are valued and loved,” Weber said. “Let’s celebrate our diverse community, and all its multifaceted beauty.”
Her said that the community survives — and thrives — in the face of the struggles.
“When we see our communities suffering we march, we fight, we resist, and we organize, to meet our needs, protect our elders and raise our children,” Her said. “When we do these things we preserve and pass on strength and resilience to future generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“Just because others don’t see our contributions or us in this community does not mean we don’t exist.”
Horn said Saturday’s event should stand to show that Kansas City stands with the AAPI community. But he said it’s important to look at the status of white supremacy and racism in the country. He said those show up on a spectrum, ranging from microaggressions to someone calling him the N-word.
“I think it’s important, no matter if it’s Black Lives Matter, AAPI lives matter, trans lives matter, as well as women’s rights that we show up and show out and fight against racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and all the nasty things that call themselves home in our community,” Horn said.
He added that even those who aren’t apart of various communities should still show up to the fight.
“We all got to show up, and we all got to join the fight and end racism and white supremacy, wherever that may be,” Horn said.