AAPI Month Spotlight: Dr. Justina Or

Dr. Justina Or, Assistant Professor in Health Sciences, identifies as Asian American, specifically Chinese American. She grew up in Hong Kong, a former British colony and now the official Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. It is understandable why people abbreviate it to be HKSAR or simply Hong Kong.

As a former British colony, Hong Kong had its own system and incorporated several British elements into its culture and everyday life. Like most people in that region, she was raised speaking both English and Cantonese as her first languages since both are the official languages there. In fact, she is trilingual and also speaks Mandarin.

She remembers her childhood in Hong Kong with joy, recounting the busy city and seemingly endless holidays and festivals. As a result of living in a British-infused region, she and her family celebrated both Chinese and British holidays, such as New Year, Chinese New Year, Easter, Christmas, and Boxing Day.

Hong Kong embraces its rich culture and traditions. Dr. Or recalls the holidays called Qingming and Chung Yeung where families visit the graves of their loved ones in spring and fall to show respect to their ancestors. Other festivals include Mid-Autumn Festival, Tin Hau Festival, and Cheung Chau Bun Festival, to name a few.

Dr. Or’s favorite holiday was the Dragon Boat Festival, also known as “Duanwu,” where people of all ages race boats carved like dragons in the local rivers. Colorful decorations and costumes turn all of China into a party that people from around the world come to visit. This cultural festival is marked as a public holiday on the fifth day of the fifth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. Dr. Or’s favorite memory of this, her favorite holiday, was of the iconic festival food called Zongzi, or sticky rice dumplings.

When Dr. Or was an adult she moved to North Dakota with her husband, who was active duty and stationed there. She remembers as the plane was landing, she was happy to see buildings since she was expecting to see all farmland. She enjoyed the community she had there but admits it was a much different environment than she was used to in the bustling city of Hong Kong.

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage (AAPI) Month

“People just recently started talking about AAPI, but we’ve always existed. We didn’t just appear out of nowhere,” Dr. Or says. She explains that Asian Americans are stereotyped with the “model minority myth,” which assumes all Asian Americans are more hard-working, smart, and successful than other minority groups.

“People just recently started talking about AAPI, but we’ve always existed…”

Dr. Or explains, “We’re seen as the white counterpart—we’re here but not completely included, so we’re often neglected in social justice issues, in regard to representation and economic distribution. It’s important to think about that.”

She adds, “AAPI individuals in the U.S. do face systemic discrimination issues. They’re often not as overt, as compared to other marginalized populations, and can be more like microaggressions. We do face discrimination, but it tends to be brushed off. We need to be at the table to raise awareness and make changes.”


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