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Celebrating Asian Pacific Islander Heritage

July 17, 2019

By Alexandra Barton

DOC Communications

Incarcerated women performing a traditional Asian Pacific Islander dance

The group of incarcerated women who organized the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Event, the API Sisters, dancing to ‘We Know the Way’ by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa'i. (Alexandra Barton, DOC Communications)

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INFOGRAPHIC: Asian/Pacific American Heritage

Colorful leis and floral lava-lava skirts could be seen twirling around at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) as the incarcerated individuals and their guests gathered together for the annual Asian Pacific Islander cultural event. The event was organized by a group of incarcerated women, called the API Sisters, with help of department staff and community volunteers.

The event started with an opening prayer song and a speech given by Correctional Industries Supervisor Assistant Sauni Savini. He discussed what the event means to him.

“While these cultural events are about having a good time and sharing laughter, it’s also about remembering where we came from and understanding what those who came before us can teach us,” Savini said.

Many cultures encompassed under the umbrella term of Asian Pacific Islander were showcased through a variety of costumes and dances. The women even had the audience join in to learn a traditional Tahitian dance. The event also featured a performance by the resident ukulele band.

According to the department’s data analytics division (pdf), about four percent of incarcerated individuals in Washington State identify as Asian Pacific Islander. Jessica Scott, an API Sister, said it’s because of the low number of those who identify as API that this cultural event is so important.

“Since there aren’t as many of us, sometimes we get forgotten about or left out,” Scott said. “But, being able to come together to celebrate our heritage and teach others about it, reminds us that we still haven’t forgotten, and that’s all that matters.”

At the end of the event, the API Sisters presented gifts to show their appreciation to all the volunteers that donated their time to make the event a success. The volunteer donations included providing costumes and other materials used by the performers during the event.

“We want you to know just how much it means to us to have such amazing support, both inside and outside (the facility),” said Faaupu Kanipe, the event’s host. “I know it means the world to all of us to have a community we can go to, even after getting out of here.”

Cultural events help the department in its mission to improve public safety, by recognizing the diversity of incarcerated individuals and treating them with respect and understanding. This can lead to a smoother reentry into the community and reduce recidivism.

“Having the chance to be with all these incredible people and put on something (event) as amazing as this is so awesome,” Scott said. “It’s times like this we can forget about everything else and just have fun.”