Celebrating AAPI Leaders and Cultures in the WA Charter Sector

Jun 1, 2021 | Community Stories, WA Charters

By Rekha Bhatt, Senior Vice President, Programs and Bely Luu, Associate Director of School Development at WA Charters

As two Asian-American women, daughters, moms, and leaders in the Washington state charter public school sector, we know firsthand the richness, beauty, and power that the vast spectrum of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) identities encompass. We also know how these assets and contributions are too often invisibilized or generalized in schools, media, and other social structures. We seek to shine lights on them all of the time, particularly during May for AAPI Heritage Month.

Meet Bely

About Bely “Bailey” Luu: I’m a first-generation Chinese American born in Vietnam. I’m grateful to my mom, who made sure I spoke Cantonese Chinese at home and nourished me with nutritious Cantonese soups, homemade wontons, and fried rice. She continues to enrich my life by teaching my daughter our native language and celebrating our favorite holiday, Lunar New Year. Every Lunar New Year, we have a family feast filled with fish for prosperity, noodles for longevity, and sweet rice balls for family togetherness. My 6-year-old re-reads her Bringing in the New Year board book, dresses up in a qipao (traditional Chinese dress), and wishes every family member and anyone she knows “sun-nin-fai-lok,” which means Happy New Year. It is always the most joyous time of the year.

Bely Luu
Bely and her daughter, Madison

Meet Rekha

About Rekha Bhatt: My parents immigrated to the U.S. from India in the 1970s and built our family in a small Pennsylvania town. Growing up, I spoke Gujrati at home and ate nightly dinners of rotli, dal, bhat, and shaak, which is still my comfort food today. Celebrating Navratri, an annual festival of the triumph of the goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura, and ultimately good over evil, through dandiya raas dance, dress, and food was one of my favorite traditions. I’m eager to take my own daughter to a Navratri celebration, once it’s safe to do so once again, ensuring that she experiences the incredible tradition of which she is a part.

Rekha Bhatt
Rekha and her daughter, Dahlia

As parents, we intentionally create a home culture where our kids feel proud to be Asian Americans. We believe schools also have a role in cultivating a culture of belonging where students of all cultures are seen and valued inside and outside of the classroom. One way of helping students feel seen is through representation. Across the 12 currently operating charter public schools in Washington state, we have three times the number of AAPI teachers than the state average (9% in the charter sector vs. 3% state average.)

You don’t need research, though it exists, to tell you that students are more engaged in learning when they see educators that look like them.

Rekha and Bely

Exposing students, both AAPI and non-AAPI students, to diverse teachers and traditions enables them to build knowledge, pride, and empathy for themselves and each other. 

About AAPI Heritage Month:

In celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, we invite you to learn about, uplift, and amplify the diverse AAPI culture, stories, businesses, and organizations in our communities across Washington state. Below are some of our recommendations from AAPI leaders in the charter sector on our favorite books by AAPI authors; AAPI movies, businesses, and organizations we love; and Instagram influencers to follow. 

AAPI Staff & Board Favorites that Celebrate our Cultures

Books we are reading right now (we encourage you to purchase at a local or BIPOC-owned bookstore!):

  • Dear Girls by Ali Wong
  • Know My Name by Chanel Miller
  • Just One Cookbook – Essential Japanese Recipes by Namiko Chen
  • Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
  • My Unforgotten Seattle by Ron Chew
  • Permanent Record by Mary H.K Choi
  • The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee
  • Raising Multiracial Children: Tools for Nurturing Identity in a Racialized World by Farzana Nayani
  • American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures by America Ferrera
  • Celeste Ng’s books: Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere

Children’s books to read to/with your kids

  • Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin
  • Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho
  • Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel
  • Jasmine Toguchi Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence
  • Kamala & Maya’s Big Idea by Meena Harris
  • I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne
  • Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee
  • Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis
  • Priya Dreams of Marigolds and Masala by Meenal Patel
  • The Proudest Blue A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali
  • Yasmin the Chef By Saadia Faruqi
  • More recommendations from Rohi’s Readery, Social Justice Books, TODAY

Movies/TV Shows to watch

  • Bao (Pixar’s short film)
  • Mira, Royal Detective (T.V. show)
  • Crazy Rich Asians
  • Finding ‘Ohana
  • Joy Luck Club
  • Kim’s Convenience (sitcom)
  • Moana
  • Minari
  • Mulan
  • Over the Moon
  • Parasite
  • Raya and the Last Dragon
  • Shanghai Noon
  • The Farewell
  • The Namesake

Favorite Restaurants

    • Canton Noodle House
    • Cherry Street Thai
    • Chu Minh Vegan Vietnamese Restaurant
    • Coffeeholic House
    • Fort St. George
    • Flour Box
    • Fuji Bakery
    • Gan Bei Eatery & Bar
    • Harbor City
    • Burger and Kabob Hut
    • Kauai Family Restaurant
    • Musang
    • Panwa Thai
    • Patrick’s Cafe
    • Phnom Penh Noodle House
    • Phở Bắc Sup Shop
    • Raised Donuts
    • Spice Waala
    • Tai Tung
    • Thai-U-Up
    • TP Tea

    • Bai Tong Thai Restaurant (Tukwila)
    • Dochi (Seattle & Tukwila)
    • Indian Bistro (Kent)
    • Indo Asian Street Eatery (Tacoma)
    • Fil Cuisine (Kent)
    • Malakor Thai Restaurant (Renton)
    • Mama Dough (Kent)
    • Miyabi Restaurant (Tukwila)
    • Renton Bistro (Renton)
    • So Moon Nan Jib (Federal Way)
    • Triumph Valley (Renton)
    • Madras Dosa Corner (Issaquah)
    • Umi’s Cafe (Issaquah)
    • Kim’s Korean Restaurant
    • House of Seoul
    • Wasabi Bistro

Favorite Local Businesses

    • Hong Kong Market (Kent & Burien)
    • Lam’s Seafood (Seattle & Tukwila)
    • Maruta Japanese Market & Deli (Seattle)
    • Uwajimaya (Seattle & Renton)
    • Asian World Food Market

AAPI Role Models

  • Grace Lee Boggs
  • Margaret Cho
  • Kamala Harris
  • Jameela Jamil 
  • Yuri Kochiyama
  • Ellen Pao

Instagram Influencers

Thank you to our families, students, staff, and board members who contributed to this list of resources and recommendations. Special shoutouts to:

We hope you continue to support AAPI & BIPOC communities throughout the year!