Kekoa Erber Reflects on Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage and Mental Health Awareness Month

The month of May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. Being “hapa,” or mixed – half Asian (Okinawan and Chinese) and half German – understanding, connecting with, and balancing my cultural identities has been an important part of my life. AAPI Heritage Month has been a great opportunity to see the many contributions that Asian Americans have made and to see myself as a part of this identity and a part of the broader picture.

I have maintained a connection to the Okinawan side of my family that is in the United States, but I have recently made the trip to visit my family in Okinawa. I have also made similar trips to China to connect with family there. The passing of Norman Mineta earlier this year, and the role that he and Daniel Inouye (among others such as Jeanie Jew and Frank Horton) played in the establishment of AAPI Heritage Month, has made this an especially reflective time for me. As a community, I think continuing to elevate voices and celebrate AAPI contributions to society will help Asian Americans continue to make an impact in the U.S. and for those impacts to be recognized. 

The author in Okinawa. Photo credit: Kekoa Erber

While celebrating AAPI Heritage Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander accomplishments has clearly been special, in light of the global pandemic and anti-Asian hate, mental health awareness has taken on increased importance. Indeed, increased anxiety and depression have triggered developments such as the expansion of telehealth for addressing mental health issues and an increased focus on and flexibility in treating youth mental health. But personally, I think another problem created by pandemic quarantine is burnout. 

With many companies shifting to remote work, the initial feeling of having more time to take on more tasks and activities was great! I was able to do so much more with my time; however, the initial excitement soon dissipated as I increasingly found that these asks were becoming almost too much. I think it is important for employers to recognize the impact of burnout and give their employees room to step back and take mental health days when needed.

So, taking time for a mental health day to relax, organize my thoughts and priorities and move forward mindfully became essential to my mental health during the past few years of the pandemic. The focus on mental health exemplified by the creation of the USJC Mental Wellness Affinity Group is a valuable endeavor. As a USJC community, having this resource is important to expand the conversation in the U.S. and Japan about mental wellness and to share resources and research on mental health and wellness.