The word diversity in various Asian and Pacific Islander languages
By Michael Haederle

Coming Together

UNM HSC Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month Offers Opportunities to Learn, Heal

Growing up, Alberta Kong, MD, MPH, was taught not to complain or cause conflict, but with the recent spate of attacks on Asian Americans, she knew she had to do something.

That led Kong, a professor in The University of New Mexico Department of Pediatrics and chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine, to get involved with planning the UNM Health Science’s Center’s Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.

“This year, the pandemic has brought out more than just a virus,” says Kong, who emigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong when she was 7. “I’m getting involved because of what has happened, because of the anti-Asian hate that is happening. I’m trying to have more of a voice.”

This month’s heritage month observance is one of six organized by the HSC Office for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. It includes virtual presentations from faculty and community members on Chinese and Japanese culture, guest speakers discussing the status of Asian/Pacific Islanders in the health care system and a series of panels on cultural humility.


Alberta Kong, MD

I’m getting involved because of what has happened, because of the anti-Asian hate that is happening. I’m trying to have more of a voice.

Alberta Kong, MD, MPH

The panels afforded faculty, staff and students opportunities to talk about their experiences, including racist encounters and discrimination, and share their concerns about anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S.

Although speaking up was outside her comfort zone, for Kong, news photos of elderly Asian Americans injured in random attacks hit home.

“Seeing those pictures of our elders being hurt – that was really hurtful,” she says. “In Chinese culture we have a lot of respect for our elders. For me to see those in the news was really painful and hurtful. I had to push myself a little bit more.”

Kong says her daughter, a first-year college student in another state, has had some uncomfortable encounters that underscored the need to get involved. “It’s been very eye-opening for her,” she says. “But it’s good that she’s seen this.”

Sireesha Koppula, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and chief medical officer for UNM Hospital’s ambulatory clinics, grew up in India and came to the U.S. in her 20s to complete her medical education. Like Kong, she was taught not to speak out, but that’s changed.

“I tell the people I mentor that they need to speak up – to try to embrace themselves,” she says.

Koppula credits UNM with maintaining an encouraging environment and has enjoyed participating in the heritage month planning process.

“I have always been an advocate for diversity and inclusiveness,” she says. “When they approached me, I was really excited. They’re a very organized, very enthusiastic group.”

Kong says her younger colleagues don’t share her reticence about discussing race. “It’s the younger generation who are having a larger voice – which is great,” she says. “The younger people are bringing it up. They want to talk about these things..”

Participants in this year’s Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month celebration include:

  • Betty Chang, MD, Professor, School of Medicine
  • Esther Churchwell, Board Member, New Mexico Japanese American Citizens League
  • Aleli Colon, Community Member
  • Grace Hsu, MLS, Community Member
  • Pamela Hsu, MD, Assistant Professor, School of Medicine
  • Jim Feng PhD, Professor, College of Pharmacy
  • Pradeep V. Kadambi, MD, MBA, Professor, Department of Medicine, and Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs, University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville
  • Kiran Katira, PhD, UNM Community Engagement Center
  • Michelle Ko, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of California, Davis
  • Jongwon Lee, PhD, RN, Associate Professor, College of Nursing
  • Austine Lin MD, Visiting Instructor, School of Medicine
  • Pavan Muttil, PhD, Associate Professor, College of Pharmacy
  • Jim Ninomiya, MD, MS, Professor, School of Medicine
  • Nancy Pandhi, MD, PhD, MPH, Professor, School of Medicine
  • Joyce Pang, MD, PGY-3 and Learning Environment Education Fellow, School of Medicine
  • Laura Parajon, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor, School of Medicine
  • David J. Park, DO, Professor of Family Medicine, Vice President & Dean of the Southern Utah Campus, Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Sangeetha Prabhakaran, MD, Associate Professor, School of Medicine
  • Angelina Rodriguez, RN, MSN Candidate, College of Nursing
  • Fabiha Sabin, MS I, School of Medicine
  • Lan Sena, Albuquerque City Councilor
  • Anjali Subbaswamy, MD, Associate Professor, School of Medicine
  • Dang Vu, MS-III, School of Medicine

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