AAPI Heritage: Aisyah’s story

Amanda Crawford

In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Hydrow Athlete Aisyah Rafaee produced a special row about her personal experience growing up Malay in Southeast Asia. We caught up with Aisyah to learn more about the themes explored in her “Embracing Cultures" row.

What can members look forward to in this row?

One thing I think is important for the Hydrow community to know is that I identify as Asian, not Asian-American, and there can be quite the difference. I’ll talk more about what it means to be Malay, which represents a really small group of people in Southeast Asia, and some of our different cultures and traditions. I’ll also touch upon how diverse Asian culture can be and how we can celebrate that diversity.

Do you have favorite things about your heritage that you’d like to share?

One of the biggest things my culture is known for is its food. We cook with a lot of fats, including coconut milk or oil which makes things taste great. At our Eid festival, we celebrate by eating a lot of food, especially desserts and sweets like Kuih. There is actually a Malay lady from Singapore who lives in Boston and whenever I’m craving a home cooked meal I go to her and she will feed me the way my mom does. Clothing is also important and the way we dress on certain occasions, like weddings or the Eid festival, is something we’re very proud of. 

You are the first Olympic rower to represent Singapore. What was that like?

One of the biggest stereotypes associated with Malays is the expectation that women should play a traditional role of staying home and managing the household. By becoming a full time Athlete and representing Singapore in the Olympics, I was representing my culture but also showing the world that women don’t have to follow those expectations, which was powerful. Being able to represent my country but also who I am as a person was a really amazing experience for me. 

What can the Hydrow community do to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month?

I think it’s important to stay educated on just how diverse and special the world is and that Asians and Pacific Islanders cannot be clustered into just one group. There are so many rich cultures and traditions, even amongst the Malay people ourselves, that are very different. I don’t think you need to be familiar with all of those different backgrounds, but rather appreciate that there’s a diverse world out there and we can find joy in celebrating how different we all are. 

Share your story with us 

Do you have your own AAPI heritage story to share? We want to hear it! Post in our Facebook Training Camp group or on social by tagging @Hydrow and tell us what Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month means to you.