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What AAPI Heritage Month Means To Erik Shoji


May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and we've been celebrating by checking in with some of our recent guests about what this month means to them. This week, we spoke with Olympic volleyball player Eric Shoji. For him, this month is about honoring his grandparents.

ERIC SHOJI: As many people know, Japanese Americans around the time of Pearl Harbor were put into internment camps. And my grandparents actually met in the camps and were married there. So through some rough times, I think our family was almost born. And I think it's an interesting story to tell. It's not a very unique one for Japanese Americans, unfortunately. But celebrating my grandparents - amazing, amazing Japanese Americans, love their culture, loved America as well. And for me, this month is all about them.

MARTIN: Eric Shoji she says he appreciates his grandparents for teaching him about his Japanese heritage.

SHOJI: Every New Years, we would have traditional Japanese celebrations with the food. And fireworks are a big thing. So spent a lot of time with them. You know, they were a little bit more quiet about their culture. I think that's just the way that era was, that generation was, but loved spending time with them and learning more and more about it.

MARTIN: She even says his passion for volleyball comes from being Asian American.

SHOJI: An interesting thing to know about volleyball is that it's huge in the Asian American and Pacific Islander culture. Growing up in Hawaii, where we are the majority, I would say, it's huge. And I know it's huge all over Polynesia. I know it's all - it's huge all over Asia. So if I wasn't born and raised in that community, I'm not sure if I would have this love for volleyball like I do. But I know that the culture aspect of it was huge in my development and my love for the game.

MARTIN: And he says he's proud to play on a team with so many other members of the AAPI community.

SHOJI: On the Team USA volleyball right, now, the men's team, we have 19 players, and seven of them represent the AAPI community and - everywhere from Asian to Pacific Islander. So I think that's awesome. We have great representation on our team in a sport that isn't necessarily known for diversity. So I love that, you know, young, aspiring volleyball players or young kids out there who might be Asian American or Pacific Islander can look at our team and say, hey, I look like that guy.

MARTIN: As for his favorite part about being Asian American - well, look. It's about the food.

SHOJI: I love eating Asian food five times a week and getting away with it. And nobody can say anything to me about it because I love all things Asian all food Asian. And I don't care what people say about it. I love it. I celebrate it. I eat it. And I don't apologize for it.

MARTIN: That was Olympic volleyball player Eric Shoji. And if you're wondering if you'll see him compete this summer for Team USA...

SHOJI: The team has not been set, but I'm looking forward to hopefully making the team. I think it's going to be an amazing experience, a different experience. And it does make it a little special that it's in Tokyo, it's in Japan, being a Japanese American. But when I get there, I think, you know, I'm going to represent myself and my Asian American heritage as best as I can, but I'm trying to win a medal for the USA. So it's special, but the focus is all about winning for the country. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.