If Inga Lam could live happily ever after with any food, she would marry bread. “Even as a kid, bread was my to-die-for food,” Lam said during a talk in Houston Hall’s Bodek Lounge: “Who doesn’t like bread?” she asked. “Raise your hand, and get out.” Lam, a senior video producer at BuzzFeed, was the keynote speaker of this year’s Asian American Pacific Heritage Week (APAHW).
Founded in 1993 with earlier versions of the program held in the 1980s, APAHW is one of Penn’s longest-running heritage programs, says Peter Van Do, director of the Pan-Asian American Community House (PAACH). APAHW celebrates heritage and community and fosters awareness to “address how invisible the community is within the context of the American mainstream,” Van Do says.
Every year, APAHW brings together guest speakers, faculty, staff, and students with a series of student-organized events that attract hundreds of attendees. This year, the week included “We’re All in This Together,” a discussion on Asian and American cultures with a “Squid Game” themed icebreaker, a talent show, an arts and crafts workshop, and a presentation from Penn professors called “Sharing Our Roots,” in collaboration with the Asian American studies program.
APAHW went virtual in fall 2020, with performer Anik Khan delivering the keynote. “If there was any speaker that was needed for that time, it was him,” Van Do says, calling the Bangladeshi American hip-hop artist “uninhibited.” That realness is the overlying thread in both 2020 and in 2021, as students crave connection points, Van Do says. “People are looking for something more tangible,” and APAHW provides that in significant ways. There’s been a focus on genuine authenticity and connection.”
Lam was chosen by popular vote of the APAHW general board, says Grant Li, a junior from Toronto majoring in biology. Known for filming herself making Pixar’s Ratatouille, a confectionary version of Harry Potter’s golden snitch, or 24 hours of only eating clear foods, Lam showcases her Taiwanese culture through scallion pancake and beef noodle soup how-tos. “We all love the videos, so we wanted to invite her to speak to us here on campus,” says Li, who serves as the programming treasurer and tri-chair of APAHW. “She’s so good at promoting Asian American values.”
In her keynote talk, Lam answered questions moderated by students Sabrina Tian and Julia Yan before fielding questions from the audience. She also tasted dishes created by students from Penn Appétit, offering feedback on a biryani-style rice dish with paneer and raita as well as a strawberry tart macaroon inspired by one of Lam’s own videos.