It’s been a historic Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month for Cincinnati, from a record-breaking Asian food fest attracting over 80,000 attendees to the city officially declaring May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
To wrap up the month-long celebration, Mayor Aftab Pureval sat down with Asianti’s social media manager Sam Burke in a Hot Ones-style interview to discuss his experience as the first Asian American mayor of Cincinnati.
The interview is modeled after the popular Hot Ones video series on YouTube, where celebrities sit down and eat increasingly spicy chicken wings while answering personal questions.
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Pureval discussed his identity as both an American and a child of Tibetan and Punjabi immigrants while taste testing some of the spiciest dishes from Krishna, a locally owned Indian restaurant near the University of Cincinnati. He reminisced on growing up in the homogenous community of Beavercreek and the impact of those adolescent years.
“That was a really difficult time for me growing up, not having that kind of permanent community and stable identity,” he said during the interview. “Now looking back on it, I think what it forced me to do as a child and what I use even now as an adult is kind of constantly making people comfortable with who I am, with my ethnicity and with my background, and that has forced me to be much more empathetic. “
In the interview, Pureval also tackled the topic of his children’s identity as biracial Asian Americans, his sneaker collection and the age-old question every person of color is familiar with, “Where are you really from?”
When asked about his thoughts on the notorious question, Pureval said, “It’s the worst question ever, right? It’s such a frustrating experience that it’s shared amongst not only the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community but the larger community of color. “
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Pureval said the origin of the question stems from the stereotype of being the permanent foreigner, where Asian Americans are often placed in this category of “other.” He said that curiosity about a person’s ethnic background is not inherently problematic, but offers an alternative question for individuals.
“If you’re interested in someone’s ethnicity, it’s not offensive to say, ‘Hey, what’s your ethnicity?’ At least I’m not offended by that, and I think most people wouldn’t be either, “Pureval said.
While questions about one’s ethnic background can be difficult for many, Pureval said he is privileged to have a strong connection to his Tibetan and Punjabi heritage, having visited both Tibet and India in his youth.
“Having that connection back to those physical locations and family in those physical locations, was obviously incredibly helpful for me personally,” he said.
Pureval’s full interview and his reaction to eating increasingly spicy Indian food is available to watch on Asianati’s YouTube channel.