It’s already time to announce another APA Leader! Meet Monica! Monica is such a kind-hearted, humble, and caring person. APASA is so lucky to know a leader like her and you all should continue reading to learn more about her!
Name: Monica Nguyen
Major: Mechanical Engineering
What does being APA mean to you?
I was actually just talking to a friend about this a few weeks ago. It’s a heavy question, but for me, being APA means being a part of a community that loves and supports me through everything that I do. I came into SCAPE at a really rough time in my life, looking to find happiness in the work, but instead, I found happiness in the people. I found a community of people who accepted me and genuinely made me happy every time I got to hang out with them. I haven’t told many of the e-board members of SCAPE and APASA last year this, but I had so many bad days that first semester I joined. Knowing that I had a SCAPE or APASA event to go to was sometimes the only thing that got me out of bed. Seeing them and being there made me feel like I was simultaneously a part of something bigger than myself and a part of something for myself. Being APA means much more than an identity to me. It means this community.
Explain in detail your involvement in the Asian Pacific American community on and off campus.
On campus, I am the external vice president of the USC Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment (SCAPE). To me, SCAPE is a space for APA student activists to talk to and feel connected to each other. I am also a member of the Vietnamese Student Association. Last semester, I was also a participant in APASS’s CIRCLE program.
As much as I would love to be a part of APASA and every one of their member orgs, the time machine I’m building isn’t done yet, so the best I can do is try to go to events whenever I can in order to support. I am especially excited to come out to more heritage festival events this year to enjoy the shows and see all the hard work these organizations have put in.
As a part of my role as EVP, I am also a campus delegate for the West Coast Asian Pacific Islander Student Union (WCAPSU), which brings together APA student activists from across California to develop ourselves as leaders and form relationships with other students doing this work. I was also on the summit planning team for our last two summits. WCAPSU has helped give me the resources and the community support I needed to be a better student leader.
What advice do you have for aspiring APA leaders?
Self-care, self-care, self-care, self-care, and…what I am forgetting? Oh right! SELF-CARE!
As a student leader, I think it is easy to start placing the work before ourselves, but I have found that I can’t do the work without taking care of myself first. I am cannot be the leader, the student, or the friend I want to be if I am not getting enough sleep or taking care of my health.
The hardest part of practicing self-care, though, is that it ultimately comes down to practicing self-love. I have to love myself enough to know that I deserve to be taken care of, that I deserve to get 3 meals a day, and that I deserve to get a healthy amount of sleep every night. I have to love myself enough to know that I don’t have to do something to earn these things because I already deserve them.
To love yourself is a hard thing. It has been a long journey for me to get to a place where I can love myself and feel that my voice matters and that I matter. I am only at this point now because of the people I have surrounded myself with. I have friends who never let me forget it and never make me feel like I am anything less than enough. That being said, I still have times when I don’t like myself, and that’s ok too. This is a journey, but a journey I think is worth going on as a student leader. It gives you something to fight for and it is, in itself, an act of resistance. If you are an aspiring APA leader, I would really suggest starting by trying to love yourself first, and make sure the spaces you enter and create perpetuate the self-love in yourself and others. On a personal level, I can say that I’ve found a sense of liberation in unapologetic self-love.
Why is it significant to learn about our heritage?
I find it important to learn about my heritage because it is such a big part of my identity. I cannot remove the Vietnam War from my identity as a Vietnamese American. I can’t remove the struggle of all the Vietnamese people who came before me. It has very much made me who I am, and understanding that makes me more aware of myself, giving me the tools to speak up and speak out. It also helps be understand my parents and what they have gone through. Learning about our heritage is learning about their history, and knowing these things helps me communicate with them.
I still feel like there is so much to learn, not the least of which is my own home language. Since coming to USC, I do not have to use Vietnamese very often, so sometimes I feel like I have lost that part of myself. So, a goal of mine would be to relearn Vietnamese eventually so I can talk to my parents in their native tongue and have another way to hold onto my heritage.
All money aside, what is your dream job?
This might seem like a cop out, but my dream job has always been to be an engineer. Even before I learned that engineering was a field that existed, I loved thinking about how the world worked and finding solutions for the problems I saw. When I found out what engineering was, it was like a light bulb went off in my mind. I knew that I wanted to become an engineer and build things that could help people one day.
As far as what kind of projects I want to do as an engineer, my ideal life would include working in a variety of industries. I want to work in the space industry for a while, because, I mean, space. I also want to work with Disney as an Imagineer. As a kid, I used to go to Disneyland dreaming that I would be able to design and build the rides that I enjoyed. I just wanted be a part of the magic I felt whenever I went to Disneyland or was at home listening to the fireworks.
Beyond this, I will trust life to take me where I need to go, so long as I can build, do problem solving, and do some good at the same time.
What motivates and inspires you?
People inspire me. My e-board inspires me every day. Seeing what they have done for SCAPE and to get InspirAsian together makes me so happy. I seriously would not being doing this work if it I couldn’t do it with these people. I would have quit a long time ago, but being able to work with people I can call my closest friends is what keeps me going.
Anything else you would like to add-shoutouts, thanks to anyone for support/encouragement, etc?
To SCAPE E-board – Seriously, y’all are killing it. I said it already, but InspirAsian is going to be great tomorrow only because of all the work y’all have put in. Alex and Lorna, thank you to you both for putting up with me stressing out over the summer about not being able to do this. I am so proud to be your EVP.
To my fan club – I was going to give an explanation so that people wouldn’t think I was being narcissistic, but I feel it would be better left as is. I love y’all and thank you. I’ve been smiling since the moment I found out.
To APASA E-board (Last year’s and this year’s) – The APA community at USC wouldn’t exist without y’all. Gloria and Alison, you both welcomed me with open arms and that is something I am never going to forget. Kaylee and Sean, I would nominate you two for APA leaders if I could. You both deserve it so much with all the events you put on and the community building you have done (but you should get some more sleep). APASA has had a great year, and it is because of y’all.
To EdMonth – I’m not a part of EdMonth, but y’all inspire me to push myself harder and expand what is possible as student leaders. Hannah, you have done so much and I can’t wait for March. You should also get some rest though. Vanessa should also get some rest.
To Michael – Thank you for being the first one to make me critically think about my identity as a South East Asian American. That initial conversation with you at the end of freshman year is the moment that really got me started in all this.
To Becky – Thank you for never being afraid to call me out and hold me accountable for my language and my actions. I know it is uncomfortable to do, but you do it with so much sass and I am a better person for it.
To Andy – There is not much I can say that I haven’t said to you before, but thanks for giving me guidance throughout my time at USC. Without you, I may have never found the APA community here. So many of the friends I have now, I met because of you, so thanks.
To WCAPSU – Thanks for all the support y’all have given me. Being a part of WCAPSU has truly helped form me as a student leader and, with the new e-board, I know y’all are going to kill it.
To my family – I know you have to put up with me, but I’m still glad you do.
Thank you Monica for being such a wonderful leader in the APA community. Thank you for your inspiring words. APASA appreciates all that you do. Fight on!
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