APA Leaders: Amy Chau

APA Leaders: Amy Chau

Hey everyone, hope finals week has been treating you all well! Last but not least, we are proud to present our sixth and final APA Leader for 2017, Amy Chau! Amy has been heavily involved in APASA as an intern, Events Coordinator, and External Community Chair. She is also involved as an Event Coordinator for SCAPE, an active member in VSA and an APAA scholar. Read her interview below to learn more!

APA Leaders Questions
Name: Amy Chau
Major: Business Administration, Pre-Law, Minor in Law & Society Year: Senior, Class of 2017

What does being APA mean to you?

When I was a freshman, I interviewed for an internship with APASA because I was eager to become a leader on campus. But despite the diversity of the San Diego neighborhood I grew up in, the APA students in my schools lacked a strong sense of community, and my environment didn’t really shape my understanding of what it meant to be APA. At the time, “APA” was a label based only on my physical appearance. So you can imagine my discomfort when, during my internship interview, my interviewers (Hi, Mighten and Howard!) asked me, “What does being APA mean to you?”

After thinking about the question, I admitted honestly, “I can’t answer that. I’m sorry.” I can barely remember the rest of the interview, only that I felt extremely embarrassed. It was so silly for me to call myself Asian Pacific American if I couldn’t even explain what that meant to me. Now, as a senior on the verge of graduation, I’m so proud of everything I’ve learned and discovered about being APA.

“APA” is more than a label for the way I look or an indication of where my parents were born. Being APA means being part of a community with a rich history of oppression and strength, embodied by the lessons of powerful figures like Yuri Kochiyama and Larry Itliong. Being APA means sometimes having to reconcile two conflicting identities— the Asian and American aspects of ourselves— while fighting to establish our own narratives in a country that paints us as model minorities with one broad brush and building bridges with other communities of color.

Explain in detail your involvement in the Asian Pacific American community on and off campus.


I was a part of APASA for 3 years— as an intern my freshman year, as Events Coordinator my sophomore year, and as External Community Chair my junior year. As Events Coordinator, I spearheaded the planning and execution of APASA Night Market, which was modeled after a traditional Taiwanese Night Market. We had many of our student organizations, as well as community organizations such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice- LA tabling, as well as performances, food, and games for students.

I was also in charge of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival (APAHF), which was a two- month long series of events in the spring semester meant to facilitate awareness of culture and social issues. My theme, “Building Bridges”, was a reminder that, while everyone is unique and faces their own personal struggles, supporting and seeking support from one another is important. Everyone is different, but that does not necessarily mean that we have to fight our battles alone. Reaching out and helping those in other communities helps us become stronger.

There were over 20 APAHF events that year, including APA Leaders, during which we highlighted and recognized outstanding APA students on campus and their contributions to our community, for our signature speaker event, I invited Michelle Kwan to Bovard Auditorium to speak about her experience as an Olympian and the impact her API identity had on her career.

As External Community Chair, I was tasked with being the liaison between USC students at the greater Los Angeles community. I implemented monthly Community Spotlights, during which I brought a local community organization to our assembly meetings to share with us their mission and vision. I coordinated volunteer opportunities to bring USC students out to a community event hosted by these organizations in order to provide hands-on experiences with community work, working with organizations such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Chinatown Community for Equitable Development. I also worked with my Executive Director, Lorna Xu, to create the first APA Lecture Series, which was an engaging series of luncheons with USC's most distinguished professors for a glimpse into various aspects of Asian American culture.

I was an intern with the Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment (SCAPE), an APASA member organization, during my freshman year, and as a senior now serve on the Executive Board as the Events Coordinator. SCAPE is a bit more social justice-oriented than APASA is. Within SCAPE, we’ve put on an Open Mic Series, during which we allowed students and individuals from the community to showcase their artistic talents through music, spoken word poetry, and other forms of art. As Events Coordinator of SCAPE, I was in charge of InspirASIAN, which is SCAPE’s highlight event connecting USC students with API leaders doing incredible creative work in their communities. InspirASIAN is our way of showcasing API work in the greater LA community by bringing in leaders to share their experiences and how their identities have influenced their work.

I’ve also been an Asian Pacific Alumni Association (APAA) scholar, as well as a member of the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA), since my sophomore year. As a scholar, I’ve volunteered with fellow Trojans at community events. As a VSA member, I am in the Anh Chi Em mentorship program and was a part of the Girl’s Traditional Dance Team in this year’s Vietnamese Culture Night.

What advice do you have for aspiring APA leaders?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. For a lot of APA students, coming to USC is their first experience being with a large community of APA students. That was definitely the case for me. What really allowed me to learn so much about the APA community was my desire to learn. Somehow, after my mortifying interview, I was invited to join APASA’s intern class of 2013- 2014. After joining APASA, I became determined to learn more about my cultural identity and focus on learning how to implement meaningful, intentional, and educational programming for other students looking to cultivate their APA identities. Along the way, there were so many things I didn’t understand, and if it wasn’t for my incredible mentors Gloria, Alison, Andy, and Angie, I would probably still be lost. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my time here at USC, it’s that those who are more experienced and knowledgeable are typically more than willing to offer their wisdom and insight— all you need to do is ask!

What kind of legacy do you want to leave at USC?

During my freshman year here at USC, I remember sitting down to speak with one of my upperclassmen friends, Kevin, to ask for advice. I felt so anxious, mainly because I never felt comfortable asking for help and was always self-conscious of taking up another person’s time. Afterward, he shared with me that he had been speaking and meeting with several other underclassmen and mentees to provide them with advice as well. I asked him, amazed, why he was so generous with his time, why he was so willing to put in the effort to help younger, less experienced students when the utility that he received was so minimal. He told me, “Because I was in your shoes a couple of years ago, and I had someone to help me out. So now, I’m just paying it forward.”

That simple answer really influenced my experience here at USC in that I was determined to always pay it forward as well. As a senior, looking back on my time here at USC, I want to leave behind the legacy my mentors have left behind. I not only want to be a resource for underclassmen, someone they can go to for guidance, but also someone who inspires them to give back to others and to continue to pay forward the support and guidance they received from the Trojans who came before them.

What story do you think every APA should know?

The story of Vincent Chin. Vincent Chin’s murder, a hate crime, was one of the most tragic events in Asian American history. It’s still difficult for me to think about Chin’s story without tearing up at the injustice he experienced. Chin was a Chinese American man who, during his bachelor party the night before his wedding, was targeted by two white men and beaten. Although Chin was Chinese American, the men mistakened him for being Japanese and blamed him in part or the layoffs that plagued the city’s auto industry. He later died after being in a coma

for four days. Vincent Chin’s case is often cited as one of the first instances that ignited activism in the Asian American community, and it’s a story that I think is extremely important for all APA individuals to know.

If you could meet anyone from the past, the present, or the future, who would you want to meet and why?
I always make this question into a dinner party because if I had this kind of power, why not abuse it and invite more than one person?

  • Hua Mulan (from The Ballad of Mulan): The original childhood hero. A young woman, headstrong, brave. She was willing to sacrifice everything to protect something she loved and believed in— her family and her country.

  • J.K. Rowling: My other childhood hero. Also the author responsible for my love of stories and dream of one day becoming a best-selling novelist. She’s able to weave words in ways that draw readers in and cause them to get lost in her intricately-design worlds. My favorite quote from her: “I would like to be remembered as someone who did the best she could with the talent she had.”

    If you could give a Ted Talk, what would it be about?

    I would talk about the importance of having a sense of wonder, of allowing yourself to notice and be inspired by the little things in life. I feel like a lot of people today are extremely cynical or unfazed about things that should make them happy or curious or amazed. And this disillusionment is usually a consequence of growing older. I don’t think it’s impossible to maintain your sense of wonder as you age— rather, it’s something that you just need to actively work to keep. It can be difficult at first, but having this sort of unique perspective on the world and allowing yourself to be easily inspired can allow you to inspire others with your optimism and enthusiasm for life.

    I also wanted to quickly plug these two TED Talks that I absolutely love:

Is there anyone you would like to give a shout-out to?

My family: To my parents— I wouldn’t be the person I am today without you constantly challenging me to learn and grow or without your encouragement and support. It might not seem like it because I’m a really stubborn child, but pretty much everything I do— academically and professionally— I do with the intent to make you proud. Ashley and Brandon, I want you to know that I’m super, super proud of the both of you. I’m going to miss you all so much from DC, but I know that I’ll still be able to feel your love all the way on the other side of the country. I hope I’ve made you proud, and I intend to continue making you proud.

My MUGA Fam: For being one of the few constants throughout my undergraduate career— from Welcome Week during freshman year to the last day of finals senior year. It’s been such a pleasure to have been a part of such an amazing staff, without whom Marshall really would not be able to function. To my interns— I love you all! Thanks so much for being the dream team and especially for putting up with my dumb jokes (I’m really funny, okay?).

Pardee Platter: For always pushing me to explore outside of my comfort zone. I’m never more comfortable being myself than when I’m with you. Thanks for taking that weird anti-social freshman who slept wayyy too early under your wing and giving her a home.

SM Crew: For always being there for me when I need someone to talk to or laugh with. The fact that we still talk, exchange stories, laugh together, and visit one another makes me so happy. These friendships are friendships I want to keep for the rest of my life.

APASA Fam: There really are no words to describe how grateful I am for APASA. This organization, and the people in it, have played a huge role in shaping the person I am today. I will always love APASA, the amazing things it’s able to accomplish, and the people who bring it to life. Special shout-outs to Gloria and Alison, the OG APASA legends, and to Kevin and Kei- Lwun, the Eboarders I shadowed as an intern. Shout-out to Aseem, who’s been my bestie since day one. Shout-out to Tedison and Justin, who are like the big brothers I’ve never had. And finally, shout-out to Haneul and Michelle, my APASA “little” and “grandlittle”. Y’all make me proud.

SCAPE Fam: For all of your commitment to our organization and what we stand for. I’m so proud to have been part of this Eboard my senior year! It was so much fun working with such an amazing group of individuals who are motivated to offer meaningful programming.

VSA Fam: For being oh-so sweet. Thank you for all of your enthusiasm and positivity— with you, I always feel welcome.

APASS Fam: Jonathan and Queena, your dedication to the APA community here at USC, and your eternal support and encouragement to all of the students here, is inspiring. Thank you for everything you’ve done for us!

Mentors/Idols/Bigs: Gloria, Alison, Angie, Kevin, Jennie, Kei-Lwun, Christine, Lorna, Andy— I miss you all so much, but I want you to know just how much I appreciate your love and support, and how much I’ve looked up to you throughout my undergraduate career. Thank you all for inspiring me with your hard work, dedication, and kindness.

Littles/Mentees/Interns: Mina, Ashley, Emily, Winnie, Haneul, Michelle, Carolyn, Annie, Catalina, Natasha— it’s been such a pleasure being your big/mentor. I’ve really loved being able to see you grow throughout your time here at USC, and I can’t wait to see where the future takes you! Just know that, no matter how long it’s been since I’ve graduated, I’ll always be your big/mentor and you can always reach out to me for support and guidance!

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Thanks again Amy for taking the time out of finals week for the interview and photoshoot! And with that, it’s a wrap! Thank you to everyone who read any of the interviews. Thank you to all the APA Leaders for what you do in the community. Special shout out to APASA’s Historian, Austin Chee, for taking so much time and effort in taking and editing all the photos of our APA Leaders.

APA Leaders: Constance Chan

APA Leaders: Constance Chan

Hey everyone! Hope you are all ready for classes to end! Today, we’re presenting our fifth APA Leader for 2017, Constance Chan! Constance is currently the Co-President of SCAPE and created the Unite the Mic series! Read her interview below to learn more!

Name: Constance Chan

Major: English (Creative Writing)

Year: Senior

What does being APA mean to you?

Being APA on a larger scale means being a part of generations of incredibly strong immigrants, activists, and community leaders. It means being a part of a community that is trying to balance diversity in terms of gender, sexuality, culture, etc., with the need for solidarity under a common identity. It means bearing the history of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Vincent Chin, and lynchings you never read about in history classes. It means being a part of a community that does amazing work for justice and its own community but is still struggling to address its own antiblackness, its own participation in gendered and racialized discrimination, its own not-woke-ness (for lack of a better term.)

But, you know, it also means hanging out with my family in Chinatown and getting a free drink because the manager knows us. It means my mother, who grew up in the low-income neighborhoods of Hong Kong and just casually got her PhD from UCLA when she immigrated here for graduate school. My grandfather, who was a taxi driver/factory worker in Hong Kong and is now watching his children and grandchildren succeed. It means being ashamed of my identity because of the racial slurs that were thrown at me as a child, and then finding community with other amazing APAs at USC. It means my mom yelling my Chinese name from a distance and my white friends looking confused. It means that having Viet Nguyen as my faculty mentor makes me really, really proud.

Explain in detail your involvement with the Asian Pacific American community on and off campus:

Currently, I am co-president of USC’s Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment with Andy Gu (hi Andy.) We’ve planned events together to combine advocacy and Asian American issues—for example, we’ve held GMs on voting and representations in media, and we brought APA speakers from Buzzfeed, Kollaboration, the Cartoon Network, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice to campus. My personal baby is Unite the Mic, an open mic series I’ve created that spotlights artists of color. I’ve never done CIRCLE, which feels weird to say, since everyone’s done CIRCLE, but I did speak at CIRCLE’s retreat this past year and was so incredibly encouraged by the work APASS is doing to make us more conscious of our own identity and the complexities of the society we live in. Off campus, I’ve volunteered at legal clinics and election opportunities with Asian Americans Advancing Justice—they are just such an incredible organization, with a piercing and inspiring vision and dedicated staff.

What story do you think every APA should know?

Oh, there’s so many. Just read up on the protest literature of the 60’s and the events that have mobilized APAs. Read about the New York Chinatown protests in the 70’s that addressed police brutality. Read about the Chinese Massacre in the 19th century. Read about Merle Woo, one of the first protest-poets in the Asian American movement, a super dope professor who got fired from Berkeley twice for supporting student protests. Read Race and Resistance by Viet Nguyen. Watch Slaying the Dragon. APAs get pinned with the “quiet Asian” trope all the time, and we often participate in these harmful narratives ourselves. If you read through these historical—and even present—voices, however, you can only come to the conclusion that we’ve always been conscious, we’ve always been loud, we’ve always been unapologetic.

All money aside, what’s your dream job?

Not sure what category this is, but some kind of attorney that fights for vulnerable lives? When I was in high school, my church hosted a talk by a nonprofit legal organization that works to fight slavery and human trafficking internationally. The org does raids, litigation, and aftercare for survivors. Since then, that specific kind of international human rights law has always been the dream for me. I’ve always wanted to write a book of poetry about my legal adventures too, and to donate the profits to some nonprofit. Also, one part of this inspiration came to me when I first interned for the district attorney’s office, I was interviewed by a top DA who recently had put a white supremacist gang in jail. I asked him what he loved about his job, and he said, “I was bullied a lot in high school, so I like the idea of bringing society’s bullies to justice.” I understand that the PD’s, not not the DA’s, office is more the place to talk about innocence and vulnerability, but I thought that was pretty baller. 

If you could give a Ted Talk, what would it be about?

I’d love to give a Ted Talk about creative writing workshops and how they’re a space for not only incredible vulnerability and compassion, as people share art about their deepest darkest secrets, but also a potential site of insensitivity, insecurity, and honestly, just really pretentious people. I’m really interested in how art/writing coincide with psychology and interpersonal relations, and how the process of sharing your art with others can be a good or bad tool. 

On the other hand, I’m really passionate about the idea of building a cat farm when I get a job in the future, so I’d definitely want to talk about the infrastructure and vision of the whole thing. I’d love to come home to a twenty tabby kittens every day if the lawyer thing doesn’t work out.

Shout outs:

SCAPE FAM. Andy, Reshma, Aileen, Amy, Andrea, Jacky, Teddy, Alex, Isha, Alice, Quinn, Natasha, Mya, Cynthia. You all are so positive and untiring and I’m grateful for the energy each and every one of you brings. Andy, thanks for keeping us on track and for never hesitating to do both the big and small jobs that seem to intimidating or tedious for everyone else. SCAPE wouldn’t survive without you.

Andy Su, you are actually one of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever met and I’m so grateful for your continued support for SCAPE. Alex Kanegawa, thank you for your piercing insight and for helping Andy and me whenever we need direction. Mary, you give Andy and me confidence in the idea that we know what we’re doing and your thoughtful interest in the lives and wellbeing of students is so, so appreciated.

Natalie and Ifelola, and everyone else from Christian Challenge who loves me extravagantly, you’re the best friends a girl could ask for. You all know my weaknesses, the weird and ugly parts of my being, and you love me through it all.

APASA: Y’all are great. Thanks for letting me do this interview. Thanks for the food, the music, the connections, the free swag, the countless families within your orgs. Sarah, it’s been so cool to meet you freshman year through Dance Off, at the very beginning, and then to see you take on the lead as APASA ED. Aseem, thanks for coming to SCAPE events so faithfully and making us feel like what we do is worth it.

APASS: Jonathan, thank you for always letting us take your blankets and store Portos in your office LOL. You and Queena provide such an incredible space for students to connect, learn about their own identity, debrief & rest/nap. Speaking at CIRCLE retreat was definitely a highlight of the semester, and seeing the next generation of APA students get fired up about justice and self-introspection reminded me of why I do what I do. APASS is such a home for people in this community and I always wish I could spend more time in the office.

Kevin, the long-suffering boyfriend: thank you for always being there, always supporting me, always willing to stand for hours at my open mics although art and activism are boring. Thanks for being my shoulder to cry on, the clapping hands that cheer me on in my achievements, the big heart that so many people depend on.

You, if you made it through this whole post, especially that one part about the cat farm—thank you! Go like APASA’s post and show them some love <3

Thanks again Constance for letting us interview you and taking the photoshoot. We are so lucky that you are so involved in our community!

APA Leaders: Maitlyn Phan

APA Leaders: Maitlyn Phan

Hey yall! Hope you had a good week! Today, we’re presenting our fourth APA Leader for 2017, Maitlyn Phan! Maitlyn is currently the Vice President for VSA, the Treasurer for TCD, and the USC lead for the AAPI Photo Project! Read her interview below to learn more!

Name: Maitlyn Phan

Major: Business Administration, Minor in Cinematic Arts

Year: Junior

What does being APA mean to you?

I’m still learning what it means to be APA every day. As someone who was fortunate enough to come from a strong community of Vietnamese Americans, I am constantly discovering more about my identities, culture, and place within society as I experience more of the outside world. Growing up in the bubble of Little Saigon was both a blessing and a hindrance. I was surrounded by people who look like me, eat the same food, and had a similar background, but we were all so insulated. We were the children of refugees, boat people, so we were reminded every day that we are lucky to be living in a land of freedom and opportunity where we could have the lives our parents always dreamt for themselves. Vietnam was a distant memory, a lost home, so America is all that mattered. Ultimately, many of us couldn’t speak the language and were ignorant of traditions and customs, but since everyone else was equally as white-washed it didn’t really matter. That was me. I can barely understand Vietnamese above a 4th grade level and am struggling to understand more of my heritage to make up for childhood complacency. Being APA means inheriting an identity but not fully claiming it unless I actively work to understand my roots and practice my culture. I am Asian because I look a certain way, American because I was born in the U.S., and APA because I take pride in my blend of multiple cultures and work to balance these identities in a way that truly reflects who I am.

Explain in detail your involvement in the Asian Pacific American community on and off campus.

“Come for the phở, stay for the family.” That became Vietnamese Student Association’s motto during my freshman year, and it rings true for so many members including myself. I joined out of desperation for friends who would understand my ethnic experience because attending USC left me culture-shocked with the kind of diversity I had never witnessed before. I quickly fell in love with Vietnamese Culture Night after choreographing a traditional dance for the show, and became the culture show director for the 2016 and 2017 productions. I currently serve as Vice President of the club and will hopefully be President next year. I’m going to dearly miss this organization after graduation, so I hope I can inspire future VSA leaders to grow the community and share the cultural love.

I am also the USC lead for an AAPI Photo Project set to debut in May for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. My friend Leah Shin from the University of Washington founded the project to highlight AAPI success using photography and created a network of universities all over the country that contributed to the effort.

Even though I’m only 1/8th Chinese, I joined Traditional Chinese Dance to hone my skills and experience a different culture through my favorite artistic medium: dance. I am currently the Treasurer for the club and choreographed my first dance for our show To Dream in Color.

What advice do you have for aspiring APA leaders?

1. Talk to people! I’m an introvert and quite asocial so I don’t do a great job of this, but seriously, talk to people, and lots of them. A good leader is knowledgeable, open to different perspectives, and an awesome communicator, so listen when people tell you their stories and be open to opinions and narratives that challenge your thinking.

2. “Read” from lots of different sources. Articles, books, op-ed pieces, blog posts, movies, TV, videos, TED Talks, podcasts, etc. are all great sources of valuable information about APA history, discourse, and stories. Consume lots of media to broaden your perspective and deepen your understanding of the various issues and experiences that exist. One of my favorite media is graphic novels, and I recently found an interactive graphic novel about the journey of a Vietnamese boat person’s escape from the country. It’s called The Boat. Check it out!

3. Introspect! I do this one a lot because I like my alone time (and I’m a pretty cool person so I think about myself a lot). The best way to contribute to the APA community is to understand yourself. Think about your identities, heritage, values, goals, and passions, and then cultivate your leadership around them. You don’t have to be 100% certain of every aspect of who you are, but it helps a lot to know what you’re fighting for before going to battle.

4. Learn, change, and grow. Everything is in constant flux so it’s impossible to be stagnant and successful. It’s okay to be wrong, and it’s okay to change your perspective. Just own up to your mistakes and work harder next time. You are simply evolving into your better form, your Ultimate Level Evolution.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave at USC?

I want to inspire APAs to take on the helm of leadership within their respective circles, especially those within VSA since the club and Vietnamese American issues mean so much to me. Part of my aspirations for the club include increasing visibility and impact on the APA and Vietnamese American communities with more intentional/impactful programming. Though we are a cultural and social club, my goal is to imbue culture in all our activities and create a community that is passionate about tackling Vietnamese American issues. I also want to connect with more APAs outside of the Vietnamese community and forge more relationships to increase communication and understanding of our unique experiences. Finally, I want to start a cross-cultural media project that spans across the various cultural groups and ethnic identities on campus to simultaneously emphasize our commonalities as APAs and highlight our unique narratives.

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Tell us about one of your most memorable moments at USC.

At the beginning of my freshman year, I applied for Global Brigades @ Marshall and met a fellow applicant while waiting for my interview. He introduced himself to me and began making small talk to pass the time, which was fine until he asked me that dreaded question: “So, where are you from?” Being a Vietnamese American person from Little Saigon, I warily answered “Orange County.” Without a beat he inquire, “No, where are you really from?” That was the first time I knowingly experienced a micro-aggression, and it will forever be ingrained in my memory as the moment I realized my identity is not always mine to define. Sometimes I’m a “foreigner” despite all evidence of being American-born. Since then I’ve received The Question™ a total of 14 times. It progressively gets more exhausting.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

Vietnam! I want to see Nha Trang and Hoi An, I want to hear Vietnamese all around me and be forced to speak in my mother tongue, I want to ride a vespa through the streets of Saigon, I want to eat phở for breakfast like you’re meant to do, and I want to better understand my parents by visiting their home country. I feel like there’s something missing inside me and that finally setting foot on the “homeland” can fill that void. I just hope my parents will want to visit soon, because I wouldn’t want to go without them there to guide me through the history.

Is there anyone you would like to give a shoutout to?

Ba Mẹ: Thank you for giving me an existence and a heritage to cherish. I don’t ever say it because I’m emotionally inept but I love you. Thank you for all the sacrifices you made to give me the life I have, for all the hardships you endeavored to get to where you are now, and for all the wisdom over the years. Dad, you’ll make bánh khọt for me when I come home, right?

Matthew and Mason: Please be nice to each other. Mom and Dad have enough stress in their lives. Don’t forget to thank Bà Ngoại for all the delicious food she makes for you too.

VSA: You’re the best home away from home anyone could ask for. Thank you for giving me the privilege of speaking my truth on stage, not once but twice, and for helping me understand myself.

APASA: Even though I haven’t been as involved in APASA events and activities as I would have liked, I appreciate all you do for us APAs on campus and in the surrounding communities. It’s incredibly inspiring and humbling to be recognized amongst so many young leaders. I can’t wait to see what amazing things everyone will do next.

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Thanks again Maitlyn for letting us interview you and taking a photoshoot. Sorry that the photoshoot went a bit long! We are very thankful that you are so involved in our community!

APA Leaders: Natalie Nguyen

APA Leaders: Natalie Nguyen

Hey again everyone! Sorry about the delay, but APA Leaders is not over yet with still another half to go! Today, we are presenting our third APA Leader for 2017, Natalie Nguyen! Natalie is the current Co-Assistant Director of the Academic Culture Assembly and does a lot of work for the marginalized APA communities. Check out the interview below to learn more!

Name: Natalie Nguyen

Major: Applied and Computational Mathematics

Year: Senior

What does being APA mean to you?

For me, being APA is better defined by what it means to be a 2nd generation Vietnamese-American and a daughter of refugees. Throughout my life, this meant navigating the predominately white community I was raised in, being a first-generation college student, and learning to love the ways in which I am different. Thankfully, my parents taught me a lot about my Vietnamese identity. Over the years, I’ve grown to be proud of our history, our culture, and our language. Though bridging the gap between my Vietnamese and American identities (and all my other identities!) has been a complicated journey, I have learned so much about the importance of honoring myself for all the ways in which I don’t fit perfectly into any single identity.

Explain in detail your involvement in the Asian Pacific American community on and off campus.

Although I haven’t taken leadership positions in explicitly APA organizations, I have worked to elevate APA voices in the work I do on USG’s Program Board as Co-Assistant Director of the Academic Culture Assembly (ACA). APA folks are more than just their APA identity – often they are also women, trans, queer, disabled, mentally ill, or multi-ethnic, etc. That’s why it’s necessary for work to be done beyond exclusively APA-centered work. APA-centered work is still important, but it should also intersect and overlap with the work being done for other marginalized identities as well.

During my time with ACA, we hosted Rupi Kaur and collaborated with SCIA (Southern California Indo-Americans) to elevate South Asian voices and break down the stigma of mental illness during Mental Health Awareness Month. During EdMonth, we teamed up with SCAPE, Students for Justice in Palestine, and APASA to explore the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and bridge the gap between Palestine and the APA community. APA communities are often centered around East Asian identities and it is important to expand the work being done to be more inclusive of other identities that fall under the API umbrella.

Beyond the work I do, I do my best to be present with my community when I can. Whether that meant being a CIRCLE participant, joining the Hai Bà Trưng School of Organizing, or just spending some down time with my friends at APA events.
 

What advice do you have for aspiring APA leaders?

Be authentic. Embody the values that you stand for through your character and your actions. Being a leader is not a line on a resume or a position title. Leadership requires constant self-reflection, realizing the ways in which you are complicit in racism, misogyny, islamophobia, transphobia, homophobia, and ableism in your day-to-day life. How can you implement change in your community if you are consistently part of the problem you are trying address? Being a leader requires accepting feedback and embracing the discomfort of recognizing your own faults. And this process never stops. It’s impossible to be perfect, but we need to try to be our best selves by listening to each other and actively improving our own character day by day.

Why is it significant to learn about our heritage?

Learning about our roots and where we come from is crucial in realizing the context of everything that we do. Unfortunately, our education system often fails to teach students about their history and these students end up having to search for this truth on their own. Growing up, I was always told that my parents came to the U.S. for a better life after the Vietnam War. Yet, the actual events that happened during the war were never really clear to me. In school, I was taught about the heroic Americans who were trying to save Vietnam from communism. It wasn’t much later that kids were asking me if my parents were “commies.” In class, there were some mentions of the My Lai Massacre and Operation Babylift, but I was struggling with connecting it all to my family’s narrative. When I got to college, I finally decided to seek out this history myself and try to understand the nuances that defined the war experience for Southeast Asians. For me, learning about the Vietnam War helped me better understand the hardships my family endured and how colonization has directly impacted my life. This drives my ability to connect with people of other marginalized identities who have also been impacted by colonization and war. All of this comes together to help explain why I do the work I do.

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What would be one change you would like to see at USC? In the APA community?                

At USC, one change I would like to see is more students becoming active and present in their community. To be fair, the ridiculously high expectations of the modern college student make it difficult to find time to do this. However, setting aside time to participate in community events or actions can help you with prioritizing yourself and your own personal growth.

In the APA community, one of many changes I would like to see is people working harder to deconstruct the anti-blackness that is extremely prevalent in our community. Our community knows how to call out anti-Asian racism or the whitewashing of Asian characters in Hollywood, but when it comes down to race-based issues in the black community such as police brutality or segregation, our community often fails to show up and support. We can’t fight racism against Asian-Americans without also addressing how white supremacy has also infiltrated other communities of color as well. Some initial steps include eliminating the n-word from our speech and breaking down the stereotypes that we hold consciously and subconsciously about black folks. From there, we can start talking to our family members and friends to help them understand that racism isn’t just an APA issue. Let’s work to break down the stereotypes impacting the black community and help uplift their voices with the privilege we have as Asian-Americans. Let’s work harder to show up as allies and work alongside them when we’re needed.

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All money aside, what is your dream job?

I would love to be a judge for a cooking competition on Food Network honestly. There’s nothing more fulfilling to me than eating food and using decorative language to describe the experience. I’d also enjoy being able to call people out when they make disrespectful comments while cooking with ethnic foods. Yeah, I remember what ya’ll said on that episode of Chopped where you used Vietnamese chả lụa. 👀

What motivates and inspires you?

My greatest source of motivation and inspiration comes from my family and friends. My family has taught me that hard work and dedication comes a long way. Seeing all that they’ve accomplished despite the barriers they faced, reminds me that a bump in the road can’t and won’t stop me. And after all the support and love they’ve given me over the years, I want to be equipped to reciprocate the support they’ve always given me. As for my friends, they are the ones who have challenged me, supported me, and loved me through all the highs and the lows. Growing alongside them has been such an honor. They always inspire me to be better and encourage me to keep pushing myself each day.

  • My family – my big sis and bro for always standing behind me and my parents for everything they’ve given me.
  • My ride-or-die’s -  Sophia, Luis, and Vanessa for growing with me, challenging me, and always making sure I eat.
  • My mentors and teachers for advising me and guiding me through my journey of growth.
  • My housemates for making me feel safe and eating delicious food with me all the time.
  • My second moms – Lorna Xu for always supporting me and keeping me nourished, Jenevieve Ting for teaching me how to love myself more fully.
  • The rest of my friends, colleagues, and community who always brighten my day with their support and love. I don’t know how to list all of you, but you know who you are. J 
  • And finally - Spicy City, Shin-Sen-Gumi, and Mama Lu’s for comforting me and my stomach even during my worst weeks. <3
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Thanks again Natalie for letting us interview you and taking a photoshoot as well when you’re so busy with the end of EdMonth and midterms! We are so proud that you are so involved in our community!