We hope everyone had a good week back from break! For our last APA Leader this week, we have the one and only Leo Xia! Leo Xia is a musician that leads the APA community by sharing APA narratives through his music and can be seen performing at various campus and community events. Check out more about Leo in the interview below: Name: Leo Xia Major: Industrial Systems Engineering Year: Junior
What does being APA mean to you?
Asian Pacific American is a political designation. It’s an arbitrary label that has grouped many people that may or may not have similar diasporas together under one umbrella term. For me personally, being APA means grappling with my privilege as a Chinese-American with two college educated parents and growing up in an international school in Beijing. It means learning the history of Asian-America in order to understand why I am not treated the same in America than I am in an international school consisting mainly of other Asian-Americans. It means thinking critically about why I am seen as distinctly American (or American Born Chinese) in China yet simply Asian in America. Sometimes I feel strange being designated as Asian-American because although I was born in California, I spent most of my life in Beijing. I exist as an awkward halfway point between Asians that grew up in the States and Asians that were born and raised internationally. As a third culture kid (TCK), it was difficult for me to find others that shared my exact experience growing up. However, through the CIRCLE (Critical Issues in Race, Class and Leadership Education) program I learned that these distinctions mean little in mainstream American discourse and media. Although APA is an arbitrary label, it has political and social significance that has shaped our collective histories. I realized that although the Asian-American encompasses a wide range of experiences, we are often racialized in the same way as if we are a homogeneous monolith. The dream, after all, is not to feel Asian-American, but rather equal to all other Americans. But it is the unique Asian-American experience forged through history that binds our communities together and keeps our roots and stories alive. It is a song of fear, hope and ultimately, love. Love for our parents who crossed oceans for us. Love for our peers in this generation who fight uphill battles everyday just to exist. And love for the ones who never gave us a chance, because they are not the flames that burn us down; they are the flames that light the way. I embrace the APA designation proudly because it makes me feel like I’m home wherever I am. I embrace my APA identity because it allows me to express myself fully through my music. I embrace it to take all the love I have received and pass it on in order to change the world.
Explain in detail your involvement with the APA community on and off campus.
I would say the original core of my involvement the APA community on and off campus is performing my original songs that capture my Asian-American perspective. My mission is to use my songs to shed light on the immigrant experience and the diverse, nuanced discrimination we face on a daily basis because we are a minority. I have written songs about APA LGBT allyship, my unborn Asian-American son as well as my struggles with reconciling the American and Chinese parts of my identity. I started performing at on campus spaces like SCAPE’s InspirASIAN and APASA’s Got Talent and recently began performing at community spaces like the 626 Night Market and Tuesday Night Cafe.
In terms of official positions,I have recently been hired as a coordinator of the USC APASS CIRCLE Fall Program 2016 after two years in CIRCLE as a participant and then a Teaching Assistant. The program examines social issues such as race, sexuality and immigration through the Asian-American perspective. This program was the beginning of my awareness of social issues and has completely changed who I am as a person today as many other CIRCLE participants can attest. I am also currently a staff member of Kollaboration LA, an Asian-American talent showcase that emphasizes empowerment through entertainment. I obsessed over this organization all the way from Beijing back in my high school days as many of my favorite Asian entertainers such as Mike Song, David Choi and Clara C came through the Kollaboration space. I didn’t have access to many Asian-American role models growing up so I’m excited to see how I will grow from this point. It’s been a dream come true to work under an organization whose mission statement aligns directly with my passions. I believe that healthy and positive Asian representation in American media will help our generation and future ones unlearn the internalized self-hatred that is silently detrimental to our communities.
What advice do you have for aspiring APA leaders?
Read hella. After I became Facebook friends with more people from the USC APA social justice scene, my newsfeed was all of a sudden flooded with articles from perspectives I had never paid attention to. Read the articles that have a title that you don’t agree with. Engage with your friends who comment with a differing opinion (if you have the energy to do so at that moment). If you self identity as liberal, talk to a conservative friend. Same thing if you identify as conservative. Form your own opinion and view of the world by consuming as much knowledge as you can and challenging that knowledge just as much. I believe that empathy has a snowball effect. As you listen to and accept more stories, you become increasingly receptive to new perspectives. Through all these readings and conversations I have learned to be critical thinker and have a more solid understanding of who I am as a person and as an activist. Lastly, please take care of yourself. Self-care is so important and cannot be understated. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Feel free reach out to me whenever for a simple conversation about how your day went or anything related to social justice because I love procrastinating by talking with people.
Why is it significant to learn about our heritage?
It is significant to learn about our heritage because we exist in a vacuum without our history. Frankly I think it’s ridiculous that in my international school I didn’t learn about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Chinese Massacre of 1871 or the Japanese internment camps just to name a few. Sometimes I regret learning about the dark side of human history but now I reject the notion that ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is ignorance. We need to uncover the histories that American media does not like to acknowledge. We cannot ignore histories like the genocide of the Native Americans and the enslavement of the African Americans, the two great crimes on which this country was built. How do we as Asian-Americans fit into this complex race conversation? Before we answer this question we must acquaint ourselves with true history, rather than just the history written by the people in power.
Tell us about one of your most memorable moments at USC.
The recent InspirASIAN event put on by USC SCAPE was definitely one of my most memorable moments here at USC. My performance at my first InspirASIAN event two years ago was what introduced me to the amazing USC APA community and spurred me to join CIRCLE as a participant, so this event will hold a special place in my heart for the rest of my life. I found myself choking up after every song I played because I would look up and see the people that have shaped who I am as a person today. This community has given me so much and InspirASIAN never fails to make me feel incredibly grateful for that.
All money aside, what is your dream job?
For now, my dream job is to be a cross between a working singer-songwriter and an activist for social and racial justice. I would love to tour the country with my music and share my message of love and hope while uplifting histories and stories that aren’t often told.
If you could meet anyone from the past, the present, or the future, who would you want to meet and why?
I would like to meet Chris Iijima, an Asian-American singer-songwriter who wrote about the Asian-American experience in the 70’s and 80’s. I can’t help but feel Iike I’m standing on the shoulders of giants as I’m striving to carry on the legacy of other Asian-American activists and artists. He was unapologetic and fearless in how he expressed his view on the Asian-American perspective at a time when it was much more difficult than today to speak on racial discrimination. I would love to ask him about his journey as an activist and artist because I could learn so much from him as a mentor.
Anyone you’d like to thank or give a shoutout to?
Elaine Qian: You ground me. You’ve shown me that although showing compassion is sometimes difficult, it is the most powerful force we wield in our lifetimes. Thanks for being a cool potato.
Hannah Nguyen, Andy Su and Alex Kanegawa: You all were my day one APA leaders and I still look up to every single one of you. Thank you for introducing me to this community and showing me what sustainable and powerful activism looks like on and off campus. I hope I can make you all proud in what I do and how I conduct myself.
Ryan Yu, Evan Le, Kyle Xia, Roland Wen, Shi Hao Hong: Thanks for being my homies and always challenging me to reexamine my ideas and make them stronger. You all have given me a willingness to always engage opposing ideas rather than hide from them. I hold so much respect for all of you and I hope we continue to have these conversations.
Jonathan Wang: You showed me that it’s worth it to fight for justice. You showed me that it’s OK to vulnerable and tell your story. You bring APASS to life.
CIRCLE Family: Everyone from the coordinators to the participants has impacted my life deeply. I just hope that I can make the CIRCLE program even stronger than before to make you all proud.
APASS Family: I feel like I’m at home whenever I walk into that office. Thank you for accepting me.
KASA Freshmen Dance Off Family: You all are my everything. Most of the bittersweet happy tears I have ever shed in my lifetime have probably been because of you all. Here I learned how to build community and how to bring different people together to create a magical five minute set every year. I’ll see you all around campus :)
My biological family: Thanks for crossing oceans for me and giving me everything that two people could ever give someone. Mom, I missed your sliced fruit more than you’ll ever know. Thank you for giving up your career for Kyle and I. Dad, I know we don’t talk feelings much but I look up to you so much and I want to make you proud. Kyle, we’ve fought but we’re brothers and I’m happy to call you one of my best friends too.
Thank you again, Leo, for accepting our nomination. Your ability to marry your passion for music and your love for the APA community is commendable and we cannot thank you enough for always gracing us with your voice (and guitar!) at our events. Look forward to see the remaining two APA Leaders coming next week!