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!