APASA is excited to announce our third APA Leader: Lypheng Kim! Lypheng is currently the water coach for USC Dragon Boat, and has served as an APASS CIRCLE TA and Diversity Liason on APASA. Read more about Lypheng's APA journey and identity in his interview below!

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What does being APA mean to you?

For most of my childhood, I grew up in America. I was born in Cambodia, but my parents, like so many immigrant families, chose to come to this country for a better life and a chance for my brother and I to have a better educational experience. During my life in South Philadelphia, I grew up not knowing which identity to accept. I was always told that because I was Asian, I am not American. That idea of being a perpetual foreigner was ingrained in me. As a result, I was not comfortable with my Asian identity, and I tried so hard to erase the other half of me that built me up and made me who I am today. However, deep down, in the hidden and silent part of me who had yet to burst out, I realized I couldn’t escape that half of me. I was already 6 feet deep full of hongboa (red envelope), red curry, eggrolls, french-fries, hamburgers, and cheesesteaks to ignore the notion that I didn’t need to choose the Asian or the American side to truly be who I am. I was just waiting for the moment for something or someone to pull me out of that abyss.
Fast-forward to college, I came into USC feeling like an empty shell and internalized all of the negativity I had accumulated. My experiences at USC taught me a lot about what it means to be APA. I was fortunate enough to be guided towards APASS’s program CIRCLE. Through this experience, I learned that the system of oppression has grouped Asian Americans into a box on the Census and have stereotyped us since the creation of the Model Minority. I learned that my identity transcends beyond my skin tone. I was neither Chinese nor was I Cambodian. I was also neither Asian or American. I yearned to be both and more importantly, to embrace all of who I
am. Eventually I learned to dispel all of the self-hate and that idea of being a perpetual foreigner. With that in mind, being APA means that I am not settled with being grouped. I am more than what the Model Minority says that I am. I thank all of my experiences, both back in Philadelphia and at USC for pushing me to analyze my identity and truly accept myself.

Explain your involvement in the APA community.

While here at USC, I became heavily involved in USC Dragon Boat, and now I am the water coach, training the athletes and paddling myself. In between my years of paddling at USC, I was also recommended to apply to be a participant in a program called CIRCLE, which was a part of APASS. Through CIRCLE, I felt empowered and held a position as a CIRCLE TA and eventually a CIRCLE Coordinator. I also served as a Diversity Liaison for APASA during the 2016-2017 school year. In this position, I assisted with many of APASA’s events. I also sat in on the USG Diversity Affairs meeting, representing the APA community. I was featured on Annenberg Media’s Faces of USC, where my story was submitted to the LA Press Club and won the 59 th SoCal Journalism Award for Best Personality Profile. Aside from these direct roles at USC, I have also participated in other activities where I have addressed the intersections of my identity. I have been a part of
Buzzfeed videos talking about dragon boat and my sexuality. I have been a part of several panels at USC, speaking at the First Generation College Student Summit, Student Panel on Race held by the Division of Student Affairs, CHANGES:
The LGBTQ Experience held by Annenberg School of Communication, and Models of Pride. To add, I was fortunate enough to work with Nike for two years and represent the APA community as a gay athlete at the LGBT Sports Summit in Portland. Through that experience, I was chosen as one of the seven covers of the photography project by Jeff Sheng, FEARLESS: Portraits of LGBT Student Athletes.

What advice do you have for aspiring APA leaders?

For those aspiring to be APA leaders, I encourage everyone to be authentic. I believe that once I started to love and accept myself and the intersections of my identity, I started to grow as a leader. I learned to voice my opinions and validate my own experiences without others dictating if it was valid. Above all, I wish for all aspiring APA leaders to have humility and learn from their experiences. We are not perfect human beings and that’s ironically the perfect thing about us. We should strive to learn, self-reflect and grow from our experiences.

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

I want to leave USC knowing that I made an impact on the community. I hope that my roles and efforts here at USC have inspired others to fight for the rights of the APA community and fight for the injustices that our communities of color face. Overall, I hope that I have made others reconsider their perception of what it really means to be APA and that by telling my story, I can increase awareness that not all APA share the same experiences.

Who/what inspires you?

My mother will always continue to inspire me. She grew up through the genocide in Cambodia. She saw more deaths than I will ever see in my life. She faced many hardships during that perilous moment. She continued to face hardships when we came to America. She fought all of her life to survive and she fought through the mental health issues while I was in high school. Through all of this, she still remained selfless and full of hope and love. Her character inspires me each and every day.