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
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.
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.
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
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!