Crazy Inspiring Asians at the University of La Verne

On Wednesday, May 1st, University of La Verne senior Joshua Bay hosted his senior project, "Crazy Inspiring Asians," a panel of Asian American/Pacific Islander leaders in the La Verne community. Esteemed professionals, alumni and professors came together to speak on the lack of accurate representation and the misconceptions society has about Asians and Asian Americans. This panel had me seriously reflecting on my own experiences with these issues, and this article would be super long if I addressed each one.

The first topic I wanted to share from the panel was how often stereotypes are made about Asians. Like many minorities, Asians are a target of many jokes and assumptions. Panelists Adam Wong, Director of Student Life at ULV and Mary-Anne Mendoza, ULV alumna and PhD student of Political Science, noted their experiences in being asked where they are from, expecting an Asian country as their answer. Adam and Mary-Anne were born right here in America.

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Their story is not uncommon, sadly. Many assume that if you're Asian, you're not American. In fact, Asians were brought to America as labor forces during the Gold Rush and the Transcontinental Railroad. A lot are also refugees from their home country, searching for a new home and a better life for themselves and their family.

Many Asian Americans are confused as to what box they check. Do they check the box that identifies where they are born, or what their ethnicity is? Asian Americans are truly the best of both worlds, being able to have one foot in each culture. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way--often Asians are shunned by both societies because they are "not too Asian, but not American enough either."

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This problem also applies to immigrant Asians that grew up in America, such as myself. I was born in the Philippines and moved to America when I was almost five years old. I still speak the language (with the vocabulary of a second-grader) and follow a few traditions, but for the most part I grew up following American customs because that was what I learned in school. The teachers even tested me on my English because of my immigrant status--little did they know that I learned English in my preschool back home. 

Even my classmates looked at me a little weird whenever I'd bring my red hotdogs for lunch, claiming that it's gross (even though Filipino hotdogs are literally the best). I really got shunned for bringing the best tasting food, all because they judged it on its looks before even trying to taste it. At this point, I'm not even talking about food anymore--this metaphor worked out so well for the point I'm trying to make.

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The second topic I wanted to touch on was that of the Asian American population at La Verne. The majority of the Asian population on campus is made up of international students, which tend to stick to their own. This kind of sucks if you're Asian American and the only Asians you see on campus often don't talk to you, making you feel a little lonely.

Personally, meeting Filipinos on campus is such a novelty because there's so little of us. Panelist Mariel Cornel, a digital content creator and alumna of ULV, said that she wanted to start a Filipino club during her college experience, but knew too few Filipinos on campus to officially establish one. This year, there's a Barkada club for Filipinos and friends on campus, advised by panelist Ian Lising, Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences at ULV. I remember attending the first Barkada meeting and feeling at home with people who love the same food and get the same references only Filipinos know. That was one of the few times I truly felt part of the campus community in a way.

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All the panelists agreed that the conversation about AAPIs on campus (and in general) has been long overdue. Most of the cultural events on campus don't really cover the Asian culture and explore it in its entirety--we are usually reduced to Panda Express and California rolls and Lunar New Year. We need deeper conversations and more gatherings because we are a powerful force when we join together. When I left that room after seeing all the Asians (and allies) that came to take part in this dialogue, I felt a boost of confidence and said, "Yes, these are my people. We've all been through it in one way or another, and we're here sharing our stories to lift each other up."

Josh Bay sparked a fire in the AAPI community at the University of La Verne, and I hope it doesn't stop because his senior project is over. I'm sad that I won't get to witness it, but I know the amazing things AAPIs will do in the future to be heard and to be seen as a strong cultural force on campus. 

As the only AAPI in Her Campus La Verne Spring 2019 batch, I would like to thank Josh for giving me the inspiration to write this article. It's not perfect, but I got to share my story and my experience as an AAPI, immigrant, college student at this University. Thank you for this eye-opening panel event, and for making me a Crazy Inspired Asian.

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