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Students, professors and cast members discuss the revolutionary impact of “Hamilton” PAGE 6



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A visual reflection on finding independence at UCLA PAGE 28


A nerd’s guide to Los Angeles PAGE 38

leaving your mark prime explores the mediums students use to honor the past and forge the future.

H int ow o “H sti th am n R e g e S m sp ilto 14 pu tude ix otligh n” br the O tting nts d ing t ings pa n h i ss s 20 a Athle yo ip-ho iscus the ue t s nd te s p of ce the ge Sp wa s fr ur div n m o i m n te er ea ter m St p r r a si t p U rk sta orta e ra ude y cis n k f olo CL g n e ce m tp or tea A’s i n an oe “H of y ms row d ts am se ra ou rev ing ilto ea , s xis ise r n” se l th oc m th eir eir ce l f vo ta r tto ice os s ag ain st


ar 6 R ts ec a

table of contents


For the record 24

How a reporter’s single dad taught her the value of journalism

A picture of independence 28

An illustrator’s search for independence and a way to fix her family

Major decisions 34

A photographer comes to terms with not fulfilling her dad’s American Dream for her


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d LA s an to me e stu id , co d gu ics uil b ’s com s s b to he rd d tion m es n i c fi g dis ne to co cl l en od A here y con ill cha h afo h l 38 W geek up ysica trengt aw aw se h s r tr n p A ing ional he bes els s t t 42 U emo in to the f Ang o e LA guid City e th in




letter from the editors Dear reader, This quarter, we heard stories of students, artists and athletes using their talents as a way to heal – some cope with loss by immortalizing a friend through a tattoo and others by summiting a mountain peak. On our campus and in our city, students discover what matters to them through art. In this issue, we see how spoken word can be used to combat society’s “isms” and how revolutionary shows like “Hamilton” provide a stage for people of color to rise up and amplify their voices. Nerdy Bruins can read about niche places around Los Angeles that make them feel at home. For some students, self-expression doesn’t come easily. Parents might disapprove of our majors or professors might stifle our views in class. But we hope this issue of prime encourages students of all backgrounds and experiences to find a space to tell their stories, embrace their passions and fight to be heard. prime regards,

William Thorne

Lindsay Weinberg

William Thorne [ prime director ] Lindsay Weinberg [ prime content editor ] Umbreen Ali [ prime art director ] [ writers ] Adrija Chakrabarty, TuAnh Dam, Owen Emerson, Jillian Frankel, Kristie-Valerie Hoang, Ryan Leou, Juliette Le Saint, Olivia Mazzucato, Linda Xu [ photographers ] Hannah Burnett, Amy Dixon, Owen Emerson, Kristie-Valerie Hoang, Daniel Leibowitz, Keila Mayberry, Aubrey Yeo, Chengcheng Zhang, Michael Zshornack [ illustrators ] Sara Goldacker, Nicole Anisgard Parra, Juliette Le Saint, Cici Sheng, Jae Su, Claire Sun [ designers ] Bilal Ismail Ahmed, Umbreen Ali, Mary Anastasi, Megan Le, Juliette Le Saint, Edward Qiao, Angela Song, LeAnn Woo, Michael Zhang

Umbreen Ali

[ daily bruin ] Mackenzie Possee [ editor in chief ] Madeleine Pauker [ managing editor ] Emily McCormick [ digital managing editor ] Jeremy Wildman [ business manager ] [ assistant managers ] Caroline Dillon, Peyton Sherwood [ advertising sales ] Ali Cazel, Elia Doussineau, Jessica Behmanesh, Danielle Renteria, Pau Bremer [ advertising production ] Nina Roman, Tara Afshar, Dylan Skolnik Abigail Goldman [ editorial adviser ]

Simran Vatsa [ copy chief ] Sang Ho Lee [ assistant copy chief ] [ slot editors ] Amy Baumgartner, Rhiannon Davies, Anush Khatri, Jessica Kwan, Amanda Tsai, Rachel Wong, Grace Ye

The Daily Bruin (ISSN 1080-5060) is published and copyrighted by the ASUCLA Communications Board. All rights are reserved. Reprinting of any material in this publication without the written permission of the Communications Board is strictly prohibited. The ASUCLA Communications Board fully supports the University of California’s policy on non-discrimination. The student media reserve the right to reject or modify advertising whose content discriminates on the basis of ancestry, color, national origin, race, religion, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation. The ASUCLA Communications Board has a media grievance procedure for resolving complaints against any of its publications. For a copy of the complete procedure, contact the publications office at 118 Kerckhoff Hall. All inserts that are printed in the Daily Bruin are independently paid publications and do not reflect the views of the Editorial Board or the staff.

Michael Zhang [ online editor ] Nathan Smith, Hongyi Zhang [ assistant online editors ]

To request a reprint of any photo appearing in the Daily Bruin, contact the photo desk at 310-825-2828 or email





How does a fast-paced musical about a secretary turn the past into a commentary? How can a rap show about a luminary try to make the past more tangible and less scary?


arely does a work span the arts, history, politics, culture and society, while also championing diversity and inclusion. “Hamilton: An American Musical” uses its groundbreaking musical style and casting to spark discussion about racial representation and history itself. The national tour of “Hamilton,” the critically acclaimed show by playwright, actor and rapper Lin-Manuel Miranda, is playing to nearly sold-out audiences at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre until Dec. 30. The musical about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton features a number of historical figures, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, but with a twist — these old white men are portrayed by African-American and Latino actors. In fact, of the regular cast, only one main character is played by a white man — King George, who makes a limited appearance. UCLA, with its diverse student body, strong theater school, active history department and proximity to the Pantages, represents a meeting point for people involved in discussions about the musical’s impact.


Miranda and other cast members use the musical’s casting of people of color as an opportunity to reclaim a history they were written out of. The idea behind “Hamilton” is to portray the history of America with the people who call it home today, said Jordan Donica, who plays the dual role of Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette in the show’s national touring cast.

“If some immigrants were to found the country now, or even refugees, what would they look like?” Donica said. “Almost every ethnicity is represented on that stage.” Donica said improving diversity and representation in theater requires a twopronged approach: casting more people of color in stories where race is unspecified and writing more stories about people of color and their experiences.

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He has encountered few scripts that specify whether characters should be a particular race, and believes directors should cast the most talented performer regardless of race, unless a playwright makes race central to the story. “What it comes down to is a lack of imagination, a lack of seeing people for people,” Donica said. Donica said race did not play a big part in his casting as the first African-American actor on Broadway to play Raoul, one of the lead roles in “Phantom of the Opera,” or the casting of his Asian-American co-star, Ali Ewoldt, as Christine. “People’s talents speak for themselves when they get the opportunity to show them and share their interpretation of a story,” Donica said. Though some shows have taken steps toward colorblind casting, “Hamilton” goes one step further with its colorconscious casting: it actively chooses actors of color to portray white historical figures. People of color need more power in casting decisions and other administrative aspects of theater, said James HackettLittle, a fourth-year sociology student and member of HOOLIGAN Theatre Company. “We need people of color in the decisionmaking room informing the conversation, talking about issues that face their communities,” Hackett-Little said. “Part of it is making sure casts aim for respectful portrayals, but they also need to talk about access to theater for minorities.” Rory O’Malley, who plays King George on the “Hamilton” tour currently in LA, credits the show’s creative team for the decision to cast actors of color as the Founding Fathers. “There is not one word during the show where the program or actors say these are people of color playing these parts,” O’Malley said. “It’s just, ‘Let’s tell this story.’” O’Malley, an Ohio native, admitted he did not realize the power of racial representation on stage and in a historical context until he participated in the Hamilton Education Initiative, or #EduHam, the musical’s educational program. The program allows low-income teenage students to see the show for $10 and participate in a discussion about the historical figures it portrays. “Even though my great-grandparents came over from Ireland in the 1800s, I never questioned that the story of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton was

my story,” O’Malley said. “These young high school students – students of color – come see a show where Washington or Jefferson or Hamilton looks like them.” Though theater audiences tend to be mostly white, Hackett-Little said the diversity of “Hamilton’s” cast and educational opportunities like #EduHam can shift the ethnic demographic of audiences. “We’re starting from the foundations, where we’re fostering artistic growth, that’s why community engagement is so important,” Hackett-Little said. “People also need to support artistic programming that exemplifies diversity.”

“We need people of color in the decisionmaking room.”



And every day while slaves were being slaughtered and carted Away across the waves, he struggled and kept his guard up

Kiara Bryant, a third-year communication student and

member of HOOLIGAN Theatre Company, said the juxtaposition of the races of the “Hamilton” cast with that of the original Founding Fathers also plays out in her life. “From a cultural, historical standpoint, my dad’s side of the family was brought over on slave ships and my mom’s on the Mayflower, so the very beginning of our modern American history was my history,” Bryant said. “It’s taken a while to come to terms with both sides.”

And when my prayers to God were met with indifference I picked up a pen and wrote my own deliverance Bryant is grateful to Miranda for writing shows that feature actors of color and tell stories about communities of color, such as “Hamilton” and “In the Heights.” The latter is set in Washington Heights, a predominantly Latino neighborhood in New York City. She said she thinks people of color in the theater industry often face obstacles to success. People either doubt their abilities or don’t give them opportunities to perform.

“Hamilton” may not give every person of color an opportunity in theater, Bryant said, but it brings the problem of representation to the forefront of historical and cultural discussions. “Representation means so much, regardless of setting,” she added. “For a little Black kid to see someone like them on stage, it makes a big difference in their view of the world.” “Hamilton’s” musical style, which features rap and hip-hop, also increases representation for people of color, Bryant said. The manner in which African-American and Latino actors sing and dance starkly contrasts with that of the main white actor, King George, who belts out the occasional British pop ballad. “Rap began in impoverished Black communities, so it’s an art form usually associated with minorities,” Bryant said. “When we see an art form associated with minorities put on stage in a (predominantly) white atmosphere, it feels like a big barrier (is) broken.”


If Stephen Aron had to guess which figure from early American history would star in a hit musical, Alexander Hamilton would not have been at the top of his list. Aron, chair of the history department at UCLA, said the fervor around a show about Hamilton fascinates him from a historian’s perspective, given the relatively low visibility of the cabinet member only a couple of years ago. “Maybe some people knew about his place on the $10 bill or his role as first treasury secretary, but he was a relatively forgotten Founding Father,” Aron said. “He was also remembered for being on the wrong side of history, ​ since (his rival) Thomas Jefferson led what became the dominant party and ideology through the first half of the 19th century.” The musical takes some creative liberties in terms of which characters meet and what dialogue takes place, but Aron thinks historians should applaud and embrace “Hamilton” for its ability to make history matter to people. “Even if we quibble with this or that, it creates an opening where historians can step in,” he said. “UCLA History is ​ especially ​interested in how our research can be translated so as to have a broad ​​ public outcome​.​” Part of understanding history involves placing one’s own life in a broader historical context, Aron added. “We need to understand the fundamental difference between ourselves and people in the past,” he said. A number of shows in other mediums

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have also tried to make history more digestible, either through comedy or a compelling narrative. Annie Powers, who obtained her master’s degree in history at UCLA, has worked on other shows that try to increase the appeal of history to the general public, like “Drunk History” or “Who Do You Think You Are?” She said the two shows, along with “Hamilton,” take esoteric concepts pursued by historians and experts and make them digestible for the masses. “These shows personalize history in a way so people can access it even if they don’t have the academic background,” Powers said. “We like to tackle issues that are pertinent politically or socially and present information that moves against some of the ideas people have about race or gender that historians know are incorrect.” Much of her work requires academic research and historical methodology that mirrors the process of writing a biography, like Ron Chernow’s of Hamilton that inspired Miranda’s show. Even with the rigorous standards of historical research used by academics or biographers, Powers said she thinks parts of the past are ultimately unknowable. This leaves room to explore the past in a new way. “Academia, museums, historical TV, musicals like ‘Hamilton’ — we’re all on the same team, trying to get a better sense of the past,” Powers said.

DON’T MODULATE THE KEY THEN NOT DEBATE WITH ME While representation in history tends to worry about who lives and who dies, representation on stage is about who tells your story. Oscar Tsukayama, a fourth-year world arts and cultures student, said “Hamilton’s” color-conscious casting



is one way Miranda has expanded opportunities for actors of color. In 2016, the decision to cast Tsukayama and other non-Latino actors as characters in HOOLIGAN Theatre Company’s production of “In the Heights” drew criticism. Tsukayama believes creative teams should cast actors based on their talent, while simultaneously considering their ethnicity and respecting the cultures represented in the play. “You need to find respect for the ethnicity, but you also need to find the person right for the role,” Tsukayama said. Some have criticized “Hamilton” for downplaying the significance of slavery in history by casting African-American actors as slave owners like Jefferson, Washington and Madison. Donica, who is half AfricanAmerican, said he tries to keep his personal feelings out of his role,

even if others choose to debate the propriety of a Black actor portraying a slave owner. He wants to present the character as written by the author without judging his actions. “When I take myself out of playing the character, I might find (playing Jefferson) weird,” Donica said. “But, when I put myself into the story, I take my race out of it and play the character that’s given.” As a historian, Aron supports the creative decision to cast actors of color as the Founding Fathers because it has started conversations about the history of slavery and race relations in the U.S. “The multiethnic casting makes it a play of moment, a conversation between the past and present,” Aron said. “(‘Hamilton’) takes questions from today about diversity, tolerance, pluralism, and injects them into the past. That’s what historians do, too.”

“(‘Hamilton’) takes questions from today about diversity, tolerance, pluralism, and injects them into the past.”



allavi Samodia felt overwhelmed walking under the neon marquee, through the wooden doors and into the gilded lobby of the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. When she entered the theater, she saw the intricate wooden scaffolding standing against a simple solid brick background. It marked the first time Samodia, a third-year financial actuarial mathematics student, had ever seen a Broadway musical. The show hadn’t even started, but she could feel the electric energy in the air as the audience awaited the start of “Hamilton: An American Musical.” “Hamilton” is one of the rare musicals that has transformed from performance to phenomenon. Although the show originated on Broadway, there are two additional productions underway in Chicago and London, and two on tour, one of which will perform in Los Angeles until the end of December. While many musicals only influence the theater community, “Hamilton” has burst into mainstream pop culture with an unparalleled momentum. It has also impacted musical theater as a genre, as well as the lives of


audience members and fans. The show’s first song, “Alexander Hamilton,” begins with emphatic orchestral chords, which don’t sound out of place in a musical. However, as character Aaron Burr steps onto the stage, he begins to rap rather than sing, and hip-hop remains the dominant musical style throughout the show. The concept of a rap opera isn’t new – “Hamilton” writer-composerlyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda used the genre in his 2008 show “In the Heights,” and other rap operas have emerged over the years. However, none of them have risen to prominence like “Hamilton,” which dominated Billboard charts, won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album and collected a record-setting 16 Tony Award nominations and 11 wins. Jabril Muhammad believes the show has helped make rap and hip-hop valid styles in musical theater. The fourth-year sociology student explained that “Hamilton” demonstrates the power of rap as a storytelling tool. “It was a statement that Black forms of music, that are typically criminalized or trivialized by the

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populations who are consuming the musical, are legitimate,” Muhammad said. “That has major implications for how the people who create those music pieces are seen and how they’re treated, and the extent to which they’re legitimized as people, as human beings.” For some, the show was an introduction to the world of rap. “I’m a person who appreciates pop or poprock and doesn’t listen to rap music,” Samodia said. “But ever since I’ve been back (from seeing the show), I’ve been listening to the whole album again and I kind of have a new appreciation for the whole thing.” Stefanie Chordigian, who hasn’t seen the show in person but has listened to the soundtrack countless times, said “Hamilton’s” use of rap made the musical feel modern. She loved the playful back-andforth rap banter between Burr and Alexander Hamilton in the show’s second song, “Aaron Burr, Sir.” “A lot of the time, old musicals ... like ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Cats’ ... they feel so irrelevant,” she said. “Listening to (‘Hamilton’), it was just phenomenal (to realize) that a musical could be so fun.” The use of hip-hop helped make both the musical and history more accessible, said second-year history student Sean Sedey, who saw the show for the first time at the Pantages. Sedey was initially skeptical about the idea of a musical that blended rap and history. It wasn’t until his roommate and his roommate’s girlfriend begged him to give the show a chance and played him a few songs from the soundtrack that he changed his mind. Sedey’s love of history and appreciation for the musical’s ability to connect with audiences of all ages and interests converted him into a “Hamilton” fan. “(The musical) exposed history to a mass audience and in some way, made it cool,” Sedey said. “I have younger cousins who are 12, 13, 14, who never would have known anything about it.” Musicology professor Raymond Knapp used “Hamilton” as a starting point for a Fiat Lux seminar he taught in winter 2017

“What are we doing if we’re not making our lives a story worth telling?”



called “Racial Politics in American Musical.” Knapp’s class centered on the role of race in “Hamilton.” Rap was one of many elements in the show that fostered complex discussions on race and identity. Although the class examined the history of race in musicals, it became clear to Knapp that many of the students were there to talk about “Hamilton.” Knapp used his lessons about shows like “Show Boat” and “Memphis” to provide them with historical context before they examined “Hamilton” in the last third of the class. They discussed the function of colorblind casting in modern theater and whether it will ever truly be achieved, as well as the treatment of slavery within the musical. In “Hamilton,” people of color play the main roles of the Founding Fathers, which complicates the show’s brief mentions of slavery – audiences and actors have to reconcile the fact that George Washington, despite being played by a Black man, owned slaves and created conditions to safeguard the future of slavery, Knapp said. The class also discussed the musical’s gender politics, such as the fact that all three of the main female characters fall in love with the show’s hero. “Lots of really interesting things like that happen with gender,” Knapp said. “The notion that you can cast (nonwhite actors as) George Washington, Hamilton and other figures (is there, but it) didn’t cross over into casting them as other than male.” Muhammad was intrigued by how the show’s largely white audiences had the chance to financially support a production that features marginalized voices, as well as engage with the stories they had to tell. The soundtrack has sold more than 1 million copies, making it the sixth best-selling cast recording of all time, and the musical has sold a record-breaking number of tickets. “You create this system that ends up representing and centering people like me, but it’s being supported by the people who have all the power in the society,” Muhammad said. “That’s what (‘Hamilton’s’) revolution is, or what it’s supposed to be.” Whether “Hamilton” is able to sustain this revolution is another question entirely. Despite the progressive nature of the show, musical theater still has a long way to go in terms of racial diversity and equality, Knapp said. Recent revivals of “The King and I” maintain the show’s Orientalism and use of

stereotypes, a sign that Broadway needs to improve on how it represents marginalized populations, he said. “There’s a lot of things that still have to happen in terms of race on Broadway,” Knapp said. “But it’s a big step, and I hope that one of (‘Hamilton’s’) legacies will be that that progress will be entrenched on some level, that it will be stabilized at a higher level than it was, even if it’s not ever all the way there.” “Hamilton” has many overarching implications and legacies, and has also inspired its audience members on an individual level, as they become the next generation of artists. As a dancer and aspiring choreographer, second-year theater student Haleyann Hart found particular meaning in the show’s choreography and staging. Hart saw the show in San Francisco, and was particularly struck by the moment in the climactic duel in which a dancer launches the bullet that kills Hamilton across the stage in slow motion. “I thought it was one of the most breathtakingly beautiful visual art forms I’ve ever seen,” Hart said. “Everything was so representative and representational, and so specific – each little movement meant something.” “Hamilton” inspired Muhammad to write a spoken word piece that builds upon a line from “My Shot.” In the song, Hamilton sings, “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory.” Muhammad used the words to explore Black mortality, meditating on the idea that he must regularly contend with death because of systemic violence perpetrated against Black people. From there, Muhammad began working on a full-length play that begins with the spoken word piece and further develops its themes. “‘Hamilton’ valorized my own creative capacities, to the extent that I’m confident in creating these things. I don’t really have a second thought about them,” Muhammad said. “It was that trajectory that was triggered by ‘Hamilton,’ and

I don’t really see myself having those same thoughts without it.” For Chordigian, the song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” led her to contemplate her own life and legacy. The show’s emotional closing number features the entire ensemble reflecting on Hamilton’s legacy, which made Chordigian consider the impact she would make as she pursues a career in theater. “It made me really think; we’ve really only got so much time on this earth,” Chordigian said. “What are we doing if we’re not making our lives a story worth telling? Even if it’s by one person, who just tells your old stories, then I think you’ve done your part for the world.”

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hey flash across an arm reaching toward a football at the Rose Bowl, glisten through the water of Spieker Aquatics Center or glow under the lights of Pauley Pavilion. Whether small and understated or bold and prominent, each tattoo comes with a hidden story. UCLA football’s senior defensive back Jaleel Wadood has Jesus tattooed on his right arm, while sophomore gymnast Kyla Ross and volunteer assistant gymnastics coach Jordyn Wieber display Olympic rings on their ribs and wrist, respectively, to commemorate their trip to the 2012 Summer Olympics. The tattoos of UCLA’s student-athletes tell stories of friendship, growth and perseverance that reveal more about each athlete than statistics or championships ever could.

ON your




aiya McCullough spent her life in transition. Monday through Friday, her afternoons were spent with her mother in Orange County, where she was an AllAmerican and 2016 Orange County Female Athlete of the Year at El Toro High School. Saturdays and Sundays were dedicated to spending time with her father, who had relocated to San Diego, or hitting the road with the San Diego Surf club soccer team or the U.S. U-18 Women’s National Team. Curled up on the bus or in the car on the trips between her parents’ houses, McCullough would draw on herself to pass the time – intricate shapes on her arm or flowers on the top of her thigh. But each night, the ink would wash away. She decided she wanted something that wouldn’t disappear so easily. “I wanted something permanent in my ever-changing life,” McCullough said. “Going from house to house, when I was old enough, it was just I (wanted) something permanent, and it’s going to be with me, and it’s never going to change.” So into a tattoo parlor she went, with her friend by her side. For her first tattoo, she settled on a medallion on her wrist – one with a cloud and lightning bolt inspired by the Disney movie “Hercules.” McCullough, a defender on the women’s soccer team, paused while trying to describe why she finally decided to get a tattoo. Her father, legendary UCLA football safety Abdul McCullough, always told her growing up that her body was “a temple” she shouldn’t mark, and if she did, he joked he would disown her. But it’s because of him that she got that medallion tattoo.



Growing up, McCullough admired her father, similar to how Hercules revered his father, Zeus. And father and daughter connected through their mutual love for all things Disney. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in the 1990s, her father even listed proximity to Disneyland as a reason he committed to play for the Bruins. His daughter followed suit two decades later. McCullough went to the amusement park 33 times in her junior year of high school alone, and still relishes opportunities to sneak away from a hectic college schedule to spend a few hours of reprieve in Adventureland. But to her, Disney was more than movies or an amusement park where she ate pickles and demanded souvenirs, leading her parents to jokingly christen her “Princess Kaiya.” Disneyland was one of the few things she and her father could bond over, especially after Kaiya McCullough’s mother, former UCLA gymnast Amy Thorne, and her father divorced. The magic was there for the pair, whether it was spinning in a colorful teacup with the Mad Hatter or making their way through the Temple of the Forbidden Eye with Indiana Jones – their favorite ride. While waiting in line for rides, Abdul McCullough created elaborate stories to entertain Kaiya McCullough and her cousin. He pretended to step gingerly on the cinder blocks in the darkened caves of the Indiana Jones line, cautioning the two young girls not to step on the symbols on the floor or risk inadvertently setting off booby traps that would crush them all. “To this day I still haven’t stepped on one,” McCullough said.

K And she has replicated that magic with her UCLA women’s soccer family. After taking Australian native Teagan Micah to Disneyland for the first time, the goalkeeper is just as enamored with the amusement park. McCullough’s tattoo serves as a reminder of happy memories at Disneyland and motivation as she walks, trains and competes on the same campus her parents did. “I look at it ... (as) my connection to my dad and how he motivates me,” McCullough said. “It’s facing toward me, which is atypical for arm tattoos, because it’s something I can look at and reminds me I can be strong, I can go the distance. It’s my mantra.” Her dad’s messages help, too. Each morning, McCullough reads the motivational quotes her dad texts, tweets or sends her way to start the day. Her favorite isn’t a Walt Disney quote. It’s her dad’s own message – a simple “good luck” encouraging her to conquer the day.

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itting cross-legged on a sunlit, gray couch, Caroline Coyle couldn’t stop rubbing a little black bow tattooed on her ankle. “People see others with tattoos and there’s that negative stereotype about (you) being ... just stupid,” said Coyle, a former coxswain for UCLA women’s rowing. “You find out tattoos usually have meaning for people.” Coyle’s little bow and her other tattoo on the nape of her neck, depicting a sunflower with a bumblebee resting on its petals, tell the story of a friendship – one that’s now eternally memorialized on her body. Touching the bow on her foot, which she spontaneously got together with her childhood friend Breanna White, soothed her as she thought back to one of their adventures. CC, as Coyle’s friends call her, had hoped to surprise White, who had been dealing with depression, by visiting her at Chapman University in January. But after driving more than 48 miles south of Westwood, she found out her best friend’s depression had worsened. After grappling with homesickness and the unfamiliarity of a college campus, White had secretly decided to leave Chapman, where she was studying film, to return home to Sacramento. Maybe it was the sugar from the two-dozen chocolatesprinkle Krispy Kreme donuts they had just scarfed down. Or perhaps it was the need, in one of the hardest weeks of White’s life, to remember something happier and commemorate their friendship. Either way, the two friends found themselves strolling down a cobblestone path toward a tattoo parlor on a winter afternoon in Old Towne Orange. They knew exactly what they wanted to get – a bow tie and a tuxedo tie, respectively – as references to Cher Lloyd’s song “Oath.” “Our favorite lyric is, ‘You are my tuxedo and I’m your bow tie,’” Coyle said. “So we really were like, ‘Let’s do it.’” Coyle’s fingers slowed down on the bow as she began talking about the sunflower on her neck. She didn’t get that




one with White, although it was inspired by Manchester Orchestra’s “After the Scripture,” another song they frequently listened to together. Coyle got the tattoo in White’s honor, a month after her best friend took her own life. “This (bow) I got with her,” Coyle said. “But (the sunflower), I felt that I should get for her.” It took Coyle longer to express her thoughts while she reflected on the six months between getting her tattoos. The sorrow that overtook her that May evening when she answered a phone call from a mutual friend left her on the floor of her patio in tears. The drives in White’s Lexus down darkened Sacramento roads, while White helped Coyle through her own battles – a struggle with bulimia nervosa as she tried to maintain the weight required to be a coxswain. Their trip to take photos at what they thought would be a sunflower field outside of Davis, where they instead found a barren valley with a lone sunflower in the middle. The memories all seemed blurry and unclear. She felt frustrated for not remembering more about her time with White and guilty for not doing more in the days leading up to her death. “I still feel guilty a lot of time, because I’m living my life and she’s not,” Coyle said. “Every day, you come to a new understanding of what life without her is like and what it really means.” The void is there for Coyle, as well as for White’s other friends who still use a “Team Bree” group text to keep in touch. But they’ve found meaning in working to raise suicide awareness, sharing White’s story with groups at their colleges and high schools, participating in walks and volunteer events and wearing buttons and ribbons in her honor – anything they can do to prevent another group of friends from experiencing the same loss. The sunflower tattoo is just one of the ways Coyle keeps White close to her. “It’s like having her in higher memory as a single object on my body,” Coyle said. “It’s a part of me that I want to show it like it is – something so special to me.”

“It’s like having her in higher memory as a single object on my body.”

But the activism, tattoos and even the songs are still harsh and painful reminders to Coyle of the person missing from her life. “After the Scripture,” with its piercing melancholy tune, gets her through the sleepless nights during which she thinks about the dances she and White created together, the theater where they performed and the talks they had on those nights long ago, driving through the roads of their hometown. “But I still haven’t been able to listen to ‘Oath,’” Coyle admitted. “Just because it’s such a positive song, and I don’t quite have a grasp on those feelings.”

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icolas Saveljic strolled into the J.D. Morgan Athletic Center, fresh out of class on a Wednesday afternoon. He extended his long arms and shook my hand, ready for one of his first interviews as a member of the UCLA men’s water polo team. On either side of him sat the team’s assistant coach, Ryder Roberts, and the team’s sports information director, both ready to help him through his meeting with me, if needed. The Montenegro native, who has played for his country’s national team since 2014, didn’t need much help. He was prepared to answer any question – perhaps one on experiences traveling to European or world championships, or on how he had become one of the key freshmen for a UCLA team looking to win its third national championship in four years. I instead launched into questions about his tattoos, initially confusing the 6-foot-7 attacker, and it showed in his first replies. Curt one-word answers, sometimes two or three if I was lucky, were all that came my way. “Why did you get those tattoos?” “I liked it.” “Why is there a snake on your finger?” “It’s private.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t panic at the thought of writing a story with only those quotes to draw from. But when he began talking about one of his most


prominent tattoos, the word “Familia” in bold cursive letters on his right bicep, that panic subsided. Saveljic is close with his sister, Silvana. They share the same tattoo artist, and her name stretches across his right collarbone underneath red roses, the only splash of color on his black-and-white sleeve. But the tatttoo commemorating the bond he shares with his mother is even more striking. On his right bicep, Saveljic has an image of a roaring tiger, with his mother’s face just underneath the feline’s razor-sharp teeth to represent how ferocious and tough Dijana Saveljic really is. Talking about their mother-son relationship, which only strengthened after his parents’ divorce and his sister’s decision to live with their father in France to finish high school, was effortless for the freshman. He started with the snake tattoo, one that the mother and son share. It wraps around his little finger and around his mother’s calf – although she is, ironically, scared of snakes. During a birthday party for baby Nicolas Saveljic, someone hid a skull covered in snakes under Dijana Saveljic’s couch. It’s a story Saveljic is familiar with, but one he and the other people in the room didn’t quite understand. “There was a lot of things about that and about her and her enemies,” Nicolas Saveljic said. “Twenty years ago, it was weird.” Saveljic got the tattoo to match his mother’s without

S knowing the story, but for him it still holds the same meaning of warding off enemies, even if they can’t be seen. His mother was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago when he was just 13 years old, and Nicholas Saveljic, already juggling schoolwork and water polo training with the club and national teams, didn’t hesitate to become the support system she needed as she began chemotherapy. Pick up groceries: check. Run errands: check. Finish homework: check. Go to water polo practice: check. “When (I realized I) can lose everything – and my mom is my everything – everything changed,” Saveljic said. “I had to care about her. We were in this together.” Appropriately, one of his first tattoos he got at age 15 reads “per aspera ad astra.” It’s Latin for “through hardships to the stars.” The cursive words are framed by an antique arch on his forearm with staircases that lead the words up to a star – a reminder for the teen to follow through on his dreams of becoming a professional water polo player. His perseverance paid off three years later, together with his mother successfully beating cancer. Eighteen-year-old Saveljic was presented with two options after what he deemed a subpar water polo season. He could stay in Montenegro, where water polo ran year-round and a balance between schoolwork and

athletics was nearly impossible. Or, he could do as his father suggested and go to the U.S., where he would have time for both academics and water polo. A few weeks later, he stepped off the plane in a new country for the first time as a late recruit for the UCLA team, but one who has settled in nonetheless. The Bruins have notched wins against California and USC so far this season. But the goal isn’t to beat those top teams once or twice. It’s to beat them all and stand alone at the end of the season as national champions. Even if they come up short, Nicolas Saveljic’s “I have nothing to prove” tattoo, emblazoned across the armor of Perseus as the Greek hero slays Medusa, serves as a reminder to the student-athlete that he has nothing to prove to anyone but himself. If UCLA does claim the national championship, there’s space on his left arm for more art to commemorate that milestone. But championship or not, there’s one thing he won’t ever tattoo onto his arm - coach Adam Wright’s face. “If I did that then, I’d have to chop my arm off,” Nicolas Saveljic joked as the other people in the room laughed with him. In all seriousness, he doesn’t regret anything – his journey that led to UCLA, his decision to leave Montenegro or his tattoos. “I’d do it all again,” Nicolas Saveljic said with a nod and a departing handshake. “Everything the same.”

FALL 2017


speak for yourself



very week, Kerckhoff Art Gallery transforms from an oftenoverlooked study spot to an open mic space for The Word on Wednesday. Fairy lights are set up in the front of the room and a wrinkled piece of paper stipulates that attendees should not get up during a performance, and most importantly, not express anything that falls under an “ism,� such as sexism or racism. The Word on Wednesday establishes itself as a refuge for poets to discuss anything without fear of judgment. To the



students who fill the gallery each week, the event is an open safe space for poetry, political rants, confessions of unrequited love and everything in between. Hosted by the Cultural Affairs Commission of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, The Word on Wednesday also helps students build cultural awareness through listening to the experiences of their peers. Many regular attendees agree The Word provides students stuck in the UCLA bubble with a

much-needed culture shock. Any student is welcome to listen and perform during the night. Some come prepared with little blurbs typed up in the notes section of their phones, and readily sign their names to the clipboard of performers when they step in. Others linger in their seats until they finally pluck up the courage to stand and recite the words buzzing in their heads. Some weeks, The Word will host special events like poetry workshops, where anyone in the UCLA

bianca brown


My whole life is my love life. at least that’s what it seems. I find it difficult to write about the deeper stuff, the shit that REALLY bothers me Like how I am a black dot on a white piece of paper & this institution is only using me as one of their few tokens Or how I let in every pretty girl with nice eyes and a smile that’s broken. Or how my depression, yes depression, I have depression, & I’ve never been able to tell my parents. My dad is black, my mom is Asian, 2 communities that treat mental illness like they would an open wound, Slap a bandaid over it, ignore it, keep it movin. But I have it, oh god I have it, I’ve had it since middle school But I’ve buried it, tossed it to the side, piled it up with something, anything that might close this gaping fucking hole in my chest. Maybe that’s why I’m so focused on love, on every girl that parades sweet nothings off of her poisonous tongue

community can take a moment to reflect and write on a designated prompt. However, the general routine of the Wednesday night open mic has become quite consistent since The Word’s inception in 2010. Students and sometimes faculty file into the gallery around 7 p.m. Hosts pose the night’s “fishbowl question” for students to answer on a slip of torn notebook paper and anonymously place into a box. The Word’s staff members pass around a clipboard for poetry sign-ups.

ianca Brown was scribbling some notes on the side of her paper during a gender studies class when her project partner, a staff member of The Word at the time, noticed the words she was writing were lines of poetry. That classmate eventually introduced Brown, now a third-year philosophy student and co-host of The Word on Wednesday, to the weekly open mic nights. Although Brown often wrote poetry as a means of getting through some of her hardships during high school, she never imagined herself performing her pieces in front of an audience. “I wrote a lot of poetry in high school, but I never read anything. ... I was hella closeted, so I wrote about being trapped and wrote about little crushes,” Brown said. “I was lowkey very emo in high school, so I used poetry to write about (my experiences).” When Brown began attending The Word during her first year at UCLA, she was struck by the authenticity of the artists and their willingness to share personal stories as an art form. Brown said the artists helped her see the good that could come from sharing her own private struggles. “I stopped setting myself to a standard after hearing the poets at The Word,” she said. “I used to compare myself to other artists, but now I feel whatever I want to and am less afraid to share parts of me that I had trapped inside before.” The Word often features poems about deeply personal topics, such as closeted homosexuality and experiences with abusive partners, and Brown said she was especially comfortable talking about her own experiences knowing that others would empathize. Brown trusted that her poems would reach receptive audiences who could connect to her messages even though they were complete strangers. “The first time I went to (The Word) I said, ‘I am not going to read,’” Brown said. “But when you get there and listen to people perform and others who give support to the performers, you get an urge to share a part of yourself you never would have wanted to before.”

Then, the poets commence and the responses to the fishbowl question are pulled out between every two recitations to lighten the often somber mood. Fishbowl questions range from favorite “fuckboy fire” songs – catchy songs with problematic lyrics – to advice for your younger self. Poems cover topics such as the art of making a good Spotify playlist and the damaging effects of sexual assault. Though the schedule of the meetings has become second nature to longtime

members, the dynamic of each open mic night is defined anew every Wednesday. Some nights, the mood is heavy with the sharp aftertaste of stories of abusive lovers, racist encounters and gang violence. Other nights, singers covering SZA tracks and harpists playing solos contribute a spiritual lightness to the space. Most nights, the two sides of the spectrum go together harmoniously; the amusing fishbowl questions weave effortlessly in between the existential or somber nature of the poems.

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jabril muhammad T

he roots of Jabril Muhammad’s poetry go back to his sixth-grade spelling assignments. While other kids raced to finish writing sample sentences for their designated spelling words, Muhammad had no problem taking his time. In fact, he made it a point to make his sentences eloquent – poetic, even. The fourth-year sociology student’s father exposed him to poetic expression early on by listening to hip-hop and rap. “Growing up, I knew that rap was an acronym for rhythm and poetry,” Muhammad said. “I knew from a young age that rap is a form of poetic expression.” This early exposure to spoken word made Muhammad eager to experience The Word when his friend asked him to attend in the spring

quarter of his first year. During his first open mic night, Muhammad felt so comfortable in the space that he ended up performing. “The space is a free space and in that way, it represents a subversion of the injustices we feel on a daily basis,” Muhammad said. “Usually, the world suppresses some voices, but this experience of freedom really encapsulates the notion of social justice.” From the beginning, Muhammad felt The Word was a place where it was safe to speak about his experiences, especially dealing with institutional racism. During his third year, Muhammad was the resident assistant of the Afrikan Diaspora Living Learning Community, where he was able to hear about others’ experiences being racially profiled and immerse himself in Black

culture. These experiences also inspired his poetry, he said. Muhammad often talks about the Black experience in his poetry, including the accompanying poem, in which he imagines a Black policeman who must confront the issue of police brutality. By speaking about the struggles Black people face and his own experiences as a Black man, Muhammad brings awareness to the marginalization of Black communities, which are often left out of discussions both on campus and in society as a whole. “The most powerful tool of humanity is the ability to name things,” Muhammad said. “When we talk about silent oppression, it is not until we put a name to (our struggles) and talk about them that we take away the power from (the oppressor).”

Song: Who Shot Ya? Artist: Piggy Smalls Mixtape: Black and Blue

Who shot ya? A question for the young G’s murdered by the OG Thug kings with M16s, rings, and every weapon between Who handle all the things we call criminal at subliminal home precincts I said who shot ya? A question for the whole world, a question for the young girls and queens, a question for me The bronze token, a charlatan, a penny who ain’t wise enough to recognize when white supremacy clowns me Although I know the CIA played drugs all through ya neighborhoods Then a war on drugs brought hugs ‘tween wives and prison mates Regardless I drive, Black, white, blue all through ya neighborhoods You call me Uncle Tom but my brother Sam payin’ me to stay It’s no debate to me, cuz despite the moral wickedness you claimin’, all I’m sayin’ is I’d rather be a Tom than Tray Haters gonna hate, but this food on my table, And my girls’ sweet dreamin’s worth the price I gotta pay



karla duarte K

arla Duarte identifies with many different labels: El Salvadorian, feminist, transfer student, queer and, recently, genderqueer – using pronouns “she,” “her” and “theirs.” The fourth-year anthropology student uses The Word as a place to learn about herself by sifting through her intersecting identities. The Word serves as an open space for Duarte to talk through hardships she faces. She often brings up her many classes that depict Central Americans in an unfavorable light. “Going into my major, I thought this would be where the professors of color would be and I could finally learn about my experiences in an academic setting and grow,” she said. “But it always happens to be white professors, and it often feels like an outsider looking in and pointing out the flaws of my people.” Duarte said she often sees her people represented poorly when professors speak about deeply ingrained institutional issues. For example, they discuss the struggles of poor nutrition or lack of mental health resources in a negative light, without understanding the socio-economic factors behind these issues. Duarte recalled an especially frustrating incident in which her professor criticized the diets of Central Americans for being unhealthy and conducive to obesity and diabetes, without addressing how poverty in the region leads to such conditions. As a way of speaking up against some of the misguided ethnocentrism she has faced in class, Duarte has taken to poetry to express her anger and educate people about her background. “Sometimes I hear something a professor says that erases a lot of my history and out of that erasure, I start prewriting,” she said. “Then I find the lines that I like and I go from there.” Although she does not shy away from engaging with her professors’ comments in thought-out response papers, Duarte is most comfortable letting out her frustrations during The Word. She said she does not feel the need to curb her discontentment among people willing to understand her viewpoint and remind her that her anger is justified. “I appreciate when a lot of my professors give response papers, and I vent my anger in an academic sense,” Duarte said. “But at (The Word), I do not hold back and I pick apart every intersectionality the professors miss.”


My house is not a home anymore It is not peach walls and sacred plants It is not wrinkled hands holding me in place Preventing me from slipping into my own made abyss It is a paradise now. I long to flee to it. I nozzle my face in the arms that bore me but I am no longer able to embrace them I, a phantom now have taken the place of the person I once was Or maybe I never was. I always was what I am now A Paradox of walking death with the sun kissing her cheek Maybe I always was an empty shell, a barren cocoon A stillborn believing I made it through my mother’s canal, Holy. My eyes sinking into my skull as I watch the shadows I used to call friends exist without me. I am only there for the sake to hear my name in voices that aren’t hollow Can you say it again? My name. My name? My… FALL 2017







didn’t always know I was going to be a journalist, but I always asked a lot of questions. Most parents are used to hearing their child ask, “Why?” a hundred times a day – especially the parents of little girls who grow up to be reporters. My interest in news wasn’t sparked by a trip abroad or a life-altering incident. It started at home, where our television was always turned to the local evening news and we talked about politics, natural disasters and breaking news across the country. From our living room, I watched journalists report from around the world. They introduced me to life outside of my small community in the County of San Diego – a life I quickly realized wasn’t always fair to people who were ethnically, religiously or socially different. Our house was always filled with books, magazines and stacks of the Sunday paper that would fall to the floor, section by section, next to my dad’s favorite spot on the couch as he drank his morning coffee – black, of course. The earliest memories I have are of us sitting together on that couch, tracing the letters of the alphabet on a little wooden puzzle board that never got taken out of its packaging. He’d pronounce the letters, and I’d repeat them as I moved my fingers over their bright colors. My dad sealed my fate when he handed me an issue of Time magazine and sections of the paper he’d already finished reading. I learned to read by sounding out the words underneath glossy photos of politicians and pop stars. My favorite time of day was when

my entire family squeezed onto my parents’ bed at night to read a book together. No matter how long his day at the fire station was, my dad let my brother and I choose a book from the stacks on our bookshelf and he’d read it aloud. He probably narrated my personal favorite, “Duncan and Dolores,” a picture book about a girl and her cat, nearly 200 times before I turned 5 years old. These daily rituals might have culminated in an expensive, life-long book-buying habit, but they also taught me to look outside of myself for answers. When life got confusing,

I learned to read by sounding out the words underneath glossy photos of politicians and pop stars.

I picked up a newspaper or turned on the TV. When I needed an escape from the emotional roller-coaster of the middle school social scene, I got lost in Hogwarts until I fell asleep. In my last year of college, the stack of books on my bedside table is starting to gather dust, and my childhood reading material has been replaced by a combination of breaking news and textbooks. My future feels more uncertain than ever, but through all the voices competing for my attention, I’ve learned to read and discover the truth for myself rather than rely on others. That independence began around kindergarten. When I was 5, Mom went to the hospital one day with flu-like symptoms, was placed into a medically induced coma and discharged about nine months later with permanent brain damage, leaving my dad as a single parent. Mom was still able to walk, talk and live on her own in an apartment a few miles away, but it was difficult for her to remember what day it was or what was happening in our lives. Our nightly reading ritual began

FALL 2017


to fade, and my dad had less time to read and watch the news at home, but my brother and I learned to study, walk to school and do our homework without constant reminders from adults. When life got overwhelming and my shyness took over, books kept me company and allowed me to travel from Green Gables to a little house on the prairie and back before bedtime. As I grew older and gained confidence, I learned to ask questions and channel

“ 26

my creativity through writing, hoping to connect people and help them find their own answers. But the stories I tore through on summer afternoons could only provide a temporary escape from reality. As the only girl in my house, I used to wish for more time to get to know my mom before she got sick. There was so much I wanted to ask – questions about boys and how to control the crazy, curly hair I inherited from her. I still haven’t figured out how to

Dad taught me to look for answers myself when he didn’t have them and to use that knowledge to help others.


handle either of those yet, but my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents taught me to be selfless and work hard with what I’ve been given. While Dad put in long hours at the station, the rest of my family stepped in to raise my brother and me, even though they had their own kids and careers to worry about. In middle school, my aunt walked me through my first steps down the makeup aisle. I hoped some perfect balance of drugstore eye shadow and mascara would help me achieve the effortless, natural beauty and confidence she exuded. In 2003, part of my extended family was forced to evacuate their home as widespread fires tore across Southern California. While my dad left our home for a week to fight the flames, they moved in and crammed around our television, desperate for any news about the safety of their homes and neighbors. Ashes fell and the sun glowed bright orange. My cousins and I walked to a nearby street corner and stared helplessly at flames that engulfed the side of a mountain. During that week, the role of journalism became more concrete to me. I realized that access to honest information, from news about the daily forecast to natural disasters, helps people like the relatives who cared for me keep their families safe. After a few fearful days, they were able to return to their homes, and my dad returned to ours safely, ready for a nap. Dad taught me to look for answers myself when he didn’t have them and to use that knowledge to help others, even if doing so required sacrifice and more than a few late nights in the newsroom. He also taught me about unwavering stability. I used to look up from the pool to see him sitting on the bleachers at every water polo game and running the stopwatch at every swim meet. When I signed him up to be the parent proofreader at my high school’s newspaper while I was editor in chief, he didn’t complain while wading through sentence fragments, incorrect grammar and missing punctuation. Sorry, Dad. When it came time to take the SAT, we skipped the fancy $1,000 prep courses. Dad bought me a book, and

I read and practiced. Weeks later, I woke him up in the middle of the night to tell him I’d earned a perfect score in none other than the reading section. I guess reading that same cat book every night for months paid off. His stability hasn’t wavered since I left for college. Even though I call him once a week on particularly stressful days in the newsroom to announce I’m switching careers, he remains steadfast in his support. He’s the first one I go to when I’m struck by a good story pitch. He’s probably the only 61-year-old to have religiously read Billboard articles online while I interned there last spring. His opinion is the only one that matters to me when a new Daily Bruin story is published, no matter what other surprises await me in the comments section. When I wanted to try out for a sports team or apply for a job I didn’t think I was ready for, Dad always said the same thing: “All they can do is laugh at you and say no.” Three years ago, that seemed terrifying to a first-year student who wanted more than anything to see her name on the list of new Daily Bruin interns, but I’ve since learned that I can’t let the fear of rejection stop me from striving to reach my dreams. Adults need stability, too – unbiased, accurate information they can rely on, especially when the future seems so uncertain. In today’s turbulent political climate, people are searching for reliable outlets they can return to in crisis after crisis. Like the journalists I grew up watching, I want to help others by drawing attention to global and local issues, so that people with different perspectives and fields of expertise can start to solve them. I’m not smart enough to fix every international disaster, but I can use journalism to shine a spotlight on the truth, so families like mine can stay informed and find consistency during our most confusing times.

@dailybruinprime | FALL 2017



JULIETTE LE SAINT Summer was ending and I was about to start college. The thought of leaving home sent me tumbling into an existential crisis.

The night I left, the thought of being separated from my sister broke my heart more than ever. She was my best friend, and I was hers. I was leaving home with no idea of how our relationship would change, and I desperately wished I could stay for her.



Not only did I doubt my ability to be independent from my family, but I also convinced myself that moving 350 miles away from the Bay Area would tear my family apart. I felt I’d be unable to support my family the way I had during high school, and I couldn’t ask my sister to take on my role as a mediator between my parents as their relationship devolved.

Saying goodbye to my parents was also difficult, because I felt they needed me. My mom wanted to find her own independence and sense of self, which shifted our family dynamic. In the meantime, my dad gave up part of his independence to take care of us. I loved and trusted both of them, yet I was unsure that either could cope with my absence.

As my first week at UCLA came to a close, I made a decision: The best way to help my family was to become stronger as an individual. I would work to attune myself perfectly to my college environment. I would become independent from my past, from my family’s problems, and reform myself to become rock-solid.

I settled I was under the impression that my into my new life was going well. Still, I continued life at UCLA and to obsess over my family’s felt I was doing a fantastic job problems, believing of being independent. Between they were bound to diving into my cognitive science affect me and ruin my classes, making new friends efforts at becoming and exploring both campus a stronger and Los Angeles, individual. there was always something for me to do.

I threw myself into college life so intensely not because I was genuinely excited about it, but because I believed that it would help my family regain hope for our future and remedy our issues.

One night during fall quarter, I received a phone call that shattered the illusion of independence I had been sustaining.

FALL 2017


My little sister was crying. She explained to me how the situation back home had completely deteriorated – our parents were fighting every day. All I could do, as I sat hunched over my work, was remind her I would be home in a few weeks.

When I came home for winter break, my worst fears were confirmed.

I knew it wasn’t enough. The phone calls didn’t stop. A sense of complete hopelessness filled my mind.

Any attempts to advise my sister, and later my mom and dad, turned into desperate pleas for reassurance that they couldn’t give me.

It became painfully clear that my family’s problems were still very much alive and, despite my best efforts, I was in no way equipped to solve them. Just a few days after Christmas, my parents announced they were taking a break.



My sister and I were caught in the middle of our parents’ crisis, and while I could escape the situation by returning to LA, my sister had nowhere to run. As her big sister, I was caught at an impasse. Still, I couldn’t allow my family’s problems to define me. If I failed to form an independent identity, I would be driven into a state of anxiety that would render me unable to help my little sister, my parents and myself.

I came to realize that being independent was far more complicated than I had first assumed. It took me too long to realize the sense of independence I had used to define myself revolved around my physical separation from home, rather than my own growth. Self-growth, I have come to learn, depends on reconciling our identities and experiences, past and present, with the values we seek to emulate. FALL 2017


By the time I came back to UCLA, I had decided I would renew my search for independence by indulging in a passion I hadn’t truly explored since middle school: illustration.

I started regularly illustrating for the Daily Bruin, and my sense of self changed dramatically. Finally, I started to feel free of the burden I had placed upon myself as my family’s caretaker.

Although I owe a huge part of who I am to my family and my past, I am also defined by my ambitions and my passions.


The friendships I formed in college also helped me place my family’s problems in a wider context. My friends’ stories and experiences allowed me to grow more optimistic about the future. As hard as life can be, surrounding myself with loving people who emulate the qualities I most admire helped me build a stronger sense of identity.


When I left for college, I did not leave my family behind. I needed to grow as my own person, and thankfully, my passions and friends made me optimistic for the future. Now I need to trust that my family can find a similar sense of hope in my absence. Ultimately, leaving home made me feel closer to my sister and parents, because I can love them with an energy I found in my journey toward independence.

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is a person or event that "What changed the trajectory of your

life?” The pen stood still between my index finger and thumb as I pursed my lips, unable to confront the prompt before me and write an answer on my notecard. I read the other responses displayed on a blackboard. “TRUMP,” one screamed in all caps. “My father’s death during my senior year of high school.” Five hours later, after the NPR conference ended and I had tucked the card into my purse, I found the answer: a wedding I attended with my father during my freshman year of high school. The bride, the daughter of my father’s childhood friend, married her co-worker. The pair were both pediatric oncologists at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and they fell in love during their residency. “I want to be a pediatric oncologist, too,” I told my father at the time. A toothy grin appeared, partially



due to the amount of alcohol he had consumed, but mostly because of what I had said. It was the first time in my life I had expressed an interest in pursuing medicine – and this meant the world to my father. All he wanted was for one of his children to receive an M.D.

“I really tried to be like the bride at the wedding, to be the doctor that my father wanted.” This dream was part of a larger goal. My father was a refugee, fleeing poverty and strife during the Vietnam War era. He was in his final year of medical school when he left Vietnam at 26, with blind hope for a better life.

My father said freedom and McDonald’s were the first things he tasted in the U.S. His new life was filled with school and work. My father graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and set off to sponsor the rest of his family to come to the U.S. Now, my family and I live in Orange County, California, enjoying quiet suburbia. My father is extremely proud of this life – his is the classic tale of an immigrant success story. He’s fulfilled most of his aspirations. The only thing left was to raise a doctor. I really tried to be like the bride at the wedding, to be the doctor that my father wanted. It’s the reason I worked so hard to attend a top university. Getting accepted to UCLA, however, was only a small part of the battle. I fought the rest of it during my first year of college. I spent the summer before my first year at UCLA poring over lists of prehealth organizations and volunteer opportunities, making spreadsheets that listed when I would become in-


volved in each one. Among my friends, I was the resident pre-med expert, chiming in to answer anyone’s questions about the daunting requisites for admission to medical school. I became a UCLA Health volunteer during spring quarter of my first year. I was so proud when I first received my volunteer badge and uniform, but mostly because I had made my parents proud. I wasn’t always the model doctorto-be daughter. I hated my hospital volunteer job in high school. I joined the newspaper and yearbook instead of the medical society. I despised biology, but was miraculously adept in chemistry – a skill I often used to compensate for my revulsion for cells and anatomy. Though the summer before my first year at UCLA was full of pre-med extracurricular planning, I did not end up following my self-prescribed program. I joined the Daily Bruin instead of a pre-med fraternity. I traded my volunteer coat for business attire in Model United Nations at UCLA. Chemistry

bored me to tears, and I couldn’t fathom doing a double integral in calculus. I hated every second I spent in my life sciences lectures and couldn’t bring myself to enjoy one bit of the material. A blank form for shadowing a pediatric oncologist sat on my desk, collecting dust, while I eagerly filled out applications for new positions in the Daily Bruin and MUN. It took me a whole year to realize that much of my hatred for my collegiate studies stemmed from my own underlying disinterest in science and medicine. But why did it take me so long to realize I loathed the field and everything that came with it? Because I did it for my father, who dropped everything he had 40 years ago in hope of a better life for himself and his children. I majored in biochemistry instead of political science for him. I faked my fascination with the chemical nature of DNA every week during office hours for him. I sat in tears at the end of each quarter, hoping for a better one to follow, for him.

I want to be a journalist, a politician or even a teacher. Being a photographer sounds nice, too. I excel in the humanities and struggle with science and math. I never dared to utter these words in front of my father, in fear of shame and disappointment. And I’m not the only one. When she was 15 years old, Zainub Ali, a fourth-year human biology and society student, visited family in Pakistan. During lunch one day, her cousin Bushra voiced her ambitions of pursuing medicine. Ali’s uncle suggested Ali should pursue the field instead of her cousin. “He jokingly said, ‘Oh, you know she’s not gonna become one,’” Ali said, recalling her uncle’s remarks. It was then she realized the privilege she had living in the U.S. While many of her female relatives her age were getting married, she was continuing school. Ali felt she owed it to her family in Pakistan to become a doctor. But joining pre-med organizations

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put a burden on Ali, and after a slew of rejections, she realized that medicine was not the ideal path for her. “Being pre-med just takes so much time out of you that if you’re not serious about it, then you’re not going to be happy in it,” she said. “I just felt like I was doing the motions (of pre-med classes and organizations) and I wasn’t experiencing them or feeling happy about it.”



Now, Ali is pursuing a career in genetic counseling and feels less weight on her shoulders. Jasmine Chen entered UCLA as a chemistry student. Chen’s parents wanted her to become a pharmacist, but pharmacy failed to spark her interest. Chen, now in her second year, said her lack of affinity for molecules and atoms led her to stop taking chemistry courses winter quarter of fresh-

man year and switch to business economics. This decision was scary for Chen. It was the first time she had ever defied her parents. “For me, it doesn’t really matter what your parents want from you, but if it’s not making you happy and if you don’t want to do it, then just don’t,” Chen said. Many Asian-American students like Ali, Chen and me are raised with the idea that pursuing a career in medicine, science or engineering is the only path to success. And there is a reason why so many Asian-American parents frame success so narrowly – they grew up in societies in which education was the only means of social mobility. My grandmother grew up in war-torn Vietnam and never had a formal education. She raised her six children, including my mother, in a tailor shop run from her home, working day and night, dealing with aggressive customers. My mother’s escape from the frenzy was school. If my mother got through school, she would find a high-paying job and not have to live paycheck to paycheck. Education was her path toward a better life. My parents immigrated to the U.S. to find that better life. However, their road wasn’t without obstacles. Many Asian-American parents fear discrimination because of cultural differences. “There is almost no Vietnamese in Washington, D.C.,” my father often told me. “Only white.” It’s why he encouraged his children to pursue careers in medicine and engineering, where advanced degrees and GPAs might protect them from discrimination. Parents don’t want their children to be worse off than they were. If I became a doctor, I most likely wouldn’t have to live with financial burdens – at least, this is what my parents and many others like to think. Third-year theater student Vivi Le has also had to deal with her parents dictating her professional aspirations. Le’s mother sat in her own feces on a boat that served as her escape from Vietnam, and now her parents work odd jobs to make ends meet. Their hardships deterred Le from a career in the arts. But Le grew up watching Jackie Chan movies. At a young age, she

told her mother that she wanted to be an actress. “She straight up told me that Asian people don’t act and Asian people don’t go on film,” Le said. “The effect of this conversation stuck with me for a very long time.” This talk with her mother didn’t stop her from loving theater, though she set her acting dreams aside in high school. Le wasn’t involved in any drama clubs and didn’t take any acting classes; instead she played basketball and volleyball and served on the student council. Yet Le applied to 18 colleges as a theater major. “I was so guilt-ridden,” Le said. “I thought, ‘If I pursue this, I am the most selfish person in the world. If I do this, I am only thinking of myself, not of my parents and my family who I have to take care of when I graduate.’” Le knew she was taking a huge risk. UCLA had been her dream school since she was 2 years old. The theater program at UCLA has a low acceptance rate, and denial from the program meant rejection from the institution as a whole. “I realized that if I didn’t do this, I would be unhappy my entire life. At the end of the day, I realized that I would suffer myself before I would let my parents suffer,” Le said. To this day, Le’s parents are not happy with her decision. Whenever her mother calls her, she still asks if Le has changed her major yet. She doesn’t tell people that Le is a theater student, only that she is a student at UCLA.

“Their sacrifice is a gift I can work 50 lifetimes for and never repay. I love them. But I also love myself.” “I feel like I am not the type of daughter my parents deserve because I’m not a doctor or engineer,” Le said. Le realizes her mother acts this way out of fear of financial instability and because she perceives Le’s decision as naive and impulsive. Despite this, she believes her parents are truly proud of

the person she has become. “It’s the type of Asian love they don’t (articulate),” she said. When Le spends the night at home, her parents still pull up the blankets over her head, brush her hair off her face and kiss her goodbye before they leave for work at 4 a.m. “At the end of the day, they don’t want me to be hurt and they don’t want me to suffer, but they want me to live a life where I’m happy,” Le said. I don’t blame my parents for wanting me to be financially stable. I know my father didn’t ride a dilapidated boat into the middle of the ocean in 1975 for me to become a journalist. But when I think about the future, I don’t see myself in a white coat. I have called myself a perfectionist in many self-deprecating jokes told throughout the years, citing my fear of failure. I don’t think I have a fear of failure anymore, but rather of disappointing the two most important

people in my life: my parents. Their sacrifice is a gift I can never repay. I love them. But I also love myself. I haven’t told him yet. My father will be disappointed in me – I already know. He still thinks I’m pre-med, volunteering and taking biology classes. I’m not lying to him; the human biology and society major requires me to take a life sciences course this quarter. Hour-long lectures, fights, awkward car rides and his dark and clouded eyes await when I tell him my decision. It will hurt him a lot, but it will hurt me especially. I no longer dream of becoming a pediatric oncologist. Actually, I don’t dream of anything. My future is a dark ocean, like the one my father sailed across for three days. It’s dark, turbulent and scary. My father’s light was America. Mine? I’m still in that rocky, pitch-black phase, but by doing what I love, I’ll eventually find my way.

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CITY GUIDE a nerd’s guide to los angeles WRITTEN BY OLIVIA MAZZUCATO PHOTOS BY HANNAH BURNETT ILLUSTRATIONS BY CICI SHENG GRAPHIC BY LEANN WOO “geek” and “fangirl” have been insults thrown at me “Nerd,” in the past. Now, I wear the words as badges of honor.

These monikers have a variety of connotations, but generally, they’re used to refer to someone with interests outside of mainstream culture. As someone who has crafted a “Moana” costume from scratch, waited 12 hours in line for Disney’s live-action film panel at the D23 Expo and written a 30-page fan fiction to win tickets to “The Lord of the Rings in Concert,” it’s safe to say I fit squarely within the nerd-geek-fangirl triumvirate. Los Angeles has a ridiculously spread-out geography, so finding geeky locales and figuring out if they’re worth the commute has been a constant challenge for me. I still have a sticky note that I wrote during my first year of college that lists different places I read about and how many minutes away they are. I decided to check out a variety of geeky activities across the city to introduce people to geek culture and new spots in this sprawling city we call home. These locations all touch on different aspects of the diverse community of which I am a proud, card-carrying member. Well, I may not have an actual card, but I do have a Time Travel Passport. That’s got to count for something.

Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum and Galleries Downtown Los Angeles 919 S. Grand Avenue


Although I love the book, I haven’t actually seen “The Handmaid’s Tale.” That’s why I was so surprised when I walked into the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum and Galleries. In the midst of dozens of costumes, the iconic blood red handmaiden’s


SEVEN SPOTS FOR NERDY NEEDS Explore your inner nerd in these seven locations around Los Angeles. Whether you like comic books, time travel or classic cinema, you’ll fangirl over what they have to offer. To read about all seven locations, visit





dress captured my attention. The gallery features a rotating selection of fashion and costumes. I went to the Annual Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design in the fall a few days before the Emmys to check out costumes from nominated TV shows. The exhibit included items such as Queen Elizabeth II’s regal wedding dress from “The Crown,” as well as Mindy Kaling’s “The Mindy Project” wardrobe, filled with bright jewel-tone and floral pieces. But they paled in comparison to the handmaiden’s dress. “The Handmaid’s Tale” follows the story of Offred (Elisabeth Moss), a woman struggling to survive in an oppressive, dystopian patriarchy in which women are separated into

different social classes, marked by the colors and dresses they wear. Moss’ dress has taken on a new power offscreen because it’s been co-opted by women’s movements. Political protesters wear it to bring attention to the inequalities women face in American society, drawing parallels between President Donald Trump’s administration and the oppressive regime in the show. As I stood there, I couldn’t help but feel the immense weight of the costume – the suffocation, the implications. A piece of fabric gave me chills. The FIDM Museum and Galleries serves as an emotional stop for any film-and-television buff, offering a taste of the Hollywood magic we see on screen.

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Time Travel Mart Echo Park 1714 Sunset Blvd.

LazRFit Downtown Los Angeles 400 W. Pico Blvd. Gym culture is not exactly my cup of tea, but I managed to find one location that brings a geeky element to working out: laser tag. LazRfit combines exercise with laser tag – once you’re shot, you have to do enough cardio to reactivate your gear. The gear tracks how many calories you’ve burned as well as your shooting accuracy, making for an exhausting but supremely entertaining competitive workout. I signed up for a single 50-minute class for $29, which included a warmup and two separate games. One of the most striking things about lazRfit is the game course. Gone are the neon lights and goofy-looking obstacles that characterized most of the laser tag venues from my childhood. Instead, smooth wooden ramps populate the interior of lazRfit’s lofted brick building. Players are also encouraged to climb and jump over the ramps, which led to some pretty impressive vaulting – and falling – on my part. Turning a workout into a game made exercising much more palatable. Although I had the lowest score and accuracy of everyone in my class, I burned the most calories. LazRfit, while expensive, provided a class that was the most fun I’ve had while burning calories, apart from the time I stayed on the elliptical for three hours watching attorney general Jeff Sessions’ testimony on C-SPAN.



Time Travel Mart sits nestled between a vegan ice cream spot and an independent bookstore-coffee shop, almost blending in with its hipster surroundings. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the trendy (read: gentrified) neighborhood has actually perfected time travel and set up a shop for those giving the technology a whirl. Stepping inside is indeed like stepping into a time machine that takes you straight to a 1970s convenience store. The Time Travel Mart doubles as the storefront for 826LA, a local branch of a national nonprofit that supports Los Angeles students by teaching them writing skills. All proceeds from the mart go toward the organization. I also had the chance to go to the store front for 826 Valencia in San Francisco, which masquerades as “San Francisco’s Only Independent Pirate Supply Store.” LA hosts two locations: an 1870s style general store in Mar Vista and this Echo Park store. The shelves feature anthologies of students’ writing in addition to an assortment of random curios and fun souvenirs, from jars of Time Travel Sickness Pills (they’re actually mints) to candles dedicated to the so-called patron saints of time travel, such as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. However, it’s the store’s immersive nature that’s most fun – the walls are covered with witty fliers, and two adjacent news tickers share “Tomorrow’s Headlines” and “Yesterday’s News.” But if you want to try the Time-Freezy Hyper Slush, you’re out of luck. As the sign taped to the front of the machine states, it’s “Out of Order, Come Back Yesterday.”

Geeky Teas & Games Burbank 2120 W. Magnolia Blvd. Geeky Teas feels like the inside of a fangirl’s head. The entryway features a life-sized Dalek, directly next to a recreation of Sherlock’s living room complete with its flowery wallpaper and spray-painted smiley face. Although Geeky Teas also houses the GeeKitties Cat Rescue, giving the store a bit of a random feel, the main draw is the assortment of teas. I don’t have a particularly discerning taste in tea, but as an amateur enthusiast and full-time fangirl, I was excited to check it out. The blends take on creative names chock full of puns, such as The Brew is Out There and Groot Root Tea. Even the ingredients of the teas are creative – the Bad Wolf Tea features a rose petal infusion. Unfortunately, when I went, they were out of most of their blends, most likely because it was the same day as one of their craft fairs. But I managed to snag a bag of their most popular tea, Green Potion Tea, a reference to “The Legend of Zelda.” The fruitier green tea wasn’t that different from other teas I’ve tried, but the pop culture aspect makes it a worthy novelty, perfect for any nerdy Brew-in. Geeky Teas can be overwhelming and definitely won’t be for everyone, but if you’re looking for the metaphorical version of a fandom dunk tank, this is it.

The Perky Nerd Burbank 1606 W. Magnolia Blvd. I’m all too familiar with the pervasive negativity that characterizes the geek experience for many women. I have been subjected to rigorous questioning about lightsaber specifications or been met with disdain about my superhero preferences, all to discern if I’m a “real fan.” The Perky Nerd constitutes the antithesis of that culture. The shop is billed as a female-oriented comic book shop, focusing on inclusivity. I’m a relative newcomer to the world of comics, so I’ve always been too intimidated to enter an actual comic shop, and usually end up buying my comics online or at Barnes & Noble. Works of art adorn the walls, showcasing a variety of superheroines. I smiled as I took in the room, from the prominent “Wonder Woman” display to the various pieces

of art featuring “Star Wars” heroines. I gathered up the courage to ask if they had the installment after “Thor Volume 1: The Goddess of Thunder.” I felt embarrassed for not knowing the proper terminology or exactly what I was looking for and apologized profusely to the woman behind the counter. She smiled reassuringly and told me it was fine, informing me that they were out of the volume, but would have a new shipment next week. It’s a trek to get out to Burbank, but I’ll be heading back to The Perky Nerd, both to pick up my copy of “Thor” and to experience the cozy, welcoming atmosphere of the store all over again. There is something magical about feeling like you belong, and that’s The Perky Nerd’s true superpower.

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ineteen thousand feet up, 1:30 a.m. darkness, sub-zero temperatures and biting winds. Benjamin van Aken emerged exhausted from the depths of his sleeping bag. Miserable and cold, he began the final stage of his climb. Within an hour, a smile and a flood of euphoria replaced his misery: He had witnessed the most beautiful sunrise of his life from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. For van Aken, summiting the tallest mountain in Africa the summer after his second year at UCLA was a literal high point in his life, especially because he had spent the school year feeling physically inadequate and emotionally drained. “It was one of the happiest moments of the year,” van Aken said. “It was very much a turning point. … I genuinely felt fulfilled and happy.” Van Aken’s need to prove himself physically was evident even when he was young. His mom, Jenice Mortale, noticed him doing flips on the living room couch at age 5 and signed him up for a gymnastics class. He sprung and vaulted his way into becoming a serious gymnast, actively competing for the next 13 years. But two years after Mortale changed the course of her son’s life, a completely different force changed hers. Van Aken was 7 when his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought and beat it, then went into remission for several years. But the cancer came back – and this time, it wouldn’t relinquish its grip. After fighting for more than a year, Mortale died in August 2009. Van Aken was 13. “It didn’t seem real,” he said. “She would come home at 9:15 every night. My family and I would be sitting on the couch watching TV, waiting for the lock to turn. … When she died, unconsciously we were still waiting for that lock to turn.” A year after van Aken lost his mother, his third-grade teacher told his dad about Camp Kesem, a summer camp that supports kids impacted by their parents’ cancer. Almost immediately after he was dropped off at Camp Kesem, a group of boys who had attended the camp for several years welcomed him and helped ease his nerves. Van Aken remembers the joy of experiencing his first-ever backpacking trip. He also recalls playing a game that involved being stuck in a maze and having to find his way out. “I was one of the last few people out. … Eventually it was like, ‘I need help,’” he said. “It taught me the life lesson that oftentimes you need to ask for help.” He now returns almost every year as a counselor to give back to the support system he benefited from. While the camp helped address his emotional pain, he started to suffer physically at UCLA. He was forced to give up gymnastics in his first year after a torn labrum and a surgery left him unable to perform at the physical level he wanted.




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In his second year, a buildup of mental and physical stress he hadn’t realized he was carrying led to an emotional breakdown. Van Aken felt in the dark about what was going on inside of him. “It felt like there was something constantly wrong and I was not OK and I didn’t know why and it was super scary,” he said. “It was just super hard for me to get to campus and go to class.” Van Aken turned to hiking, climbing and bouldering to find physical release for his emotions. That summer, van Aken embarked on several trips to Middle Palisade and Mount Russell in California, but didn’t succeed in reaching their summits. His body wasn’t ready. He attempted to climb Middle Palisade three times. The first two attempts were foiled by a snowstorm, exhaustion and altitude sickness. On the third, van Aken tried combating the altitude with medication, but became even sicker.

He attempted to climb Mount Russell twice using altitude pills, but these again made him feel sick. Confidence shattered, van Aken felt a huge weight on his mind and body. “I tied too much of my self-worth into (how) I was climbing,” he said. Bouldering posed a more difficult mental challenge for him and his self-esteem. “Ninety-nine percent of everything you’re doing is failing, and just that 1 percent is getting it,” van Aken said. “I was biting off way more than I could chew.” He needed to overcome the physical challenges in his life to overcome his internal struggles, he said. Kilimanjaro turned everything around. Van Aken didn’t feel sick this time; he felt great. A pastel sunrise lighting up Tanzania broke through everything he had experienced and fought against – physically and mentally. After he returned to Los Angeles, van Aken started

"99 percent of everything you’re doing is failing, and just 1 percent is getting it."



therapy. He realized before the trip that he needed to talk to someone, since he was having panic attacks and nothing was getting better. He finally reached out to a therapist and made an appointment. By the end of 2016, van Aken made a decision to dedicate his mind and body to the mountains. His therapist told him he had been experiencing symptoms of grief, and the best way to heal was to devote himself to the source of his happiness. He started consistently training, running as much as possible and building his ability to take in more oxygen. He added more mountainspecific training regimens into his schedule and started going on climbing trips to the Sierra Nevada almost every weekend. “I’d wake up in the morning, go and suffer for an hour and a half and feel like I’d accomplished something,” van Aken said. His intense, consistent training improved his mountain climbing ability. He still had his ups and downs, but his life felt like less of an uphill climb. Van Aken felt strong enough this year to take on Mount Whitney in California, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. Van Aken and his friends were supposed to summit it together, but the weather changed their plans. One friend was unable to climb because of

sun poisoning, while the other had a hard time breathing in the single-digit temperatures and wind chill. With a 1,600-foot slope and wind gusts pouring snow in front of him, van Aken decided to go on with two other, more experienced mountaineers. The final 400 feet were steep, and the next hour and a half felt like life and death, van Aken said. The ice climbing required focus and careful, precise placement of his ice axes and crampons. The movement was monotonous and easy, but he knew any small error would result in him falling to his death. With a rush of adrenaline fueling his mind and body, he climbed slowly and steadily. Van Aken conquered the ice wall and summited Whitney, a feat he’s now achieved four times. He doesn’t know what his future holds. But he now understands what gives his life meaning: testing his physical limits and pushing himself to keep climbing when he falls. “The majority of it is a really hard time,” van Aken said. “I’m falling a lot, my fingers really hurt and I’m bleeding … in pursuit of that one time, that one successful climb, when all of that is worth it.”

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y whole life I’ve felt like a fish out of water, and it’s not just because my swim team career ended prematurely in the fifth grade due to an acute aversion to chlorine and extended exercise. I’ve never lived more than a couple miles from the ocean, and despite my clumsy backstroke, I love the water – the misty sea breeze, the distinct aroma and, of course, the cuisine. I grew up in Seattle, which meant I grew up eating not just salmon, but every type of food in the sea. My birthday dinners were spent at oyster bars and marina restaurants. I remember the feeling of regret that hit me after consuming copious amounts of clam chowder at Ivar’s. When I wasn’t in Seattle, I spent many of my summers in Shanghai, a city known around the world for its famous seafood. Every time I visited, my relatives celebrated with an outing to a local banquet-style

restaurant, which included Lazy Susans topped with plates of tiny river shrimp drizzled in soy sauce and whole fillets of perch steamed with green onions. In my senior year of high school, I moved to the Bay Area and my obsession continued. Almost every weekend I took the light rail up to San Francisco and walked along the Embarcadero, catching potent whiffs of deep-fried halibut, searching for the source so I could indulge my fish-and-chip cravings. The coastal fare in Los Angeles is different, yet reminiscent of the seafood I grew up eating. Angelenos take pride in their health, which means greasy, breaded fish and creamy clam chowders are a little harder to come by. But the city makes up for it with some fantastic raw seafood options, which I’ve trawled to find a few places worth trying.

hottest ceviche

Coni'Seafood 3544 W. Imperial Hwy Inglewood, CA 90303

Coni’Seafood’s aguachiles dish is a thing of geometric beauty. Imagine a perfectly round, white dish filled to an inch before the brim with an acidic marinade, reminiscent of a more congenial salsa verde. From the center extend radii of raw camarones (shrimp), and in the nucleus lie semicircles of fresh cucumber. On top of it all, delicate rings of purple onion are scattered in Euclidian perfection. It’s certainly a feast for the eyes. The shellfish in the Mexican ceviche dish are imported from Nayarit and Sinaloa, two coastal regions of Mexico, head chef Maria Vasquez said. To prepare the dish, each shrimp is sliced down the middle and spread open in the shape of a butterfly. The marinade is created by first grinding green chiles with salt and oregano, then combining the mixture with lemon juice and tomato. Before serving, the shrimp sit in the concoction for 10 minutes. The trusted recipe hasn’t changed in the 22 years since the restaurant opened, Vasquez said. Coni’ doesn’t just specialize in raw fare, however. Its



cooked seafood options include smaller shrimp laden with butter and garlic, as well as a plate of three marlin tacos – red fish cooked with melted cheese annealed on the edges. The vibrant flavors of the dish, combined with a sharp heat that can only be tempered with a few Coronas, have brought me back again and again to experience the best ceviche I’ve ever had.

best strip mall sushi

Hamasaku 11043 California State Route 2 Los Angeles, CA 90025

Strip mall sushi may get a bad reputation, but Hamasaku makes a convincing case for it. The restaurant would go entirely unnoticed if not for the bright, red-and-blue neon sign hanging above its curtained windows. The first time I ate here, I drove past at least four times, cursing the mechanical voice guiding me via Google Maps. However, the unassuming exterior belies the elegant landscape inside: The silvery fabrics draped from the ceiling catch and bend the light as they move, creating a sense that you’re underwater. The food itself is a fair medium between cheap college hotspots such as SushiStop and extravagant locales such as Nobu Los Angeles, which is frequented by rappers and overambitious socialites. More traditional fare such as nigiri and sashimi comprised good quality fish that felt firm yet buttery. The rolls stray a little outside the lines of conventional sushi, with ingredients such as soy paper and a garden of micro greens smattered on top. Executive chef Yoya Takahashi explained that most of the fish at Hamasaku is delivered from Japan, with the rest sourced from New Zealand or California. I asked him about the best way to eat sushi, expecting him to divulge the perfect ratio of soy sauce to wasabi. Instead, his response was just to find a good sushi chef: one who has

mastered the technical aspects of preparing sushi, takes into account the seasonality of the fish and considers what the customer wants to eat. “Please go to the sushi bar and talk to the sushi chef,” Takahashi said. That’s exactly what I did. Peering over the bar, I watched and chatted with the chefs as they deftly molded the fish onto the rice, pressing repeatedly with their index fingers and a shisho leaf. They occasionally finished the process by browning the top of the fish with flames emanating from a metal blowtorch. I could almost hear the orchestral soundtrack of the famed sushi documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” playing in the background as I watched them sculpt the vinegared rice and the slice of yellowtail I ordered into a veritable piece of art. One of the chefs ducked into the back and brought back the catch of the day to show me – a giant oyster the size of his hand. The way I see it, eating sushi is as much about the hospitality as it is about the fish, and Hamasaku’s chefs forge these elements with each blast of their blowtorches.

swankiest $1 oysters

EMC Seafood & Raw Bar 3500 W. 6th Street #101 Los Angeles, CA 90010

Cilantro, olives and blue cheese are all polarizing foods. But none of these compare to the fierce debate over a certain type of slimy, briny bivalve. Oysters, typically eaten by the dozen, were a true staple of any seafood joint in Seattle. Washington state is known not only for its lush apple orchards, but also its wide breadth of oyster varieties, with memorable names like Fat Bastard, which are bound to make you blush. Often mistaken for an expensive delicacy, oysters can certainly fit into smaller budgets, especially the $1 oyster deals during the happy hours of many seafood bars around Los Angeles. EMC Seafood & Raw Bar offers a $1 oyster special every day from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., with the selection chosen by the chef. Attached to an indoor Korean market, the restaurant brings some discreet swagger to a street that would otherwise be pretty quiet during the day, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows and waiters clad in fitted black T-shirts. The last time I went, I ended up ordering a dozen

Minter Sweets, a variety found in Puget Sound, a body of water bordering my hometown of Seattle. They came served on ice with tins of shaved horseradish, lime jalapeno and cocktail sauce, but I always prefer eating them on their own or with a squeeze of lemon to counterbalance their mild sweetness. As someone who has struggled to shuck these suckers, I can confidently say serving oysters is a labor of love and steady upper-body strength – even though the preparation looks simple. It almost goes without saying that there is only one correct way to eat them – a self-assured, noisy slurp down the hatchet.

FALL 2017


Profile for Daily Bruin

prime Fall Issue 2017  

prime Fall Issue 2017