Sparks Magazine Issue No. 3

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photography Peter Vo design Yushin Kato model Tuong-My Nguyen

S PA R K S M A G A Z I N E FA L L 2 0 1 2 S TA F F

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Shanie Kim photographer · Tommey Liang writer · Alan Nguyen writer · Aliana Wong designer · Nicole Kim designer · Patricia Potestades writer · Jina Choi promotions · Percy Batalier designer · Crystal Nguyen designer · Maria Pitt promotions · Anna Chen writer · Oanh Nguyen photographer · Katt Kiner designer · Nikolas Wong writer TaeYeon Hong content editor · Yushin Kato design editor · Peter Vo photography editor · Maureen Mariano managing editor · Ruchao Shang finance director · Kevin Do promotions director · Trung Phan assistant photography editor · Alan Yang web editor Not pictured: Linda Son creative director · Stefanie Cainto assistant managing editor · Jason Liu programming/ promotions director · Nathaniel Smith writer · Kanoko Maeda writer · Jaleesa Covington writer · Leonie Barkakati blogger · Arun Sunny writer · Ian Aranca writer · Angie Llanos photographer · Michi Velez photographer · Luan Chang designer

Dear reader, Something I came to realize in the Asian American studies course I took this semester is that we tend to relate more with other Asian Americans than we do our own native people. A snippet from Yen Le Espiritu’s Asian American Panethnicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities reads: As national differences receded in subjective importance, generational differences widened. . . . According to a thirdgeneration Japanese American who is married to a Chinese American, ‘As far as our experiences in America, I have more things in common than differences with a Chinese American. Being born and raised here gives us something in common. We have more in common with each other than with a Japanese from Japan, or a Chinese from China.’

The term “Asian American” actually came from college student movements to organize a pan-ethnic identity, rejecting labels like “Oriental” and “Yellow.” Our third issue celebrates this pan-ethnic identity: We find that our struggles and experiences as Asian Americans bring us together to form a truly unique generation and a strong, united community. And at the same time, we are still our own individuals with so much diversity to offer. With this magazine, we are highlighting the story of each person’s individual experience and connecting it as a part of something greater. As you flip through the pages, we hope you enjoy the creativity the staff has contributed to showing you who we are.

Kevina Lee

Creator & Editor-in-Chief

From Obama to YouTube: A Q&A with Eddie Lee by TaeYeon Hong


ddie Lee is a member of the Jubilee Project, a non-profit organization that seeks to foster community activism through film productions. He is a Harvard graduate, a former Obama campaign staffer and the former Associate Director for Asian American and Pacific Islander Outreach in the White House Office of Public Engagement. I sat down with Eddie after hearing him speak at the University of Florida’s Asian American Student Assembly in August at the Phillips Center. TaeYeon: How did you guys come up with the name “Jubilee Project”? Eddie: “Jubilee” is actually a Biblical term. It’s from the Old Testament from the Book of Leviticus, and back in the olden days, there was this tradition where every seven or 15 years, there would be a period where all the debts in the city were forgiven. With the debts being forgiven, there was a sense of grace and mercy. People felt that the burdens they were carrying were lifted off. That’s something that we felt very much resonated with us, and we wanted to be the jubilee in the lives of others. And “jubilee” actually means joy. So through our videos, we hope to bring justice, we hope to raise awareness, we hope to help create more activism and empowerments that will foster the needs of those that are voiceless. T: You guys have been receiving a lot of love on Youtube, with about 4.9 million views so far. What kinds of reactions do you get from people who watch videos like “The Waiting Game” and “Love Language”? E: That’s the most inspiring part of what we do, listening to people who are impacted by the stories we tell. We’re in the business of changing lives, and if

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our videos are able to affect even just one person and transform the way they think about things and the world and inspire them to actually go out and make a difference in their own communities, then that’s success for us. You know, we get emails, and it’s always inspiring to read emails about people whose lives have been changed. For “Love Language,” we received an email from an American mother who decided to adopt, I think, five Chinese children. One of them turned out to be deaf and hearing- impaired, and she has a lot of self-esteem issues and had a really difficult time adjusting not only to this new family, but also to a new country. And after watching “Love Language,” she felt like she was actually a little bit more -- she felt beautiful. She felt a bit more comfortable with who she was, and her mom sent me an email telling me this story. We were so inspired by that. And we found that need to keep telling stories, because who knows what lives we are able to change? Who knows what kind of hope we’re able to give to those that are hopeless? T: That’s great to hear. I know the three of you recently quit your jobs to pursue the Jubilee Project full-time. You left your position within the Obama administration. Was that scary?

E: Very scary. We felt like we had gotten to this level where we couldn’t just sit back and talk about it, or talk to other students about it -- we had to actually take action. We decided it wasn’t enough to just do it on the side. We wanted to be able to dedicate more time in order to do Associate Director for Asian American and Pacific Islander Outreach in the White House Office of Public Engagement. I sat down with Eddie after hearing him speak at the University of Florida’s Asian American Student Assembly in August at the Phillips Center. justice to all these issues that we care about, and to actually have full-throttle campaigns around these issues -- HIV/ AIDS, domestic violence. And there’s so much potential for us to be able to do more. That’s why we decided to take this leap of faith. It’s going to be very risky, there’s not much of a safety net, but what we believe is that when we take risks, there will be big rewards. I hope that our story can also be an encouragement to others. T: It seems like you took a big risk with your decision to quit your job. What does risk mean to you? E: I think risk is a necessary thing. It allows me to be able to choose things beyond yourself. You have to be willing to put yourself in uncomfortable and frightening situations. You have to be very tactful and wise about it. But, you know, great things happened in our past when people took big risks. And you have to be willing to fall before you’re able to go out there and soar. I’ve always been very afraid of taking risks.

risk-takers | 07 Eddie Lee at UF’s Asian American Student Assembly at the Phillips Center. Photographed by Peter Vo

I’ve been very keen on taking the easy route or the more traditional route. But, I think more recently, I think I felt the need to do something that was more riskier. I think that when you’re willing to take those risks, your reward is much greater. And I definitely encourage people to do it. T: How did you come into film and video-making? E: It was Barack Obama. Basically, he had offered me a job to be his video person, the video guy. And so I followed him around making videos and learned how to make videos. ... They asked me to do two or three videos a week, and I started churning them out. T: Do you have something you live by? E: Don’t take yourself too seriously. We’re not meant to live on this Earth to live for ourselves, and I think that that’s what our purpose is, and I think that we’re a little bit short-sighted and that we’re not giving ourselves enough credit. I think that passion comes from the needs of the world, and we’re put on Earth to serve a better need and to help other people, to live for something that’s greater than ourselves. I found myself living for my own dream. I found myself wanting to satisfy myself, and I thought that was very emptying, and it wasn’t satisfying. I realized that our purpose on this Earth is so much more. It has so much more enjoyment and fulfillment that comes with making the lives of others better, and to help people that don’t have a voice get a voice, and

to help people that don’t have hope to find hope. T: The Jubilee Project seems to always be focusing on issues that affect a lot of people. Tell me about your upcoming film on AIDS. E: Our AIDS film is called “The End of AIDS.” If you look at the dynamics of the political world around AIDS right now, I think there is a lack of real urgency on a broad-based level, and what we’re trying to do with this film is to try to generate some of that excitement and energy to inspire our community and our generation to really take action and learn more about it. The reality is that, by 2015, we can be an AIDS-free generation, and that’s an exciting thing. So that’s what we hope to do with this film: share stories about Asians who have AIDS, and to really call to action our generation. T: How can we help the Jubilee Project? E: One way to do it is to follow us on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook. Whenever we have new videos, we definitely need students to be the ones to get the word out and help us generate excitement and interest. Our goal is to inspire young people, but the way to do that is through all of you. Two, we want to hear your stories. We want to hear how you’re making an impact in your own community, because that gives us the fire to keep doing what we’re doing.



The Jubilee Project is comprised of members Eddie Lee, Jason Lee and Project started in January 2012 after they decided to raise money for ea relief in Haiti. Since then, they have tackled issues such as AIDS, domes deafness and liberty in North Korea. #DoingGoodisContagious!

The Power Team EDDIE LEE government

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visit, follow them on Twitter @JubileeProject Facebook @JubileeProject

Megan Pak, a fourth-year Korean American on the UF women’s golf team. Photographed by Michi Velez

Beyond the Dream by Anna Chen


or all of February 2012, the country saw the name Jeremy Lin plastered across newspaper headlines and sports broadcasting channels. It was not because Lin was having AllStar worthy performances night after night, scoring in double-digit figures, outscoring five-time NBA Champion and future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, or making game-winning shots with less than a second remaining in the game. Countless NBA players have had these kinds of merit-worthy performances but did not receive the same attention Lin did. It was because Lin was doing this as an Asian American in the NBA, long dominated by the ranks of African Americans and Caucasians. The media and pop culture have long portrayed Asian Americans as nothing more than a model minority -- obedient, hard-working, intelligent individuals who excel in the classroom and workplace. There is rarely any talk of Asian American excellence in the field of sports or athletics. While it is historically true that Asian Ameri-

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cans are not the most successful racial group in this department, there have been variations of the model minority stereotype that have undermined Asian Americans’ prospects for success in athletics. In fact, the Asian American male has been “demasculinized” in mass media, says Dr. Malini Schueller, a professor and program head of the Asian American studies minor at the University of Florida. Dr. Schueller, who teaches a course exploring Asian Americans in mass media, says the typical Asian American male is portrayed as “short, geeky, glasses-wearing and academically driven.” She says this type of portrayal inhibits Asian American males’ prospects of success in an athletics, a subculture of society that males commonly use to demonstrate masculinity and physical prowess. “Asians are usually underdogs in sports tournaments or competitions and are not really expected to contribute much,” says Joanne Dizon, sports coordinator of the Filipino Student Association at UF. She believes that such stereotypes and views exist because they are carried on by other stereotypes held against Asians. “Why [would] anyone expect the nerdy Asian to be good in basketball or football?” Joanne says. She says Asians do not hold the look to be intimidating because of their tendency to be relatively shorter and smaller in size. However, she also believes that Asian Americans’ lack of success in athletics can also be attribut-

ed to the way most Asian Americans are raised.

These Asian athletes have become role models for Asian Americans.

“In past generations, many Asians do not see sports as a way of life. They [would] rather focus on education,” Joanne says.

As pointed out recently by New York University professor Jonathan Zimmerman in the Washington Post, there has been recent rise to the idea that, thanks to athletes like Jeremy Lin, Asian Americans’ limits of success are no longer bound within classrooms. Their success can transcend over to the fields, courts, and arenas; Asian Americans can be both smart and athletic. Out on UF’s very own Mark Bostick Golf Course, Pak says she believes a new trend has emerged with this generation, particularly in the golf world. From her experiences in golf tournaments, Megan has noticed more and more parents are now beginning to push their children, particularly their daughters, to play golf. The reasoning, she says, is that they want their children to follow in the footsteps of national figures and role model athletes like Se Ri Pak.

Nevertheless, the recent emergence of success stories of talented Asian Americans, like Lin, who have overcome odds and broken down societal barriers, has inspired many young Asian Americans. Manny Pacquiao, a Filipino boxer who has won numerous boxing championships, is slowly becoming a household name in America. The success of Korean golfer Se Ri Pak in the 1990s and 2000s united South Korea and inspired many young Korean girls to follow in her footsteps. Megan Pak, a fourth-year Korean American student on the UF women’s golf team, was one of those girls -- she started playing because she was inspired by Se Ri Pak. She is now one of a handful of Asian Americans on any of UF’s sports teams. Megan and her father found inspiration in the story of Se Ri Pak and her father, who together endured financial hardships and physically and mentally challenging obstacles in order to reach international notoriety. From an early age, she and her father began allocating much of her life toward golf practice. “I had to practice golf up to eight hours a day. That’s eat, breathe, sleep, golf,” she says. Megan says she would not have it any other way.

As upcoming Asian American generations are becoming more open to the idea of participating in sports, and as Asian American athletes continue to defy stereotypes, the prospects are high for stereotypes of Asian Americans in relation to sports to change in the long run.

Mind over

Health Care by Ian Aranca


bout 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 10, 2012, I was crossing a street when a motorcyclist hit me. It may have been the bad lighting, it may have been his tinted helmet visor, or it may have been plain old bad luck -- at the time of impact, my life was not the only thing that flashed before my eyes. I saw giant dollar signs as well. The questions that went through my head were: “Why didn’t I ask my parents to continue my health insurance?” and “How in the world will I be able pay for the medical bills that will come after the accident?” Health care is one of the most beneficial safety nettings in our society. It is what keeps us from fearing any problems when we become ill, but what happens if that safety netting that we take for granted falls through? Ethan Nguyen, a health researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, supports our current health care system and says that if anyone is in need of help, they should have the ability to see health care providers. Photographed by Shanie Kim

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“Having health care cannot really be described from a particular cultural or

racial perspective,” Nguyen says. “As a general experience, having health care allows us to proactively seek care and keep ourselves healthy rather than trying to address the problem as it is happening or afterwards.” At the time of my accident, the rational thing for me to do would have been to call an ambulance. But I did not want to risk having to pay a medical bill that may be too high for my family’s income, so I called my parents to confirm that my insurance was not being covered under them; as it turns out, I was right. I was driven by friends to be bandaged up and ended up going to the University of Florida’s infirmary after waiting until the morning. My experience led me to question the cases in which we can and should rely on traditional Eastern medicinal practices as an alternative to Western ones -- are herbal or natural methods enough to cure illnesses? Felix Chai, a fourth-year student majoring in family, youth and community sciences, has tried acupuncture after tearing his knee while part of the track team in high school.

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“Traditional practices are more focused on preventing illnesses that may arise.” “My mom was into Eastern medicine and thought [acupuncture] would heal me. My knee did get better from the procedure,” Felix says. “I have this belief that Western medicine has more harmful side effects. In that sense, I kind of disapprove of these practices, but we kind of have to rely on what these Western medicinal practices can achieve when it comes to things [Eastern medicines] have no cure for.”

“In a sense, it is a more natural way to heal my body instead of using the chemical Western way.” Felix says he would recommend anyone who has an interest in the practice of acupuncture to try it for themselves. Wen Chen, a fourth-year mechanical engineering major, has grown up with traditional medicinal practices as well. Whenever he needed help for an illness, his parents would first look to herbal medicine to heal their son.

Wen has undergone multiple cupping procedures done by his parents and believes that even with the option of such traditional medicinal practices and regardless of the fact that he rarely goes to the doctor, health insurance is still needed. “Health care allows us to live longer and better. Countless years of medical practices and political shifts have raised the standards of living,” Wen says. “I don’t really know how my parents were back in China, but nowadays, in the United States, they have access to relatively cheap health care.” Both Felix and Wen say that, when used in situations where Western practices can lead to significant side effects with the use of medicines containing chemicals, Eastern traditional medicinal practices may be better off: They think those side effects can sometimes be avoided by the use of traditional Eastern medicines. “In contrast to Western medical practices, traditional practices are more focused on preventing any illnesses that may arise. You want your body and your immune system to be strong so that you

don’t have to go to a doctor and rack up a large medical bill,” Wen says. As a public health professional, Nguyen says he fully believes in a health care system. He, too, has tried traditional medicinal practices, but he believes that Western practices ensure that what the patient is getting has proven efficacy. He says he would strongly urge people to seek the care of a certified health care professional in a clinical setting in case of illness. “This is a health literacy issue and one that is currently being addressed by public health professionals across the country,” Nguyen says, addressing the need to spread health care awareness in the homes of all ethnic minorities. “Young people are the educational outlet for their parents. I believe 100 percent that by providing Asian American parents with education that will improve their health literacy, Asian American children can have a significant impact on their parents’ health care experience.”

Caroline Kim, a Korean American student, poses in her everyday attire and Korean hanbok. Photographed by Peter Vo

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“I did learn the pinyin, how to write characters, and how to pronounce words,” Yuk Lane says. “Back then I didn’t think it was important because I was ver y naïve and all I wanted to do was play.”

TRANSLATION By Arun Sunny & Kevina Lee


aomi Abraham, an Indian American student at the University of F lorida, saw that being involved with the Indian Student Association would be a way to keep in touch with the South Indian traditions and values she grew up to love and cherish. “Ask any Asian the top five things they ’re proud of, and their cultural identity will probably be one of them,” Naomi says. “But when you think about ever ything that comprises a culture -- the food, language, music -- a lot of them won’t claim to have mastered knowledge or skill in any or all of those areas, which may cause one to question if they have actual pride.” Pieces of our heritage passed on from one generation to another of ten get lost in translation as Asian traditions begin to mix with surrounding American customs. W ith time, many students begin to stray from their cultures, intentionally or not. “It ’s disappointing sometimes,” Naomi says. Isabel Won, a Korean American student at UF, says she tries to maintain her cultural identity by continuing to speak Korean with her grandparents, remembering traditions and celebrating cultural holidays. She says that being

able to cook Korean dishes also ties her to her native countr y. “I think heritage is really important. That ’s how we sort of give respect to our past, and I think it ’s our duty to always appreciate it,” Isabel says. “But I do think it ’s difficult to maintain your full identity to one heritage. Living in America really challenges you to tr y and be both Asian and American.” As a result, parents tr y alternative means to ensure their children’s heritage is kept intact. Carmen Chan, a Chinese American student, says she attended Chinese school for a month at 7 years old and hated it.

However, some Chinese American students, like Scott Huang, found their own ways to eventually stay connected with their heritage. “My parents were too busy [to take me to Chinese school], which is something I regret, but that ’s why I took Chinese in college,” Scott says. Despite disappearing trends, about 79 percent of Asians continue to speak a language other than English at home, according to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau. The Japanese were the only ethnic group with more than 50 percent speaking English at home. “I think simple reflection on that subject matter can make a difference in how much we prevent our culture from disappearing because the most important thing is to never forget who we are and where we come from,” Naomi says.

“Back then I never really understood what was so different between me and the other kids, so my attitude was just like, ‘ W hy do I have to “After the war, our parents wanted us do this? W hy don’t to be American. Even if they sent kids the other kids?’” to Japanese School, they spoke English Carmen says. W hen Yuk Lane Ng, also a Chinese American student, was required to go to Chinese school by her parents, she says she was not too enthusiastic about it, either.

at home.” The internment experiences of Japanese American parents during World War II discouraged many to immerse their kids in their Japanese heritage, including the language, for fear of being labeled as unAmerican. more from

The Man from

Macau by Nikolas Wong


here are many things I remember doing with my grandfather in my childhood -too many to count -- from sword fighting with empty paper towel rolls to being scolded by my grandmother for playing hide and seek in her garden. Of all my recollections of him, one always stands out in my memories: his smile. I have never seen it broken; he tells me of a time when it did. My grandfather’s name is Kwok Keung L eung. He recalls a day

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-- a day that had been perfect for sailing, with the cool ocean breeze brushing against his face and the sun shining brightly upon him, no clouds to be seen. It was the day he had to say goodbye to his pregnant wife -- my grandmother, Ha L eung -- along with my mother and her two siblings. Putting a smile on his face would have just been a lie. He says parting from his family to seek a better future for them all was the hardest thing he ever had to do, and as his ship set sail for L ondon, he could not lift his head to

face his family. They were waving goodbye to him from the dock next to a crowd. “By the time the boat set sail, I had to hold myself from jumping ship just to be with your grandmother. I had to stay strong so that my son -- your uncle -- did not see me cr y. So I hid my face beneath my hat and forced my hand to wave,” he says. My grandmother says watching my grandfather sail away was the scariest thing she had ever gone through. In 1961, hundreds of

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Chinese people from poor backgrounds fled Hong Kong in search for better opportunities. Hong Kong was a stable place, but for families with little money, there was little hope for a good future. Among those families were my grandparents; with three mouths to feed and with one more soon to arrive, there was no other option; there was no life for them in Hong Kong. My grandfather left to L ondon to make money so he could bring his family to America for a better life. His trip to L ondon took a week, a week of watching tears roll down the faces of fellow passengers. There was nothing to eat save for one potato per day. As a result, people became ill from hunger, especially children. No one helped one another and mostly kept to themselves. For my grandfather, watching children cough up dust and dirt was just as hard as saying goodbye to his family. “ The Chinese are known to band together during times of hardship, but being on that boat made you forget about the values that you stay true to,” he says. My grandfather remembers a fiveyear-old girl on the ship. He watched her tug on

Right: Keung Leung and Ha Leung. Photo courtesy of Wong family Bottom Left: Ha Leung and Leung children. Photo courtesy of Wong family

her mother’s dress asking for more food. Unable to explain to her that there was no more food, the girl’s mother bent down and told her to go to sleep and that ever ything would be over soon. Space was limited on the ship, and it was hard to overlook. He sat in a corner watching her wipe away her tears as she gave her mother a hug. W ith a few bites left of his potato, he offered the rest to the mother. She refused, but he insisted until she accepted. The rest of the passengers saw what my grandfather had done and began to offer what they had left to eat. After that, my grandfather says, the remainder of the trip became easier: ever yone began to share stories about

“My grandfather lef t to London to make money so he could bring his family to America for a better life.”

one another’s pasts and what they hoped to find in a new land. His arrival in L ondon came as a culture shock. Men and woman dressed in fine suits and gowns walked along the streets with the occasional tip of the hat or the shaking of hands to greet one another as they went along with their day. They stared awkwardly at my grandfather and the rest of the arriving passengers. They had never seen people with such features -- sporting almond-shaped eyes, dressed in damp rags, wearing black slippers. My grandfather tells me the first word he learned in L ondon

was “Chinaman.” He remembers a man arrogantly sneering it at him while strutting past, holding his paper underneath his arms and his nose up in the air -- it was not only his first words in English but also his new place in society. It was not until later that he learned “Chinaman” was a slur. It took my grandfather seven years to accumulate enough money to bring his family to America. D uring that time, he quickly found work as an understudy chef at a small restaurant. W hile practicing his craf t, my grandfather learned to prepare dishes never before heard of in his countr y. O utside of the kitchen, he lived in an old rundown apartment and spent most of his time thinking of the woman who held his heart: my grandmother. “ There was not one night when I did not think of your grandmother,” he says. “ The memor y of how I met your grandmother was the only thing I had to hold on to in those seven years away.” For those seven years, my grandmother struggled with tr ying to explain to her youngest child where her father was and why he wasn’t home. She says it was hard enough raising four children alone, but having to read the letters sent by my grandfather to a child with no clue who her father was was the worst part.

ferent than putting one to a face. Ever y week, he would send 50 pounds to my grandmother -- it wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough to put food on the table -- along with a letter. And ever y letter my grandmother received,

F lorida. He waited eight months for the arrival of his loved ones. D uring that time, he began working toward obtaining United States citizenship and started work as a chef at a newly established Chinese restaurant owned by an old childhood friend. “It was December 26, 1968. I held flowers waiting for your grandmother at the airport,” he recalls. “I was so anxious I couldn’t stop pacing back and forth in front of the international gate.”

“When I first saw your grandmother along with your aunts, uncle and mother, I dropped the flowers in my hand and ran to them.”

All she had to show was an old photo of my grandfather, but putting a name to a picture was dif-

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Keung Leung she kept close to her heart. To this day, my grandmother still holds on to and often reads those letters. On April 26, 1968, my grandfather finally arrived in Miami,

As he scanned the passengers for his loved ones, he finally glimpsed four small children following timidly behind the woman who held his heart.

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The Wong family, 1971. Photo courtesy of Wong family

“ W hen I first saw your grandmother along with your aunts, uncle and mother, I dropped the flowers in my hand and ran to them.” He was reunited with his family after near ly eight years. His youngest daughter, who was in her mother’s womb when his journey for new opportunity first began, finally had a face to put on a name. Holding back tears, he made a promise that he would never leave their side again. In 1975, my grandparents had enough money to establish their own restaurants. They went on to open two in Miami -- my grandfather worked as head chef while my grandmother manned the cash register. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to raise four children. We now have family reunions ever y year, and, although he is now retired,

my grandfather always makes dinner for the entire family. There are many things I can recall about my grandfather from my childhood, from watching him banging on unused pots and pans to helping him lift heavy dishes out to the table, but there is a memor y I will hold onto forever: It takes him two hours to prepare dinner, but it takes only one for us to finish it all. Three hours in total, and for those three hours he never loses his smile.

Closing the Asian American

Political Gap by Kanoko Maeda & Jaleesa Covington


he Asian American population in the U.S. is growing rapid ly and now exceeds the immigration rates of Latinos and other minority groups. A record number of Asian Americans ran for Congress this election year, but certain states are lagging behind in Asian American political representation -- an example is New York, which has the second-highest Asian American population of any state but never had an Asian American representative in Congress. Voter turnout is also disappointing: while only 66 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 65 percent of blacks turned out at the polls in the 2008 presidential election, only 48 percent of Asian Americans voted. W hy aren’t more Asian Americans entering the political sphere? Of the 43 Asian and Pacific Islander Americans who have ser ved in the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate since 1903, a large portion had law degrees or practiced law. According to research from the University of California, L os Angeles, two of the most popular majors for prelaw students are political science and histor y, and there are some notable trends among Asian American undergraduates. Another study by the Congressional Research Ser vice found that Asian American college freshmen are much more likely to be ma-

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Graphic design by Yushin Kato

joring in engineering, biological science or the health professional field than in political science or histor y. Stephanie Hang, a second-generation V ietnamese and Chinese immigrant who is a fourth-year nutritional sciences major at the University of F lorida, says she is planning a career in pharmaceuticals. “Growing up, my parents encouraged me to choose a career that offered job security,” Stephanie says. Hang ’s parents came to the U.S. from V ietnam during the 1970s -- they were among the many Indochinese immigrants who were aided by new immigration policies for refugees. Did the political situation in the Hang fami-

ly ’s home countr y influence their political involvement in the U.S.? “Asian countries have long histories of authoritarian governments,” says C.K. Shih, a first-generation Chinese American and UF professor of anthropolog y. “Individuals have been supposed to submit their personal interests to those of the family and the state. It is the legacy of this tradition that has formed a political apathy among Asian Americans even when they now live in a democracy.” Chrisley Carpio, a second-generation Filipino American and a third-year histor y major at UF, is politically active in the Gainesville community as a student-and-community grassroots organizer. She believes that the reasons for the Asian American

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political gap are more socioeconomic than historical. “ The reality of American politics is that most Congressmen and women come from backgrounds of relatively stable wealth,” Chrisley says. “ You need a lot of money to run campaigns, and that rules out first-generation immigrants.” Chrisley says that because immigrants -- and not necessarily only Asians -- have trouble assimilating to America, the decision to participate in and run for political office of ten becomes low priority for those people. Along with historical and socioeconomic considerations, culture may also affect Asian American political activity. Many Asian cultures view governmental institutions as sacred structures that should not be defied. Asian families are also more likely to include grandparents in the family dynamic; this structure increases parental pressure on children. If Asian American parents and grandparents are reluctant to bring about change to govern-

ment, how do their views affect their children? Supachaya Sucharitvanitwong, a former UF student senator and first-generation Thai, says her reasons for being politically active were not directly related to parental pressure. “I started to consider running for Senate because of two things: my desire to give back to school and to prove to myself that I’m capable of doing something I have never thought I would,” she says. “If parents are discussing politics around the kids, it will somehow either make them curious to learn more about it or become passionate about this issue.” Like Supachaya, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa became involved in politics with little influence from her family. Hanabusa is a fourth-generation Japanese American, now ser ving as a representative for Hawaii’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. “If you were to look at my family histor y, there would be no way that you would assume that I would have chosen these foot-

steps,” Hanabusa says. “Growing up, we had clubs that were only white, and in my case, only white and male.” Hanabusa was the first in her family to go to law school, and also the first immigrant woman of Asian ancestr y to be sworn into congressional office. She says that around the time that she was choosing a career, many Asian women were becoming nurses or teachers. “ They had this stereotype that they sort of expected you to follow,” she says. Having defied both her minority ethnicity and gender in the political arena, Hanabusa has advice for other Asian Americans who decide to follow in her footsteps: “People have got to support you because they believe in who you are. You really have to get to the point where people recognize you for what you are able to do and no longer look at you just because of the color of your skin or your gender.”

Photographed by Trung Phan


.G. Wells once said, “O ur true nationality is mankind.” We are all human beings, each with large array of emotions at our disposal that allows us to better connect with each other. We also come in a myriad of different forms, both mental and physical. Because of this, Wells’ words seems too idealistic -- after all, people put up walls easily, and lines are constantly being drawn to distance ourselves from one another. All too of ten, the divisions created go too far. People get too carried away and too focused on the differences that they forget the fact we are human. For Asian Americans, the usage of slurs are especially heavy. These slurs originate from the small slant in our eyes to our heights

sparks | issue no.3

to the pronounced accents that the media has portrayed us to have. D uring certain periods in the histor y of the United States, terms such as “yellow,” “ banana” and “chink” increased in use as a response towards mounting tensions with the East. These tensions may stem from the many wars the U.S. has been involved in over the last centur y to that of increased immigration from Asia since the 19th centur y. An example is the “ Yellow Peril,” a fear stemming from the belief that a mass immigration would result in decreased wages and quality of life. As a result, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed to stem the immigration of the Chinese, later generalized to all immigrants from Asia. And in Asian American communities, intolerance comes in the form of the stereotypes espoused

by children on playgrounds, by the peers in school and by the sectors in the economy. These stereotypes are just the tip of the iceberg, representing only a fraction of racial prejudice. Racial slurs build upon it and display the ugly nature of humanity. They ser ve to characterize and sum up whole groups in just a few words, and for the most part, they deal with what can be seen such as exterior traits of the target. Racial slurs take stereotypes that are passively assumed and turn them into an aggressive form of verbal abuse. by Alan Nguyen

unbreakable | 23 This is a caption! and here it is italicized Photo by Lawrence Mabilangan

1830s - Coolie: It is denoted from the Chinese term, kuli, to describe the difficulty of labor. The term refers to an Asian manual laborer such as those on the railroad. 1850s - Ching-Chong: A term directed towards the Chinese, it broadened to characterize the people of East Asia. It is utilized mainly by school children or as an insult towards the Chinese language and its complexity. 1879 - Chinky: Chink is a term meaning a small crack. It is used to refer to a person of Chinese descent but can be generalize to a person of Asian origin. It originates from India and is derived from the term used for China. It was adopted by the English during the colonization of India. 1901 - Chinaman, Chink: Derived from “chinky,� the term became a commonplace slur to refer to individuals of other Asian nationalities such as the Vietnamese after the Vietnam War. 1930s - Issei: An actual term referring to immigrants from Japan who came to America, it gained notoriety after Pearl Harbor due to American suspicion of all Japanese individuals. 1942 - Yellow Devil: A term denoted off skin color used by the military personnel of the U.S. to describe the Japanese during WWII. 1950s - Zipperhead: Used first during the Korean War by U.S. soldiers to refer to dead enemy troops run over by jeeps, it was resurrected during the Vietnam War. 1940s-1960s - Jackie Chan/Bruce Lee: Used as a sarcastic remark to refer to the stereotype that all Asians know martial arts.

Planting Your


by Nathaniel Smith

Photographed by Trung Phan

It’s so much fun and exciting to express myself and my culture through dance. It never gets old seeing how you can find different ways of showing yourself in motion.

Shivani Patel


hat is it that makes us Chinese, V ietnamese, Laotian, Filipino, Korean, or Japanese? W hat does it mean to be Indian, Bengali, Thai, Indonesian, or Malaysian? Just what exactly does it mean for us to be Asian or Asian-American? Is it something that we do or something that we love and cherish? Is it something that shows our uniqueness to others? The answer is yes. And it ’s surprisingly closer than most of us ever stop to think about. W hy, it ’s actually inside us…but in a good way. It ’s our roots… not like tree roots…but cultural roots that make us who we are.

sparks | issue no.3

connected | 25

Pi Delta Psi and the Asian American Student Union are really important to me. They keep me close to what’s relevant with who I am. Also, my parents are a giant source of connection to my culture and inspiration to me.

Morton Zhou

Food, definitely food. And people. People that are Asian American, my friends, and my family. Listening to my native language as well. These all help me stay in touch with who I am.

Silvia Lai

The Indian Student Association is a great and fantastic way for me to stay close to what is happening in my community. My religion and my family are also really huge sources of connections for me because they help me remind myself how awesome it is to be who I am with my cultural background.

Keyana Vyas

I like to stay connected to my culture by practicing traditions. Celebrating holidays are also a huge thing for me. Events like the New Year’s show or the Tet Trung Thu show allow me to stay in touch with my Vietnamese culture in a very intimate and engaging manner.

Long Nguyen

I especially love sports, and not just the regular everyday sports -- I love ping pong. It’s really fun for me because it has a different pace to it. A different feel, you know?

Kun Yung

I think what connects me is the living manifestation of my culture. We’re a really warm people and have a really inviting culture and I try to share that with everyone I meet. . . . Just knowing that you share that fire, that spirit, with others like you keeps me connected to my Filipino roots.

Jonathan Tanawan

Kathlyn Vu with her tattoo, which reads “Stay Strong� in Vietnamese. Photographed by Angie Llanos

sparks | issue no.3

dreamers | 27

the meaning of tattoos mark of the delinquent or symbol of inspiration? by Maureen Mauriano


attooed on Rebecca Kim’s left hip are the words “Bright Side.” Easily covered by a T-shirt and jeans, her tattoo remains hidden from her parents -- a secret only her sister knows about. However, the meaning behind the two-word imprint means more to Rebecca than her parents’ approval of it. Growing up in a “stricter than average, conservative Presbyterian home,” Rebecca believes Asians in general shy away from tattoos. The origins of tattooing vary in Asian cultures. In China, only convicted criminals or slaves had tattoos. In the Philippines, tattoos served as a form of ranking. And while each Asian country differs, it has taken centuries for the significance and acceptance of tattoos to evolve. Rebecca, a 21-year-old Korean American studying hospitality management at Florida State University, keeps her

life private from her parents. They know most of the major occurrences in her life, but there are some things she keeps to herself, she says. “My younger sibling knows about my tattoo, because I know that she is more of an openminded individual and would not have the same reaction as my parents.” She has dropped hints and talked to her mother about the possibility of getting a tattoo. In turn, Rebecca hoped her mother would become comfortable with the idea of her daughter having a tattoo. Instead, she became disappointed. “Because of her reaction, at times, I regret getting a tattoo,” Rebecca says. “But then I remember how much my

tattoo has motivated me to get my life back on track from a messy relationship and breakup and enabled me to become self-motivated and independent again.” For Rebecca, the tattoo in some ways represents her triumph over her personal struggles with body image and close relationships. It is not a mark of defiance to her family or Korean culture; she’s not trying to rebel. Rather, it’s a personal mark of the progress she’s made in life and the need to keep on persevering. “It serves as a constant reminder to keep my outlook on life bright,” Rebecca says.

Origins of Tattooing in Some Asian Cultures china

Tattoos in China first started as a punishment for prisoners. Some prisoners had symbols tattooed on their face for easy recognition.


Prisoners and slaves were branded with tattoos. In the 20th century, people who had tattoos were affiliated with gang violence.


There are many origins of tattooing within Indian sub-cultures, but the most common form originates from the Hindu culture, where tattoos were based on a caste system. It’s evolved into the well-known Henna tattoo, which represents different aspects of life and superstition.


Labor workers, prostitutes and criminals, all of whom were looked down upon, wore tattoos to display their statuses within their communities.


Tattoos represented rank of power and accomplishment. Some even believed that tattoos held magical powers.


Wearers of “Sak Yant” believe that it can protect them from physical harm due to its magical powers.


“Yantra” tattoos were believed to have magical powers. They were used as a symbol of self-protection against evil and hardships.

V ietnam

Body art has been a long-time tradition in Vietnamese culture. Kings and soldiers tattooed their chest and legs with images and sayings.

from the staff

WE ARE ...dreamers. taeyeon to make an impact on others. Tommey

...unstoppable. leonie

...never alone. CRYSTAL

...leaders. kevin

...visionary. yushin

...who we strive to be. percy

...a perspective. An idea that goes farther than we physically can but yet never ceases to touch others. nathaniel

...changing the world. nikolas

sparks | issue no.3

Whisked Away

Photographed by Trung Phan

by Patricia Potestades


s a first generation Asian American, Abby Juan grew up eating steamed rice at ever y meal, with a Filipino entrée never failing to accompany it. Now, as a pre-dentistr y freshman at the University of F lorida, Abby must forgo the tastes of her mother’s F ilipino home cooking and rely on the dining halls to feed her appetite. “I miss rice a lot,” Abby says. “ The dining halls, they have rice, but it ’s not our kind of rice.” Like Abby, many Asian Americans seem to have an inclination toward their culture’s dishes because it is what they have grown up eating, but it may be a while before Abby is able to savor the familiar tastes of her culture. Her lack of culinar y skill and living conditions render her unable to recreate the tastes of her childhood. Asian parents are usually able to pass down their culture’s palate

through their own cooking, but they are not always as successful when it comes to teaching their children how to cook. Emeli Juan, Abby ’s mother, has had first-hand experience with this. Despite the fact that Mrs. Juan cooks Filipino food for her family ever y day, she says she never really got the chance to teach Abby how to cook. “ To me, it ’s like, ‘Hey, you’re busy. Concentrate on your school and I’ ll do all the dishes,’” Mrs. Juan says. “ The lifestyle here is so different. Here in America, we’re always going to work or rushing things because we’re so busy.” Thuy Nguyen, a pre-pharmacy freshman at UF, says that this always-on-the-go lifestyle is part of the reason why she has yet to obtain a complete grasp of V ietnamese cooking. “Ever yone has their own lives and goes to work and pays bills

so they don’t really have the time to maintain their culture,” Thuy says. “ The culture part is pushed away because they are tr ying to better their life.” Now that she is cooking ever yday, Thuy says she finds herself cooking American food more frequently than V ietnamese food because she simply does not have the time. “I don’t have the ingredients to cook V ietnamese food, so I cook American food because it ’s faster and more convenient,” she says. “I took home ec[onomics], so I already know how to make it.” Thuy says finding the right ingredients to make a V ietnamese meal is a struggle because the ingredients available here are different from what they have in V ietnam. Although her parents have tried teaching her how to cook in authentic V ietnamese fashion, she

has only been successful with a few dishes. “I’m scared to cook without having proper ingredients,” Thuy says. “My family doesn’t really use measurements. I don’t get it exactly the same as the way they cook it.” As with other traditions that are passed down orally, sometimes variations of the original traditions occur. In the case of Jesse Chau, a chemical engineering freshman at UF, cooking Chinese dishes the way his parents make it is proving difficult. Instead of tr ying to create traditional Chinese meals, Jesse improvises and prepares his food in away that imitates Chinese cooking: He uses soy sauce and oyster sauce for the Asian flavors but does not actually follow traditional recipes. Jesse’s parents tried to teach him how to cook Chinese food, but he was never really interest-

sparks | issue no.3

ed in tr ying to learn -- when it comes keeping your own culture, he says, you have to be really interested in learning it to keep it.

this generation will struggle to keep a culture and identity alive, in a place that is far away from its original roots.

“ You kind of have to tr y [to maintain your culture]. But even if you tr y, it ’s kind of hard,” Jesse says. “ You just have to tr y to maximize your exposure.”

“It ’s hard because we tr y to tell them about Filipino culture,” Mrs. Juan says. “But outside, it ’s like peer pressure and a different world outside the house.”

No matter what level of cooking master y a person is able to attain, passing on cultural traditions will still continue to remain a challenge.

In the end, Mrs. Juan says she is happy with the way she raised her children -- a way that is similar to the way she was raised -and hopes that she has instilled a little bit of her culture in them, possibly enough so that she may still see a bit of it in her grandchildren.

“I think that because we grew up in America, our culture isn’t as pure as how our parents grew up,” Abby says. “All these things we see in our generation today taints our culture and what our parents expect from us.” As this generation of Asian Americans grows older, they will continue to face the challenges that the generation before them has encountered. Like Mrs. Juan,

“It ’s going to be hard,” Jesse says. “Culture is getting all diluted. As it goes down the generations, it ’s going to be more diluted.”

Photographed by Kevina Lee

cultured | 33

In an effort to preserve culture and spread awareness, the UF Korean Undergraduate Student Association serves traditional Korean food at the 2012 Asian Kaleidoscope Month Food Festival. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Le

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