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ISSUE 11

FOOD FORESTRY Environmentalist grows breakfast, lunch and dinner in her backyard.


TABLE OF CONTENTS 6 corporate bound 9 riding the third wave 10 reading between the lines 14 palace of permaculture 19 the activism lexicon 20 broken communication 23 diverse demographics 24 the apathy among us 26 social justice league 28 bayanihan reinvented 30 what america was built for


letter from the editor

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Dear reader, I think change is the only constant in life. We change as we grow older and, hopefully, wiser.

staff

Sparks is getting older too, and so it follows that change was in order. The biggest change: we’ve done away with having a theme, in hopes that we can cover a wider range of topics in each issue and not feel forced to tie them together. I’ve seen so many other changes to our magazine in my time on the staff (I’ve been on this ride for five issues!) and I can personally attest to how far we’ve come, not only as a an organization, but as a publication as well. Some of my favorite stories I’ve ever written or been a part of have come from Sparks. This semester’s cover story is one of them. What’s cooler than a group of college-aged kids growing their own food in the middle of suburban Orlando? Cool stories aside, I hope you’ll be able to learn something new from reading this issue. The APIA experience itself is changing — in fact, we have a story in here about the shifting meaning of the term APIA itself. It’s a scary time to be seen as different. But it’s also the perfect time for each of us to use our unique perspectives and change the world — or at least our local communities. My call to you, dear reader, is to take the tools and inspiration we’ve gathered here for you and use them. Keep changing. Keep making the world a little better.

University of Florida Staff

Antara Sinha Editor-in-Chief • Paula Fraisse PR • Shreya Labh Design Editor • Alyssa Ramos Asst. Content Editor • Ingrid Wu writer & illustrator • Vanessa Wong photographer • Royce Abela Photo Editor • Jennifer Wai designer • Nicole Dan Content Editor • Anisha Dutt Content Editor • Bomyee Woo Promotions Director • Esther Ola Designer • Nina Liang photographer • Cindy Lu PR & writer • Alexandria Ng Managing Editor • Zachariah Chou writer & photographer • Falisha Kurji writer & photographer Not pictured: Kirshten Garcia writer • Tanner Wilcox PR • Tangela Morris photographer • Ashley Williams photographer • Sally Greider Programming Director • Aimee Wasserman Programming Director • Bailey LeFever writer • Maya Punjwani writer

4 • Sparks

University of Central Florida Staff

Amy Whicker photographer • Rikki Ocampos writer • Allison Miehl Editor-in-Chief • Ann Dang writer • Thalia Su Managing Editor • Nica Ramirez writer • Jordan Rich photographer • Maria Abon designer • Cara SanDiego Design Editor • Anusha Makhani writer Not pictured: Ebone Grayson illustrator & designer • Lauren Lee designer

Sparks Magazine @sparks_magazine Sparks Magazine at UCF @ucf_sparks_mag Sparks Magazine at UF @uf_sparks_mag

Sparks Magazine @sparks_magazine

Allison Miehl Editor-in-Chief ucfsparks.editor@gmail.com Issue 11 playlist created by sparksmaguf

National Board

Not pictured: Kevina Lee Founder & Executive Director • Rachel Chang Development Director • Marcus Degnan Communications Director • Jason Liu Operations Director • Katherine Ragamat Online Director • Minh-Tam Lee Online Coordinator

Sparks Magazine sparks-mag.com

Sparks • 5


corporate bound Asian American women face

fine,” Schueller said. “But suppose I’m teaching a regular American Lit[erature] class. There’s always the question of, ‘Do you have the credentials to do this?’ I have to qualify [myself ] in ways that others may not have to do.”

discrimination in the workplace

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BY CINDY LU

Discrimination spans all industries, from media, to education to technology.

ictoria Lim, a Chinese American, was trying to cover veteran memorials in nearby communities as a journalism student, but she was turned away from the organizers of the memorial.

The Ascend Foundation, a nonprofit group that serves to help Pan-Asians in the business sector, released a study last year on Asian American demographics in Silicon Valley, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Asian American Leaders in Silicon Valley.”

Her very presence as an Asian American was seen as irreverent. “He said, ‘How disrespectful can you be? I can’t believe this. We have people here who have families and brothers and friends in Korea, and Vietnam and Japan and you have the gall to show up here,’” Lim said. She had to sit inside the news van while her videographer covered the event instead.

The study showed that white men have a 42 percent advantage of getting promoted to an executive position over white women, a nearly 150 percent advantage over Asian men and a 260 percent advantage over Asian women. The study found that race was a more significant factor in differences in the workplace than gender.

Lim has since moved up in the journalism industry. She is currently the managing editor for public relations and editorial content for Walt Disney World, but before reaching this point in her career, she experienced the constricting effects of being a marginalized minority in the workplace.

“I HAVE TO QUALIFY [MYSELF] IN WAYS THAT OTHERS MAY NOT HAVE TO DO.”

Jane Hyun, an Asian American executive and leadership coach, explores how a combination of cultural and societal factors obstruct Asian Americans from advancing to top-level executive positions in her book, “Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians.” These factors are primarily subjective, leaning on the basis of stereotypes. The bamboo ceiling is derived from the term “glass ceiling,” a theory referring to the barriers that women and minority groups face when seeking higher-level jobs.

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model/PHOEBE JIN

photo/ASHLEY WILLIAMS

Lim experienced this firsthand. Her co-workers were surprised that she spoke English well and that she was more outspoken or aggressive. Others had also assumed that she got her job based solely on her race.

Regardless of whether it’s because she’s Asian American, a female or both, people have tried to fit her to a certain mold.

perpetual foreigner stereotype is that Asians are not fully embraced as “American;” rather, they are constantly seen as abnormal foreigners.

A reason the bamboo ceiling exists, according to Malini Johar Schueller, an Asian American professor at the University of Florida Department of English, is that Asian Americans are often seen as perpetual foreigners. The

Schueller said students have questioned her ability to teach certain courses because of her ethnicity. “If I teach an Asian American class, it’s

“The top executives of bigger companies, at least in America, you’re not going to see a lot of Asian Americans,” said Kanica Phok, a third-year advertising major and member of Alpha Kappa Psi, a business fraternity at the University of Florida. “There’s that preconceived notion that Asians can be hard workers, but that they can’t be leaders.” Creativity and spontaneity are other traits that many assume Asian Americans lack because of persistent stereotypes.

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BY NICA RAMIREZ

motivate you,” Diomampo said. “But I think that a lot of people tend to get discouraged.” According to Forbes, less than 2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and corporate officers are of Asian descent, an example of how Asians are not viewed as qualified leaders, based on the stereotype that they lack aggression and social skills.

“THERE’S THAT PRECONCEIVED NOTION THAT ASIANS CAN BE HARD WORKERS, BUT THAT THEY CAN’T BE LEADERS.” Sur Ar Lee has experienced the opposite. Beginning her love of Spanish in Argentina, then moving to South Korea to continue her undergraduate studies in Spanish, she became a lecturer in the U.S. without much struggle. The diversity of the environment makes a difference in the workplace as Lee, a Korean American and senior lecturer in the UF Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, experienced. “UF in general, you have a lot of foreigners, and it’s more open than other countries,” Lee said. “So, if you are an expert or if you’re qualified in one field, you have more chance to get it in or to express yourself and get what you want. There’s fairness in the workplace.” Schueller recounted conversations with fellow faculty members that involved professors commenting on their students’ performances in class. According to her, many professors will praise how well Asian American students perform on exams and the effort they put forth in class; however, when it comes to creativity and original thinking, they deemed these students lacking in comparison. “It’s horrible that a lot of what people perceive being Asian is stereotypical,” said Karissa Diomampo, a third-year public relations major and a member of AKPsi. “It’s hard for us to stand out and be our 8 • Sparks

own person.” According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Asian Americans filed 1,213 race or national origin discrimination charges in 2014. Although Asians typically have little problem with getting hired in a company, they face the threat of plateauing in career advancement, according to a 2011 Forbes article. Once hired, it is difficult for them to get promoted into higher-level positions. “It definitely can either discourage you or

In Lee’s experience, the perceived social and cultural barriers that the bamboo ceiling poses are becoming less and less true with every generation. For her, it’s easier to adapt to a culture at a younger age. Lee sees a growth in the Asian American community, and for her, it’s a beacon for other young Asian Americans. Representation and slow-but-steady progress are paving the way for future leaders. “I hope that many young students can see those leaders who have already succeeded in the field, and also can encourage them and pull out their potential and succeed,” Lee said.

riding the third wave

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Feminists fight for gender equality. Whether it be through activism, advocacy or service, feminists strive to change the social, political and economic inequalities among all genders. Scholar and activist bell hooks defines feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression” in her book, “Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics.” Activism strives to solve social problems at the policy or structural level, as defined by Shelley White in “Sociologists in Action: Sociology, Social Change, and Social Justice.” In contrast to service, which solves an immediate problem, and advocacy, which publicly supports a cause, activism requires action, according to White. Collectively Conscious “In a lot of Asian cultures, you have this culture of collectivism and saving face,” said Laura Bennett, a former officer of She’s the First at the University of Central Florida. Although it may seem that a strong sense of community would be helpful to feminism because of the support and solidarity one finds in community, it contrasts with American individualistic culture, which encourages outspokenness. Some Asian American activists find that the contrast between two different cultures poses unique challenges. One way to resolve these conflicts is through education. “I think it [activism] goes back to spreading awareness and educating people,” Bennett said. She believes that feminism is about reaching people, saying “it’s an issue of education.” Her passion for the education rights of girls led her to become involved with She’s the First, an organization that raises money to educate girls around the world. In this way, she actively attempts to impact the economic and educational institutions

photo/FALISHA KURJI

that prevent girls from becoming educated. Western Whereabouts Even within Asian American communities, geographic location may affect activism as well. Stephanie Slater, co-founder of the Asian American Caucus in the UCF College Democrats, said that Florida has many first- and second-generation Asian American families, but California and the West coast have fourth- and fifth-generation immigrant families, possibly contributing to political and social involvement. “In Florida, all of my friends who are Asians have parents who immigrated here…but when you get over to the West coast, it’s more prominent to be involved and talk about politics because they’re fifth- and fourth- [generation immigrants],” Slater said. In addition to geographic location, socialization of those who are not Asian American may affect activism efforts as well. Dr. Leandra Preston-Sidler, an associate instructor in the Women and Gender Studies Program at UCF, noted that Asian Americans may be perceived in such a way that prevents activism. “Maybe we just don’t see Asian Americans and Asian communities as in need,” she said. The intersectionality of feminism leaves some activists with too many worries and not enough ideas on how to exert their agency. Intersectional feminism as an Asian American can be difficult and frustrating at times, but any action can ripple into activism. Whether people vote, raise awareness, or rewrite a policy, the most important thing is that they exercise their agency. As the 1960s Asian-American activist Yuri Kochiyama said, “remember that consciousness is power.” Sparks • 9


reading between the lines A look at neglected health issues facing Asian American communities BY ZACHARIAH CHOU

H

ealth and disease are part of the universal human experience. In the context of APIA health, however, broad generalizations that sweep all Asian Americans into one category ignore diseases facing distinctive communities. But when you separate Asian American health statistics from the U.S. population, you find health issues that impact certain ethnicities more than others. A Silent Killer “Hep B is something that is a silent killer: there is no major symptom until it’s too late,” said Cathy Phan, health initiative project manager at HOPE Clinic. “Two out of three don’t even know that they have it.” Hepatitis B is a liver disease that can lead to liver cancer if left untreated, and many people are often unaware that they have been infected. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that AAPIs make up less than 5 percent of the total U.S. population, but make up more than 50 percent of Americans living with chronic Hepatitis B, and that at least one-third of Asian Americans in the U.S. don’t know about their chronic Hepatitis B infection. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with some body fluids, but can be prevented with a vaccine or treated with medication. HOPE Clinic is a nonprofit community health center located in southwest Houston. The clinic focuses on the medically underserved, uninsured and underinsured populations, including immigrants, refugees and people with limited English proficiency. It charges patients on a sliding fee scale; how much you pay depends on your household income.


“T

hat means we are here to serve everyone with and without health insurance,” Phan said. “We will not turn anyone away who needs medical services.”

Phan stressed the importance of preventative knowledge, adding that such knowledge may not exist depending on a person’s background.

“A LOT OF TIMES YOU MAY HEAR SOMETHING LIKE ‘ASIAN AMERICANS ARE THE MODEL MINORITY: THEY TEND TO BE SKINNIER; THEY’RE MORE PETITE; THEY DON’T NECESSARILY HAVE HEALTH PROBLEMS. HOWEVER THAT’S VERY UNTRUE; WHEN YOU BREAK IT DOWN, YOU CAN ACTUALLY SEE THE HEALTH DISPARITIES.” photo/ZACHARIAH CHOU

“At HOPE clinic, we want to really push for prevention,” Phan said. “We don’t want to just bandage the problem, but we want to prevent it before it happens.” The clinic runs a project called “B-Free Houston,” a liver cancer and Hepatitis B prevention project. Phan used a mammogram as an example, saying that getting one could catch breast cancer early and prevent the need for most costly treatment. “The cost of prevention is going to be a lot cheaper than the cost of treatment on us as a healthcare provider and on the patient,” Phan said. HOPE clinic screens every patient for free via a partnership with a local hospital system. Together, they screen patients, educate them and provide comprehensive treatment. The clinic serves many refugees and immigrants who may already have Hepatitis B prior to leaving for the United States. Culture can also serve as a barrier to providing services. “When you’re dealing with different cultures, you always have to be culturally and linguistically appropriate,” Phan said. The clinic takes the time to translate educational materials and has staff members who speak Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean, Burmese, Karen, English, Arabic, Hindi and Spanish. The clinic’s B-Free Houston project has community health workers who focus on building relationships with different communities and has also partnered with Hep B United, a “national coalition to address and eliminate hepatitis B.” They have also reached out via radio, TV and other media to spread awareness, working with ethnic media in the process. Another project the clinic runs is called the Jade Circle Project, a cervical cancer prevention initiative. “Vietnamese women have a higher rate of cervical cancer,” Phan said. “So, rather than getting a pap smear every three years... our doctors recommend getting a pap smear once every year for three to five years until all the results are negative, and then they can go back to doing it once every three years.” Just like with B-Free Houston, the clinic has many different outreach programs to help educate women and raise awareness. “If you catch it early, it’s very treatable. So we’ve been able to catch them early, and many women are very grateful for it,” Phan said. According to Phan, there is also the need for data disaggregation. “A lot of times you may hear something like ‘Asian Americans are the model minority: they tend to be skinnier; they’re more petite; they don’t necessarily have health problems. However that’s very untrue; when you break it down, you can actually see the health disparities,” she said. When Trend Lines Lie The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders states that cancer is the leading cause of death for APIAs. However, rates and trends among populations differ, substantially in some places. A 2015 study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal by the American Association for Cancer Research, looked at cancer mortalities across six major subgroups: Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.The study compared the numbers to those of non-Hispanic whites (NHW). Lead researcher Caroline Thompson, Ph.D., the assistant professor of epidemiology at San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health acknowledged other APIA subgroups and mixed-raced individuals, but noted that the study was constrained by limited data availability

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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that AAPIs make up 5 percent of the total U.S. population, but make up more than 50 percent of Americans living with chronic Hepatitis B. At least one-third of Asian Americans in the U.S. don’t know about their chronic Hepatitis B infection.

This study is notable because it is the first time cancer mortality trends have been described by Asian American subgroups. While past studies might have just studied Asians as one group, this study recognizes the differences between subgroups, allowing for a more comprehensive look at cancer prevalence and trends. “Treating all Asians as one group for reporting national statistics masks statistic differences between those groups,” Thompson said. “So by differentiating the groups and then showing trends, one of the things that we found that was so noteworthy to us was that the trends were different by group — and that reinforces the idea that not all Asians are the same; [in] some groups, the cancer burden may be increasing and in others, it may be decreasing.” The CDC states that after cancer, the next two leading cases of Asian American death are heart disease and stroke. A study published in the “Journal of the American College of Cardiology” in December 2014 used similar methods to find results that paralleled the study on cancer mortality and was constrained to the six largest Asian American subgroups.

I THINK THE TAKE-HOME MESSAGE FOR ALL OF OUR RESEARCH IN THIS AREA IS THAT NOT ALL ASIAN AMERICANS ARE THE SAME. The study acknowledged that current understanding of Asian American cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality patterns is distorted by the under-representation and aggregation of Asian Americans in studies, which masks the diversity of CVD and survival among diverse Asian American subgroups. The authors found that “Asian Indian men and women and Filipino men had greater proportionate mortality burden from ischemic heart disease,” and that the mortality rate of hypertensive heart disease and cerebrovascular disease, especially hemorrhagic stroke, was higher in every Asian American subgroup compared to non-Hispanic whites. The researchers noted that their findings stressed “the importance of increasing efforts in prevention, health education and community outreach to help target the highest risk groups.” Through the work of both academics and local clinics pushing for data disaggregation and spreading awareness, perhaps, when it comes to health and disease, we can see more of the former and less of the latter. “I think the take-home message for all of our research in this area is that not all Asian Americans are the same. Asian subgroups differ substantially by the parts of the world they come from, how recently they arrived in America—maybe they go back one generation or more—the types of food they eat, the places they live [and] the jobs that they take,” Thompson said.

Sparks • 13


D

o you know what goes into your everyday smoothie? Hae-Yuan Chang picks fresh fruits, vegetables and leaves from her own backyard food forest every day for hers. “Every morning, I come out, pick all the leaves and just juice it,” she said. “It’s how you get your veggies in, and it’s really easy.” Chang has a determination to leave a positie footprint on the world. Her goal is to live a zero-waste life and to give back to the community through sharing resources and preserving the environment. Chang took the first step three years ago when she found a posting on Craigslist about a cooperative living place near the University of Central Florida. “I was trying to find a place to stay and procrastinating so hardcore and finally saw this listing on Craigslist,” Chang said. “McKinnley [Workman, Chang’s mentor] was like, ‘I want to grow food, have bees and live and cook together and share resources.’ And I thought that was the best idea ever. We have been developing this place ever since.”

palace of permaculture local environmentalist leads sustainable co-op BY ANUSHA MAKHANI

Hae-Yuan Chang holds amaranth, a plant she grows in her yard and feeds to her quails.photo/AMY WHICKER

“EVERY MORNING, I COME OUT, PICK ALL THE LEAVES AND JUST JUICE IT. IT’S HOW YOU GET YOUR VEGGIES IN, AND IT’S REALLY EASY.” Chang moved to the United States from Malaysia at two years old. She attended UCF and lived in the dorms for two years. It was, in her words, “a weird experience,” which is why when she found the co-op, she knew it was the right place for her. The most experience she had with any form of planting was looking at her grandmother’s garden from afar. As such,

Chang picks cranberry hibiscus for a smoothie. photo/AMY WHICKER

it was uncharacteristic of Chang to live in a co-op where she grew her own macadamia nuts, cranberry hibiscus, spinach, turmeric and yucca. The initial mission of the co-op was to develop a food forest to feed everyone. Workman enlarged the mission more by turning it into a cooperative living place where individuals live together, grow their own food, socialize and spread their passion for permaculture. Together, Workman and Chang named their co-op the Peanut Butter Palace and made a name for themselves by hosting events and

dinners to spread the word on how to live off the land and decrease their carbon footprint. Workman knew Chang had an interest in real estate and sold her the Peanut Butter Palace three years later when she was ready to move to California, and Chang considers it the best investment she has ever made. After spending time with the other residents and her mentor, Chang expanded from being just a foodie to being able to cook straight from her backyard. Sparks • 15


“IT IS IMPORTANT TO LESSEN OUR FOOTPRINTS, AND THE WAY I CAN DO THAT IS GROW MY OWN FOOD AND INSPIRE OTHERS TO MAKE A POSITIVE FOOTPRINT AND TAKE SMALL STEPS.” photo/ALLISON MIEHL


“I love to cook, so all these very flavorful things are very exciting to me,” she said.

the activism lexicon

She can pick sweet potatoes and other vegetables from her yard in the morning and eat them for dinner that same day. Through trial-and-error in growing and cooking, Chang has been able to make kimchi, sourdough bread and green papaya salad all from produce she planted herself. “Being able to come out here, looking at everything I have, making a dish and knowing it came from my backyard and, it is really healthy—that is the most fun thing,” Chang said.

experts differentiate terms used to speak about APIA activism BY NICOLE DAN

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“ORIENTAL”

For her, the ultimate foodie experience is being able to have control of where her ingredients come from. Chang knows this is an unconventional way of living, but a happy, unique and productive way of living as well. She also stressed the importance of living local. “This is our area,” she said. “We want to eat from it, know where our food came from and know how it is grown. And the only way you can do that is if you grow your own garden.” According to Chang, eating local food is a way to keep from contributing to deforestation and farm labor. Chang also works at Orlando Permaculture while developing the Peanut Butter Palace. The motto of Orlando Permaculture is: “We grow minds, community and food.” One of the main aspects is social permaculture—getting to know the community, trading produce, giving away abundance and sharing resources with neighbors. Being able to convert oneself from a consumer to a producer is a form of empowerment, Chang said. It provides food security and stability, which transmits into all aspects of life. Through her experiences developing the Peanut Butter Palace, Chang’s overall perspective is learning by doing and being open-minded to change. She aims to improve upon herself and build a like-minded local community. Justin Marcano, Chang’s partner and roommate, said that Chang is interested in real estate and finding homes to turn into more sustainable systems of living for the community. “She walks her own way in society, influencing me and others to create your own 18 • Sparks

While “Asian American” has become a preferred term, the hyphenation has had a complicated past. It has been associated with otherness, suspicion and exclusion, especially during the turn of the 20th century, according to Frank H. Wu in his book “Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White.” President Woodrow Wilson in a 1919 address in Pueblo,

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reality and do it with creativity and gratefulness,” Marcano said. According to Chang, there is no other thing to do in her environment but flourish, and that is why she loves the Peanut Butter Palace and what she does for Orlando Permaculture. “Because it is important to lessen our footprints, and the way I can do that is grow

my own food and inspire others to make a positive footprint and take small steps,” she said. As her co-op develops, Chang continues to influence others, being a role model and creating her own reality. “She stands out, and inspires people where she is in her age now,” Marcano said. “In ten years, she will be a phenomenal human being.”

Asian Pacific Islander Desi American, or “APIDA,” is another umbrella acronym that is increasingly used for the community. It includes “Desi” to refer to people of South Asian descent from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Praveen Varanasi, UF’s Indian Student Association president agrees, saying that South Asian Americans can feel excluded from the Asian American dialogue. “What this can create is sometimes an identity crisis for a lot of our students because they don’t

“DESI”

Colorado said, “Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.” While many publications and the Associated Press use the hyphenation, others have eliminated it altogether, and replaced it with “Asian American.”

“APIA,” or Asian and Pacific Islander American is a recent term that has come into the vernacular in the past two decades. The 1990 and 2000 U.S. Census Bureau were the first to use “Asian or Pacific Islander” or API, as an option for race, according to the Center for American

“APIA”

photo/AMY WHICKER

“Oriental” was a term imposed on Asians by colonizers, according to Krystie Nguyen, Director of Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs at the University of Florida. It is derived from the word “oriens,” meaning “East” in Latin. At worst, it’s a term that has been associated with offensive blanket stereotypes and perpetual foreignness. At best, it just feels antiquated, according

really understand if they’re Asian or not,” Varanasi said. “They don’t feel included in the Asian community,” Nguyen said. “The ‘Desi’ is inclusive, but it also means that we need to acknowledge the existence of what other Asians look like. Because a lot of times when people talk about Asian - and I’m doing air quotes—‘Asian issues’—they think about Chinese, Korean, Japanese and that’s not the whole of who we are as a community.”

to Jeff Yang, Asian Pop columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle in a 2009 NPR interview. It is now considered a derogatory term by most people. In May 2016, President Barack Obama outlawed the use of the term from federal laws. “We’re Asian Americans; we’re not objects. We’re not a thing; we’re people,” Nguyen said.

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“ASIAN-AMERICAN”

Progress. Today, many advocacy groups use the umbrella acronym. While many still use Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI), Nguyen said she appreciates that the name of UF’s office is Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs, because Pacific Islanders can be American, too.

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“APIDA”

is inclusive, but it also means that we need to acknowledge the existence of what other Asians look like. Sparks • 19


broken communication how language barriers affect Asian American family relationships BY MAYA PUNJWANI

M

ing Yang, a 21-year-old engineering major at the University of Florida, has been a translator for her Cantonese-speaking mom for nine years. When Yang was just 13 years old, she would translate for her mom so her family could get food stamps. Yang described her experience translating as “always having to be on a front line defense.” Applications and paperwork can often be stressful, but even more so if they are not in your native language. Even simple tasks can be daunting when there’s a language barrier. “I had to face these government workers that were implicitly taunting and interrogating us [about whether we needed money or not],” Yang said. “My mom was getting really frustrated and asked why they were making it so hard for us to get help. I think I would be fine translating during a situation like that now, but at that young age, I felt very lonely, and it was tough because I thought nobody understood.” Yang now struggles to communicate with her mom because she is less exposed to the Chinese language in college than she was at home. She struggles to explain certain concepts to her mom, such as character phrases that are important in Chinese culture. Despite Yang’s attempts to convince her mom to take English classes, her mom says it’s too late for her to learn at the age of 53. According to a study done by the White House regarding critical issues facing Asian Americans, about one out of four APIA students have limited English speaking skills or live in a linguistically isolated household with parents who have limited English proficiency. Many Asian American families expect their children to be close to their extended families, but it can be difficult to do so because of the language barrier.

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Sreya Nalluri, an Indian American 16-year-old high school junior from The Woodlands, Texas, said her conversations with her grandparents are very limited, and she can only bring herself to ask simple things such as how they are and how the weather is. Nalluri’s parents speak Telugu to her, and she answers back in English. “I feel very Americanized when I mess up speaking Telugu with my grandparents,” Nalluri said. “I feel more ‘Westernized’ than I wish I was.”

I FELT VERY LONELY, AND IT WAS TOUGH BECAUSE I THOUGHT NOBODY UNDERSTOOD. Nalluri said she believes speaking both Telugu and English within her family is useful. “If my parents and I only spoke in English, I might have felt disconnected from Telugu culture growing up,” Nalluri said. “But if my parents and I spoke only in Telugu, my parents probably would not be as aware of American culture and customs and would not be as open to American culture as they are.” Choi Chun-Chung, Ph.D, is a 46-year-old psychologist and research coordinator at UF who focuses on immigrants and international students, and cross-cultural communications. According to Chun-Chung, Asian immigrant parents tend to persuade their children to learn the language that is native to their culture if they are more “educated and healthily acculturated into the Western society that they live in.” This allows them to see the benefits of their children learning their native language along with English. On the other hand, if the parents had less education and were not as acculturated, they might not see the benefits of being bilingual or multilingual. Therefore, they would have their children only focus on learning and speaking English. “I am so regretful about the fact that I did not grow up speaking the same languages as some of my family members because there is a huge disconnect,” said Kai Song, a high school student in California. “My relationships with my mom, grandpa, aunt and uncle are valuable to me, and I photo/VANESSA WONG

Sparks • 21


wish I could connect with them on a deeper level by speaking the same language.” Song’s grandpa speaks Korean and a little bit of Japanese because of the Japanese occupation of Korea. Song speaks English and a little bit of French, Korean and Norwegian. Song points out that because of a history of colonization and imperialism that forced people to speak English, Song would rather make the effort to learn the languages spoken by family members instead of them having to learn an imposed language like English.

25% of APIA students have limited English speaking skills or live in a linguistically isolated household with parents who have limited English proficiency.

Grace Wong, a 17-year-old high school senior from Portland, Oregon, joked about her relationship with her parents and how in their household “language is like a secret barrier.” Wong and her dad speak Mandarin, while her mother does not. However, both of her parents speak Vietnamese, while Wong does not. Wong and her dad would sometimes speak in Mandarin in front of her mom, which would end up frustrating her. On the other hand, Wong’s parents sometimes discuss things in Vietnamese in front of Wong when they are talking about something that they do not want her to understand.

“I FEEL VERY AMERICANIZED WHEN I MESS UP SPEAKING TELUGU WITH MY GRANDPARENTS. I FEEL MORE ‘WESTERNIZED’ THAN I WISH I WAS.” Wong described how basic communication with her grandparents speaking Mandarin was relatively easy. However, it was hard to connect with them culturally because they had a harder time assimilating into American culture after growing up in China, then immigrating to Vietnam and then the United States. “At times, language can make you feel isolated from your parents or grandparents,” Wong said. “But when you are in an environment where everyone speaks your language, it is so awesome because you feel super excited and connected to people.” With language being such an important component to everyday communication, many Asian American families struggle with the difficulty of understanding each other. For Ming Yang, who, as a young girl, translated for her family to get food stamps, the language barrier was especially difficult when her mom got frustrated about a situation because she would sometimes misdirect her anger at Yang. “Language has a close tie with our mentalities, thoughts and ideas,” Yang said. “[A language gap] definitely connects to problems that we face today in our hectic and chaotic world.” At the end of the day, we all just want to be understood.

“LANGUAGE IS LIKE A 22 • Sparks

SECRET BARRIER.”

diverse demographics BY ANN DANG he reality that Asian Americans face is much different from the statistics that describe them.

T

The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2015 that Asian Americans have a higher median income than any other racial group in the United States, which might lead one to believe that Asian Americans are doing well financially in the U.S. However, these same demographic statistics also suggest that Asian Americans are a monolithic group of people, while the Asian Pacific Islander American population encompasses more than 30 countries and ethnic groups. University of Florida psychology senior Jessie Wang conducted an independent research study on the underrepresentation of APIA students in special education, which is largely based around the model minority myth. “The model minority myth is this myth that perpetuates the notion that Asian American Pacific Islanders are highly successful, whether it comes in education or finances, or just social positioning in life,” Wang said. This stereotype is especially dangerous because it can mask the struggles that certain ethnic groups face and diminish urgency. Based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 population reports, Asian Americans have a slightly higher poverty rate at 12 percent than non-Hispanic whites at 10.1 percent. But when examining the poverty rates further, it’s clear that the poverty rates for the different ethnic groups belonging to the APIA community are just as diverse as the APIA community itself. According to the 2015 American Community Survey one-year estimates, the poverty rate for Hmong Americans was just over 20 percent. In contrast, the estimated poverty rate for Chinese Americans was a little more than 10.5 percent.

Angelia Vang holds a photo from her brother’s college graduation. Vang’s brother was the first man in her family to graduate from college. photo/JORDAN RICH

As a first-generation Hmong American, Vang is familiar with the Hmong community and the factors that might have influenced their educational attainment. “My brother is the only [male] college graduate in our entire Vang family — he’s the only boy,” she said. “The girls have graduated, but the boys haven’t. There’s a common stereotype in the Hmong community where boys go to gangs, but girls go to school. And I think it’s because of that stereotype that a lot of boys in high school tend to drop out.”

Angelia Vang, a sophomore majoring in radio-television production at the University of Central Florida, said that one of the reasons why there might be such a poverty difference between the different Asian ethnic groups in America is because immigrants from Southeast Asian countries, as a result of their circumstances, might have fewer resources than immigrants from East Asian countries.

Mamta Accapadi received her doctorate in higher education administration with a concentration on Asian American identity and social justice education.

“Asian immigrants from Southeast Asia are a lot more different than immigrants from Korea, China or Japan,” Vang said. “It’s also because Southeast Asia — like Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, that area — is a very war-torn area, especially after the Vietnam war. Chinese immigrants came to America to earn a better living, but people from Southeast Asia came to escape death in general.”

While the Asian American poverty rate is still lower than other racial groups such as African Americans, APIA poverty is still an issue that needs to be discussed.

Similar to the poverty rate statistics, the educational attainment rates for Asian Americans is also varied across the different ethnic groups. The high school dropout rates for Asian ethnic groups can range from 7.4 percent for Filipino Americans to 26.5 percent for Hmong Americans, based on data from the American Community Survey.

“Until you disaggregate ethnic identities, you don’t get an actual picture of what Asian Americans are actually experiencing,” she said.

“The fastest growing population in the country right now is the Asian American Pacific Islander community,” Accapadi said. “And so when you look at the health of democracy, it’s grounded in the well-being of its citizens. So if people are not able to meet their basic needs, that affects everyone.” In order to decrease the level of poverty within the APIA community, an understanding of the differences between the groups that make up the APIA community is needed. Sparks • 23


the apathy among us

the APIA community remains disconnected with voting engagement

2012

presidential elections:

31% APIA voters

37.8% all american voters

41.2% eligible collegeaged students

BY BAILEY LEFEVER

W

ith the 2016 elections, we see a larger presence of Asian Americans in positions of power. Stephanie Murphy, a daughter of Vietnamese refugees, won Florida District 7 for Congress. Tammy Duckworth, the only person of Thai descent in Congress history, won the Senate seat for Illinois. Indian Americans Pramila Jayapal, Kamala Harris and Raja Krishnamoorthi all won seats in Congress. Despite the increase and visibility of APIA politicians, why are Asian Americans still apathetic when it comes to voting? In the 2012 presidential election, 31 percent of Asian Americans, 37.8 percent of Americans and 41.2 percent of eligible college-age students voted, according to the Pew Research Center. Voter apathy in the Asian American community stems from a gap between the American government and its citizens. Key issues like a lack of access to resources, lack of focus on issues that matter to the community and a lack of civic engagement in Asian American cultures have impacted the relationship between young Asian Americans and voting. According to a U.S. News & World Report article by Lynda Tran, almost half of voting districts around the United States do not provide assistance to limited-English speakers. “The language gap between Asian Americans and primarily English voting materials is the largest obstacle for Asian American voters,” said Kathryn Quintin, the programs associate at Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote in Washington, D.C. Organizations like Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote are attempting to close this gap with initiatives such as 1-888-API-VOTE, a toll-free voting hotline for APIA citizens to pose questions about voting. APIA Vote is a national nonpartisan organization that works with partners to mobilize Asian Americans in electoral and

24 • Sparks

civic participation. It also provides language assistance services in 25 states and provides resources to college students. The group aims to engage APIA communities in politics and helps them exercise their voting right. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires states and political subdivisions to provide voter materials in the language applicable to the minority group in addition to English;

“IF WE DIDN’T HEAR THAT WE SHOULD VOTE GROWING UP, WE’RE NOT GOING TO DO THAT. WE NEED TO CREATE A CULTURE OF CIVIC SOCIETY.” however, many Asian American citizens still do not have the proper access to materials in their own language.

“IF YOU’RE NOT AT THE TABLE, “Family is very important to us,” Lim said. “If we didn’t hear that we should vote growing up, we’re not going to do that. We need to create a culture of civic society.” If apathy toward voting among Asian Americans is to be changed, the very culture has to be changed, Lim said. Lim also said he believes that organizations on the University of Florida campus and elsewhere around the country need to create a dialogue about voting. “The dialogue needs to happen at home as well,” Quintin said. “It needs to become normal for Asian Americans to discuss politics because a lot of families don’t discuss politics at the dinner table.” “We need to change that standard in the Asian American community that we are eligible to vote, we should vote and it would be great for us, while letting people know about the resources that are available to Asian Americans,“ Quintin said. The Asian American Student Union at the University of Florida campus is attempting to do just that. The group hosted a voter education rally to create a culture of civic engagement, said Ronit Dastidar, external vice president for the organization. They aim to get students ready to vote and encourage them to go out and exercise their right. “This election has a lot of potential for Asian American voters,” Dastidar said. “There are two candidates with very differing views on topics that concern Asian Americans.” Asian Americans who identify as Democrats make up 65 percent of the group, while 23 percent identify themselves as Republican, according to the Pew Research Center.

Language barriers still prevent eligible Asian American voters from procuring and understanding voting materials. This directly affects the Asian American community because APIA parents’ voter statuses directly influence their children’s civic engagement, Quintin said. This lack of civic engagement in the household can cause apathy in children. Asian American college students often don’t vote because their parents are disinterested or ineligible to vote, Quintin said.

However, not all Asian American college students feel that this election holds much potential for them. Lim believes the election is not much different than its predecessors. When asked about Hillary Clinton’s attempt at creating a platform for Asian Americans, Lim seemed a bit skeptical.

Family is especially important in the Asian American community, said Andrew Lim, a third-year University of Florida biochemistry major.

Politicians’ lack of interest in the Asian American platform may also prevent APIA college students from voting. Many APIA citizens feel unrepresented by the current policymakers in

YOU’RE ON THE MENU.”

government, and therefore, they think voting will not really affect them, Quintin said. The APIA community is made up of so many different cultures that it is impossible to group them into a single platform, and many voters feel that they won’t be properly represented, Lim said. According to Lim, to obtain the support of APIA voters, the candidates would have to tailor their party to represent these views more directly. Although Lim does not feel properly represented by the current political organizations, he said his fellow college students should become informed and vote if they feel apt to. Lim advocates for learning about the options and potentially considering third-party candidates. Information on the University of Florida campus can be obtained through organizations like Pride Student Union, Asian American Student Union and Gators for Hillary.

Quintin stresses the importance of going to the polls and electing local or state politicians so that the needs of the APIA community can be heard. “There is a common saying that if you’re not [at] the table, then you’re on the menu,” Quintin said. “So you want to make sure that you’re at the table and that you’re having these small strides to make sure that your local state and federal representatives are sharing what you have to say.” Although society may stereotype APIA members to be quiet and uninvolved in politics, the community can make a change if it uses its vote to voice its opinions. “The beautiful fact about this country is that you have an option to vote, and you also have an option not to vote; but the thing is your vote is your voice, and if you don’t use your voice, then no one is going to hear you,” Quintin said. photo/left to right, top to bottom: GINA NGUYEN, KEVIN DOAN, ALEXANDRIA NG, HANAH LEE, ANGELA DUAN, EMILY COCHRANE, SHIRLY LY, POOJA CHANDRASEKHAR, ANTARA SINHA, ELAINE DEL ROSARIO, GRACE SHAN, MARY DOROMAL, YUCHEN WANG, ANTHONY BLUTO, TAN HO, SHANNON LIU

“I don’t think she’s really invested in doing anything for these communities,” Lim said. “I don’t know if she’ll actually do anything.”

Sparks • 25


He is a popular face on YouTube and identifies as a gay man born to Taiwanese immigrant parents.

social justice league asian american activists fight for LGBT rights BY RIKKI OCAMPOS

He describes his activism as “stemming from wanting a better world” for those who are infringed upon and oppressed. The majority of his YouTube videos use pop culture to bridge the gap between entertainment and social activism. “I use pop culture as a vehicle to point out problematic things,” Lam said. “It can be a wonderful thing that unites people. That’s the root of pop culture.”

F

ighting racial injustice and LGBT discrimination is the closest thing a human being can get to emulating a superhero, according to YouTube activist Chris Lam. It took the death of one Asian American superhero and the work of two to make headway into transgender activism.

He believes that pop culture allows audiences to be lazy in what they consume, and his work reflects his desire for people to become critical thinkers.

In 2015, the Transgender Law Center announced that the Respect After Death Act finally took effect in California and allowed transgender people to mark their chosen gender on their death certificates.

Lam grew up watching the popular anime series, “Sailor Moon” and was inspired by crime-fighting characters who pushed for a better world. His YouTube channel is littered with references to “Sailor Moon,” “Ghost In the Shell” and “Steven Universe.”

Three years prior to the act passing, a Chinese and Polish American transgender man named Christopher Lee killed himself, and the coroner chose to list his gender as “female” rather than male. His friend, another Chinese transgender man, took his death certificate and presented it to the Transgender Law Center in California, which lobbied for the passing of the Respect After Death Act. Japanese American Kris Hayashi led the fight as the executive director of the Transgender Law Center.

While not every pop culture reference is used to highlight a

The Respect After Death Act was a response to the misgendering of a transgender man, but the face of LGBT Asian American activism is not always a reaction to traumatic deaths. As technology and society progress, so does the nature of activism.

LAM GREW UP WATCHING THE POPULAR ANIME SERIES, “SAILOR MOON” AND WAS INSPIRED BY CRIME-FIGHTING CHARACTERS WHO PUSHED FOR A BETTER WORLD. entertaining for people to take in criticism of social issues. His channel has fewer than 10,000 subscribers, but he said he receives emails from people thanking him for the videos he produces because the videos are forms of representation. Lam said he couldn’t find gay Asian representation until he saw gay Chinese main characters in the movies “Eat With Me” and “Saving Face.”

For University of Central Florida biology freshman Riley Rogers, pushing society comes in the form of influencing and advising student government. She identifies as a half Filipino, half Caucasian asexual woman and says her traditional Filipino family is a source of conflict between her sexuality and ethnicity. Her success as a committee member of the LGBT community under the UCF Student Government Association has allowed her to educate people on “lesser-known” sexualities that aren’t just gay, lesbian or bisexual. Rogers stumbled upon the local LGBT community at UCF during the summer semester before her freshman year. Finding escape from the heat, she was introduced to the people of Pride Commons, the office and on-campus safe zone for LGBT students. From there, she got more involved with the group, which led to her current position. Lam and Rogers emphasize that their activism stems from the injustice they’ve faced and their desire for a better world for other LGBT people. Their approaches differ, but in the end, they both aim to create change, one person at a time, and they hope to improve the conditions for LGBT individuals.

“IT CAN BE A WONDERFUL THING THAT

UNITES PEOPLE.

Activist Chris Lam is at the forefront of LGBT activism on social media platforms.

illustration/EBONE GRAYSON 26 • Sparks

His work can be found in BuzzFeed videos and on his own YouTube channel, “OneWingedChris,” where most of his videos deal with race relations and LGBT issues.

moment of social injustice, it allows his audience to maintain a level of enjoyment and entertainment. Lam believes that content must be

ROOT OF

THAT’S THE

POP CULTURE.” Sparks • 27


businessmen were throwing uneaten food into the trash at a McDonald’s. “As a kid and knowing how kids are the future, this is my motivation — to give back and do community service,” Sayedul Huq said. Sayedul Huq is vice president of Inclusive Fitness and Unified Sports and has been heavily involved in the program for nine years. The program pairs UF and Santa Fe University students with special needs students ages 18 to 22 years old from the Sidney Lanier Center, a school for students with intellectual disabilities in Gainesville. Being both Bengali and Filipina, she credits her diverse upbringing as the main factor for her strong belief in family and faith. Her Filipina mother is Catholic and her Bengali father is Muslim, giving her wide perspective. “My dad was really the one who taught me to be open-minded,” Huq said.

illustration/INGRID WU

bayanihan reinvented exploring filipino upbringing and its impact on the community BY INGRID WU

F

still continue on the Bayanihan spirit in many other ways, mainly through community service work. This ethos can be found within the Filipino diaspora and in the University of Florida’s own Filipino American student body.

This is the Bayanihan spirit. It’s the spirit of a community working towards a common goal or good. Even though the traditional practice of transporting homes is less common today, Filipinos

Mona Sayedul Huq, a 27-year-old UF Ph.D student in Health and Human Performance, went to the Philippines for the first time when she was seven years old. She remembers coming across three hungry siblings searching through the trash for food. A block away,

ilipino hospitality can be summarized by an ancient tradition. If disaster struck, neighboring villagers would lift a family’s entire home using bamboo rods and help them relocate — no questions asked and no payment demanded — walking miles to a new destination.

OUR MOTTO IS 28 • Sparks

“ISANG MAHAL”

This diversity contributes to her concern for issues within a global scope. After the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, the worst cyclone to hit the Philippines, she knows many Filipino family members and friends who have contributed back home after the disaster. “The Filipino community is resilient,” Huq said. Gabe Abreu, a mechanical engineering junior and a Filipino American at UF, directed the 2015 Light the Night Walk event in October — a fundraiser event for cancer awareness. Abreu’s fraternity, Pi Delta Psi, is UF’s first Asian Americaninterest fraternity. They led the event in support of their fraternity brother, Chris Abeleda, who had a relapse of leukemia earlier that spring. Not only did Abreu direct the event as a form of solidarity, he dedicated it to his late mother who was fighting breast cancer at the time. His mother passed away, and Abreu withdrew from school in 2015. However, Abreu stayed on-board with the event. By the end of that night, they raised a total of $68,102 toward cancer research. “That’s why I did it,” Abreu said, “It was my

form of giving back, to her.” The Filipino Student Association (FSA) at UF focuses on community building through dance, sports and other functions. FSA Philanthropy is a recent addition to the organization that focuses solely on service. Patrick Lee, a Public Health and Business Administration junior, who also participated in Light the Night, was the community service chair from Fall 2015 to Spring 2016. “We present ourselves as an open family who welcomes anyone into our organization,” Lee said. “Our motto is ‘isang mahal,’ which translates into ‘one love.’” Lee led a variety of projects including volunteer work at Florida Organic Growers, which focused on healthy diet awareness, and St. Francis House soup kitchen, where

“THE FILIPINO COMMUNITY IS RESILIENT.” FSA volunteers got to know the homeless community in Gainesville. FSA also became involved in a project in support of Gawad Kalinga (GK), which translates to “give care.” GK is a non-profit organization with a mission to end poverty for 5 million families in the Philippines. Through an annual fundraising event on campus, “Step for GK,” in which Abreu led a step dance workshop, funds raised went toward building homes, family planning workshops and other methods of mobilizing and educating the poor.

A devout Catholic herself, Poling has pinned faith as her true motivation to follow the Pope’s message to get out of the pews and do something that gives back to society. Traditional practices meet Catholic values to create this morals-based motivation. Due to former colonization by Spain, Filipino history contains an interesting blend of Western and Eastern culture. According to Pew Research Center, 81 percent of Filipinos identify as Catholic. “Just that strong Catholic upbringing kept me wanting to go to church,” Abreu said. “I needed a strong sense of security and backing for when I face challenges in college.” Orinda Hobson, microbiology and cell science student at UF, has been involved in Circle K International, an international collegiate service organization, for two years and credits her love to giving back, not just from her family, but also her faith. “I wouldn’t say it [being half-Filipino] was a central focus to do community service. Instead, I feel like I was being more of a Catholic,” Hobson said. What seems to drive Filipinos to be generous is tied together with the focal point of one message: to continue Bayanihan inside and outside of the culture. However, because the Filipino homeland stems from a diverse blend of influences, it lends to a distinct perspective on solidarity. “The Philippines is very rich in resources,” Poling said, “including its people.”

Teresita Poling, the GK coordinator for Sacramento County, California, has been directly involved with GK by teaching workshops in the Philippines, aiding in building houses after Typhoon Haiyan and even installing laptops in villages. In Poling’s experience living in the Philippines, she saw the community spirit represented everywhere. Large, even extended, families usually live under one household and combine shared salaries, according to Poling.

WHICH TRANSLATES INTO

“ONE LOVE.” Sparks • 29


THE U.S. IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE

LAND OF OPPORTUNITY SO SYRIANS SHOULD BE OFFERED THAT AS WELL.

illustration/INGRID WU

america what

was built for

the uf apia community discusses the syrian refugee crisis BY MAYA PUNJWANI

“T

he worst humanitarian crisis in our day.” That’s how Rana Al-Nahhas, who has family from Homs, Syria, described the Syrian refugee crisis. She’s frustrated that people’s attention on the issue is short-lived at best and completely unsympathetic at worst.

“[The Syrian refugee crisis] started about six years ago, and everybody only starts to care when a very sad picture comes up now and then,” said Al-Nahhas, a Syrian American 21-year-old psychology major. As a senior at the University of Florida, she is heavily involved with the initiative called Students Organize for Syria at UF, which raises awareness about the conflict and collects money and supplies for refugees. Al-Nahhas’s organization collaborates with Books Not Bombs, an initiative to provide at least five scholarships to Syrian students at UF. The organization started a petition with the goal of 600 signatures last March. The Institute of International Education handles the scholarships, so after receiving 600 signatures, Al-Nahhas hopes to bring the petition to Student Government in order for UF to waive tuition for these students. “Prior to this political crisis, Syria was very educationally driven, and it sucks that people don’t have educational opportunities anymore. We take it for granted while these people would do anything to study again,” said Al-Nahhas. “We need to stop being so apathetic about this. This could have happened to you and me. If we are allowing this to happen with a dictator, what does this say about us?” Hassan Syed, whose parents are Pakistani and Indian immigrants, feels especially impacted as an Asian American by the refugee crisis and some of the negative rhetoric coming from media and politicians in the U.S.

30 • Sparks

“I have always been super emotional about it,” said Syed, a freshman microbiology major who is also secretary of Students Organize for Syria. “I have met people at my mosque who were Syrian refugees and when they came here they were shook.” Syed said these refugees are in need of help from the community. “When they first came, they only spoke Arabic. We can help these people find jobs and build a family together. The U.S is supposed to be the land of opportunity so Syrians should be offered [that] as well.”

“EVERYBODY ONLY STARTS TO CARE WHEN A VERY SAD PICTURE COMES UP NOW AND THEN.” “The six or seven families that I have met that have fled Syria are regular people just like you and me except they were under horrible governments,” said Syed. “I don’t understand why people are being so judgmental about them. Places like Lebanon and Jordan can only take so many refugees so the United States must help.” Matthew Jacobs, Ph.D., an international studies and associate history professor at UF, explained how the United States has one of the most sophisticated vetting systems for refugees in the world. He added that even though the political crisis in Syria was not directly started by the United States, it is connected to the United States’ involvement with Iraq. “We do bear some responsibility, and we need to do what we can to reasonably help and accommodate refugees,” said Jacobs. “People ask why the Middle East [isn’t] doing anything with the refugees. The truth is they are actually doing way more than the U.S. and Europe.” For example, Jacobs said, while the media tends to focus on the influx of refugees in Europe, only 10 to 15 percent of the 12 million Syrian refugees end up in Europe. According to Jacobs, different types of refugees have ended up in different areas in the

Middle East. For example, many wounded refugees have ended up in Turkey. Many children have ended up in Lebanon, families have ended up in Jordan and adult males looking for work have gone to countries in the Persian Gulf. The refugees traveling to Europe are a mix of all of these groups. Jacobs reiterated that the influx of Syrians into these places affect societies in different ways, and their needs should be handled differently from place to place. And despite the influx of Syrian refugees in other countries, about half, 6 million people, are internally displaced in Syria. Many aren’t getting food or supplies sent over there by organizations because it is dangerous. Hania Abou al-Shamat, Ph.D., who teaches a class on migrants and refugees in the Middle East at UF, agreed that although the Syrian refugee crisis started back in 2011 with the Arab Spring, the news started covering it in 2015 when 1 million out of the 12 million refugees started going to Europe. She began the course by discussing the difference between a refugee and a migrant, which, she said, the news incorrectly uses as interchangeable terms. “When talking about economic migrants or political refugees, there has always been the rhetoric that they are going to take our jobs,” Abou al-Shamat said. “However, these days there is now the added rhetoric of, quote, unquote, ‘the terrorist threat that comes with refugees.’” Jacobs said that this fear is largely overstated since there is no U.S. documented case of any Syrian refugee being involved in a significant terrorist attack, and there have been only two or three cases globally. He said that statistics show the majority of attacks in the U.S. have been by the demographic of white men. Lara Alqasem, a third-year international studies major at UF, is taking Abou al-Shamat’s class this semester. She thinks it is important to learn about migrants and refugees from the Middle East because Americans have a lot of misconceptions about the Middle East in regards to religion and politics. “In America, we wield a lot more power than we know that we do. There is so much going on in the Middle East that America has contributed to,” Alqasem said. “On a self reflective level, America is a country made up of migrants, and on a human level, it is important to learn about this humanitarian crisis.” Sparks • 31


Profile for Sparks Magazine

Sparks Magazine Issue No. 11 | University of Central Florida  

Sparks Magazine Issue No. 11 | University of Central Florida  

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