Sparks Magazine Issue No. 12 | University of Florida

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SPRING 2017 | issue 12


embracing a mixed heritage


names as a form of cultural identity


Asian-Americans discuss their experiences in the military


ethnicity-related difficulties in finding a match


Sparks Magazine

SPRING 2017 | issue 12

table of contents 05 07 08




















































letter from the editor university of florida EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Antara Sinha MANAGING EDITOR Alexandria Ng




WRITER Klarizza Aggabao • WRITER Neelesh Bapatla • WRITER & PHOTOGRAPHER Zachariah Chou • WRITER Nilay Gandhi • WRITER Pooja Gupte • WRITER Bailey LeFever • WRITER Megan Palm • WRITER Maya Punjwani • WRITER Archana Singh • PHOTOGRAPHER Falisha Kurji • PHOTOGRAPHER Megan Mizusawa • PHOTOGRAPHER Vanessa Wong • DESIGNER Jennifer Wai • DESIGNER & ILLUSTRATOR Ingrid Wu • DESIGNER Kathy Xie • DESIGNER Jessica Zheng


PROGRAMMING DIRECTOR Sally Greider PROMOTIONS DIRECTOR Bomyee Woo PR STAFF Sarah Cheung • Priya Mohan • Kayla Solem • Christina Truong • Vanessa Wong



Change is stressful and uncomfortable. Whether it’s graduating from college, transitioning into a new presidency, moving away from a place you called home — it has a way of making you feel powerless and isolated. The start of 2017 has presented challenges, in various forms, to all of us. But, here’s what I’ve learned while putting together this semester’s issue: those feelings of isolation are a complete illusion. Whenever I’ve felt at my lowest, my friends, family and community have been my support system, even when I didn’t know I needed it. People will consistently surprise you with their compassion and will provide stability when everything around you feels more turbulent than ever. As you’ll read in this issue, uprooted communities help maintain traditions and ceremonies from their homeland. People transcend borders and save lives by helping struggling patients

DESIGNER Maria Luisa Abon • DESIGNER Danielle Diaz-Boye • DESIGNER Simon Fevrier • WRITER Minh-Chau Le • DESIGNER Lauren Lee • WRITER Anusha Makhani • WRITER Allison Miehl • PHOTOGRAPHER Fachri Naufaldy • WRITER Rikki Ocampos • WRITER Nga Pham • WRITER Nica Angelica Ramirez • PHOTOGRAPHER Jordan Rich


PHOTO EDITOR Amy Whicker • DESIGN EDITOR Ebone Grayson



find bone marrow matches. They embrace people who’ve sacrificed everything to serve their country and create outlets for people of multiple heritages to make a home for themselves. They allow college students, still grappling with their identity, to meet like-minded people and become voices of advocacy. On a personal note, Sparks Magazine has been one of those communities for me the past three years, and it’s been more than anything I could ask for. This being my last semester as editor and my last semester of involvement with Sparks at the University of Florida, I’d like to thank all of my friends on staff and executive board for all of their drive, dedication and patience in putting together this issue. The strength of the Asian American community has been historically underestimated, but we hope that you, the reader, see in Issue 12 that when it’s tested, solidarity is one of the most powerful forces there is.

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ASIAN AMERICAN STUDENT UNION at the University of Central Florida ASIAN PACIFIC ISLANDER AMERICAN AFFAIRS at the University of Central Florida University of Florida STUDENT GOVERNMENT

Sparks Magazine

boxed in asian americans and affirmative action BY MEGAN PALM, ZACHARIAH CHOU AND NILAY GANDHI


S ince f or mer President John F. Kennedy signed the Executive O rder 10925 in 1961 implementing affir mative action, hir ing and admissions processes have c hanged and debate has sparked questions about whether a r ace-blind polic y would be better f or ac hie ving equalit y. For Asian Amer ic ans, the question of who qualifies as an underrepresented minor it y is also politiciz ed and per tinent. Affir mative action as a polic y has come under fire multiple times. In the dec ades af ter affir mative action was r atified by the U.S. go ver nment and adopted by universities across the nation, cour t c ases suc h as Universit y of Calif or nia v. Bakke and later complaints and petitions by white students have kept the issue on the nation’s mind. Recentl y in a Universit y of Texas c ase, white student Abigail F isher petitioned the universit y ’s r ace-or iented

admissions polic y when she was denied admission al leged l y based on her r ace. According to a Ne w York T imes ar tic le by Adam Lit pak, since 1977 the Universit y of Texas guar antees admission to the top 10 percent in-state high sc hool students. For those students not in the top 10 percent, r ace and ethnicit y are factors considered in the universit y ’s admissions process. The S upreme Cour t upheld affir mative action and the col lege ’s admission process. To Wal lace Maz on, a blac k student at the Universit y of F lor ida, affir mative action has al lowed underrepresented minor ities to better themsel ves. It increases their c hances of admittance to universities and access to an educ ation that, pre vious to the 1960s and 70s, the y might ne ver have received. “ I think it (affir mative acti on) is tr y ing to give Afr ic an Amer ic ans and underrepresented minor ities an

oppor tunit y to go to institutions that, or iginal l y, the y were not al lowed to go to, ” Maz on said. “ W hen the y were al lowed to go to, these underrepresented minor ities received less than adequate educ ation, so it gave them oppor tunit y f or upward mobilit y and institutions of higher lear ning. ” I br am X. Kendi, P h.D., Prof essor of Afr ic an Amer ic an Histor y at UF, also sees the benefit of affir mative action as a means to aff ord greater oppor tunities to marginaliz ed minor ities pursuing higher educ ation. “Affir mative action since 1978 has been what ’s c al led a binar y admissions cr iter ia in the admissions process that gener al l y gives extr a points to a blac k Afr ic an, and it ’s considered to be a r aceconscious admissions cr iter ia, ” Kendi said. Despite a legal show of suppor t, se ver al organiz ations public l y contest affir mative

action. The Center f or Equal Oppor tunit y, is, according to its president Roger Clegg, a nonprofit, nonpar tisan, conser vative organiz ation that f ocuses on issues regarding r ace and ethnicit y. “ There are a lot of bad things that happen when you give people pref erential treatment on the basis of r ace or ethnicit y, ” Clegg said. “ It ’s divisive, unfair, it creates a bad precedent f or al lowing r acial discr imination, it creates resentment, stigmatiz es people, f osters a victim mindset, remo ves the incentive f or ac ademic excel lence, encour ages separ atism, compromises the ac ademic mission of the universit y, f osters hy pocr isy. It papers o ver the real problems that we have that lead to r acial dispar ities in this countr y and requires decision-makers to decide whic h minor ities to discr iminate in favor of and whic h minor ities to discr iminate against. ” In this respect, the affir mative action policies that were or iginal l y implemented to rec laim the oppor tunities underrepresented minor ities were histor ic al l y lac king in the United S tates have, at the same time, appeared to put Asian Amer ic ans at a disadvantage by some people ’s perspective, despite Asian Amer ic ans having also been histor ic al l y discr iminated against, as with the Chinese Exc lusion Act of 1882. Clegg said, “ The use of affir mative action has resulted not onl y in whites being discr iminated against, but also Asian Amer ic ans being discr iminated against. ” Recent studies have also pro vided quantitative data to justify the qualms and f ears of Asian Amer ic an students. According to the 2009 National S tudy of Col lege Exper ience led by Espenshade and R adf ord, a student who identifies as Asian on their applic ations wil l need 140 SAT points higher than

white students, 320 SAT points higher than Hispanic students and 450 SAT points higher than Afr ic an Amer ic an students. To Hr ishikesh Joshi, a postgr aduate Researc h Associate in the Depar tment of P hilosophy at Pr inceton Universit y, these statistics demonstr ate that, in realit y, Asian Amer ic ans are implicitl y discr iminated against within admissions processes, e ven if anti-Asian biases within the U.S. are not necessar il y explicit.

THERE ARE SO MANY DIMENSIONS OF DIVERSITY THAT ARE LEFT OUT WITHIN THE CURRENT SYSTEM “ There ’s no hard-andfast e vidence of an explicit instr uction, but given the data, it seems that if you’re an Asian Amer ic an applic ant, al l other things equal, it ’s muc h harder f or you to get into Har vard, Yale or Pr inceton than if you’re a white applic ation of similar qualific ations, and similar l y f or Hispanics and Afr ic an Amer ic ans, ” the Pr inceton gr aduate said. According to Clegg, affir mative action spurred the process by whic h admissions depar tments f or many universities have begun to use “r ace ” and “ethnicit y ” as a proxy f or “disadvantage. ” To Joshi, this is likel y a result of “the implicit worr y that the c ampus would look too Asian. ” At the Universit y of Calif or nia sc hools, a “r aceblind ” admissions polic y has led to Asian Amer ic an admission near ing 50 percent, according to

a 2010 Inter national Business T ime s ar tic le. S imilar l y, Joshi also notes that, despite the increase in r acial diversit y f or elite col leges f ostered by affir mative action, these col leges do not exhib it notable socioeconomic diversit y. Like Clegg and many of the other individuals inter vie wed, Joshi noted the need f or c hange within the current admissions process. According to Kendi, many of so-c al led “r ace-neutr al ” tools that universities use to gauge the col lege-readiness and future success of incoming col lege students – suc h as SAT scores, GPA and enrol lment in AP/I B c lasses – are intr insic al l y not available to minor it y and economic al l y disadvantaged students. “S tudies show that blac k students who would do wel l on col lege-le vel courses c annot take them bec ause the y gener al l y are not available at their sc hools, ” the UF prof essor said. “ Blac k students gener al l y do not have as muc h oppor tunit y to take those courses as their white counter par ts. ” Kendi belie ves theref ore, affir mative action is onl y one smal l piece of the larger solution that needs to be enacted to de velop equalit y in educ ation. “ May be one way of ref or ming the sy stem f or the better is to look at socioeconomic status, r ather than r ace, ” Joshi said. “ We shoul d re-think whether r acial diversit y is the onl y thing that matters. We could think about socioeconomic diversit y, we could think about ideologic al diversit y — there are so many dimensions of diversit y that are lef t out within the current sy stem. ”


SPRING 2017 | issue 12

“TAP-TAP” goes pro


“Wham!” Khushhal Jindal leaped and smashed the shuttlecock over the net, hitting his opponents’ court untouched. He had scored the last point in a badminton game with his friends during a practice session held by the University of Central Florida Badminton Club. “I love badminton. I was maybe seven or eight when I started playing with my parents,” said Jindal, a secondyear master’s student at UCF. Jindal is not alone in his passion for athe sport. Badminton, a game of tactics, quick reactions, and fine touches, is the one of the most-played sports in the world. In many Asian countries such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and Japan, badminton is a hugely popular choice for a recreational activity. When the sport’s popularity reached the U.S., many badminton facilities, such as the ClearOne Badminton Centre, were first built in communities with Asian American populations. “It really started in the San Francisco Bay area in California, partly because of the influx of the Asian population in those communities,” said Robert Wilson, a co-owner of the ClearOne Badminton Centre in Orlando. “San Francisco has a large Chinese population, a large Indonesian population, and the sport of badminton is very popular within those ethnic groups.” Most younger-generation Asian Americans, like Jindal, learned about badminton through their parents. Sanchita Pandey, a 14-year-old rising junior badminton champion from Virginia, became familiar with the sport after casually playing with her parents and neighbors. “I started [playing badminton] when I was nine,” said Pandey. “My mom said I was actually pretty good at hitting the bird, so she found this local place that just started up, and I started training there.”


In 2014 and 2015, Pandey became the first girl from the East Coast to ever have won the Junior National Championships. In 2016, Pandey was ranked number-one nationally in girls’ singles and girls’ doubles in her age group. Pandey has high hopes for her future as a professional athlete. “I want to play for the U.S. I want to play in the Olympics. I want to play in the world championships,” said Pandey. Since becoming an official Olympic sport in 1992, badminton quickly became a well-established professional sport in European and Asian countries. In the U.S., however, badminton is still a “tap-tap” game with a less-than-athletic reputation.

IT IS A SPORT THAT HAS YET TO BE ANYTHING CLOSE TO REALIZING ITS POTENTIAL WITHIN THE U.S. “The badminton that Americans know is the backyard badminton, which is just playing slow,” said Hendry Winarto, head coach of the ClearOne Badminton Centre in Orlando. “But we all know that badminton is the fastest [racket] sport in the world.” Team USA, a team that has made its fans proud with numerous Olympic medals in sports such as track-and-field, basketball, and swimming, has yet to bring home a medal in badminton. According to the 2016 New York Times article “Badminton Patron and His Grandson Seek an Elusive Medal for the U.S.,” the lack of name recognition and financing prevent U.S. badminton

from shining on the international stage. “Whenever we go to international tournaments like [Pan-American], we have to pay for our own flight, hotel, and everything,” said Pandey. “The U.S., they don’t pay for us. Money is usually the biggest problem.” Since the early 2000s, there have been huge efforts to expose badminton to the general community in the U.S. “It is a sport that has yet to be anything close to realizing its potential within the U.S.,” said Wilson. USA Badminton, the recognized national body for governing badminton, is working with the Badminton World Federation for opportunities to introduce badminton to youth. Facilities like ClearOne have already begun giving demonstrations at local elementary schools and hosting tournaments specifically for junior players. At the 2016 Summer Olympics, the U.S. sent their biggest-ever, sevenmember badminton team that included the world-ranked Howard Shu and Iris Wang. Even though the U.S. failed to set foot on the podium, the fire for badminton had been lit. With the strong interest from the Asian American community, the world-class coaching at facilities on the East and West Coasts, and the commitment to train younger generations of badminton players, the rise of the backyard “tap-tap” game as one of America’s favorite sports is only a matter of time. “There is no reason why the U.S. can’t produce the next world-champion in badminton,” said Wilson. “If the top athletes start winning in the Olympics, everyone is going to start tuning in to the sport of badminton.”

celebrations of diversity Asian religious festivals and their incorporation into American society BY MEGAN PALM Splashes of vibrancy, explosions of vivid hues dust the faces of everyone around you. The spirit of a nation celebrating together with everyone—your neighbors, family, friends—joining in on the camaraderie. The bursts of color that unite an entire nation and people across the globe in the celebration of the beginning of spring. For many Hindus, this is Holi, the festival with perhaps the biggest spotlight in Western media. Beyond its religious significance and global popularity, Holi is a celebration outside of social or economic status, said distinguished professor of Hindu Studies Vasudha Narayanan, Ph.D. According to Narayanan, “(Holi) is also an equalizer at a time in which hierarchies are forgotten.” Religious ceremonies and festivals are an opportunity to celebrate their heritage and remind themselves of their values. For diverse religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, practicing these events in America can sometimes lead to more uniformed practices. It can also be a time to simply enjoy the season and bring people together. HINDUISM Holi To Anjelika Chatwal, University of Florida senior and 2015-2016 I n d i a n Student

a story by the university of central florida Photos by Falisha Kurji // Design by Kathy Xie

Association co-director of the Holi celebration at the University of Florida, Holi is a colorful celebration with a relaxed and fun atmosphere. Among the primary aspects of the celebration, people gather at the event not just to throw pigments of color and spray each other with water, but also to spend time with friends, listen to Indian music and eat Krishna lunch, Chatwal said. The celebration even attracts local families from around Gainesville and people who, like Chatwal herself before coming to UF, have never participated in Holi before. According to Chatwal, Holi is the culmination of ISA’s efforts to achieve “unity through diversity.” As a religion, Hinduism is exceptionally diverse and deeply tied to cultural, political and social issues, Narayanan said. Consequently, like Buddhism and Islam, Hinduism’s practices vary across different regions. Deities According to Praveen Varanasi, president of the UF Indian Student Association, some holidays transcend geographical boundaries and are celebrated across much of South Asia and even within


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America, such as Holi, Diwali (Deepavali) or Navratri. But the celebration of individual deities, such as the birthday of Ganesh, vary among communities. Despite variances in these holidays, the central themes of Hindu celebrations remain the same. According to Varanasi, the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness is a prevailing cause for celebration. Many Hindu holiday traditions are deeply interlaced with Hindu mythology, such as the tales of battles within the Ramayana. Varanasi performed a reenactment of these tales as a child. To him, it represented the encapsulation of all things Hindu and allowed him to experience the ideals espoused by Hinduism on a much more personal level. “I was too young at the time to completely understand it, but to interact with these teachings as a child makes you feel a lot closer to the ideas that, sort of, created Hinduism.” Many of the ideals in Hindu texts are the same, despite the regional differences. “The thing is in India, we all celebrate the same festival, but we may call it by different names, and we may celebrate it for different reasons and even have different stories,” Narayanan said.


Funerals and Weddings In the United States, a more generic and synergetic form of Hinduism exists, Narayanan said. Even when performing Hindu rituals that are a part of wedding or death ceremonies—both involve a ritual specialist’s recitation of ancient mantras or verses from holy texts such as the Bhagavad Gita. At Hindu funerals, for example, the body is burned and offerings are made to it in order to ease the transition of the soul into the next life, as dictated by the central Hindu concept of reincarnation, Varanasi said. According to Narayanan, “the soul discards the human body like the human being discards clothes and gets new ones…until the soul liberates itself from this cycle of life and death.” At weddings, too, certain central practices are easily replicated within the United States, such as the exchange of flower garlands. However, Narayanan said many of the specific traditions done by a particular community may be lost. This is due partly to the fact that many American Hindus may not be able to locate a priest from their specific region of India. Instead, Narayanan said that the majority of Hindus will accept any priest they can find in an attempt to make their experience as authentic as possible and to preserve as much of their local traditions as they can. BUDDHISM This blending of many sects of a religion into a more secularized form is also evident in the ways Buddhism is practiced throughout the United States. Like Hinduism,

the practices of Buddhism differ significantly among regions and countries, due largely to differences in history and tradition. According to UF Buddhist Studies Professor Mario Poceski, Ph.D., the Communist rule in China, for example, led to the repression of religion for many years. In Taiwan or Japan, regions with no history of religious persecution, Poceski said that the notion of religion is more fluid. Asian American Buddhists are also searching for ways to recreate the culture and a sense of community, Poceski said. “When Chinese immigrants go to Buddhist temples, they actually want to recreate certain aspects of the culture and environment they left behind,” the Buddhist studies professor said. “They want to eat Taiwanese food or speak a certain dialect, and they want to have traditional rituals. They really try to recreate a certain sense of space, community and involvement that they’d find in their home country.” Poeski also suggests American society proves hospitable for religious expression and for Buddhism in particular due to Buddhism’s ability to adapt to people’s expectations, as well as its basic similarities to Christianity. Practicing Buddhism UF senior Tan Ho also sees Buddhism’s flexibility and lack of strict guidelines as an advantage. To him, Buddhism is a way of life rather than a rigid set of religious beliefs, with its central concepts helping to guide his daily behavior towards others. “I am a firm believer in karma,” the fourth-year biology major said. “My parents taught me to treat people they way

I THINK THE BIGGEST THING (BUDDHISM) HAS TAUGHT ME IS TO BE EMPATHETIC, TO NEVER JUDGE PEOPLE BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THEY’RE GOING you want to be treated. I think the biggest thing (Buddhism) has taught me is to be empathetic, to never judge people because I don’t know exactly what they’re going through. It really taught me to be more understanding and patient.” For David Robinson-Morris, Ph.D., the central aspects of Buddhism include the interconnectedness of humanity, idea of inter-being and the non-self and importance of selfawareness. As a practicing Catholic and Buddhist and educator, Robinson-Morris incorporates these concepts into his daily life and his classroom at Xavier University of Louisiana. He is part of a group of faculty experimenting with, as he said, “contemplative pedagogy.” The group works to implement practices, rooted in Buddhist ideas such as meditation or breathing exercises within its classrooms to allow its students to better dispel anxiety and develop mindfulness. Although the practices are non-spiritual within the classroom environment, they reflect the ideas of Buddhism and Ubuntu, Robinson-Morris said. Ubuntu is a South African philosophy and spirituality that is similar to Buddhism in that, according to Robinson-Morris, it is essentially the notion that “I am because you are.” “You could not be a human alone,” the Xavier University Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations said. “The idea of no-self is not that you don’t exist, it’s this



SPRING 2017 | issue 12 idea — here in Western Society, we talk about ‘I’ a lot. In Buddhism and Ubuntu, we talk a lot about ‘we,’ the realization that you’re not alone, that everything is connected and that what I do affects everyone around me.”

“STOPPING AND MAKING ONE’S PRAYERS AND BEING COGNIZANT OF THE IMPORTANCE OF CHARITY, THAT CERTAINLY IS AN Festivals IMPORTANT PART OF MY Many East Asian Buddhist and Shinto festivals are very much ingrained LIFE.” in the culture of specific locations. According to Poceski, such celebrations are regional festivals where there is a religious dimension, for example, those hosted by individual monasteries commemorating different deities. One such festival that draws from both religious and regional elements is Japan’s Obon. Reflective of the ancient Chinese tradition of ancestor worship but with Buddhist meaning, Obon is a festival that commemorates one’s ancestors, Poceski said. Although the monolithic nature of Buddhism and its fluidity and conceptual similarity to Christianity thus enables it to coexist in larger society, the celebration of Buddhist holidays undoubtedly differs from Asia to America. ISLAM As one of the three Abrahamic religions, Islam is historically similar to Christianity and Judaism, said UF Islamic Studies Professor Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Ph.D. According to Simmons, Muslims recognize Biblical figures such as Moses and Jesus as a prophet, while Islam itself contains a similar emphasis on kindness, worship and the oneness of God (the Islamic concept of tawhid). To Simmons, religious principles such as Salat, one of the five pillars of Islam that mandates prayer five times daily, has helped guide her daily life. Zakat, the Islamic pillar widely interpreted as charity or service, has also led the UF professor to practice generosity in her own life, as she donates much of her earnings to charity. “I think that stopping and making one’s prayers and being cognizant of the importance of charity, that certainly

is an important part of my life,” the Islamic Studies professor said. “For practicing Muslims, all of these things are very important, and if one has the right attitude, I think it can be lifechanging. For those who are sincere, I think it is a wonderful religion to help one live a very good life and to be kind and considerate of other people.” Eid One of the most prominent Islamic holidays is Eid, which occurs twice a year and once after Ramadan (Eid alFitr). Ramadan is a time when Muslims can get more in touch with religious and spiritual identity and connect with their communities, UF senior Nashrah Ahmed said. The month-long ritual based on the Muslim lunar calendar is essentially an extended period of fasting meant to strengthen one’s connection with God. Its ending is commemorated with a celebration of feasts and prayers in which the entire Islamic community participates, Simmons said. According to an article for “The Guardian” by Aisha Gani, from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, Muslims neither eat nor drink and also abstain from other activities, such as sex, smoking cigarettes and using foul language. During this month of fasting, resisting one’s physical desires is believed to foster patience and generosity as many Muslims are able to develop a deeper understanding of the lives of the less privileged. Practicing in America As with Hindus, Muslims within the United States may often feel as though the American public lacks knowledge about their religion and

practices and can form generalizations or stereotypes related to their religious identities. Especially for Muslims who have observed or practiced the religion in other countries, the smaller population of Muslims in the U.S. may at times limit widespread community involvement, depending on where they live in America. In Muslim-majority Pakistan, for example, the call to prayer is broadcasted across the streets and there is a mosque on every corner, Ahmed said. Although Ahmed notes that there are prayer rooms at UF and many organizations that contribute to the university’s inclusiveness of minority religions, as well as a large Muslim community in Orlando, there are still generalizations about Islam that occur. In America and parts of Asia, Arab culture is often seen as Muslim, the political science major said. However, it seems that the prominence of religious minorities in America is growing. According to a Pew Research Center demographic study, approximately 5.9 percent of U.S. citizens identified with a non-Christian religion as of the 2014 census. This rate increased 1.2 percentage points from the data collected in 2007, the study calculated. The exchange and transfer of cultural and religious ideas suggests the need for greater inclusiveness and tolerance, especially in mainstream American society where there is an ample platform. The answer, they seem to think, lies in acceptance, unity through diversity and perhaps most importantly, education. “Education, as we well know, deeply impacts who the person becomes in the world,” Robinzon-Morris said. “You have to make a decision, at some point, if that person is who you want to be.”



right outlet BY ALLISON MIEHL


he comedy business is not always funny. It’s not even always fun. Orlando comedian Sadi von Brown can attest to that. Through his three years of doing stand-up, he’s experienced some moments that might make a person cry rather than laugh. “I went through the thing of trying to get on the list and being last, and only performing to two people,” von Brown, a Bangladeshi American, said. “That’s the soul-crushing part of the industry.” Many comedians can attest to the brutal nature of stand-up comedy. There’s the challenge of finding a place to perform—open mics are an option, but they have their own limitations. Then, there’s the risk that a joke won’t elicit any response, which is daunting for comedians, who thrive off the audience’s laughter. “There’s just so many opportunities to bomb,” said Marie Howlett, a Filipino American who started doing stand-up in Orlando in 2011. But it’s still an important outlet for Asian Pacific Islander American comedians, where they can talk about difficult topics in a setting they can control. Enter producers Koji Steven Sakai and Quentin Lee. They created a show called Comedy InvAsian, which consists of six APIA comedians who each do their own special in California. Sakai and Lee record the specials, then post them online. The show provides a platform for Asian American comedians who have content but a story by the university of central florida

nowhere to share it. “Comedy InvAsian is a series of 60-minute comedy specials by Asian Pacific Island Americans,” Sakai said. “We have six comedians: Paul Kim, Kevin Yee, Atsuko [Okatsuka], Joey Guila, Robin Tran, and Amy Hill. It’s a very diverse group of people within the Asian American community.” Sakai and Lee shared their thoughts about Asian Americans in

TRANSFORMING IT INTO SOMETHING COMEDIC, IT JUST MADE IT EASIER TO TALK ABOUT. comedy and talked about the growth of the community’s presence in entertainment. “Ten years ago, the idea of Asian American was very different,” Sakai said. “You couldn’t even imagine ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ or ‘Dr. Ken’ or any of these shows on television, and now you’re seeing that.” “Fresh Off the Boat” was the first American TV show to feature an Asian American family since Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl” ran for a season in 1994. “Dr. Ken” followed shortly after, making it two shows about Asian American families after a long spell of nothing—but why both comedies?

Part of the answer, according to Lee, is that comedies draw the biggest audiences. “Comedy is a genre that most people like,” he said. So APIA writers can use comedy to gain viewers and give them insight into the APIA experience. For von Brown, comedy is a way to deal with the topics that make us angry. “There’s no point in being mad over something you have no control over,” he said. “You gotta laugh at it.” When Howlett started doing stand-up in Orlando, she said, a lot of her material dealt with problems she was living with. “I could share my story, and so sharing my story was cathartic,” Howlett said. “Transforming it into something comedic, it just made it easier to talk about.” For both comedians, talking about life struggles in a comedic setting helped them deal with and overcome their problems emotionally. Von Brown and Howlett illustrate the power comedy has to allow people to confront sad or traumatic experiences. “I think that’s why you see a lot of great comedy from typically oppressed or disenfranchised groups,” Howlett said. By laughing at an otherwise troubling scenario, comedians can remove the power from the situation and place it back in themselves. Comedy InvAsian has given that power to other APIA stand-ups; along with other outlets like TV shows and film, APIA comedians have a number of ways to turn trying times into funny lines. illustration/Ebone Grayson


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SPRING 2017 | issue 12

gathering for identity


About 800 student delegates representing colleges across the East Coast gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina, for two days of workshops, discussions, performances and networking in late February for the 2017 East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) Conference. ECAASU traces its roots back to a gathering of Asian American students at Yale University in 1977. Initially called the Intercollegiate Liaison Committee, it aimed to increase communication between organizations across campuses. They formed a conference at Princeton the next year and was eventually renamed ECAASU after 27 conferences at 20 different college campuses. It became a nonprofit in 2008. Today, it stands as the “the oldest and largest Asian American student conference in the nation,” according to its website. “We wanted to make sure that we had a theme that we could implement something where we’re not only reflecting but we’re also doing some kind of action. That was really important to us,” said Conference Director Samantha Lin. This year’s conference theme was “Atmosphere.” “We came up with ‘Atmosphere’ because we thought it was really important for people to explore their social and political context,” Lin said. “But at the same time, we wanted to make sure that people were thinking about our past atmosphere ... our history and how it affects our current atmosphere, and from there, what can we actually do, what steps we can take to make a future atmosphere.” The conference took place at North Carolina State University’s McKimmon Center for Extension & Continuing Education and featured many keynote speakers throughout the weekend. The opening ceremony started off

2017 East Coast Asian American Student Union Conference


with an introduction from Li-Chen Chin, Ph.D., Assistant Vice President for Intercultural Programs at Duke University and Duane K. Larick, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Strategy and Resource Management at NCSU. Afterward, Loan Tran, an activist who rallied against North Carolina’s HB2 bathroom law, spoke about the lessons learned from the experience. Jaiyah Saelua, the first openly transgender player to compete in a men’s FIFA World Cup qualifier, also shared the story of her path to FIFA, and about the differences between her native Samoan culture and American culture in perceptions toward transgender individuals. Campaign Manager for Legal Process for the Center for American Progress, Anisha Singh, spoke about her path toward advocacy work. Singh

made note of the increase of hate speech and crimes during recent years and also mentioned the fear after the 2016 presidential election. Philip Wang and Wesley Chan from Wong Fu Productions wrapped up the night, talking about their experiences with Asian Americans and how they chose career paths that don’t match with Asian stereotypes. The following day started with more speakers. ECAASU Executive Director Kathryn Quintin talked about her personal experience as a former attendee and how those experiences led to her involvement on ECAASU’s national board. Vimala Rajendran, from Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe in Chapel Hill, told the story of how she became an award-winning chef and business owner, managing a cafe that both pays a living


wage and never turns anyone away. Then attendees went their separate ways to workshops of their choice. The conference organized its workshops under three different, sequential themes. The first set of workshops fell under the theme “Interdependence - Between Us” and discussed issues concerning APIA Affairs. The workshops explored issues such as including the pan-Asian community, otherness, mental health and building cross-campus relations. Students then attended more workshops, this time with the theme of “Intersection - Beside Us.” These workshops focused on the relationship between the APIA community and other marginalized groups. Workshops included “Islamophobia and Allyship,” “Q&A with a Queer & Asian” and “Korean-Black History in the US.” “I really enjoyed it. I thought that it was good at providing a space for API students,” said Nikki Manderico, a sophomore at Elon University. “I just wish the workshops were longer so we could have gone deeper.” The final set of workshops

were organized under the theme of “Interaction - Beyond Us” and discussed solutions to problems stemming from outside the APIA community and its allies. Protecting immigrants, confronting anti-blackness and APIA representation in the arts were a few of the many topics covered. After the three workshops, conference attendees then broke up into discussion groups to provide a space for individuals to discuss issues, connect with each other and share ideas about how to create positive change. Among the 15 caucuses were “Queer/ LGBTQIA+,” “Womxn,” “Mental Health,” “Non-traditional student” and “Pacific Islander.” “I would say that if I could improve on anything, I would of course love to have more content. Two days is short. I wish I could do more, but of course that’s more of a feasibility thing, more than anything,” Conference Director Samantha Lin said. Performances included awardwinning spoken word poets, Kat Tan and G Yamazawa; UNC-Chapel Hill’s coed dance team, Chalkaa; and Lydia

WE THOUGHT IT WAS REALLY IMPORTANT FOR PEOPLE TO EXPLORE THEIR SOCIAL AND POLITICAL CONTEXT Paek, a Korean American Singer. “I think that this conference has been one of the best conferences I’ve attended,” said ECAASU Executive Director Kathryn Quintin. “I think they’ve done an amazing job at programing.”



SPRING 2017 | issue 12

embracing self-love

living in the




aring for the mind and body is a daily responsibility that many people struggle with. Self-love involves an association with what we do to take care of ourselves, how we view ourselves, and how we reveal ourselves to the world. “Self-love is a direct connection with self-care, self-esteem, and confidence,” said JR Kuo, program director of National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association, in a phone interview. Mental health is considered taboo in many Asian cultures, and as a result, Asian Americans tend to deny or neglect their symptoms. Due to the high and often unachievable expectations many Asian Americans experience, they may have a hard time loving themselves. “It has to do with family pressure and family expectations,” Kuo said, concerning Asian Americans who struggle with selflove. “It has to do with low selfesteem, and that we are minorities.” A study done by Fordham University on parent-child conflict among Asian American parents, using a sample from New York City, discovered a cultural rift. Parents who gravitated toward their own cultural values and practices were more likely to have less parental nurturance and more conflicts with their children. Another article, published by Boston University Today in 2015, examined the role parenting has on mental health. Parents may build a mentality of “We went into debt

for you, you owe us money, you need to pay us back,” pressuring their children into doing well. Othelia Jumapao, a self-identifying Filipinx student majoring in English with a minor in Asian American Studies at the University of Florida, has experienced pressure to meet family expectations as well.In a phone interview, she said that members of her family primarily have jobs in the medical field, so she was pressured to become a doctor just like her mom. As a result, Jumapao

“IT’S NOT UNTIL I WAS WINNING THINGS, AND GETTING AWARDS AND RECOGNITIONS, DID MY FAMILY START TO SUPPORT ME.” was forced to justify her love for English to her family, especially her mom. Jumapao recalled her family speaking in an unsupportive manner, and it deeply disheartened her. “It’s not until I was winning things, and getting awards and recognitions, did my family start to support me,” she said. It was difficult for Jumapao to branch away from tradition and the ideals of her parents. In her struggle over self-worth, Jumapao felt “the pressure to be perfect, or to be someone else.” She found herself questioning, “Who am I if I’m not a valedictorian?” The pressure to fit the model minority myth, or the stereotype of the highachieving, academically successful

Asian, greatly affected her mental health. In addition, Jumapao struggled with personal identity issues. In the past, she had been mistaken as Mexican or Chinese, and she felt she didn’t fit the image of a light-skinned “cool and pretty” Asian. She questioned who she was in terms of race and ethnicity. These combined pressures contributed to her depression and low self-esteem. For Jumapao, keeping notes that people wrote for her and talking to her mom, grandma, and friends helped her cope with her depression and begin her journey to self-love. Suzanne Komanski, a University of Central Florida psychology senior and Active Minds officer, made a connection between airplane safety and self-love. “When things become out of control on an airplane, the oxygen masks drop down for our safety,” said Komanski. “We’re always instructed to put on our own masks first before assisting anyone else. The same can be said for life. You can’t help anyone, or love anyone, until you love yourself first.” For Othelia Jumapao, she is learning to accept and love herself more each day.

illustration/Ebone Grayson

a story by the university of central florida


n today’s fast-paced, order-driven world, we are constantly shoved into boxes for the sake of efficiency. Biracial and multiracial individuals, in particular, know this struggle too well. This type of racial compartmentalization compromises individuality and identity. When we are forced to exist as black and white on paper, our cultural intricacies are ignored. This piece features multiracial students who detail their experience in living IN THE MIX. Quotes collected by Maya Punjwani Photos by Ashley Williams Design by Kathy Xie

“PEOPLE ASSUME I’M INDIAN because I look brown, but I identify as Malaysian. Sometimes I’m confused as to what to say, but I was born in Malaysia, so I go ahead and say I’m Malaysian. One time, I saw a box to check off that said ‘Malaysian’ and I got really excited because I had never seen that before.

—mamtha jaswanthkumar

“I ALWAYS THINK BEFORE CHECKING THE RACE BOX. My dad says to just pick “white,” but that doesn’t represent the whole of me. I think the whole thing is getting outdated since more people are born mixed now. When I was younger, I didn’t even realize I was mixed because I don’t think those things matter when you are younger.”

—coral laney


SPRING 2017 | issue 12

My parents did a good job of raising me with both the Chinese and Yugoslavian or Croatian cultures. I am more white passing, but I try to let people know I’m not 100 percent white. I had no Asian friends in middle school, and people would come up to my friends and ask what I was instead of directly asking me, which I hated. They would ask, ‘Is she Alaskan?’ When I told people what I was, they didn’t believe me.

—petrana radulovic

“BEING [BIRACIAL] makes me feel different from anyone else. As I’ve been getting older, I am more likely to claim my three identities of being Turkish, Taiwanese and American. I have been coming to terms with my sense of identity…I flip between saying if I am Turkish or American. Sometimes I tell people ‘I’m American, just like you,’ but it really depends on my sass that day.

—irfan kovankaya

When you look at someone, you can usually tell what they are, but for me, it’s different. I’m African American and Filipino, but my Filipino side is more pronounced since I’m a part of the Filipino Student Association and I’m around those students more.

—erika dennison



To say that President Donald Tr ump’s election to office has stirred a flurr y of reactions is an understatement, and suc h a contro versial and histor ic al election poses the question of where Asian Amer ic ans fit in a post-Tr ump Amer ic a. President Donald Tr ump’s r hetor ic a bout immigr ation, inc luding a tr avel ban that targeted Muslim-major it y countr ies, has created mixed emotions in the Asian Amer ic an communit y. S ince his victor y in the No vember, Tr ump’s presidenc y has been met with dr astic al l y diff erent emotions from the Amer ic an public as a whole. No other Amer ic an president has taken office with an appro val r ating as low as President Tr ump’s – at 45 percent, according to Gal lup. And his presidential inaugur ation was met with an unusual mix of celebr ations and protests. In pre-election sur ve y s conducted by the National Asian Amer ic an S ur ve y (NAAS), Asian Amer ic ans reacted strongl y against immigr ation bans pur por ted l y targeting Muslims. Now the y appear to be voting along the same direct ion. “Asians demogr aphic al l y look like the y should be Republic an, but the y ’re predominat el y Democr atic, ”


said S tephen Cr aig, a politic al science prof essor at UF study ing voter attitudes in the U.S. Most hold consistentl y progressive vie ws on a my r iad of issues, inc luding healthc are, educ ation and r acism, according to the NAAS. Tr ump has not pol led wel l with Republic an Asian Amer ic ans either. The Asian Amer ic an L egal Def ense and Educ ation Fund repor ted that the Republic an Asian Amer ic an voters crosso ver to the Democr atic c andidate increased by 6.2 percent since the last election, and that 7.6 percent of Republic an Asian Amer ic ans did not vote f or their par t y ’s c andidate. The NAAS repor ted in ear l y October 2016 that al l national or igin groups that tested in its sur ve y, inc luding tr aditional l y Republic an groups suc h as V ietnamese Amer ic ans, al l pref ered Clinton o ver Tr ump. Like many tr aditional l y Republic an-leaning Asian Amer ic ans, Matthe w W ilson, a 22-year old psyc holog y major at UF, does not f eel he c an currentl y suppor t Tr ump. “ I stil l think it ’s too ear l y to be either afr aid or joyous that he won the election, but if he keeps going in the route that he is going, the gamble that a lot of people took wil l be a bad one, ” W ilson said.

W ilson belie ves t hat many issues that Tr ump has brought up – national secur it y, border secur it y – need addressing, but the manner in whic h Tr ump has tr ied to address them has been too br az en f or him in both language and polic y. “ I like the fact he is shaking

I STILL THINK IT’S TOO EARLY TO BE EITHER AFRAID OR JOYOUS THAT HE WON THE ELECTION, things up, but … he is not shaking them in the r ight way, ” W ilson said. “ He needs to lear n to compromise more. ” O thers are more opposed to Tr ump and his policies. Pr aveen Var anasi is the president of the Indian S tudents Association at UF. As a suppor ter of Ver mont S enator Ber nie S anders dur ing the Democr atic Presidential pr imar ies, Var anasi has staunc hl y diff erent vie ws than W ilson on a number of issues. He ec hoes many of W ilson’s complaints with Tr ump’s r hetor ic, but unlike W ilson,

“I hope Americans have the ability to stand up to him”

who said he belie ves that Tr ump has the r ight hear t, Var anasi said he belie ves Tr ump is “ legitimatel y … not qualified ” to be president, in ter ms of his c har acter and temper ament. He cited the Tr ump biogr apher and ghost w r iter of the 1987 book “ Tr ump: The Ar t of the Deal, ” Tony S c hwar tz who c har acter iz ed Tr ump to the Ne w Yorker magazine as self-centered. “ It seems like he ’s just play ing this c har acter to r ile people, ” Var anasi said. According to Var anasi, what audiences see on stage and T V is tr ul y Tr ump, “e ven when he is alone with his famil y … that is him. ” O thers are f ear ful of the president ’s anti-Muslim r hetor ic. Islam’s fr iend was one of many people who were immensel y shoc ked by Tr ump’s election. “ I know one of my fr iends who f elt she couldn’t get out of bed, ” said R ubab Islam, President of the Pakistani S tudents Association (PSA) at UF, speaking about the day af ter the U.S. presidential election. Islam said she belie ved Tr ump, especial l y his c ampaign comments, had been dangerous f or the countr y. S he noted ne ws repor ts of increased antiMuslim hate speec h and hate cr imes dur ing the presidential c ampaign. Ne ver theless, she did not think Tr ump could f easibl y act on many of his suggestions. Then, on Jan. 27, 2017, President Tr ump signed an executive order banning

non-U.S. citiz ens from se ven Muslim-major it y nations. And f or others, Tr ump was initial l y a sign of needed c hange. “ W hat I hoped was that he ’d be moder ate, hoped that a lot of his ideas would be bac ked with e vidence, ” said Bhar at Malhotr a, 19, secondyear biolog y major at UF. Malhotr a who voted f or a w r ite-in c andidate now belie ves there ’s no point in hoping Tr ump c hanges his vie ws. At first, Malhotr a was

AFTER YOU TRAVERSE A CERTAIN THRESHOLD, YOU HAVE TO SAY ‘I CAN NO LONGER JUSTIFY WHAT A MAN IS SAYING. open to Tr ump’s c andidac y. W hile he suppor ted F lor ida S enator Marco R ubio in the ear l y presidential pr imar ies, he f elt Tr ump brought up tr ade issues that had been neglected f or a long time. Malhotr a despised the Clinton tr ade deals of the 1990s, and his exper ience tr aveling in f oreign cities suc h as S hanghai and D ubai and Amer ic an cities suc h as Miami

onl y highlighted his belief that Amer ic an inter national business and tr ade policies were unfair toward Amer ic ans. At first, Malhotr a was not deepl y bothered by Tr ump’s statements. W hile he belie ves social issues are impor tant, he f eels politicians distr act from ser ious polic y questions with “a f e w sweet words. ” Then in June 2016, the P ulse shooting occurred. Watc hing Tr um p seemingl y congr atulate himself on predicting the massacre, Malhotr a f elt he could no longer vote f or Tr ump. “Af ter you tr averse a cer tain threshold, you have to say ‘ I c an no longer justify what a man is say ing. ’” Malhotr a hopes that Tr ump c hanges course on many of his ear l y actions, inc luding his policies, his r hetor ic and his politic al appointments. “And if he doesn’t, I hope Amer ic ans have the abilit y to stand up to him, e ver y second of the way. ” For many Asian Amer ic ans, the next f our years wil l be c har acter iz ed by deep personal concer n, as wel l as concer n f or others potential l y impacted by the Tr ump administr ation. Islam worr ies that while Pakis tan was not inc luded in Tr um p’s immigr ation ban, as a Muslim-major it y nation, it could be added later. But she added, “there ’s hope in that minor ities are al l stic king together already. ”


Sparks Magazine

SPRING 2017 | issue 12

the brown-yellow dichotomy: an op-ed on division in the apia community


t ’s time for the Asian Pacific Islander American community to end the dominance of the ‘yellow’ Asians’ reclamation over brown Asian/Pacific Islander activism. Too often, the APIA community sees the term ‘yellow’ used for the APIA experience. We see it everywhere; yellow peril and yellow fever are terms used, both reclaimed and not, by and against the Asian American community. But to be politically correct, it should only apply to East Asians. So why is it overshadowing Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Pacific Islander activism? In the 18th century, zoologist and botanist Carl Linnaeus classified humans

into four major races: Europeanus, Asiaticus, Africanus, and Americanus. Each were given the four respective color distinctions: white, yellow, black, and red. As an afterthought, he added brown for the ‘Malays’ which consisted of Polynesians, Melanesians, and Australian aborigines. These color variations directly supported scientific racism and still affect race relations today. The division between East Asians and the rest of the Asian ethnicities is clear, but in America there is no distinction apparent to non-Asians. The 2010 U.S. Census recognizes two distinct races that constitute the APIA community: Asian or Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander. The issue is not that all Asian Americans are lumped into the “Asian” race descriptor; the issue lies in the fact that this allows for East Asians to dominate the narrative for Asian Americans. And to be extremely clear, there is no issue with the East Asian American experience. The issue is with it being portrayed as the sole Asian American experience. In the 1970s, East Asian Americans founded and fueled the ‘yellow power’ movement which strongly mirrored the ‘black power’ movement. Filipino Americans particularly felt excluded by the ‘yellow power’ moniker and aligned themselves with Latino movements or splintered into ‘brown causes.’ In the 1968 “Are You Yellow?” student

conference at the University of California - Los Angeles, more than one hundred attendees of various Asian ethnicities conferred on the ‘yellow’ and Asian American identity. It was four years later that only the Filipino caucus voted on identifying as ‘brown’ rather than ‘yellow.’ Even now, we’re seeing a deliberate exclusion of South Asians and Southeast Asians from the Asian American narrative. During the month of October in 2016, the New York Times published a video cataloguing Asian American stories of racism, all collected through the #ThisIs2016 social media campaign. Every single person featured in the video aside from one at the very end was East Asian.The last person featured was a woman who disclosed her Filipino ethnicity. In reaction to the video, an open letter penned by several prominent South and Southeast Asians was published on the Huffington Post. The authors asked why they had been neglected and severely underrepresented when the demographics ovf the Asian American population didn’t align with the demographics of the video. The APIA community is allowing itself to be divided and dominated by a fraudulent and dangerous racial categorization by someone not even of Asian descent. We as a community are constantly


50 40

30 20 10 0 Chinese



% of Asian American Population

trying to prove that not all Asian Americans are Chinese or Japanese, but it’s apparent we need to now clarify that not everyone is even East Asian. The APIA community is multifaceted and diverse; it’s because of these qualities that we praise and celebrate our heritage. We need to move past the trend of one Asian American narrative if we are to maintain the power in our activism. To do so otherwise is dangerous, and it allows non-Asians to view us as a one-dimensional race. We certainly have the right to reclaim the ‘yellow’ and ‘brown’ label, but we must never use them as umbrella terms for a community that constitutes nearly a hundred different ethnicities. Let’s be mindful that Asian Americans are ‘brown’




% of NYT Asian American News Stories

and ‘yellow’; there are South and Southeast Asians, and there are East Asians. Divided, we each celebrate our differences and fight for our ethnic-specific situations of injustice. But together, we have the power of millions to make a change against collective anti-Asian racism.

graph source/Huffingtonpost graph & illustration/Ebone Grayson

a story by the university of central florida



SPRING 2017 | issue 12

military force Asian Americans recount their experiences in the U.S. military


BY MAYA PUNJWANI Photos courtesy of Emelita Valenzuela


rom Purple Heart veteran Tammy Duckworth to American soldier Humayun Khan, Asian Americans in the U.S. military have made recent headlines. There was a great deal of controversy when Senator Duckworth’s opponent, Mark Kirk, in the Illinois senate race, made a jab at her by saying that “he forgot (her) parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.” The public did not receive this comment positively, and many deemed it as inappropriate, factually incorrect and an insult to Duckworth’s long family history in the U.S. military. Army Capt. Humayun Khan was killed in Iraq in 2004 while shielding his troops from an explosion. His heroic act was highlighted at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in response to antiMuslim remarks made by then Presidentelect Donald Trump. Both events bring up the issue of Asian Americans’ long history in the U.S. military and how many serve today. Asian Americans make up four percent of the U.S. population and one percent of military recruits, according to Pew Research Center. Some are joining the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp (ROTC) program, which allows members to go to college and join the military simultaneously. Asian Americans have been serving in the United States since the War of 1812. According to Ken Mochizuki, a writer and historian, Asian Americans fought during the American Civil War, mainly in the U.S. Navy. In World War II, 50,000 people of Asian descent served in the U.S. forces, mostly being Japanese American, Chinese American and Filipino American. After the U.S.


military was desegregated in 1948, Asian Americans were able to serve together with others in the armed forces. Mochizuki said that the 1990 census listed over 80,000 Asian Americans in the U.S. military. “When I joined (the navy), I was very wary because I didn’t notice a lot of Asians joining the military,” said Maria Manansala, a 28-year-old member of the Navy from the Philippines. “It wasn’t common in America so I thought it was pretty cool that I was, I guess, a representative for the Asian community. But I didn’t join because I had any Asian role model.” Manansala works in the intelligence field, and she explained that when she meets Asians in other

branches, they tell her about their tight-knit group and life on the ship. “There are mainly white and black people in the military, but I can see that the military is trying to promote different ethnicities,” Manansala said. “I noticed that they (chose) me for some roles to diversify the situation.” Manansala said she was motivated to join the Navy in November 2012 because she was in a bad place in her life and was gaining a lot of weight. “I went to college for nursing, which most Filipinos do, and I found out I didn’t like it,” Manansala said. “I was also gaining a lot of weight at the time, and I saw the military as a way for me to both lose weight and

go back to school. I lost 40 to 50 pounds before joining.” She said that her dad was OK with her joining the military, which really surprised her. He thought she needed more direction in her life. On the other hand, her mom started researching the military online and worried about the many cases of sexual harassment with women in the military. Manansala said her mom is still worried but has gotten more used to the idea after seeing her daughter doing well. Jordan Sowden, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering major at UF, graduates from the ROTC program in May 2017. She explained how her grandfather, who retired from the Navy, Army and Air Force, has been a big role model in her life. “I wanted to join because I (heard) all these stories from when he was in the military and how it’s a great force to get into if you want to serve your country. There are great benefits that he talked to me about, and I started thinking about the military going into junior year in high school,” Sowden said. Sowden’s mother is from the Philippines, and her father is from Thailand. She said that the program is very good with diversity, and she feels very welcomed and has not had any struggles at all with being Asian in the military. She knows a Vietnamese person in her program and a few Filipino people.


Stefan Sanguyo, a 19-yearold criminology major in the ROTC program at UF, said that his decision to join the ROTC program was influenced by the fact that his parents, who migrated from the Philippines, were not able to serve, even though they probably would have liked to. He said that he sometimes gets intimidated and feels at a disadvantage since a lot of the people in the program already come from military backgrounds unlike him. However, his two brothers have now also enlisted in the military. “I came from a high school that

didn’t have many minorities, and I got used (to it),” Sanguyo said. “Then at UF, I joined the ROTC program, and it’s been hard for me to actually connect with people that aren’t of my race. I feel like I’m not included sometimes because a lot of people in ROTC aren’t minorities, and they can’t really relate to me with issues that relate to my ethnicity.” Vanessa Pagaduan, a 22-yearold from California, said that she definitely gets attention for her Filipino background. She joined the Air Force in 2012 because she wanted to get out of her hometown and see the world. She said she also



Sparks Magazine

SPRING 2017 | issue 12

open door, open opportunity gainesville as a welcoming city BY POOJA GUPTE


decided to join because she did not know what she wanted to do with her future and did not want to get herself into student debt. She said she has met one or two other Filipinos in the Air Force, which is less than one would find in the Navy. “A lot of people ask me if I know how to make lumpia (a Filipino dish) when they find out I’m Filipino, and I’m like, ‘yeah, I can make some pretty bomb lumpia,’” Pagaduan said. Pagaduan has a military history in her family since her great-grandfather served in World War II during the time of General Douglas MacArthur, which allowed him to move to America with his family. The Nationality Act of 1940 allowed “aliens who served honorably in the armed forces for three years or more [to] be naturalized as US

citizens,” according to Naval History and Heritage Command.

stationed in every continent except Africa.

Pagaduan said her parents were thrilled when she made her decision because they would not have to pay for college. However, her uncles and aunts did not understand her decision.

Valenzuela is half Filipino and half Irish. She said that being Asian did not make her hesitant to join. She explained that her branch is “pretty much a melting plot and not as segregated as it used to be.”

“They asked me why I didn’t just get student loans, but they didn’t understand that I didn’t feel confidence in myself to do that,” Pagaduan said. “A lot of my family just didn’t understand what was going on.” Emelita Valenzuela, a 34-yearold Navy intelligence specialist and instructor, reinforced the idea that any parent would probably be proud of a child who can join the military and pay off all their college loans. She has been able to travel a lot and has been

“I’ve worked with many Korean, Filipino and Chinese people in the Navy,” Valenzuela said. However, she did explain that there are not that many Filipinos that are specifically in the intelligence field. “My long-term goal is to make a difference in the military and leave something behind to the next generation. That’s one of the reasons I became an instructor in the military,” Valenzuela said.

"When I joined the navy, I was very wary because I didn't notice a lot of Asians joining the military." photo/VANESSA WONG

n Febr uar y 2016, Gainesvil le bec ame the first cit y in F lor ida to be gr anted the title of Welcoming Cit y. A Welcoming Cit y is one that is open to al l immigr ants and refugees and the positive impact it could potential l y have on the cit y. A sanctuar y cit y al lows undocumented immigr ants to live there without f ear of depor tation, while a Welcoming Cit y uses multiple aspects of public and pr ivate lif e to create an inc lusive communit y f or immigr ants. These titles have become e ven more signific ant dur ing a ne w politic al c limate. President Donald Tr ump’s first f e w months in office has been marked by many contro versial actions, suc h as barr ing refugees and tr avelers from cer tain Muslim-major it y countr ies, as wel l as increased sweeps of undocumented immigr ants and anti-immigr ant r hetor ic. The road to a welcoming cit y took about a year to establish. R andy Wel ls, a board member f or the Welcoming Gainesvil le committee, said that his committee was able to establish Welcoming Cit y status f or Gainesvil le by talking to the cit y commission and creating petitions. Howe ver, e ven af ter accomplishing its goal, Wel ls said that his organiz ation’s work is not finished. The Gainesvil le Welcoming committee continues to make sure al l immigr ants f eel welcome in the communit y by hosting e vents suc h as oneon-one language tables, whic h al low immigr ants to



Sparks Magazine

SPRING 2017 | issue 12

“In the current political climate, there has been a rejection of immigrants.” pr actice their English with a Gainesvil le native. These var ious social e vents and activities al low immigr ants and Gainesvil le loc als to meet and build relationships. The committee has also been a large f orce in posting signs across Gainesvil le that read “ W here ver you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor ” in English, S panish and Ar abic to create an atmosphere of inc lusion around the entire cit y. W hile the Gainesvil le Welcoming committee ’s actions have been influential in creating a more immigr antfr iend l y atmosphere, others argue that more needs to be done to protect immigr ants in Gainesvil le. Chr istian T ir ado, a Universit y of F lor ida third-year politic al science and histor y major, belie ves that immigr ants, both legal and il legal, need more protection on c ampus. “ In the current politic al c limate, t here has been a rejection of immigr ants, ” T ir ado said. His organiz ation, “Gators f or a S anctuar y Campus, ” has spear headed the mo vement to establish UF a “sanctuar y c ampus. ” A sanctuar y c ampus is defined as one that does not share personal inf or mation about students with immigr ation officials unless the y are required to by law. Once President Tr ump’s first tr avel ban was released within the first 100 day s of his presidenc y, the Gators f or a S anctuar y Campus was proactive and released a petition to make UF an official sanctuar y c ampus.

This petition, whic h got o ver 4,300 signatures in a month, al lowed the administr ation to see that many of its students are passionate about this subject. “ I think that some people do not whol l y understand what immigr ants have to off er, ” T ir ado said. This sentiment is ec hoed by junior Mohamed Faz al, the

NO MATTER WHAT RELIGION YOU ARE, IT IS OUR DUTY AS HUMAN BEINGS TO HELP OTHER HUMAN BEINGS REGARDLESS OF RACE publicist and histor ian f or S tudents O rganiz e f or S y r ia, a student organiz ation on c ampus dedic ated to helping S y r ian refugees. Faz al belie ves that if people are leaving their countr y f or a better lif e, the y should be able to go some where the y f eel comf or table. Faz al ’s strong opinions stem from his personal exper ience working with refugees in L esbos, Greece. Faz al volunteered in Greece to help refugees gain saf e passage into Europe af ter a f our-hour jour ne y by boat from Turke y. Faz al said that this process is extremel y long and c an of ten end in disappointment. Even af ter completing the

entire process, Faz al said that refugees c an stil l be denied from a countr y ’s border. This exper ience al lowed him to gain a firsthand understanding of the impor tance of the “ Welcoming Cit y ” and “S anctuar y Campus” mo vements. “ We wil l benefit from an open, strong relationship with other countr ies, ” Cit y Commissioner, Wel ls said. It ’s c lear that the students at UF, as wel l as the citiz ens of Gainesvil le, are beginning to r al l y in suppor t of immigr ants and refugees. W hile the y may face opposition, many say that it is impor tant to keep in mind the reason f or their eff or ts. “ Welcoming Gainesvil le is our investment f or the future of our c hildren, ” Wel ls said. Wel ls said he strongl y belie ves that immigr ants are a positive addition to the Amer ic an fabr ic. He also said he belie ves welcoming immigr ants and refugees wil l strengthen our relationships with other countr ies. “ No matter what religion you are, it is our dut y as human beings to help other human beings regard less of r ace, ” Faz al said.


reflections from refugees BY ALLISON MIEHL


sk them about their journeys to the United States, and you’ll get very similar answers: they fled Vietnam by boat at a young age, grew up as refugees in America, and now they write about their experiences. Authors Vu Tran and Viet Thanh Nguyen are part of a generation of Vietnamese Americans still dealing with the impact of the Vietnam War, and choosing fiction as a way of analyzing their experiences. TRANSLATING TRAUMA INTO FICTION Tran, author of the novel “Dragonfish” and other short stories, came to the U.S. at too young of an age to remember the move. But he went back to Vietnam as an adult—an experience that he says changed him and his writing. “Most of the stuff I wrote in grade school had nothing to do with the fact that I was Asian or Vietnamese or an immigrant,” he said in a phone interview. “But my trip to Vietnam in 1997 was the first time I visited Vietnam since I escaped in 1980. And it was a very transformative experience for me.” After returning from that trip, he started writing about Vietnamese characters in Vietnam, “and it finally felt honest,” he said. “It felt both honest but also extremely interesting to me as a person and as a writer.” This shift made him aware of issues of identity and culture, which he now consciously includes in his writing. Specifically, he deals with postcolonial narratives and the lasting effects of the Vietnam War. Nguyen, who won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer, also writes about his refugee experience. In a February 2017 interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Nguyen talked about the politics of war, and the tendency for them to live on even after the fighting


photos/Jordan Rich


Sparks Magazine

SPRING 2017 | issue 12 has stopped. “People might like to think a war is done when a ceasefire is signed, but for most people who lived through a war it goes on for decades,” he said. In the wake of a war, refugees have to deal with issues like assimilation and xenophobia. So how does one translate these heavy topics into fiction that can be easily digested by readers? Tran said he relies on plot development to simplify the issues. He creates heightened circumstances for his characters to navigate through. “My approach is that I want to put my characters in extraordinary circumstances that forces them to reveal their truest self, whether it’s to other characters or to themselves,” he said. If he can escalate the plot and put his characters in increasingly difficult situations, “their truer selves come out in terms of how they react to it… And out of that, you then, I think, really start exploring these ideas.” WRITING FOR A SMALLER AUDIENCE Writing that deals with such a niche topic runs the risk of turning away a broad demographic of readers. Rather than changing their stories to make them more profitable for publishers, Tran and Nguyen write for their own audiences—or without regard to readers at all. “You know, it’s really funny, I’ve never asked myself that question,” Tran said about who his ideal audience is. “The reader’s always rather vague in my head… [they are] really just a kind of version of myself.” Nguyen takes a different approach, writing specifically with minority readers in mind. “It was important not to pander to white audiences because a lot of minority literature does pander to white audiences, explicitly or implicitly, because that’s the way to get published,” he said in a 2016 interview with The Daily Californian. “So I had to write a novel that was true to what I wanted to say and hope that the 89 percent white literary industry would somehow find it

Some authors have gone beyond just writing diverse characters and started encouraging other authors to do the same. The grassroots organization We Need Diverse Books aims to make


publishable.” While these refugee stories fulfill a specific role, they’re not confined to just that one category. Tran’s “Dragonfish” crosses boundaries by taking on elements of crime novel and history. In a 2015 New York Times review of the book, Chris Abani said, “‘Dragonfish’ is a strong first novel for its risk taking, for its collapsing of genre, for its elegant language and its mediation of a history

that is integral to post-1960s American identity yet often ignored.” This collapsing of genre is a stillemerging trend in novels with minority characters. In the past, a non-white protagonist’s ethnicity was often the main source of conflict in novels. Tran attributes this trend to narrow publishing markets. “When [editors] receive a book, or they get work from a writer who is not

obviously white, they think in marketing terms,” he said. “The market is much more narrow for those kinds of stories. So for sure they try to only sign writers who shift that narrative.” However, that trend is changing. Tran said he’s seen a difference in the past three to five years, where more writers are including their characters’ ethnicities as integrated elements of the story rather than making them stand out

as the main conflict. Part of that, he said, is due to the growth of minority authors in the market. “I do think when more ethnic writers become prominent,” he said, “that we’ll still have more people like, say, Kazuo Ishiguro who is Japanese English and he’ll write about characters that are not Japanese, or if they are it’s not completely centered on their ethnicity.”

children’s literature more reflective of all children, according to author Ilene Wong, a member of the We Need Diverse Books team. Wong, who writes young adult fiction under the name I.W. Gregorio, said that she’s seen fellow authors face rejection from publishing companies who told them “the myth that diverse books won’t sell, with the very false idea being that readers only want mirrors of their own experience rather than wanting windows into other people’s experience,” she said. We Need Diverse Books offers mentorships, grants, and awards for writers dedicated to adding color to the publishing world. Although it focuses on children’s literature, its mission—a big part of which is to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people, according to its website—can apply to the entire publishing industry. Nguyen, Tran and authors like them are part of a group of writers whose books are doing exactly that. Their stories add to the catalogue of refugee fiction. As a result, the catalogue is becoming more diverse. It provides some readers—refugees, immigrants, Asian Americans—with a mirror of their own experiences when they want introspection, and it provides other readers with a window into the writers’ lives when they want to explore outside their experiences. a story by the university of central florida



SPRING 2017 | issue 12

b l u r r yborders BY POOJA GUPTE

Do Middle Eastern and South Asian identities have a place in the APIA conversation?

“For me, a lot of arbitrary concepts depend on how you feel,” Kovankaya said. Kovankaya’s ideas align with those of Yuchen Wang, president of the Chinese American Student Association. “When I think of someone who is Asian, I think it extends past their genetic makeup but involve(s) their culture,” Wang said. There is no broad consensus on who is considered Asian. Nishat Manzur, the vice president of External Affairs for the Bangladeshi Student Association at UF, also believed that education is the main reason so many people feel uncertain about what is considered Asian. With a Bangladeshi background, Manzur frequently




sia is a massive continent that stretches across multiple countries and cultures. However, what constitutes as “Asian” seems to be unclear. Many people in the United States believe that Asia (and Asians) is limited specifically to East Asia, which includes countries such as China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mongolia while others include countries in the Middle East and South Asia Irfan Kovankaya is a first-year member of the Turkish Student Association at the University of Florida. Kovankaya believes that ethnicity is a highly personal topic.

met people who did not consider her Asian and who did not even know where Bangladesh was. She made the most out of this, however, and even used it as a positive opportunity. “I like explaining to people what Bangladesh is since it is a small country,” Manzur said. While Manzur feels education is to blame for the lack of Asian knowledge, she takes the responsibility on herself to actively educate those who are unaware.

Krystie T. Nguyen, the former director of Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs at UF, believes that the term “Asian” is not limited to East Asia. “For me, the Asian ethnicity encompasses 52 countries,” Nguyen said. She specified that these countries included East Asia as well as South Asia and the Middle East. However, Nguyen’s opinions are not shared by others. Retired UF Asian studies bibliographer, David Hickey, echoed others’ opinions on the involvement of education in this disagreement. Hickey said that he does not believe that Asia includes the Middle East. “The definition (of Asian) that I came up with for my job includes all of South and East Asia but not the Middle East,” Hickey said. However, he did admit that this definition has some gray areas. For example, Hickey stated that Persia was historically considered part of Asia, but modern-day Iran is not. The Persian empire acted as a part of Asia economically due to its large involvement in the Silk Road, the trade route that linked the East and the West. Modern-day Iran and the rest of the Middle East are considered a separate entity by Hickey and his colleagues. He emphasized that the reason he believes the Middle East is not Asian is due to the specific training he received in Asian studies. His training taught him that the Middle East was different from Asia culturally and historically, but he also believes that if another person was educated differently, his or her opinion may differ. Khadidja Arfi, an anthropology professor and expert on Islam and Muslim societies, agreed with Hickey that the Middle East and Asia are separate entities. “The Middle East is related to ‘Asian’ but at the same time, is culturally separated,” Arfi said. She also believes that there are some traits that show that the Middle East is similar to Asia, specifically South Asia. She stated that Middle


Eastern cuisine is similar to that of South Asia. In addition, Arfi said that the Middle East is connected to South Asia due to the large number of Islamic communities present there. Nguyen also strongly agreed that education in the U.S. is the main reason Asia is not a defined word. She argued that American history classes are limited to US involvement in Asia. Nguyen emphasized that students learn only about the Asian countries that the United States has had past conflicts with. “When learning about world history, you do not learn that much about Asia as a whole,” Nguyen said. Because this involvement is lim-

ited to countries such as China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea and the Philippines. Most Americans and Asian Americans believe that the term “Asian” only refers to people from this region. “Students are trained from a young age to believe that the term “Asian” is limited to only East Asia,” said former special events director for the Arab Students’ Association at UF, Monica Behnejad. While there are pertinent questions to the topic, the debate continues over where this identity begins and ends and, like many conversations, heavily relies on education and personal identification.


SPRING 2017 | issue 12

acceptance for filipinx BY NICA RAMIREZ


reating an environment for acceptance and inclusiveness is never an easy task. This remains true within ethnic groups as well. Filipinx is a term that Filipino American communities have started using recently, in an effort to create a gender-neutral way of identifying themselves. It is viewed as an inclusive approach to ethnic identity, as it does not carry a gendered ending. The Filipinx language has similar endings as the Spanish language, with the -o ending being masculine and often the norm, and the -a ending being feminine. Dr. Michael Armato, a faculty member in the sociology department at the University of Central Florida, explains the difference between sex and gender. “The simple definition is that sex are biological characteristics, and that gender are social characteristics or understandings that link to, or somehow refer to biological sex,” Armato said. “Sex is biological and gender is social.” Although the Spanish influence on the Tagalog language is apparent, Tagalog speakers use a genderneutral and singular “they” pronoun, which was present before Spanish colonialism. According to There’s A Cure for That, a blog about homosexuality and gay rights in the Philippines, the Philippines has a rich history of gender diversity: In addition to not having gendered pronouns, pre-colonial Philippines featured a “third gender” called bakla. The Western interpretation of bakla is often that of a transgender woman, but it is considered in the Philippines as a woman’s spirit born into a man’s body. Armato finds this distinction of identity to be very complex. “For most of us, the biological assignment of sex at birth corresponds with a particular gender assignment…” Armato said. “Transgender people

come to identify with a gender that is different from that initial gender assignment at birth.” Because those who are bakla were considered a separate gender identity with separate roles, relationships between a man and a bakla were not considered homosexual, as bakla are not considered to be men. However, when Spain colonized the Philippines, Catholic Spaniards brought over the construct of the gender binary of a man and a woman. “It is very clear that nonbinary people, particularly gendernonconforming people of color are


affected differently by an array of institutions and practices…” Armato said. “When we are talking about these systems of inequality, we are not merely talking about ideas. We are talking about their very real effects on people’s lives and people’s bodies.” This American experience extends to those in Filipinx communities as well. Filipinx Americans sometimes face conflicting ideas of gender and language surrounding gender from two cultures in the United States. Aian Mendoza, a graduate of the University of California Riverside, feels especially pressed, considering that they identify as non-binary, and they are half Filipinx and half white. “Growing up, I thought I was white,” Mendoza said. “I just never felt that I was Asian or Filipino enough.” Being in the “in-between” of multiple groups and identities made Mendoza feel underrepresented. The worries of overly assimilating to American culture seems to be a common worry for many Filipinx Americans, including those of multiracial backgrounds. “I feel like being mixed made me

feel disconnected from the culture,” Mendoza said. However, the feeling of alienation did not remain a barrier for Mendoza. They felt that their unique identity offered many experiences and feelings that helped them give back to their community. “It definitely set me up for radical spaces and activism,” Mendoza said. Mendoza used the lack of belonging they felt in their community to create places where others could feel welcomed. Despite the efforts of activists and advocates, some issues still persist within Filipinx American communities. Gilbert Gammad is a non-binary Filipinx American who works with LGBTQ+ youth. They did their undergraduate thesis on how trans-masculine Filipinx understand the word bakla. Gammad finds that even well-established and tolerant Filipinx communities have a difficult time accepting those who are also in the LGBTQ+ community. “Yes, we are Filipino, but you [the community] don’t understand us to be [Filipino] because you’re still othering us inside of our own community,” Gammad said. “There’s still a lot of tension around being Filipino, Filipina, Filipinx, and being queer that I think is rooted a lot in everyone being raised Catholic.” Gammad has had their own share of personal troubles regarding their gender identity and sexuality as a Filipinx American, especially regarding the term bakla, which is often used as a slur. “I’m trying to reclaim or see what it feels like to call myself [bakla] and also understand what that looks like in our own context as Filipinx Americans. Because the ways that we understand bakla are very different than the ways that bakla is portrayed and understood in the Philippines itself,” Gammad said. Of course, the Filipinx community has their own reasons for being hesitant

regarding linguistic change. Concerns regarding heritage and ancestry all play important roles in movements that seek to change language and culture. Some feel the new name is disrespectful to tradition, as well as ignoring the idea that there are Filipinx peoples who do not use the term Filipino at all. “The concerns I normally hear are questions like, ‘How do I explain this to my Lola [grandmother]?’ and ‘Our ancestors fought so hard to be considered and called Filipinos, so how would they feel if we suddenly rejected that?’” Gammad said. Despite the backlash, Gammad feels as if the term Filipinx is well-suited to the Filipinx diaspora. Dr. Elizabeth Grauerholz, a sociology professor at UCF, focuses on gender and social psychology. Because Grauerholz has taught courses like “Sex and Gender in Society,” she does not find the rift between cultures regarding gender surprising. “We can’t really know a culture unless we speak the language,” Grauerholz said. “Now we have a language surrounding it [gender fluidity], but we [as Americans] still struggle with gender because we are so much about putting people in boxes and that gender box is so predominant.” The formation of an individual’s gender identity differs in the United States compared to in the Philippines, as well. “The notions of having gender fluidity and having a spectrum of gender are a pretty foreign concept for us in the U.S.,” Grauerholz said. “Many people would struggle with how that works or what it means [to be bakla].” Grauerholz feels that there are ways to reconcile the differences in culture and gender when you are Filipinx, on scales both small and large. Grauerholz suggests that the media could take a more active role in fostering an inclusive vocabulary. “What the media could do is be more inclusive in so many ways,” Grauerholz said. “We could deemphasize gender and race, and use more inclusive language. I think it’s going to be a slow process for that to happen, but I think it will happen. The conversation about gender and sexuality that we have today is more open than it was 10, 20 years ago.”

a story by the university of central florida photo/Aian Mendoza

looking for a match asian american patients wait for bone marrow donors BY KLARIZZA AGGABAO


P aul Ota was active, the one who would exercise, go to the gym, stay healthy. His family having been immigrated to America three generations ago (he is fourth generation). Going back to his roots, he traveled to Japan after college to teach English for about three years. Even learning Japanese on the way there. He is the super, nice guy who cares and worries about people close to him. So it made family and friends upset of what happened to him in the beginning of 2016. Because of that, hHe shrugged a tiny bump on the left side of his chest off as a pulled muscle. Nothing big. His sister, a doctor, wanted him to get it checked out. It was the end of 2015. Emotions were on a high, there was no time for negativity during the holiday season. Jonathan Ota, Paul’s younger brother, just had his first kid Jan. 16. A daughter. Jonathan was on leave from work, taking care of his daughter. She was just two weeks old at that time when Paul called him. The biopsy results came back. Lymphoma. “It was devastating,” Jonathan Ota said. “My brother is like my best friend and I love him, you know? We grew up together. We’re four years apart. I looked up to him.” Before the diagnosis, Paul was getting his life back together. He just started his job. He recently became divorced. He was trying to get his life organized, Jonathan Ota said. “I was scared,” Jonathan Ota said. “What was gonna happen? How fast was it going to happen? And then from the beginning, we got the initial diagnosis of lymphoma and then I felt like it was bad news after bad news. And then in was Non-Hodgkin.” Paul Ota is biracial of mixed race: Mexican and Japanese-American. With his unique background, he is one of the many people of mixed background that need bone marrow the most.

Clinical Associate Professor at UF Health Shands, Jack W. Hsu, MD, said that when a bone marrow is needed, a close family of the patient is looked at and tested to see if they are a match. “What they would do first is to look at those close to the person in need of bone marrow,” Hsu said. “For those who are mixed, they would first look at close relatives, siblings.” There is a 25 percent chance that a sibling is a match to the person in need of donor, if that person has siblings, Hsu said. After the news of Paul’s need for a bone marrow, the family got tested to see if there were potential matches. Paul is a middle child. “The crazy thing that when we got tested, my sister and I, the results came back,” Jonathan Ota said. “My sister and I are direct matches, 100%. But neither of us matched him.” According to Hsu, parents could be a potential match. However, for a mixed person, half of their DNA makeup would match their children’s. In the case of a 11-year-old boy living in Toronto, a partial match from a parent may be just that. Like any normal boy of 10, Aaryan Dinh-Ali came home from school with bruises. His mother, Jenny Dinh, believed that he was just playing and then got hurt. It wasn’t until Aary’s gums started bleeding a few days later. “We panicked,” Jenny Dinh said. “after numerous bloodwork, they came back and they said they possibly could be cancer. Leukemia.” After a few more blood panels after being admitted, Aary was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia. “So, not cancer,” Jenny Dinh said. “but something that affects one in every million.” Aary requires blood transfusions regularly and a bone marrow transplant can cure him, Jenny Dinh said. When they were tested to see who in the family was a potential match for

Illustration/INGRID WU Aary, Jenny Dinh came up as a match. The difficulty with Aary is that he’s an only child, Jenny Dinh said. “[There is a] very, very slim chance that you would match a parent,” Jenny Dinh said. “Most of the time, a parent to a child is a 50 percent chance for a 50 percent match.” If needed, a bone marrow transplant between Aary and his mother would be a last resort because of the complications, Jenny Dinh said. It is better for the patient to have a close to perfect match than someone who is partially matched. A way for people like Aary and Paul to scour the country or world for a potential match is to work with organization that specializes in helping spread the word of registering as a donor in the bone marrow registry. Athena Asklipiadis is the founder of Mixed Marrow, a volunteer-run organization that branched off of Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches or A3M, and she helps recruits people to become potential donors for mixed people. Paul and Aary has worked with Mixed Marrow through drives in different communities and colleges. “Because the population is only going

to get more and more diverse, you’re going to have more patients diagnosed and you’re going to have more of a need for a diverse donor [registry],” Asklipiadis said about the growing trend of interracial children in the future. Asklipiadis decided to create Mixed Marrow specifically for the mixed-race community, she said. She also spreads awareness for the need for people to register through her documentary, Mixed Match. Working with Jeff Chiba Stearns and his background in mixed-race identities, the idea for Mixed Match was created almost seven years ago, Asklipiadis said. During the screenings in film festivals in the west coast, the reaction brought “Our goal is to have, every screening, host a bone marrow drive,” Asklipiadis said. “Because it’s a call to action we want to emphasize. We’re trying to make sure people have that immediate response that they can take.” The film has helped even those who haven’t registered yet and we’re afraid to. The film has downplayed the fear in people from registering, Asklipiadis said. The drives to encourage people to register has helped not just Paul and Aary but others who don’t have the resources available to them. For others, spreading awareness can come in forms other than drives. Ally Kim is a two-year-old boy living in Oxford, England. He was diagnosed with Chronic Granulomatous Disorder around Jan. 2016. Ally is 100 percent Korean. Ally’s parents were originally from the United States. With the help of their friends back home, they covered more ground in hosting drives. The Kim family has also spread awareness in the need for potential donors with the help of several celebrities on twitter and through several media interviews. “I had to make a twitter account just to reply back to her,” Andrew Kim, Ally’s dad, said when a friend tweeted to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. It was a luck of the draw to have celebrities share your stories and spread the word, Andrew Kim said. They have had interviews with several British news outlets, like a BBC radio. “I don’t think it was going to blow up,” Andrew Kim said.

“BECAUSE THE POPULATION IS ONLY GOING TO GET MORE AND MORE DIVERSE, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE MORE PATIENTS DIAGNOSED, AND YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE MORE OF A NEED FOR A DIVERSE DONOR REGISTRY.” No matter the location, several organizations that focuses on helping host drives and register potential donors have helped all three families. Organizations like the Asian American Donor Program (AADP), Be The Match and Mixed Marrow. Be The Match is a nonprofit organization in the United States that helps people to get the life-saving transplant they need through resources and support for patients and their families, according to the Be The Match website. Gift of Life is a public and not-forprofit donor registry for marrow and blood stem cell. According to the website, the registry helps patients find their match from people in the United States and around the world. There are countries around the world that have their own registries, Hsu said. It’s

important to have a good relationship just in case there is a match there that a patient needs. Because of him being 100 percent Korean, Ally and his family has searched several bone marrow registries in different countries. They have triedare American, British,the U.S., England and Korean registries. But still, no luck. The Gift of Life is another organization which register people to become potential donors, and has a chapter at the presides at the University of Florida as well. Peter Kovach, 23, has been is a campus ambassador for a year now and his job is to raise awareness about bone marrow donating and becoming registered to be a donor. “We set up the swab drives on campus so that people can come out and just fill out a simple form and swab their cheek,” the biology major said. The cheek swab registers the person in the registry and it only takes a few minutes, Kovach said. The campus drives take place in places like Turlington Plaza and near Library West. Each of the patients’ families host drives in their name. The common theme is that in the process of finding a match for their loved ones, they are also helping find matches for those who need bone marrow as well. Despite what has happened, there is still silver lining. Paul moved closer to his family after learning about his diagnosis, as opposed to him living up north. Even though some might be scared to be added to the registry because donating may be painful, Jonathan Ota thinks they should overcome that. “But when you weigh the odds, you weigh that against what the outcome could be, there’s really no choice. You just gotta do it. If you think about people you love the most, and them being in this situation, there’s no question whether you do it or not.”

the name game BY ARCHANA SINGH


hen people hear the right pronunciation they say, ‘I’ve been pronouncing it wrong this whole time?’” Nidhi Kalva, a 19-year-old management major at the University of Florida, pronounces her name as Needy, but in the proper pronunciation, there’s an emphasis on the “dh.” She changes the pronunciation to make it easier for others. “I’ve had to sacrifice my own feelings and say I’m completely fine with them not pronouncing it right,” Kalva said. “It’s easier for them, so I don’t really care.” Like many other Asian Americans, Kalva altered her name to fit the culture around her when she moved to America. Changing one’s name is a common part of cultural assimilation for many Asian Americans. Name

changes usually mean protection from mockery and insensitive comments. Sometimes it means simply avoiding that awkward pause when someone first comes across such a different name. For Asian Americans, this assimilation is a balancing act between adapting to a new lifestyle and cherishing the values, beliefs and ideas that keep a person rooted to his or her heritage. Kalva found that changing her name was a good way to adapt to American culture. At 6 years old, Kalva and her sister left their home in Hyderabad, India, to live with their parents in California, who had already moved to America three years prior. The next few years, Kalva said she faced a major identity crisis. Having different views and feelings as a person born and partially raised in India, she said it was difficult relating to her Indian American peers who were

born and raised in America. “It’s like I’m too Indian to completely blend in with Indian communities here, but now I’ve become too Western to blend in back in India,” Kalva said. Because of this disconnect, Kalva began to lose touch with her Indian roots as she moved with her family many times across the country. While living in Harlingen, Texas, where 73 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino, Kalva became so immersed in the local Hispanic culture that her accent became a combination of both Spanish and Indian. Despite taking on this new cultural identity and distancing from her own, she never detested her Indian roots. “I always keep one tab on my computer open on Yahoo! News India and another open to a news site here,” Kalva said. “It’s just a way each day I balance both parts of me.” Kalva, who still keeps her name, albeit with the slight mispronunciations, takes pride in what her name represents. Kalva was given the name Nidhi, which means treasure in Hindi, because she was her parents’ first child and the first child on her mom’s side of the family. Embracing her culture has clarified the significance behind the meaning of her name and now serves as motivation to achieve the successful future her immigrated parents strove to give her and her sister. “The only reason why I’m OK with anyone pronouncing it wrong is because I’m happy that my parents and the rest of my family are ones who pronounce it right,” Kalva said. Kalva didn’t resolve her identity crisis until her freshman year at UF. She was inspired by the diverse and openly prideful students and faculty, and it has helped her recognize that there are two parts to her entire identity, an Indian side and an American side. “When people pronounce my name, I think about my culture, my background and what I’m doing in this country,” Kalva said. “It motivates me.” The cultural diversity that this country was built on has made some Asian Americans feel that they need addi-

tional identities for the sake of blending in, as was the case of Allison Choi. When Choi, a recent UF graduate, was 4 years old, her family left Korea to move to Texas. “My original Korean name is Jungwon Choi, but all of elementary school, it just showed as Jung,” Choi said. “Each year I would have to correct the mistake with a new teacher, or anytime there was a substitute (teacher).” Choi said other kids sometimes made jokes about her name, especially since it stood out among her classmates’ names. “You get kind of heartbroken as a kid when other kids make fun of your name, and no one knows how to pronounce it,” Choi said. “For me, I just really felt like I needed to fit in.” During this time, her family lived in a predominately white area, and everyone had names like Sara, April and Shelby. Her brother was never bothered by constantly correcting his name at school, but Choi saw it as a target. “It made me feel like an outsider because I always wondered, ‘Why do I have the name that nobody can pronounce?’ or ‘Why do substitute teachers only not like my name?’” Choi said. The summer before Choi started middle school, her family moved to Florida. Choi’s dad asked both kids if they would like to legally change their names. Choi’s brother decided to keep his Korean name, while Choi changed hers to Allison. After she changed her name, Choi felt as if she had two separate identities. “My parents, brother and the rest of my family back in Korea never call me Allison, even though my friends and everyone else does,” Choi said. “It sounds kind of weird, but when I’m with my family, I tell myself, ‘OK, now I need to be more Korean.’” At 23 years old, Choi now wishes she had the same strength as her brother – to remain unfazed by the norm to assimilate. “I wish I hadn’t changed it now,” Choi said. “I realize how significant and meaningful having my name is com


journey home asian americans define the meaning of home BY BAILEY LEFEVER Photo/VANESSA WONG Illustrations/INGRID WU



photo/MEGAN MIZUSAWA pared to having a name everyone else has just to blend in.” Kaitlyn Rewis, a 21-year-old biology senior at UF, believes changing a name means changing an identity. Rewis, who is ethnically Chinese, was adopted by white parents. Rewis knows that in American culture, it’s customary for a wife to take her husband’s surname, but in Chinese culture it’s different. “So by changing (your maiden name), you’d lose a large part of yourself, especially if it’s what you identify yourself with, and to change that … you’re basically only going to ever change it once, and that’s if you get married,” Rewis said. “To do it twice,

you’re losing a part of yourself.” Name and identity are inextricably tied, but a concept as subjective as identity can also be influenced by its surroundings. For Rewis, name-changing is negative in the grand spectrum of things. It means that the U.S. is neither adapting nor educating those on how to find a way to ask “how do you pronounce that?” “We are a melting pot, but at the same time, if you are asking people to assimilate that way, you’re essentially giving up heritage,” Rewis said. “Your name could have a lot of meaning behind it.”

he age-old debate as to whether experience or environment affects who you become dominates much of philosophy. Asian American children in particular struggle between being defined by their parents’ heritage and the American culture evolving around them. Perhaps assimilation is directly related to family relationships. Krista Grajo, 20, is the child of two Filipino immigrants. She grew up eating the food, singing the music and speaking the language of her parent’s homeland. But she does not consider the Philippines to be her home. “I identify myself as Asian American and I think it’s important to think about it as a consolidated identity and it’s not a hyphenated identity to me,”Grajo said. Identifying herself solely as American doesn’t encompass her upbringing or her ethnicity. “So I grew up eating Filipino food, speaking Tagalog, but they were in a way adapted to fit the American culture,” Grajo said. “The United States colonized the Philippines so a lot of that is already inherently tied into the Filipino culture.” According to Dr. Violet Cheung there are four main ways children of Asian immigrants can identify themselves: they can identify with their own culture, the mainstream cultures, both cultures or neither culture. “One of the ways to measure acculturation is language, which language you speak fluently,” Cheung said. “ Together with cultural context, you know which cultural group you hang out with, who your friends are, the music you listen to, the food you eat.” This of dissociation between cultures occurs because of the distinction between the way APIA children are reared and the world they face outside the walls of their homes. “If the mainstream culture discriminates against their own culture, sometimes they will take on that attitude of ‘I am not proud of my own culture, I’m going to hide’,” Cheung said. Jiayang Li moved to Orlando, Florida with

his mother from China five years ago in 2012. Li doesn’t see the distinction between identifying himself as Chinese and Chinese American. “I obviously am Chinese, that’s where I was born, like who I am, but I am American, Li said. “I don’t see why we should define those two so differently.” Li’s identity comes from wherever his loved ones are. “Home is where my family is,” Li said. For Li, this means wherever his mom is. And when he returned to China on a visit, it didn’t feel as familiar as before. He feels like a stranger upon returning to China, even though it is where he was raised. “I feel like a stranger when I walk in,” Li said “I didn’t know anyone because it’s been so long, even though I grew up there.” The visit evoked feelings of loneliness and Li ultimately did not enjoy the experience. “I know she still thinks family is where her family is, but I live here so I’m her home, a part of it. China would be her home too. She spent most of her lifetime there so she has an attachment, which I don’t. “ “I’ve been facing normal issues that Asian Americans face, like name calling,” Li said. “You can’t be normal, it’s expected. So I face these things, but I don’t see them as a big deal.”

Sparks Magazine




variety of medicines are available to the modern patient, from Western antibiotics to Eastern herbs. Western medicine may be more predominant in the U.S., but Eastern medicine’s holistic philosophy still appeals to people, and it is becoming more common for people to use Eastern and Western methods together in treatment. Peter Kim, M.D., an internal medicine doctor in Miramar, FL, affiliated with Memorial Hospital, described Eastern medicine as historical, with treatments passed down on the basis of experiences, from generation to generation. This form of medicine involves a scope outside of modern pharmacology and surgery with uses of herbs and diets, massages, acupuncture and other alternative practices. Six years ago, Kim experienced an issue with his foot which led him to see a podiatrist and take antibiotics. However, it was a chronic infection and would not be resolved. On a trip to China, Kim went to see an Eastern practitioner, who conducted a foot bath and acupuncture. The practitioner warned him his foot condition would worsen before improving, and Kim’s condition progressed as predicted. Within a couple of days, he said his foot felt better than it had ever before. “It was not any kind of therapy I would have gotten if I had gone to see a typical Western physician,” Kim said. Jin H. Kim, Ph.D, an acupuncture physician at Sage Wellness Center Acupuncture & Herbs in Orlando, specializes in Oriental medicine. He explained the variances between Eastern and Western doctors as “each doctor treating patients by using different tools, and having a


different definition of medical philosophy.” According to Jin, Oriental medicine is not normally accepted because the methods and practices are not understood. To understand Oriental medicine, it is necessary to believe in something that is invisible, impossible to prove, but able to be experienced. Western medicine can be seen, understood and believed.

“DEPENDING ON THE SEVERITY OF THE INJURY, I WOULD TRY EASTERN MEDICINE THERAPY BEFORE WESTERN.” “Everyone has a different experience with Oriental medicine,” Jin said. “Similar to chi [energy], it is invisible. Only those who try the methods are able to believe in it and understand.” Individuals are becoming more open to Eastern medicine. Kevin Cavite, a nursing student at Keiser University, said, “Depending on the severity of the injury, I would try Eastern medicine therapy before Western. Personally, I would do this to avoid the side effects from Western therapy.” There are many options available for those who prefer to use Eastern medicine, from pediatric practice to gynecology. Some patients prefer acupuncture, the practice of inserting needles a story by the university of central florida

into points in the body, for purposes such as pain relief. Others turn to herbology for leaves, flowers, fruit, seeds, stems, or other plant parts, either in a fragment or powdered form. “If my case is something light like a headache,” Cavite said, “I would prefer rest, meditation, massage therapy and/or breathing exercises to relieve the pain, as opposed to taking ibuprofen every time, which could lead to abdominal discomforts, bleeding, heart burn or trouble breathing in the long run if misused.” Nowadays, interest is growing in the field of integrative medicine, which combines scientifically-based therapies from Eastern and Western medicine. Integrative medicine is defined by Duke Integrative Medicine as personalized health care that addresses “the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect health.” Like Eastern medicine, integrative medicine aims to help the patient live longer and find the root cause of the symptom, rather than simply execute relief from the symptom. An expanding body of research surrounding integrative medicine shows promise for the use of more integrative medicine in the future. A study published by the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine in 2016 analyzed the long-term effects of the combined treatment of Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine on patients with lung cancer. Results revealed that the combined treatment group, compared to the group using only Western medicine, had better physical and role function at six months. As a Western doctor, Kim understands why individuals

might be cautious of Western medicine and afraid of taking too many pills. However, Kim believes that when used appropriately, medicine and interventions like surgery can be effective and life-saving. “I can tell you for sure in the ICU right now if some people did not get their antibiotics, they would have died,” Kim said. “I agree on a philosophical level that we do take too many pills, but there is no doubt that medicines save lives, and when used appropriately Western medicine can be very powerful.”

“OUR GOAL IS HELPING PEOPLE, NOT SELLING OUR FIELD AS BETTER THAN ANOTHER. RATHER, WE ALL PRACTICE THE HIPPOCRATIC OATH.” Both doctors agree it is the patient’s choice. Whichever method they choose and feel comfortable with is right for them. Jin said, “Even with my family members, it is the patient’s choice, whichever works best for the patients. Our goal is helping people, not selling our field as better than another. Rather, we all practice the Hippocratic oath.”


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