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woven issue

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half and half 06 affirmative action 08 art and identity 11 united for hope 14 the best of us 16 maximum impact 18 philanthropic power 20 bridging the gap 21 photo gabe cortese design eric demattos model lana nguyen


e - board

patricia potestades managing editor ∙ jina choi creative director ∙ michelle leute content editor mary elysee velasco design editor ∙ peter vo photography editor ∙ shannon tai finance director van hoang finance director ∙ stephanie wong promotions director ∙ coco gao promotions director tiki dang programming director ∙ kim dang programming director ∙ june lee online coordinator

staff lawrence chan writer ∙ cresonia hsieh writer/photographer/designer ∙ rachel han writer ∙ stephanie hatchett writer ∙ alexandra go writer ∙ tran nguyen writer ∙ mario andres cediel photographer zaina sheets photographer ∙ xiaoxi zheng photographer ∙ jordanne laurito photographer ∙ qianwen zhang photographer ∙ charlee anderson designer ∙ diana weng designer ∙ yiqian ma designer ∙ jess bautista designer ∙ antony rivera online contributor ∙ maria espinoza online contributor ∙ annie yin online contributor ∙ xinzhang liu online contributor

ucf kaija leung editor ∙ katherine ragamat managing editor ∙ eric demattos design editor ∙ kathleen cruz photography editor ∙ angeline brutus finance director ∙ brittany chen writer

not pictured » alicia soller assistant content editor ∙ ruth balabat ucf content editor ∙ andreina nash photographer ∙ mary kaye pascua photographer ∙ marcus degnan online contributor


dear readers, If I could relive these past four years, I would in a heartbeat. All the exciting opportunities, hard lessons, genuine friendships and unforgettable memories I’ve made at the University of Florida have changed my life in ways I could have never imagined. I discovered my voice, my strength, my dreams. I learned that our lives are made up of chances, both big and small yet equally significant moments, where we have to decide what to do. These are the moments that define who we are — not our looks or our words but the actions we take to rise above it all. As Asian Americans, we face certain moments that are unique to our community. But even within our community, we each have our own cultural identities, relationships and experiences that make us different. When these differences or threads are “Woven” together, they create something bigger, something beautiful. What better theme to have this issue with the addition of the University of Central Florida to Sparks! It’s been an exciting semester collaborating with everyone at UCF, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for this magazine. Thank you to my dedicated editorial board and staff for everything. You’ve made this past year as editor-inchief one I’ll never forget. As I continue on my pursuit to make my dreams a reality after graduation, I’ll take these memories with me; they are a part of me — woven together in my heart.

sincerely, maureen mariano editor-in-chief editor@sparks-mag.com


writing stephanie hatchett photography jordanne laurito model jordanne laurito design charlee anderson

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Half and Half

A personal essay on growing up biracial

The first time I saw my family all together, I was surprised to see that they looked nothing like me. I was born in San Diego, Calif., to a caucasian father and Filipino mother. When I was 4 years old, I moved to Atsugi, Japan, because my father was part of the U.S. Navy and was stationed there. At 7 years old, I boarded a flight from Japan back to the United States. Upon our arrival, we had a welcome home celebration at my grandmother’s house. This was the first time I noticed I was different. I felt uncomfortable meeting my father’s side of the family. As I looked around the room, I found no resemblance to anyone whatsoever. My grandparents and aunt are white with much lighter features, while my mother, sister and I are Asian with tan skin and brown eyes. In Japan, I lived in an American naval base, which was extremely diverse. People came from all over the world. Almost every kid I knew was a mixture of different cultures, many of whom came from simi -lar backgrounds: half Asian and half American.

It was a place where I fit in perfectly and did not stand out among my peers. But my first day in second grade back in the U.S. was a real eye opener. I, along with one other girl, was the only half Asian in a classroom of 20 students who were predominantly caucasian. I didn’t think I was different from my classmates until they came up to me and asked questions. They told me I looked exotic and asked if I celebrated any strange holidays or different customs. When my dad picked me up from school, my classmates who saw him didn’t believe he was my dad. Although I first realized I was different back at my grandmother’s house, this was the first time in my life when I actually wished I was something else. I have always considered myself an American, but to them, I didn’t fit the status quo of how an American looked. I felt as if I lost part of my identity, because I could no longer define myself. I wanted to look like the rest of my classmates so no one would question what I was. I remember feeling so frustrated as a child, because I hated having to always explain myself. It wasn’t until I realized I shouldn’t let others define who I am. Yes, I am half American and half Filipino, but I’m also so much more. I’m a daughter, sister and friend. I belong to a family who loves me, regardless of what I look like. Now at 19, I have embraced both cultures and am comfortable with who I am. Moving from Japan to the United States was a culture shock, but I learned many valuable lessons of who I am and how I can translate these lessons to everyday life. Today, whenever someone asks me what I am, I think of this question as a conversation starter. Even though we all come from different places and are at different stages in life, we all have our own story to tell. And this is mine. My family and I may look different from one another, but we will always be just that -- family. We may have our differences, but that’s what makes us one. My parents originated halfway around the world from each other and were raised completely different, but they united under one house, a place that I call “home.”

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Affirmative Action Confronting the controversy

|| writing, photography and design by cresonia hsieh ||

the practice of improving the educational and job opportunities of members of groups that have not been treated fairly in the past because of their race, sex, etc.

O

riginally used as employment instructions to government contractors, the concept of affirmative action originated in the 1960s with former President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925. It called employers to take “affirmative action to ensure that applicants are treated equally without regard to race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” Over time this concept was expanded to include more kinds of employers and to aid women. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 became the culmination of all these changes. As more executive orders were declared, affirmative action was eventually implemented by nongovenrmental organizations, virtually making discrimination in the workforce illegal. Though the act does not protect veterans, people with disabilities or those over the age of 40, these people groups are protected by other laws. Since affirmative action’s inception, the idea of using

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-Merriam-Webster Dictionary

race as a factor in both employment and college admissions has been highly controversial as evidenced by several court cases -- most notably the University of California v. Bakke in 1978. While some believe affirmative action allows for minorities and disadvantaged groups to combat racism and overcome historical obstacles due to lingering prejudice and discrimination, others believe that allowing the color of one’s skin to be a factor in admissions or employment is unfair and should be based more on a system of merit. Critics site the flawed logic of perpetuation of equality based on racial discrimination, while supporters provide raised admission numbers for blacks, Hispanics and women. Because affirmative action is intended to aid minorities, the Asian American community is left in a strange situation. Affirmative action measures (which are intended to help minorities) tend to hurt Asians when it comes to college admissions. The following are some thoughts by fellow Asian Americans.


the voices of today Andrew Sun, 21, Political Science “When Asian Pacific Islander Americans are against affirmative action or race-based actions... it hurts our solidarity with people of other color.”

Aditi Vaidya, 18, Business Management “Your ethnicity shouldn’t define your intelligence. ... It’s not fair essentially, it’s not fair at all.”

Amy Cheng, 18, Linguistics “When other marginalized groups become more enfranchised, it gives us opportunities as well.”

Victor Ke, 19, Applied Physiology and Kinesiology “[Asians are] searching for opportunities. Their families came here expecting them to do well, so they’ve been raised on a family who puts high values on education. ... Even though your test score may be higher than a lot of other people’s, you seem low in your category.”

Chan Naing, 21, Anthropology “It shouldn’t be an obstacle. It’s unfortunate that it is seen as an obstacle but I think that it has the potential to do really good things. ...It should be restructured.”

Jin Le, 21, Microbiology “The demographics for certain college acceptances is easier for non-Asians. ... We set ourselves so high that it causes us to fail sometimes.”

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Art and Identity

The voice of our generation’s Asian American artists

writing rachel han photography zaina sheets design jessica bautista

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“S

poken word is the vehicle I use to resonate with people who have the same experiences of oppression as I do. It’s my window into doing bigger things, while striving to be a young leader advocating for social change.” For Bryan Baquiran, a 20-year-old telecommunications sophomore at the University of Florida, the arts symbolize a way to express himself. His most memorable piece is a poem entitled “Deangelo.” It’s a letter to inspire his future son to embrace artistic pursuits and not fall pressure to masculine expectations. “I remember performing it in front of my poetry troupe and having it dig deep enough to have me start crying,” Baquiran said. Asian Americans across the country have found and given themselves voices through art: voices that not only speak but resonate. From music artists like Awkwafina, who addresses controversial topics such as feminism and sexuality, to actresses like Lucy Liu, who knows the triumphs and struggles of being Asian American on the big screen, every artist has a message. For Paolo Del Castillo, a 20-year-old first-year graphic design major at UF, the arts prove a means of self-expression. An avid user of vivid colors and symmetry, his artwork creates a balance between different dimensions of aesthetics laced with a distinct hip-hop and pop culture influence.

processes of recognizing my thoughts and communicating them.” Tisha Antique, a 20-year-old sophomore nursing student at the University of North Florida, is also a passionate visual artist. “Science of Love” was created by Antique and showcased at Carnegie Hall in New York City. It was inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci’s journal pages and ties together her message concerning love with her respect for the learned disciplines of calculus, physics, chemistry, history and literature. For her, visual arts are not simply the means to an end, but the end to a means. The canvas is as much the gateway to seeing the world as it is a mirror reflection of who she is.

Felix Chai, a 22-year-old UF graduate and member of Apocalypse Dance Crew, has “When words aren’t enough, when I been pursuing dance avidly since entering can’t really articulate what I’m thinking­ college. -- that’s where the art comes in,” Del Castillo said. “I tend to jump from idea He said he is an active person and loves the to idea. Art is the bridge between the creativity that exists behind dance.

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“Seeing what the human mind and body can produce together is amazing,” he said. “At times, it can be a bit intimidating and overwhelming, but at the same time, it’s unbelievably inspiring.” A subculture led by the young artists of our generation has emerged. But as we are in the middle of this newly forming subculture, rather than spectating from future generations, it’s difficult to assess exactly where it’s headed. Chai looks up to artists who are breaking barriers and expressing what older generations couldn’t. At the same time, he doesn’t want to restrict himself to the Asian American label. “I don’t want to be called an ‘Asian American dancer.’ I’m just a dancer.” For Antique, this hybrid culture is partially the result of art’s darker history. She feels that in Asian countries, people don’t have the opportunity to express themselves. It’s almost seen as a rogue movement. In America, there’s more opportunity


and encouragement,” she said.

ran said.

“You’re either trying to define yourself as an American and pay homage to your culture or to your parents’ culture, or you’re trying to forge something completely different that balances the two,” she said.

However, Del Castillo has a slightly different take on this matter.

Winnie Shao, a sophomore at Brown University, is the networking chair for Visions Magazine. It is a platform where students of any background or ethnicity can express appreciation for Asian American art and culture through submissions of all types. Shao said she feels like a common trend in submissions is the theme of displacement. She thinks there is a perpetual awareness of an outsider mentality. A lot of artwork straddles the line between Asian and American through a distinct sense of movement.

“Although I appreciate the common elements and aesthetics of Asian-influenced art, I’m also trying to make a name for myself outside of my culture,” he said. Del Castillo does a more than suitable job of reaching the core of the matter. “Asian American is something I’ll always be proud of, but it doesn’t matter if I’m white, black, Indian, Hispanic or a f-----penguin, I’d still be making the same art -because this is me.”

“The thing about art is that it allows us to be more extreme,” she said. “Ideas can be amplified on paper; pieces are more impassioned. My personal favorites are the ones that are more raw and expressive.” She finds certain pieces are not too stylized, but instead aims to amplify the voice of the individual. For Baquiran, our generation’s new culture showcases a fusion of traditional and contemporary values. “This culture can serve as a reflection of a new wave of Asian Americans who tailor Asian culture to fit an American way of life,” Baquiran said. “My passions force me to stare my culture in the face, and my ethnic culture is a part of me that can’t be censored.” He believes all these art forms are proof that the Asian American community is thriving. “I like to consider this our very own renaissance as minorities in this country,” Baqui-

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r o f d Unite e Hop In November 2013, a nation was overwhelmed by the aftermath of one of the strongest typhoons to ever hit land: Typhoon Haiyan. According to CNN and BBC News, about 11.2 million people were affected and about 5,000 people were killed. These catastrophic numbers left a nation in despair and affected millions of others around the world. Haiyan affected students at the University of Central Florida, especially the Filipino Student Association. As a result, a small group of UCF alumni created a philanthropic project named Hope for the Philippines (HFTP).

KnightBloc Entertainment, was the driving force behind this charity. “One of the main goals of Hope for the Philippines was to get the whole community involved, to gather the different organizations at UCF and be able to help those who were both directly and

Chris Chen, cofounder of

writing brittany chen photography eric demattos design eric demattos


indirectly affected by this disaster,” Chen said. Within the following weeks, Chen joined forces with Mike Cho, co-founder and CEO of Impress Ink, Teresa Chan and Robert Ly, owners of Sus Hi Eatstation. In order to fundraise on campus, the group teamed up with FSA and different Asian organizations at UCF. With the help of the UCF Asian community, the team was able to come up with the idea to sell T-shirts as a way to raise funds for the Philippines. As a means to be inspired and incorporate the Filipino culture into the shirt, the team did a lot of research. The HFTP founders wanted the T-shirt to include the pride of the nation’s culture. They designed the shirt to showcase the

goal.” In addition to providing donations, a few volunteers gathered to create a video to contribute moral support. The idea came to Kayla Perez who worked with David Galindo, former president of the FSA. “Kayla tially

ini-

messaged me about the idea,” Galindo said. “Then we brainstormed until we thought of ‘We Are The World -- Hope for the Philippines.’” Inspired by the 1985 charity song of the same name, the purpose of the video was to unite different members of the Asian organizations at the UCF campus. With the help of fellow FSA members, Kyle Santamaria and Jeff Miraflor, Galindo arranged a chorus of volunteers from each organization to create and record a rendition of “We Are The World.”

iconic Filipino sun, which is seen on the flag of the Philippines. The sun stands for unity, freedom and democracy. It symbolizes hope, a feeling the HFTP founders wanted to give to the country. With that same inspiration, Impress Ink went to work on printing the T-shirts. Shortly thereafter, the Asian organizations were outside of the Student Union selling shirts and Sus Hi coupons to raise proceeds for the people in the Philippines. “I wanted to be a part of something that would make a difference and help the community,” said Jessica Truong, philanthropy chair of the Chinese American Student Association. “Even though it would be hard to make an impact on a country across the globe, it was nice to see all the Asian organizations team up and help those that needed help through a common

“I had never been a part of such a big project of putting so many performers together singing and [being] in a music video,” Galindo said. “The goal was to make a music video to help promote HFTP. And by promoting HFTP, we would inspire the people who were affected and share HTFP’s message.” Hope for the Philippines surpassed its $10,000 goal by raising $12,000 with the help of both Asian and non-Asian student organizations at UCF such as the College Democrats. “Seeing everyone come together was really inspiring,” Chen said. This wasn’t the only philanthropy KnightBloc and Impress Ink started; they also organized fundraisers to help victims of the Japan tsunami in 2011 and the earthquake that shook Sichuan, China, in 2013.

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The Best of Us A satire on Asians as the master race

S

un Tzu once said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”

Thus as men and women of the world, the first order of business is understanding ourselves and fighting our personal weaknesses. Only by removing the weakness of humanity and learning what truly makes us all individually strong can we progress to a state of perfection. Humans come in all manner of shapes and sizes, however, like any other biological construct there are certain strengths and weaknesses in our creation. In order to progress as a race, it is necessary to absolve ourselves of these weaknesses and to assimilate only our greatest strengths. What I mean by assimilation is a social cleansing of our varied disputes and an acceptance of the best traits of mankind. I believe that humanity must remove its racial barriers of ignorance and come together to accept a greater gestalt identity. And that identity is Asian. As Asian Americans it is our responsibility to help enlighten and change this world for the better by striving for Asian assimilation of the world at large. Asians are the greatest assets to humanity. We have a host of biological and cultural advantages that allow us to thrive in nearly every instance and adapt to every situation. Be it in the subjects of mathematics, engineering, culinary mastery or even martial arts, we are at large perhaps the most enlightened race on the planet. Surely our status as the most populous race on the planet is by no means a coincidence; it is merely planetary acknowledgement of our

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natural selection as the inheritors of this planet’s destiny. While sociologists, scientists and researchers have spent years trying to decipher the cause of our natural assets, stating reasoning that ranges from a inbred cultural background to excel to long traditions of hard work. The cause for this is due to our enhanced intelligence and inferred diligence is much more biological in nature. Asian superiority arises from increased amounts of the enzyme Bichorinate Synthase, otherwise known as the BS enzyme. The enzyme helps catalyze the metabolic reactions within a human brain, allowing for increased cognitive ability and understanding along with a host of positive benefits that allow Asians an evolutionary edge upon their fellows. However, what makes this biological miracle so astounding is the advanced effect it has on the rest of Asian physiology and how it drastically improves an Asian’s ability to excel in society in ways that humanity’s other ethnicities are simply unable to compete. Within an Asian’s many natural advantages is a well-known mastery of all forms of knowledge, an ability that has proven true given our overwhelming majority within institutions of thought and learning. We have a natural inclination toward mathematics that allows us to rapidly calculate abstract and concrete concepts well beyond the level of a lesser race. For example, an Asian given a rubix cube and a set of broken chopsticks would be able to rapidly calculate the prime percentage of inherent mass within an elephant to the seventh

degree within the few moments that a lesser race would look at his/her tools and wonder what they’re expected to perform with them. On top of that, every member of the Asian race is born with an inherent understanding of their upper physical limits and the knowledge necessary to manipulate their bodies into spectacular displays of martial arts. Your average Asian can outmatch anyone of a lesser race armed only with their fists and knowledge of martial pain. In short, Asians as a race are naturally smarter and more efficient than any other race on the planet. It’s this kind of potential that unfortunately large sections of the world are yet unable to achieve. It is high time that this deficiency is handled appropriately and with necessary action. Currently, researchers from China and Japan have been researching ways to create a consumable version of the BS enzyme to allow non-Asians to take on some of our inherent abilities. But in order to pave the way for proper assimilation Asian Americans need to do their part to draw in racial thralls to our supremacy. I suggest that we begin to start


assimilation stations throughout large public institutions like college campuses and parks. These stations will offer free cultural products from Asian countries like video games, movies, animated comics and also disperse free food. It has long been known that our cultural products have an impressive hypnosis factor on our lesser planetary cousins. Most notably, the other races are known to mindlessly attempt to emulate our cooking styles and develop imperfect copies. If we can slowly phase in our own brand of superior culinary arts then I believe our superior palates will make slaves of them all.

With this plan in place, we would be able to finally end the imperfections of humanity as all become one with the ideals that are Asia. Given that we already out-populate the majority of the world, the transition to humanity’s full potential would be gradual and an easy transition into the proper light of things. Ultimately, we would have obtained a sense of global saturation over the surrounding people and bring forth an era of perfection.

writing lawrence chan photography andreina nash design diana weng

On top of which we eventually include a genophage virus into the products of their food and drink which will decrease the ability of lesser races to reproduce. Slowly, the existing colonies of the lesser races will slowly lose their inner sense of nationalism and racial boundaries will break down as they come to appreciate our overall greatness and begin to dwindle in overall number. On a global level we’ll need to implement international education standards that are universally on our level. Understanding that the lesser races as an overall will be unable to match our basic third grade calculus exams, I believe that it will slowly phase out the majority of the lesser races from educational institutions as they fail to catch up. This will likely be the easier task at hand as our overwhelming global numbers will allow us to force any kind of political change through a simple vote.

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writing tran nguyen photography qianwen zhang design yiqian ma

Maximum Impact Asian American students take action at UF

A

n eye-opening experience during a mission trip to the Dominican Republic led Leon Chen, a 21-year-old senior microbiology major at the University of Florida, to plan his very own.

a result, he gained a lot of confidence and personal growth.

“When you go to another country you understand more about the pre-health field and how third-world countries work,” Chen said.

He said students have to be more sociable and willing to put themselves out there for those interested in becoming a leader in the community. But he also said being a leader does not necessarily mean that you have to be an extremely outgoing person.

Whether it’s through small acts of kindness or significantly notable achievements, there are many students like Chen who are on the pursuit of making a difference both locally and worldwide.

“Even if some people may feel that they are shy and introverted, there are always many types of leaders, and it is important to see how well you can work in your own environment,” Chen said.

Chen said that Asian American students are stereotyped as being shy or introverted, but his involvement in organizations such as the Asian American Student Union and the Health Educated Asian Leaders allowed him to step out of his comfort zone. As

Michael Chiang, a 19-year-old sophomore biochemistry major at UF, has spent a lot of time figuring out who he is by immersing himself in what this campus has to offer.

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“College is a great opportunity to get involved and to be a part of something bigger -- to gain experiences and memories,” Chiang said. He has tried salsa dancing, yoga, photography, chemistry club and many other pursuits, but his biggest passion and contribution so far has been his research, dedicating about 20-30 hours in the lab a week during the fall and spring semesters. In the summer, he dedicates about 50-60 hours. “Research, I think, is an opportunity for you to really do something meaningful in college, and it’s a way that you can develop your skills as a scientist, a critical thinker in pretty much any professional field,” Chiang said. He may dedicate a lot of his time to research, but it’s his passion for chemistry and science that allows him to make a difference in the community, he said. He made it his mission to bring Science Bowl back to the community for high school students. He contacted the national coordinator and found support for hosting the Science Bowl in Gainesville.

“Your strengths and weaknesses will be your strongest qualities to what you can bring to the community,” he said. After accomplishing such goals, Chiang wants to see more people in the Asian American community at UF find their personal strength and identities, so that they, too, can be a voice for the community. Amanda Phrasavath, a 19-year-old sophomore nursing major at UF, has also made an impact on campus through her time as director of the Freshman Leadership Program. She has learned about teamwork and what it takes to make compromises. For Phrasavath and many others, their determination to make a difference in the lives of others and those they cross paths with comes from within. “I’ve stayed passionate and dedicated, because as a leader I think it is really important for us to be fully committed,” she said. “I don’t take any shortcuts. My dedication is what drives me.”

With only two weeks to find 50-60 volunteers, Chiang was able to pull the competition together at the last minute. After the competition ended, teachers and students praised him for bringing the Science Bowl back to Gainesville and for the success of his event.

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Philanthropic Power writing alicia soller design maureen mariano

Many philanthropies in the United States make a profound impact on the lives they touch, but few cater to the needs of Asian Americans. The philanthropies below help unite Asian American communities through civic involvement and consciousness.

Asian Women Giving Circle

CA Dream Circle

Queer Justice Fund

A New Heritage of Giving

One of every two Asian Pacific Islander American children is born into poverty. Philanthropic profits seldom go to Asian American communities. Even fewer are allocated for women and girls. The Asian Women Giving Circle strives to change this. The Asian Women Giving Circle was created to pool and garner profits and resources to invest in projects led by Asian women in the New York metropolitan area. To learn more about how you can contribute to the cause, visit aapip.org/awgc.

This fund is a program under the Asian Americans/ Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) that explores LGBTQ APIA issues. It was created as a response to the lack of funding for LGBTQ APIA communities and the lack of recognition in many APIA community organizations. It focuses on community philanthropy, social advocacy, grantmaking and capacity building, to ensure comprehensive visibility of the LBGTQ APIA community, and to support and grow alliances for this community so that it stays empowered. For more information, visit aapip. org/queer-justice-fund.

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The CA Dream Circle was founded in California in April 2011 by a group of Korean American women to collectively support the needs of underserved Korean immigrants, namely Korean American women, youth and elderly. Its name stems from the dreams of the immigrant community. One of its fundraising goals is to raise money for a scholarship for Korean Dream Act eligible students. For more information, visit cadreamcircle.org.

A New Heritage of Giving is a network and support program for Asian American communities in the New York metropolitan area. Its mission is to cultivate philanthropy, civic-mindedness and volunteerism among Asian Americans. Some of its programs have included Asian American Elders in New York City, Tribute and Remembrance: Asian Americans after 9/11, and Census 2000: a public policy implications and community impact. For more information about how you can contribute, visit asianamericanphilanthropy.org.


Bridging the Gap An exploration of the relationships between Asian international and Asian American students

L

aughter filled the air as Han Zhao and Caroline Nickerson joked and chatted over bites of Pollo Tropical. To passersby, their interaction seemed normal, but their friendship is anything but commonplace. Zhao, an international student from Beijing, China, began his education in the United States at Polk State College, a community college located in Winter Haven, Fla., but later transferred to the University of Florida in July of 2013. When Zhao first arrived in Florida in October 2010, he came with the goal of pursuing a Ph.D. in East Asian Studies. However, Zhao also hoped for more. He wanted to make new friends and experience what American culture and society had to offer, despite the challenges each posed. Fortunately, he found a friend in Nickerson, a first-year history major from Orlando, Fla. At first glance, it’s tempting to assume Zhao and Nickerson met through a program that paired them as foreign language partners, but they became friends after having a class, “The Renaissance World,” together in fall 2013. Their friendship developed like most, bonding over shared interests, and they remained close afterward.

Considering the context in which their relationship grew, their friendship remains remarkable to many. Although Asian international students make up a substantial percentage of students at UF, it is uncommon to see Asian international students, notably in their undergraduate years, engaging in friendships with American students. Kayla Tran, a fourth-year finance major and president of the Asian American Student Union at UF, offered an Asian American perspective. For relationships between Asian American students and Asian international students, she said they may be affected by barriers such as language, cultural disparities and the effects of assimilation on Asian Americans. Not surprisingly, language barriers are consistently noted as one of the main factors which complicate interactions and relationships between the two Asian subgroups. With a language barrier present, Asian Americans may be hesitant to reach out to Asian international students because of the possibility of an awkward situation arising or fear of offending the individual, as well as the presence of cultural differences, Tran said.

writing alexandra go photography xiaoxi zheng design jessica bautista woven • 21


While people share similar ethnicities, differing nationalities may challenge those commonalities due to the separate cultural and societal expectations in which they foster. For example, she said many Asian American students are program-oriented, meaning they devote their time to roles in external organizations and extracurriculars. In contrast, international students spend more of their time studying.

“It is uncommon to see Asian international students, notably in their undergraduate years, engaging in friendships with American students.” The final reason Tran suggested is one that may be difficult to accept, but it is a sentiment echoed by many Asian Americans. “It’s a good assumption to say that through the years, growing up as Asian Americans, we were bullied for traits that set us apart as Asian, causing us to shy away from things that might make us appear more Asian than we are,” she said. Jordan Nguyen, a first-year Spanish major at UF, further explained the discrimination Asian Americans likely experienced growing up as an essential reason as to why Asian Americans may have the tendency to feel uncomfortable around other Asian Americans but more so with Asian foreigners.

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Many Asian Americans spend so much of their lives trying to fight the stigmas associated with them, including the one that focuses on Asians always sticking together, he said. “[Asian Americans] are implicitly taught that we should assimilate, even at the cost of our own cultural practices sometimes, because anything contrary is not socially acceptable,” Nguyen said. While these are just a few obstacles that many Asian American students may face, there are also other factors to consider that prevent Asian international students from forming close relationships with Asian American students. April Du, a third-year finance major and foreign exchange student at UF, said she temporarily transferred from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics in China to experience another culture. She knew studying abroad would present its own challenges and unique experiences, and her time at UF has certainly given her both. When Du first arrived, the language barrier proved to be as difficult as most foreign students could imagine it to be. It was also difficult to get involved on campus. Her friend, Kim Liu, who is also a third-year finance major and foreign exchange student from Shanghai University, encountered the same challenges. A plethora of resources and organizations exist to help international students get plugged into the university, but Liu said most are like tour guides. As a result, students like Du and Liu quickly drift from such organizations.

“[Asian Americans] are implicitly taught that we should assimilate, even at the cost of our own cultural practices sometimes...” Furthermore, many Asian international students are drawn to organizations comprised of people from their native country. Organizations such as the Friendship Association of Chinese Students and

Scholars at UF or the Gainesville Chinese Christian Church remove the language barrier and close the cultural divide for international students hoping to find a community and support-system thousands of miles from home. As a result, there isn’t necessarily a need to make American friends. Additionally, the fact that most international students come with the intention of studying here and returning to their country after a predetermined amount of time complicates relationships between the two groups. With an understanding that their stay here is temporary, Asian international students believe it will be difficult to form substantial bonds with Americans and then try to continue them when they return home, especially in China where sites like Facebook are prohibited. Both Du and Liu said that differences in culture and lifestyle are also major obstacles. Similar to how Asian American students may feel, many Asian international students are wary of conversation with Americans. “They feel like they can’t [converse], so they want to avoid [an] embarrassing situation,” Du said. Liu said that if a person isn’t open-minded or doesn’t want to change his or her lifestyle, it’s easier to stay friends with only students who are in the same situation. “Sometimes, you just feel totally different,” she said. Zhao embraces these differences and knows that his friendship with Nickerson is one that is not seen very often on college campuses. “I like to make all types of friends,” he said. “I’m not afraid to feel awkward. ... If someone doesn’t want to be my friend, oh well.” With forces such as language barriers, cultural and societal differences, and the effects of situations that challenge friendships between Asian international students and Asian Americans, open-mindedness is central in bridging the gap -- regardless of who makes the first move. “It takes two hands to make a sound,” he said.

woven • 23


Sparks Magazine Issue No. 6  

Real stories. Real people. The Woven issue.

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