Sparks Magazine Issue No. 1

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cover credits

Oh! That’s My Son!


Bang bang bang


As good as gold


New Directions


More than just food


Hope after the shake


[insert hard-to-pronounce name here]


out from under

Q&A with Poreotics

SASE wins Gold Chapter award

Q&A with Dragonfly

Keeping and changing Asian names

Cultural influence on sex

Leah Villanueva

Japan’s impact on the community

LGBT issues in APIA

the new

student body president

6 on p. 1


indicates the lightness or intensity of a story


fall 2011


photographer Lawrence Mabilangan photo assistant Heather Cabrera model Michelle Le

issue 01

s t n e t n co



y t i l i b a r e n l vu

vulnerabil Dear reader,

s k r a sp s|




burning dy les of a c ti a bo r a p out by n n small w o r ing whe ce th substan tion or remain pleted : us m in comb n is nearly co r remind o ti s c u ra ke comb f a firec tities o s k r a en the sp ltural id u c r u o us of




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had be en scra mbling the ma g fo azine neede since o r an idea fo d som r ur dea ething to stre dline w the cover of to exp ngth, s as com r e o s s poI thoug ing up going . ht abo from v ut our ulnera I bility n a m e, spa tential rks, an to crea d its te when it hit m a fire. That’ e. I sa s burnin ws g awa y his o omeone and fr r her om that ha that point, I past, d to b kn e The ne the co ew ver. xt mor ning, H and I d eath ra shoot, fted someon er and th e to at had th e shot night we w e were ing for. lo I bowl a burnt a mixin oknd a la g pto but I th ink it w p table, as wo lawren rth it. cemab ilangan

There’s more to you and me than being Asian American. But in the end, our ethnicities define us in who we are and how we look. That, in essence, will always make us vulnerable. Growing up in Buenos Aires, I can’t think of a time I honestly felt comfortable in my own skin. I was the only Asian girl in a predominantly white Catholic school, so I had given in to being identified as “la chinita.” At the same time, my parents had forced me into a Mandarin school when I could barely even speak Cantonese. Even though I finally looked like everyone else, I couldn’t communicate with my teachers or my classmates. I was tossed into two completely different worlds—white and Asian— but none of which I could call my own. At one point or another, we face a situation that reminds us that we are Asian and American. The name we’ve worked so hard to make for ourselves suddenly makes no difference in the way some people perceive us because, to them, we’ll always be just Asian

Kevina Lee Creator & Editor-in-chief

or just American—and that’s what makes us vulnerable. It’s a state of mind that we will carry with us, no matter we go and no matter what adversities we’re confronted with. Going through life as a minority isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but let me tell you this: you’re not alone. We draw an immense amount of strength in the similarities we see in other people’s experiences. I truly believe that one of the most alleviating feelings is finding someone to relate with and identifying with their story. And this is where Sparks comes in.


Linda Son

John San

Creative Director

Finance Director

TaeYeon Hong

Yushin Kato

Lawrence Mabilangan Photography Editor

Content Editor

Stefanie Cainto

Design Editor

Maureen Mariano

Managing Editor

Managing Editor

Left to right: Peter Vo, Angie Llanos, Raye Ng, Heather Cabrera, Lawrence Mabilangan.

writing staff

design staff

Left to right: Yushin Kato, Aliana Wong. Not pictured: Angel Cheong.

Left to right: Nathaniel Smith, Heather Cabrera, Tim Ng, TaeYeon Hong, Tommey Liang, Kristina Nguyen, Tho Nguyen. Not pictured: Ian Aranca, Stefanie Cainto, Maureen Mariano, Linda Son.

. h t g n e r st photography staff

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sparks photoillustrationbyrayeng

[ insert

name here ]

e c n u o n o r hard-to-p

? Wait, say that again


upachaya Sucharitvanitwong. Yes, that’s her name. But at Starbucks, she goes by “Sarah.” “I used to use my real name when they asked for it. But I always have to repeat it three times and then tell them how spell it,” says Supachaya, a Thai senior studying advertising. When two different cultures collide, it is often tempting to compromise one big part of the Asian identity: our names. Angela Liu, a Chinese junior studying psychology, was born Yan Jun. She became Angela in the third grade after teachers continually mispronounced her name and students bullied her. “I was vulnerable in the sense that I didn’t know who I was … I didn’t have a social circle, so if I continued to use my American name, I would be incorporated with the people in my class,” she says. “But in the end, it didn’t really do what I thought it would do.” As she began her third year at the University of Florida, she hoped to strengthen her cultural ties and slowly accept her Chinese name. “Now that I’m learning Mandarin, I realized that Yan Jun isn’t as ugly as it sounds in English,” Angela says. “It’s actually a really pretty name.” An opposite struggle faced Allie Le, a Vietnamese junior studying biology. She went by her given name, Nga, until she graduated high school. Once she began college, she found it easier to pronounce an American name rather than a Vietnamese name. “It creates a path for people to feel welcome to talk to you compared to, ‘Oh. I can’t pronounce your name.

Forget it. I won’t try,’” she says. Family and friends who had known her well before college still call her Nga. And for others, like Husang David Lee, a Korean fifth-year studying health education and behavior, both their given name and English name are used interchangeably. He introduces himself by his Korean first name, Husang, and his American middle name, David, depending on the environment he is in and the people he is with. Husang began to embrace his first name in high school. During his senior year, he created his own name to go by: Husang Dat Song Lee. “That’s how you pronounce it, guys,” he would say. “I made it more easier on everyone, and I also began to appreciate it more.” In college, he came across instances in which to go by his English name. “In my fraternity, I used my white name, David. It’s more convenient to talk to people. In the night scene, when I meet an acquaintance, I just say David,” Husang says. “You don’t need to know my first name.” As his last undergraduate year comes to an end, he has to decide which name to use. For the workforce, he feels that he needs to commit to just one. With his name, Husang merges his cultural identities together as a Korean and an American. He compares his name to a chameleon. “I adapt to what I want my name to be in different situations. I use my name as a strength, and pull it out when I have to,” he says. “It’s kind of interesting to have multiple identities.” maureenmariano


issue 01



g n Ba




the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the

three-letter word


Whether you’re having it, waiting for marriage, plan to have it, or have accidentally stumbled upon your roommate’s secret porn folder labeled “Tax Returns,” it doesn’t change the fact that we are part of a generation where sex is as prevalent as yesterday’s “that’s what she said” jokes. In a society so saturated in sex, why is it that it is such a difficult subject to bring up to the people we should be most able to confide wholeheartedly in? Talking to our parents about sex seems almost as ridiculous of an idea as asking them for condoms. More often than naught, young adults are worried about how their parents will react to bringing up the topic, which also coincides with the fear of their parents thinking that they are sexually active or plan to be. “I remember once, my boyfriend and I were sitting on the couch and I was leaning onto him, and my mom walked in and freaked out and gave me a lecture about girls being too easy,” says Dan-Tam Nguyen, a Vietnamese sophomore studying biochemistry. Generally speaking, Asians have a very conservative view on sex, stemming from a culture that places heavy emphasis on adhering to strict moral and social standards. Sex is a taboo subject in many Asian cultures and sexual education is rarely taught in Asian schools. According to BBC News, 75 percent of Chinese young men learn about sex through pornography or porn websites. “It’s a really tough topic to bring up for parents, if at all,” says Celiese Tuason, a Filipino senior studying graphic design. Tuason believes the influence of high school, especially her peers, made her more aware of sex. Growing up in America creates a rift in the cultural norm. While we try our best to keep to our roots, it is an undeniable fact that life in America is a striking contrast to life in

other countries. Here in the States, we are surrounded by ads of scantily-clad women draped over half-naked men, music lyrics of someone wanting to verb another’s noun, and movies with central plots revolving around having a friend... with benefits. Because we are so much more exposed to a sexual culture, we’ve become desensitized to its typical taboo nature. As a child, Patricia Wong, a Chinese sophomore studying accounting, was given a book by her parents about the anatomy of the female and male bodies. Her parents immigrated to the United States from China at a young age. Fluent English speakers and fans of American television shows such as “Royal Pains” and “House,” they held a Q&A overview about the book when she was finished reading it. “I know enough about sex without asking, and I can ask them whenever,” Wong says. The prevalence of the “birds and the bees” talk, however, varies from family to family. For many Asians, it can be perfectly nonexistent. Nguyen, for example, refuses to ever bring up the topic with her parents. “It’s awkward,” Nguyen says. It is an unspoken assumption that the topic of sex is inappropriate and should not be discussed—or displayed— in public. “My parents don’t tell me they love me, so I don’t think they like to express love,” says Nguyen. “They don’t hold hands or anything, but I know that they still love each other.” heathercabrera tommeyliang

“ ” lly a e r a s ’ It

c i p o t h g tou g up... to brin



issue 01





n Oct. 16, Lawrence Devera and Chad Mayate of came to the University of Florida to host a dance workshop as part of Asian Kaleidoscope Month. Winners of America’s Best Dance Crew Season 5, the six-member Asian American dance crew has been gaining ground in the American entertainment industry. We sat down to ask them about the sparks to their fire.

Sparks wants to know. What drove you to pursue dancing?

Law: For me, it was just family because I would watch them dance at family parties. It’s just something I wanted to try, and once I started, I was like, man, this is so much fun. I just can’t get more out of it. I was 17 at the time and I wanted to take it more seriously and try to get something out of it. Chad: I didn’t even mean to get into dance. My friends just got me into dancing and then from there I got crazy and started training. I met all of these guys [points to Law]. Poreotics.

What does your family think of your dancing?

Law: They support it fully now. They never used to support it because we never made it like a job. It was just a hobby, just for fun. Well, now that it’s like a job, they support us more. Actually, like 100% now. Chad: My parents are like my No. 1 fans. They’ve been coming to my shows even before I made Poreotics. Once I made Poreotics. Filipino parents, you know. [imitates family] Oh! That’s my son!

How did they react when they found you were going to be on TV for being Poreotics?

Law: They were excited. My parents were excited for me. They didn’t realize they weren’t going to see me often, but it’s cool because they understand that that’s the sacrifice we made to live this life and continue on with this passion. Chad: My parents went to every ABDC show we were ever at. They stopped by the hotel after even though they weren’t supposed to. I mean, it’s my parents. What are they going to do? That’s my parents.

What do you think of Poreotics making it big in America as an Asian American dance crew?

Law: I’m not surprised. There’s a lot of Asian dance crews out there and they’re all dope. If you look at the SoCal dance community, it’s like 80% Asian American. It’s crazy. Yeah, we’re taking over. Chad: [throws Poreotics sign up] This is going to be the world. Just kidding. [laughs] Law: It’s cool. We got to be thankful.

How hard is it for someone that is Asian American to break into the entertainment scene?

Law: It’s a little difficult. A little more difficult than before but now in the industry, it’s starting to be more Asian Americans on television, on commercials and on movies. It’s cool. We have our foot in the door but now we’re trying to get everybody to be a part of it. I like how it’s growing. I like that it’s getting better than before.

What is it like to represent us as Asian Americans?

Law: We’re proud of it. We’re proud to be Filipino. Chad: Filipinos represent! And the Vietnamese in the team. It’s

half Filipino and half Vietnamese. Three Filipinos and three Vietnamese.

What’s your next step in the entertainment industry or what other projects are you trying to do?

Law: We’re trying to work on a reality show, trying to keep the buzz on right now. It’s still in the works but we’re going to be pitching it up real soon. Hopefully the network will be picking it up.

What is it like working with big stars like Bruno Mars and Justin Bieber?

Law: It’s a lot of fun. It’s a blessing to be able to work with artists like that. It’s cool to meet them and [they’re] kind of just like us. They’re just everyday normal people that are very talented.

Last thing. What are your last words of wisdom to the people at UF or dancers in general? Chad: Keep training. Law: Keep doing what

you’re doing. Don’t let anybody stop you. If you want to keep dancing, then dance. It’s not really a big problem. Chad: Be yourself. That’s where the creativity and dancing comes from, and, when you’re yourself, it’s your own identity. That’s how you make it. ianaranca

T h at ’s M y S o n!



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t is clear that a new occupant has moved into Room 312E inside Peabody Hall. The only accents that stand out around the bare office are the purple Post-it notes stuck on everything from folders to stacks of documents to even framed pictures of friends. These Post-its are simple reminders: look over this, check on that, make sure to email this here. A particularly busy square, pasted onto the wall space right next to the computer screen, contains a list of all the Asian & Pacific Islander American organizations on campus. Leah Villanueva, a Filipino twenty-something-yearold with a ready smile and a slim frame, is the newest owner of this unfinished room. She is also the University of Florida’s very first APIA director. She’s wearing circular gold earrings that contrast with her short black hair as they shine in the sun-lit room. In fact, with black ballet flats on her feet and her nails painted purple, she could easily pass as an undergraduate student. Leah, who did her undergraduate studies at UF in elementary education and Spanish, came back to the university to pursue a master’s degree in educational leadership. As APIA director, what Leah aims to do ranges from supporting the APIA community to educating the general UF population about multicultural acceptance to mentoring any student who wants to walk in through her door. Having grown up in Palm Harbor, where not a lot of Asian Americans reside, Leah has a lot to say when it comes to personal value. Her voice adopts a sharper tone as she brings up an old memory from her days in elementary school. It had been open playtime, and Leah had wanted to participate in a particular game. Jonathan Pollock, a boy with slick blond hair and blue eyes, came up to her. He told her, “We don’t want any Chinese people here.” Before walking away, the 7-year-old Leah said in response, “Fuck you.” Even as a young girl, she knew what he had said was wrong. But she had been scared of becoming a tattletale to tell her teacher and hadn’t wanted to complicate matters. “When I think back on it, I wish I knew what to do. I wish I had somewhere I could have used my voice, and not only that, but knowing how to articulate that,” Leah says. For Leah, who considers herself lucky to have grown up with good friends but still found herself a victim of stereotyping and discrimination through her school

w e n



years, raising her voice has become a vital instrument. Her voice rings in the room louder than it has all afternoon as she talks about how important selfexpression is to her. She puts weight on the idea that everyone’s voices and perspectives are valid and valuable whether or not they have been deemed so by authority figures or general society. “Every time you’re silent about being mistreated, it gives the message that it’s OK to be discriminated. I want students to realize that they can validate themselves. So say it. Never doubt yourself,” she stresses. Leah soon forgets to breathe as she tells me why she decided to apply for the job. She saw herself as the best fit, having been a former undergraduate student. She had previously worked at the Office of Off-Campus Life and already had many established contacts. She also understood the administrative point of view and had the advantage of knowing both sides’ perspectives. “I wanted whoever had this job, even if I didn’t get it—” A pause sets in. “I knew that I would be here making sure that the right person got it, just because it’s such an experience to be an APIA student here at UF. Especially for the first director ever, I wanted to make sure whoever had it did the best possible job for the students.” In addition to her job as APIA director, she has also become the assistant director of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs, which means she will be working together with directors of other multicultural groups to spread awareness to every student at the university. In the coming months, Leah will be assessing needs of students, making city and university contacts, programming educational events and, most of all, trying to set the foundation for this brand-new office with nothing yet on the walls. These blank walls will be filled one poster and one artwork at a time as the year progresses. A few days after our initial interview, I visit Leah’s office in the corner of MCDA for a small chat. The first thing I notice is that her desk looks fuller with more folders and stacks of papers. There is a definite increase in purple Post-it notes. The second thing is that she looks more relaxed this time as she leans against her door frame, arms crossed and smile intact. She’s speaking to a longtime friend of hers, a photographer who caters his services to the APIA community at the university. “So how does it feel, you know, being APIA director?” he asks in curiosity. “Crazy. Bizarre,” she responds. “It’ll probably hit me once I leave.” taeyeonhong





issue 01






issue 01



h c e e p s s ’ king

a reunion class. th anniversary of Association, was 50 e th r fo ch 15-minute spee gement, by the UF Alumni s’ schedule. York to ew N om fr e speaking enga previously been part of Meyer ne Th la rp ai s an hi ng di had ll from ny felt the ust before boar lds received a ca a “big deal” and e speech, Antho no th ey g R tin ri ny w ho d ne and nt an Gainesville, A Juggling exams ced until that point to get it do writer gn si re s. as er ch fa w ey ee d he M sp ha hen’s most stress he close friend Ben hony, then-vice president, that University ent Bernie Mac to him than id es Pr F U e n nt th A he e mor Meyers told delivered. W y President of e end, it meant st as Student Bod ented him at th im pl m co ing from his po t Government. . agine, he says right track. Up en s sister’s wedanyone could im oment I felt that I was on the of Florida’s Stud ho had been in the city for hi breath, w of holding their the at was the m nd “Th ki And Anthony, flipped upside down. as w ne yo that was ent, ever life cramped until that mom going to do a good job?’ And hing as ding, found his ing two-hour flight inside the hony nt A et n, he su m io Is en pt So . e K ce k. th re ‘O t trac phone During saying, I was on the righ r that amount of stress, ternet access or at In th n no tio ith ca w di de in ne un first airpla fference,” but when you’re milestone t. make a lot of di all as a speech, at sm sat and though ng, Anthony had marked the th es on e to th ity are In the past spri of the Asian American commun is point, those small things th r til be UF history to un . em ys m up sa st d Anthony as the fir ce president in , he finds the vi esidency, an d a pr ir g th ce in e vi ok e th lo th ly er to ov He says he is on esident’s post. Because of this become elected ng his term in his tidy office e pr nion. joyi U en tz en ei R be e d th ha of ever take over th a lot less smooth and difficult. he out third floor ab e th m s hi on es s ld oc ee to tr pr d eyers, he says. ho ha transition canopy of re asking for M d for Meyers, w problems brewing. he ne e er m nc co little time there co ill as st w le He Peop be some r because of the tings with ay he m rs e a ha er th to so n al at w is th dition to mee a week before The transition would come do had thought it lf, knowings done. In ad week, maybe Neither of them . He was concerned for himse k as vice is for him to get th sity officials crammed into a gh wor engagements univer resignation, thou rely managing school and his upwards of 30 Meyers’ previous primarily g tin ee m en be ba s just ing that he was . two, Anthony ha s with the fact that he’s not as tough berm w e the repreas te it m w to co as it g t be d in en ’s an m id he s, es co -pr and g anymore and nervou in y ts tt m ne si bi am st ca cl ju t e as bi 50 th w I ound ,000. t it. “I was a little taking care of to anyone abou out about it, you dy numbering ar the reason for his lk bo t ta en to ud le st ab a t n’ of n that freaking sentative cause I was forget to mentio representation of Asian h inside lane, and I was he uc rp es ai co r do an r he ve at on f le ne el e And eater in th by mys as, and is, for gr leaning forward w , n lls tio ca si re po he t ?” en t. curr know ent Governmen e thing eyers’ place, mericans in Stud and talking at meetings, the on e years he headed to M A his new office. e, ill so sv al ne e ai ic G st Ju P fiv d in “When I was V , ‘You know, little more than Supreme Court When he arrive is year, you te president and hony took his oath of y st sa na La s Se r. ay F re w U al su e ea ld th I wou where ent, Ant merican tr A es e pr an th si r ur esident. A fo fo l pr st ly al fir ce on e vi ber to be em ago, we had th m joined him. With t. The second oath is usually SU A A st Asian Amerithe fir nigh all elected me as s from now, we’ll have the first ts. “A little office that very al su ca k ar . ar says un adem Maybe in five ye ’s what I said,” Anthony reco public to see, he ack-rimmed glasses and his tr h. at uc bl is would all be Th co th t. ith h w at en us , th pl id ny es w ow ho Ant did I kn s in his ne a can pr le e xe tt ar la Li re sh , t. s ts gh om or ou ro sh i th e oner than I shirts and khak right next door to the left. Th a TV qui- so ening.” APIA compp His old office is this larger space, complete with mpared resource for the ha ge hu a as lf se by his office m but al co He points to hi ly encourages anyone to stop ve him a view and a wall, N on the wall, looks imperson d white ed gi at an l, N d munity and repe ays open”), shoot him an emai etly humming C t’s office. The walls are unfille displays a w en al at e id (“my doors ar to his vice pres ooden plaque th the framed or guidance. n, even gove for a single w s, seek his advice d an ll into this positio at he was ca st with nothing sa faith. Gone are the certificate ru th as e w th he is e at t th of Gon Anthony says th he was so stressed at one poin American flag. rs. Christian quote ed ld fo e th d at te an th to s de rmined to y magazine article iendly marker scribbles by visi laughing as ing as far to sa ars. But he also says that he is fr s, te te of ith to the point ,” Anthony no can give it. whiteboard w moved in ill here, though is position,” with the best he “The candy is st rful bowl sitting on his desk. “I e time to finish his term this position. I never sought th ry best I d th colo “I never ran for ry much so going to do the ve he gestures to a weeks ago, but I just haven’t ha am ve of le up co a t he says. “But I abou . st g .” po ng w en ne can.” taeyeonhon put up anythi sting to this sudd rown into making a ju ad ill st ’s he He says d been th esidency, he ha Just into the pr



sparks photoillustrationbyrayeng

t u o r e d n u m fro


merging two minorities into one

oming to terms with identity in college means exploring who we are, who we want to be, what we want to do, what we like... who we like. But when it comes to sharing that latter bit of information, some students find it safer to keep it on the DL. Especially when it comes to parents. “My struggle is mostly gender expression,” says Andy Sun, a Chinese sophomore studying economics. “My parents have been giving me crap my whole life about, ‘Oh, why can’t you wear more dresses?’” Cultural pressures put many Asian American students in a bind because they are not able to communicate or express their individuality at home. Andy, who is anatomically female and identifies as transgender male, recalls a moment in which he blurted out to his parents about liking girls. In response, his mother tried—twice—to commit suicide. “She was like, ‘I nurtured you wrong,’” says Andy. “I was so scared. I just locked myself in the bathroom.” Andy says his parents are now in denial about the entire situation, referring to it as a “random teenage outburst.” Now in college, he is able to get away from the distress of family life, if only temporarily. On the other hand, Tara Young, a Chinese junior studying women’s studies, is forced to deal face-to-face with her family’s strict, conservative views. Over summer 2011, Tara’s father felt the need to help his gay daughter reevaluate her “morals” and consequently pulled her out of the University of Florida for the entire fall semester. “I got separated from all my friends, my partner, and the whole life that I built for myself at UF. It’s disappointing,” says Tara.

Now attending classes at Florida International University back in her hometown in Miami, Tara sits down with her father at least once a week to discuss their culture and religion. She says that he persistently asks where she is going. If she is not home, he will call and ask where she is. “When I was growing up, my parents didn’t really ask me about my personal life or who I was hanging out with. They just asked me about grades and things like that,” Tara says. “It’s always been kind of like a double life for me, where you don’t tell your parents anything.” But even before she was under her parents’ watch, Tara says that she struggled to come to terms with her sexual orientation. The lack of Asian Americans who are LGBT in the media and in real life discouraged her from learning more about herself. Not having someone to identify with also deterred her from going against her parents’ beliefs as a characteristically obedient Chinese daughter. “I feel like I’m alone,” she says. “But it’s become my goal at UF that I would be able to blend together the two lives and make the Asian community an open arm to LGBT people.” The LGBT community at UF has become a refuge for students like Tara and Andy, who still feel restricted in their own homes. For James Gatmaitan, a Filipino sophomore studying astronomy, Pride Student Union has become his comfort zone, especially after coming out to his parents as gay. He says that he was fortunate enough to have found friends in both the LGBT community and the Asian American community at UF. “Being in a minority makes you stronger,” he says. “And so being another minority is only going to make you even stronger.” kevinalee


issue 01



as gooad s

Lorenz Riego (left) whispers into a machine in the New Physics Building while Jenny Kwong (right) listens about 40 yards away. photobyangiellanos



the success story

of an Asian engi neering organiza tion

t was at the 2009 Career Showcase that David Hwang, a Chinese senior studying materials science and engineering, found his true calling. Hwang was standing near Lockheed Martin company recruiters when he met an active member of the University of Florida chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. They discussed a myriad of topics pertaining to career training and resources when a thought popped up. “We don’t have an Asian engineering society, and why is that?” Hwang wondered. That single thought was all Hwang needed to begin planning an engineering organization catered toward Asian students. He went home and Googled Asian engineering societies. However, the results led to many dead ends—some organizations were unresponsive and others inactive. In spring 2010, Hwang set off to the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) conference with the goal of starting a national society for Asian engineers. The ECAASU conference, an annual convention of Asian

and Pacific Islander American student leaders, provided a networking opportunity for Hwang. He was able to meet engineers like himself and many students who would help him reach another rung up his ladder of starting an organization. Reaching that next rung, however, proved to be more difficult than he had imagined. “I talked to a bunch of engineering students,” says Hwang. “But it was harder to create something in their areas because there was such a small amount of Asian students.” When Hwang left ECAASU, he had a strong network of engineers, but not much to go with after that. He returned home to Florida and turned to his trusted computer to do more research. Hwang came across the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE), an organization created by Procter & Gamble (P&G) to provide science and engineering students of Asian heritage with opportunities. “I wanted it to be a big resource, a comfortable place to get good advice from other members,” Hwang says. He says a society for Asian engineers is a huge opportunity to level the competitive playing field for engineers. In summer 2010, he gathered a small group of students and friends interested in creating the organization. P&G had been focusing on developing SASE chapters near Cincinnati before Hwang contacted them, but SASE accepted UF as a chapter. Then the real work began for Hwang and his crew of engineers. The current president of SASE, Irene Ng, a Chinese junior studying electrical engineering and business administration, recalls a large turnout of at least 80 at their first fall meeting.

issue 01


Ng says they were not prepared for such a large audience, many of whom were graduate students who thought the representatives from P&G and GE would be there to talk to them. Once the members realized that the company representatives were not there, membership started to diminish, and SASE found itself having more and more problems retaining members. Ng and the executive board felt helpless, often bringing light to the situation by joking that there were only four active members in SASE. Those members, however, proved to be vital for the survival of SASE, says Ng. At the end of the fall semester, SASE handed out an information sheet, asking their active members what they could improve on. The No. 1 issue was the lack of consistency with the organization. Hwang says one of the problems was that SASE was meeting around the schedule of other organizations on campus. What they needed, and eventually did, was set up a more consistent meeting room and time. With that, members knew where to go and what time to be there—slowly but surely, SASE began gaining their members back. “We did a lot to try to develop our members,” Ng says. “We tried to bring in a bunch of guest speakers, even from local companies. We brought in someone to talk about research opportunities.” The SASE executive board worked to connect their members to different recruiters, maintaining a stronger membership base while staying true to their organization’s mission. With every event, SASE made sure to incorporate cultural elements, selling

Students of diffe rent majors gather for the first SASE meet ing of the fall 2011 semester. photobyangiella nos

wang, David H founder, efore the first ’s E S A S mputer b er. on his co f the fall semest o g n ti s o n mee lla ie ng photobya

origami hearts and Asian desserts for fundraisers. Then, in summer 2011, the UF chapter was awarded the first-ever SASE Inspire Collegiate Chapter of the Year Award. For the 2010-2011 year, the UF chapter took home the Gold Chapter award, beating out Ohio State University and Georgia Institute of Technology. Along with a trophy, SASE also received $1,000 in prize money. “Irene [instant] messaged me on Gmail because I was working at GE at the time,” Hwang says. When Hwang checked his inbox, he found an email congratulating UF SASE for winning Gold Chapter of the Year. He had not seen it coming, but their hard work had paid off at last. lindason



Hiro L




a Q&A with the owners of

Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Co.


ith Dragonfly, you brought to life the concept of the “modern izakaya” restaurant. What is that? Hiro: Basically, it’s a Japanese pub. If you go to Japan, you have a lot of these izakaya houses, where everything is like little dishes. If you’re really hungry, you end up with 10 dishes. If you’re not too hungry, you end up with maybe one or two dishes. Izakaya is about having fun, eating around the table, enjoying a whole bunch of friends, and eating small dishes in the passing time. Song: It’s the whole sharing idea, too. Asian people, they love to eat; when they come to the table, it characterizes the whole “unity of the family” essence. It encourages sharing, exploring, and that’s where communication and all the good things happen—at the table. So we wanted to bring that here to Gainesville.

is very important. How did you meet? What’s the story? The first time I ever saw him was at the dorm at UF. He was my roommate’s friend, so he was always hanging around that area. He seemed like a cool guy. Song: Back then when we were in school, all the organizations on campus, everyone is pretty close-knit. There were always things goHiro:

not—be who you are, never lose your roots. Incorporate that in what you do and just be yourself, and you’ll enjoy success. What would you say to college students who have the same vision of creating and developing their own concept? Hiro: I’d say go for it. Learn from everything you can, take action, network, keep your plan, get to know as much as you can about the field you’re getting into. But don’t go unprepared. I think we were lucky back then; I think Gainesville is a forgiving city because we made a lot of mistakes. We learned from it, we recovered and tried not to repeat it over and over. You have to be funded really well because if you run out of money then your dream will evaporate and you’ll just be building castles in the air. They say it’s “FDA”—you need to have extreme Focus, extreme Discipline and the final A is Action.


And how did you come up with the concept? Song: During our standard tenure at UF, we worked in the Japanese restaurant industry together. That led us to start talking, listening to guests and customers, seeing what they wanted, what was missing, just knowing that there could be more in Gainesville. Hiro: When we graduated, we wanted to do something. It could have been anything. It could have been the drycleaners, even. When you have passion and drive, the end product is probably going to be the same. I think the main idea was that, after we graduated, we were kind of like the modern-day merchant. We went somewhere else, got some ideas, and we decided to give Gainesville something that was missing. Eleven years ago, I don’t think there was anything around here that combined having a good time, the atmosphere, the food, the quality and the cleanliness—put it all together in a box and say, “Here is a restaurant.”

Was there any instance in which you felt really close to giving up? Song: We did run into a situation where the whole restaurant flooded. The pipes blew up, and all the water pipes were on the ceiling so it came down. We couldn’t open for business; our families came down with grand opening gifts and they were welcomed with water gushing out of the restaurant. Hiro: The first three or four years were probably the toughest. We’d look at each other and say, “Man, what did we get ourselves into?” I think it’s just with any growing business; we were too young and naive to think that it was going to be simple and easy. Although those moments were frustrating at times, if I was down, Song would be like, “Hiro, snap out of it.” Having a good family and support system to give you that sense of encouragement

more than just [ really good ]

ing on and we were always running into each other at different functions. Back then, we were still forging our identity. We were around when AASU began. We originally wanted it to be called the Asian Student Coalition, but when it came down to that decision, “coalition” sounded too much like a movement, radical; so we changed it to AASU. That’s when we started doing more things as an umbrella organization. We’re very proud to say that we were there. What were your majors in college? I did marketing and economics; business. I originally went into architecture and design, but I once had a seminar and I must have been talking to a really uninspired architect... he just told me not to go into it because it was so miserable. So, I walked out saying, “Maybe I should just go to medical school like a model Asian.” Trying to do all the math and science, I was like, “Man, this is not fun.” So I thought maybe I should go back into design. But I think in the midst of thinking, I stopped at business. Song: I listened to my parents and tried to pursue law, medicine, accounting—forget accounting! But, yeah, that didn’t work. I did that for a couple of years and ended up doing interdisciplinary studies, focusing on human resource. I did minors in business administration and sociology. School brought us up to realize that we’re Asians and we should be proud Asians. Let’s be a voice in the community. We have a lot to offer, a lot to showcase. So go ahead and choose medicine if it’s medicine, if it’s business, if it’s art, architecture or Hiro:

That’s good stuff. Is there anything else that you would like people to know? Song: Some of the great success stories is that we had staff that came in through our doors who of course have made us who we are today but we can also say we have impacted their lives. We had one of our servers actually win The Apprentice and she’s working in her own multimillion dollar real estate company helped through Donald Trump. We have chefs that have gone to work for Charlie Trotter, who is a famous chef. Now he’s touring all over Europe under famous chefs. We have others who have gone to culinary school and have become bigger and better. Those are the great success stories that one day we’ll look back and say we had an impact in their lives. That one day, they just came into the store needing a job, not knowing exactly what they wanted to do, and through the tools and resources that were given to them, they wanted to make something of themselves. That makes us proud. Those are the stories that we take and we share with the rest of the team because it’s not just a job. The space that we create—it’s an arena where people can come in and make a living, but also learn the valuable tools about life and how to become successful, whether with us or even without us. That’s what it’s really about. We don’t want to forget about our people, because they helped us get here—to get to this point. But we want to further their lives, too. It’s not just about our journey and where we want to be. There are so many more success stories that really define what Dragonfly is about—who we are. That’s what it really comes down to. We created this concept but it’s more than just food. kevinalee


issue 01



shedding light on the road to



t was Friday, March 11, 2011.

It was the most powerful earthquake to ever hit Japan, measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale. It caused a tsunami that led to a nuclear emergency and left over 22,000 dead or missing. When Mihoko Tsutsumi, the director of the Men’s Glee Club and Women’s Chorale at the University of Florida, returned to her home in Japan this summer, she found everything darker. She says there was a lack of electricity because the nuclear plants were destroyed. “On the train, in the train station or in any public place, half the lights are turned off,” says Tsutsumi, who lived in Japan for 40 years. Even the people were different. “People looked depressed,” says Tsutsumi. “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it was because of the light.” Despite the dim lighting and the air conditioning set to 83 degrees, her family doesn’t complain. “We are accepting the fact,” she says. “People are trying to cope. No one is really complaining about anything. Everybody knows that there were so many people killed and to think about those people and their families—we can do our best to support them. Think of those people who are suffering with death. Compared with death, suffering with electricity is just nothing.” At UF, students started the Hope for Japan movement in an effort to provide relief for the victims of the disaster. Fundraising events in light of the tragedy included a candlelight vigil, volleyball tournament and a T-shirt sale to raise toward their goal of $10,000. With the combined efforts of several organizations, including the Asian American Student Union (AASU) and Japanese Gators, the goal was surpassed ahead of deadline. Diana Nguyen, an organizer for the movement, says Hope

for Japan was exciting. Everybody contributed their share to the cause, and it only took about a month to reach their goal. “It seems that all the organizations that had an interest wanted to collect donations themselves at their own events,” Nguyen says. “It was really great. Everyone just showed their support.” Michael Satyapor, the president of AASU, says a check for $12,500 was presented to the Japanese Consulate in Miami, which was then donated to the Japanese Red Cross.

And the movement is still not over. Hope for Japan hosted a “Beat the Quakes” 5K run on Nov. 6. It was co-sponsored by Gators United for Haiti, Asian Kaleidoscope Month and Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Society. “We need help for maybe the next 10 years,” Tsutsumi says. “I don’t want people to forget, so I hope people still keep praying for us and supporting us.” Nguyen says the inspiration to keep helping came mainly from the students who spurred Ga-

Students gathered together in the ampitheatre in a moment of silence during the spring 2011 candlelight vigil organized by Hope for Japan. photosbyheathercabrera


issue 01

H O P E after the shake


tors United for Haiti, which has been fighting for the cause for even longer than Hope for Japan has. She says that seeing how effective they are at their mission pushes the movement onward. “It’s not over,” Nguyen says. “We just want people to know that people [in Japan] are still affected by this and that we still need to help them when we can.” stefaniecainto



k n a

u o y

Sparks Magazine would like to thank everyone who has supported it from the very beginning. This issue would not have been possible without you.

To the wonderful and dedicated staff:

You have all officially brought Sparks to life. Congratulations on being part of a new legacy. Thank you for all of your hard work! I’m so proud to have your talents showcased in this magazine. To my editors and directors: we’re a pretty crazy bunch but I guess all the sketchy late-night meeting sessions and super long Google+ hangouts finally paid off. Each one of you had a tremendous role in the making of this magazine, and I seriously wouldn’t know what I would do without you all. Thank you so much for always putting up with my short-term memory and ambiguity. I’m so glad to have had this opportunity to get to know you. <3 Kevina

Special thanks to our adviser Leah Villanueva, the Asian American Student Union, Asian Kaleidoscope Month, Michelle Le, Andrea Espulgar and William Yang. We would also like to thank our sponsors: Dragonfly, Szechuan Panda II, Red Mango, Lollicup and Pho Hanoi. Our editor-in-chief would also like to thank Dianna Yan, Larry Truong, Celiese Tuason, Nhi Tran, Chrisley Carpio, Jennifer Pham, Rachel Chang and Pamela Michalski for their contributions to the magazine’s early beginnings.

Sparks Magazine is a non-profit magazine that seeks to bring greater representation to the Asian American student community. For more information, please visit

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