Sparks Magazine Issue No. 4

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Dear reader, The stories in our last three issues have focused on the stereotypes and insurmountable odds we face as Asian Americans, but this time around, we have moved on to “The Next Issue.” We’ve ventured out to uncover more thoughtprovoking and controversial stories, as well as showcasing and celebrating the paths we’ve paved for ourselves. Regrets, disappointments, heartaches and struggles are what makes us human. When we spend our minutes, hours, days, months and even years over-analyzing what we could have changed or what steps we could take to ensure a perfect future, we fail to recognize what we’ve accomplished to get to this point in our lives. Therefore, by embracing who we are as Asian Americans and believing in our dreams, then that is when we can truly move forward. Sparks wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for the hopes and dreams that Kevina Lee, our founder and editor-inchief, had when establishing this magazine. Through her passion and determination, she’s made it a reality. She has built a strong foundation here at the University of Florida, giving a voice to the Asian American community, shedding light on our unique issues and achievements, and providing that spark of inspiration to be the people we thought we could never be, and do the things we thought we could never set out to do. There is no end to the amount of gratitude that the Sparks staff and I could give you, Kevina, but know that you’re leaving a legacy here at UF. You’ve pioneered a magazine that transcends the barriers of time and culture, and I hope to continue your legacy with my own vision as I move Sparks into the next issue.

Maureen Mariano Managing Editor

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Kevina Lee editor-in-chief · Ruchao Shang finance director · Kevin Do promotions director · Jina Choi promotions director · Kim Dang programming director · Patricia Potestades assistant content editor · Peter Vo photography editor · Trung Phan assistant photography editor · Yushin Kato design editor · Teresa Dao multimedia editor Patrick Emralino online writer · Alan Nguyen online writer · Anna Chen magazine writer · David Huynh photographer · Crystal Nguyen designer · Erie Uy photographer · Tommey Liang online writer · Stanley Cheng magazine writer · Oanh Nguyen photographer/videographer · June Lee videographer

Not pictured: Jason Liu programming director · Vicky Liao assistant finance director · TaeYeon Hong content editor · Katt Kiner assistant design editor · Alan Yang online director · Leonie Barkakati online content editor · Priya Kamath magazine writer · Kanoko Maeda magazine writer · Maria Pitt magazine writer · Angie Llanos photographer · Thuy Tu photographer · Percy Battalier designer · Ryan Finley designer · Denise Lau designer · Ishani Jetty online writer · Tara Young online writer · Jennifer Luong videographer · Julienne Somera videographer · Alice Zhang videographer

Undocumented, Unafraid and Unapologetic By Priya Kamath Photographed by Erie Uy


ony Park* never had a drink before he was 21. He’s never had a speeding ticket. He’s never even illegally downloaded music. But Park, 21, is considered an “illegal” immigrant by the U.S. government. An estimated 11.9 million undocumented immigrants reside in the United States. Of those, 1.2 million are Asian. Most originate from China, Korea, India and the Philippines, according to the Asian American Justice Center. In 1991, Park moved from Korea to New York; he was 2 years old. He now attends Bowdoin College studying political science. Growing up in a conservative Korean family, he was taught never to ask about his family’s immigration status, including the legality of it. *Sources’ names have been changed per request.

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“Most kids get their driver’s licenses on their 16th birthday. I learned I never would.” “When I first found out I was illegal [at the age of 16], I remember feeling so resentful,” Park says. “I held my parents responsible and had no one to turn to.” Unable to open up to his peers, professors and guidance counselors, Park lived in fear of his family’s security. “Most kids get their drivers licenses on their 16th birthday,” Park says. “I learned I never would.” According to the Social Security Administration, young undocumented immigrants are not eligible for Medicaid, although an estimated three-quarters of undocumented workers pay taxes toward social security and Medicare. In addition, undocumented individuals face a higher risk of developing depression,

according to the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.

“I remember being so scared,” Prasad says. “Scared and ashamed.”

Vijay Prasad*, a Fiji-born graduate student at the University of Texas, San Antonio, moved to the U.S. when he was 3 months old.

He soon found an outlet, an online communit y-Dream Activ , a networking hub and resource for undocumented students and activiststhat allowed him to share his story.

“My family scraped together our savings to give to a man my parents had met named Seth. [He] had promised [my family] green cards for $10,000,” he says. His family had no idea the documents they received from Seth were forged. Through high school, Prasad hid his undocumented status and suppressed his anxiety, as well as his resulting depression.

The co-founder of DreamActivist, Prerna Lal, is a Fiji native who remains the only undocumented individual in her family. Lal refers to herself as “a same-sex partner of a U.S. citizen, a daughter to lawful permanent residents, the granddaughter of a U.S. citizen, a sibling to a U.S. citizen, and so on.” The rest of her family obtained U.S. citizenship, but Lal had “aged out” by the time the U.S. Citizenship and

Prasad and Lal risked arrest by joining other undocumented Asian students in non-violent occupations of political offices in key states for supporting the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). Introduced in 2001, the DREAM Act aims to provide conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented

youth based on a set criteria-including receiving a bachelor’s degree or serving in the U.S. military-and has received bipartisan support in Washington; it has since been revised several times. “My friends have to hide other illegal activity from their parents, like underage drinking, and I have to hide organizing protests on [Capitol] Hill. But I’m tired of feeling invisible,” Prasad says.

We’re not just a bunch of statistics; we’re people. And we refuse to let our stories be swept under the rug. vijay prasad

Who are the undocumented in the united states?

11.2 million 1.2 million

Undocumented people living in the U.S. Undocumented Asians living in the U.S.

2 million 200,000

Undocumented students who would benefit from DREAM Act Undocumented Asians who would benefit from DREAM Act

ratio of undocumented koreans who are living in the u.s. where do the undocumented asians in the united states come from?

china 2% korea 2%

india 2% vietnam 2% the philippines 2%

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Immigration Services filed her family’s paperwork. The USCIS receives long waiting lists, and individuals aged 21 and above cannot legally obtain citizenship under their parents.

I highly encourage those who have felt bullied or abused in some way, shape or form to find comfort and healing and seek out a social justice education. Take a course in Asian American Studies. Take a Women’s Studies course. Once you have the words to articulate what you’ve experienced, it’s an entirely new level of empowerment and sense of healing. That’s why I believe so much in Sparks. It gives a space where this experience of Asian Americans can be brought to life. I encourage everyone to share their voice because their voice matters more than you even realize. Your voice is not just for you, but it is for others who may not have come into realization of the power of their own experience and voice. Share yours so that you may help empower others.

Leah Villanueva, former UF Director of Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs in her Professional of the Month feature at

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The Debacle of Our Immigration System


ames Zheng, a Chinese immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago, scratches in the next few answers to his naturalization exam. He has wa ited si x yea rs a nd has renewed his Visa four times just for the opportunity to take this civics test. Zheng, a permanent resident and a f irst-year chemical engineering student at the University of Florida, was brought into the United States as an immigrant reuniting with family in the country. He is also one of the few immigrants who have dodged the cracks of the United States immigration system. In elementary school, he found the concept of “being an immigrant” foreign as he stood and recited the national anthem with all the other children.

As a young adult, it is the idea of not belonging to the United States that is foreign to him-Zheng has built his entire life in this country, where he has made most of his friends and most of his memories. After years of waiting, Zheng was given the chance for the naturalization e xa m a nd t he oppor t un it y to of ficially make the United States his home. For Zheng, the immigration process has been an endeavor of patience and hope. He feels that the prospect of people like him being deported from his home and life on the basis of minute-long interviews and tests is unreasonable. “The frustrating thing,” Zheng says, “is that they question you on things

By Stanley K. Cheng Photographed by David Huynh

about America that Americans don’t even know. Naturalized citizens end up knowing more than natural-born citizens about this country.” He recollects what he remembers of the exam. “How many people-right now, if you ask themcan give you the titles of two cabinet-level positions? In fact, scratch that. How many people can tell you what a cabinet-level position is?” The U.S. Naturalization Exam is the simple part of the immigration process. To be able to complete the exam is a testament of good fortune and a good immigration lawyer. “There are a lot of really bad immigration lawyers out there who take advantage of people who don’t understand the system. I’ve seen lawyers who leave the country and not tell their clients,” says

She says myths and misunderstandings about the United States immigration system exist. “ T here is a genera l t heme t hat immigrants take away ‘good American jobs,’” Levert y says, “and illegal immigrants should just ‘get in line’ like everyone else. There’s the idea that the naturalization only involves getting a work visa or marrying an American citizen.”

Lynn Leverty, an immigration policy adviser and a senior political science professor at UF. “Lawyers who don’t file the right papers. And you might not know that they’re not doing a great job because your average consumer is not going to understand the policies involved.”

The United States naturalization process, however, is not so simple, and currently it boasts 185 different types of visas. Your average American and immigrant are not going to understand how to navigate through this. lynn leverty

Depending on the situation, an i m migrant waiting for a legal residency may be in the backlog for six to 20 years. Within these years, paperwork has to be renewed before expiration. With a work visa, proof t hat t he immig ra nt is t he on ly i n d i vidual who can effectively complete a specific job, to ensure that a job is not being taken away from an American citizen, is needed. And, if the immigrant has children, their changing status when they reach

adulthood before the immigrant is naturalized must be considered. “A work visa is tied to that employer,” Leverty says. “So if they were to go out of business, you’d essentially have to leave the country. Likewise, similar issues arise if you’re here on a family sponsored visa. For instance, I had a student whose mother was sponsored by her brother to come in, and when his mom died, all of sudden they lost their standing in the system.”

Opponents of illegal immigration are fond of telling foreigners to “get in line” before coming to work in America. But what does that line actually look like and how many years (or decades) does it take to get through?

You are an immigrant with no family in the U.S.A. Are you skilled?


Sorry! There is virtually no process for unskilled immigrants without relations in the U.S. to apply for permanent legal residence.

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You have a shot if you have a job offer.

Do you have a college degree in a specialty occupation?


Sorry, you’re out of luck.


Is your employer willing to file the paperwork for a labor certification? And conduct a new job search for your position? And pay up to $100,000 in legal and other fees?


Rongfei Geng, a Chinese immigrant, took a train to one of the few consular offices in mainland China to complete a myriad of forms and tests in cities days away from his home for the opportunity to study in the United States. For Geng, who has been through the trials of DS-160 forms and student visas, making it into the U.S. was no longer a question of physical transportation and swearing fidelity to the land; it was a process of hope and navigation. The U.S. Naturalization and Visa process of f icially tests applicants on their English and civics, but a trial of patience and fortune precedes the penand-paper criterion. Geng, a UF teaching assistant and graphic design graduate student, came to the U.S. seeking international experience in

digital and interface design. For the opportunity, he began studying to complete the university exams from April 2007 to the beginning of 2009. It was a continuous process of traveling to different cities, waiting in line and filling out forms. “You would take a few days’ train to the United States embassy in Beijing. After finally getting there, you would have to wait in these tremendously long lines and fill out applications that you had no idea about,” Geng says. “There were online applications that everyone was trying to complete, and the site would keep crashing so that you would have to keep reloading the site until it worked.”


NO your employer willing to apply for your temporary work visa (H1-B)?


Sorry, you’re out of luck.

“I think there’s a feeling that Asians have a very easy time with immigration,” Leverty says, “that they come in and take up all the room in the engineering schools, and that it’s a very simple process. There’s very little realization of the different groups of Asians that arrive here, and not all of them are wealthy students. There are people going through this frustrating system, people who are smuggled in, and people who can only work in menial labor.”

The current immigration policy of the U.S. requires him to renew his visa

After your green card, count on another five to six years for citizenship.

The wait time for a green card is typically six to 10 years. If an employer can’t wait that long for you to start work...

for $200 every year. After his studies, it will become extremely difficult for him to return to the U.S.

Sorry, you’re out of luck.

Total time to immigrate and become a citizen: 11 TO 16 YEARS


Then you have a 50-50 chance of getting your H-1B because these visas are capped at 85,000 per year. They run out the first day they are available. If you’re lucky enough to get one, you can start working in the country and your employer can apply for your labor certification and green card.

Tunes Radar on our

By Anna Chen

Aziatix , a hip-hop rap trio comprised of Asian Americans Eddie

Shin, Jay “Flowsik” Pak and Nicky Lee, is quickly making its mark in the American hip-hop industry. Their music is a fusion of R&B, hip-hop and soul. Their most viewed music video on YouTube with more than 1.3 million views, entitled “Slippin’ Away,” depicts the painful heartache of helplessly watching that special someone in your life slipping further away from you. With Eddie and Nicky’s strong R&B vocals combined with the raps that Flowsik gruffly delivers with his signature voice, Aziatix is a band to keep on the radar this year. Check out their album EP Awakening on iTunes. They recently signed a $11.3 million record deal with hip-hop record label YMCMB, the label that currently manages notorious artists such as Lil’ Wayne, Drake and Nicki Minaj.

The members of the hip-hop trio Axiatrix. Photo courtesy of

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is not your typical hip-hop musical group. Contrary to their group name, this trio of African Americans and Asian Americans is far from uneducated and uncultured. Drawing from their unique struggles growing up as minorities, Ill-Literacy combines spoken word that attempts to break down sociopolitical issues; it is hip-hop with a blend of funk and soul. Ill-Literacy tries to maximize human potential; they encourage creativity, activism and a culture of innovation among their audience and today’s youth.

Jason Chu’s

work is a raw reflection of the world through his eyes. He is a Chinese American rapper, spoken-word artist and minister based in Los Angeles, who frequently speaks about the battles between joy and cynicism, greed and hope, hurt and healing. Jason most recently released spoken word videos commemorating the victims of the Newtown shooting victims, as well as a piece addressing apathy among the APIA community when it comes to voting. He is also a member of a YouTube rap group called Model Minority, which has produced songs against the backdrop of instrumentals of Top 40 Hits about subject matters unique to the Asian American community, ranging from boba tea to the Lunar New Year.

asian beauty

s ta n da r d s

By Jina Choi

Photographed by Oanh Nguyen


fter months of not seeing her mother, who resides in South Korea, high school senior Jessica Kan* was not expecting a warm hug. She already knew the first words her mother would say: “You’ve gotten fatter.” Since her middle school days, Jessica became accustomed to her mother calling her “fat.” Although she stands 5-foot-4 and weighs 113 pounds, Jessica’s mother held her to one of the many Eastern Asian standards of beauty: being slim. “I think Asian beauty is very unforgiving,” Jessica says. “It’s too strict and specific.” She explains that South Koreans prize slim legs, faces shaped like a V, tiny waistlines and protruding collar bones.

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“Our bodies aren’t naturally made to have big boobs and big eyes, and most Eastern Asians are characterized with monolids,” Jessica says. “They follow the bombshells of Hollywood blockbuster movies and want to have the actresses’ features. Asian culture also conditions young people to do everything in near-perfection. Most have to do with the specific perceptions of beauty.” Jessica says that because most Korean female celebrities adhere to these specific beauty requirements and practice extreme dieting, they put pressures on girls growing up with those standards.

feels that both countries’ perceptions of beauty have influenced her ultimate outlook on beauty. They were factors in her decision to have double-eyelid surgery, which creates a crease in monolid eyes, performed this summer. “I want to get eyelid surgery for the sole reason that it’ll make my eyes bigger,” Jessica says. “Even though people tell us to embrace our natural beauty, they still stereotype us and make fun [of us]. It’s just a part of my features that I’ve disliked for a long time as my eyes look too dull and small.”

In East Asia, “Western” beauty ­­­­— big eyes, defined facial bone structures and lighter complexions — can be obtained with plastic surgery.

Double-eyelid surgery is quick, with most lasting no longer than an hour. The recovery period is relatively longer, lasting about one to three months. Jessica feels that this is nothing.

While Jessica was born in South Korea, she was raised in the United States. She

“The procedure is so advanced and efficient in South Korea that I’m not


“I think Asian beauty is very unforgiving,” Kan says. “It’s too strict and specific.” worried at all,” Jessica says. “Honestly, I don’t feel like it’ll be a big deal. I’ll be mentally prepared for the change because I’ve actually been wanting it for a long time and it’ll make me happy to finally see it through. As for personal burdens, I don’t have any whatsoever because it’s my choice, and I’ll be excited when the time comes.” Like East Asia, West and South Asia also have a set of standards for beauty, including a fair complexion.

it makes people more light-skinned, which is something my culture conside r s beautiful and something that I feel would make me more confident in my beauty,” Awana says. These girls are living miles away from their motherlands, but the pressure of beauty that their cultural backgrounds put on them is still real.

Awana Chowdhury, a first-year premed student at the University of Florida, says she and her Bengali friends have had their fair share of complaints over sun exposure darkening their skin tone.

David Cuellar, a third-year psychology and telecommunications major at UF, says Asian Americans can be exotic because of the unique features they may have. From their paper-straight black hair to their darker eyes, these are exotic factors that he believes make Asian Americans stand out in terms of beauty.

“So many Asians want to be light-skinned because most likely, in history, it probably distinguished the higher classes of society,” Awana says. “Now, it has trickled down to be a characteristic even current generations find beautiful.”

In Cuellar’s eyes, to have surgery done and to try to achieve a lighter skin tone (by following the footsteps of Michael Jackson, he jokes) takes away from Asian American culture and who they really are.

This desire and demand for a fair complexion in West and South Asia has created cosmetic products like Fair and Lovely, a skin cream marketed at women who seek a lighter complexion.

“I think surgery in general is not something you should toy with,” he says. “To only have it for aesthetics, I don’t think it’s right, and it usually happens from pressures in society. When they Westernize themselves like that or in any way, it’s like the culture, the

“I would use [Fair and Lovely] because

background, the thing that makes them so unique is diminished. “Reconstructive surgery is fine, but if you’re going to make yourself less human and more plastic to fit a standard, it’s no longer beauty; it’s forced beauty.” Rolanda Charles, a first-year business management major at UF, thinks Asian Americans shouldn’t feel pressured to fit into a mold that standards have set. As time progresses, Asian Americans will inevitably face challenges when dealing with beauty standards. Since the introduction of makeup in 4000 B.C. in Egypt, people have tried to change themselves to fit beauty standards. Only time will tell how long these current standards of beauty will stand. “Break the mold,” Charles says. “Who wants to look like everyone else? Beauty is confidence. If you are confident about the way you look, then you have beauty. Other people’s approvals and compliments are just an added bonus, an icing on the cake.” *Name changed upon request.



Explores fashion and beauty as it relates to the overall Asian American identity today. This blog is part of the bigger online magazine called Mochi Magazine, whose target audience is young Asian American women.

Discusses and encourages intellectual and proactive paths to tackle cultural issues relevant to the Asian American community.


FILM BEATS (from the East)

A collaborative blog of more than eight Asian Americans and Asian Canadians writers who share their thoughts on current events, pop culture and politics.

A blog that about both the Asian American and overseas Asian cinema industry, often highlighting new cinematic releases and posting Asian American short films.


Highlights both the current professional journeys and personal journeys of today’s Asian and Asian American athletes and sports teams.

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A Line of Power: Asian Women Firsts in Politics Siramavo Bandaranaike prime minister Bandaranaike was the world’s first female prime minister. Her husband, Solomon Bandaranaike, was prime minister until he was assassinated in 1959 by a Buddhist monk. Sirimavo was titled ‘the weeping widow’ because she frequently mourned her husband’s death as she continued to carry out his policies.

patsy mink - u.s. representative Mink was the first Asian American woman to be elected to Congress and the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Originally from Maui, she represented Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District.

Source: Britannica Online


1986 1990

khaleda zia - prime minister Zia is the first female to become prime minister of Bangladesh. A major figure in the Bangladesh National Party, Zia is known for the changes she made to the education system in Bangladesh.


corazon aquino - president Aquino was the first woman to become president in Asia and the first female president of the Philippines. She was named TIME magazine’s Woman of the Year in 1986, the year of her election.

pratibha patil - president Patil is the first woman to serve as president of India. A lawyer by profession, Patil entered politics after winning an assembly election in 1962. She began her political career at the age of 27.

2007 yingluck shinawatra - prime minister

nikki r. haley - governor of south carolina Haley is the first Asian American woman to be elected governor in the U.S. She previously served as a representative for Lexington County in the South Carolina House of Representatives. Haley is of Indian descent.

mazie hirono - u.s. senator Hirono is the first Asian American woman to become U.S. senator and the first Buddhist U.S. senator. Hirono defeated two-term Hawaii governor Linda Lingle in the 2012 general election. She is of Japanese descent.

2011 2013

Shinawatra is Thailand’s first female prime minister. She is the youngest of nine children in a politically influential family. Formerly the managing director of telecommunications firm AIS, Shinawatra has had no previous political experience.

park geun-hye - president Park is South Korea’s first female president. As the daughter of Park Chung-hee, former president of South Korea, her presidency is strongly associated with that of her father.


Green People By Kanoko Maeda

Photographed by Thuy Tu

Diana Gu, a third-year natural resource conservation and political science major, has followed in her father’s footsteps and made it her mission to protect the environment. While the future of our natural resources and global conditions remain unknown, one fact remains certain: there are Asian Americans students and professionals working to create a more sustainable environment for future generations.

Issac Moriwake EarthJustice Attorney


he island of Maui is the second largest Hawaiian island and a popular tourist destination for its unique scenery that includes both mountainous terrain and more than 30 miles of some of the most popular beaches in the world.

taro, one of Hawaii’s staple foods, to dry up.


Now the CEO and president of ThermaSource, Chow has been in the business for 20 years.

The ongoing legal battle between the companies and several Maui community groups has worked its way up to the Hawaiian Supreme Court. Currently, several of the rivers have been able to The Nā Wai ‘Ehā, which means “The reclaim water. Four Great Waters” in Native Maui, is the site of the two largest rivers on island. M o r i w a k e ’s g r e a t - g r a n d p a r e n t s immigrated from rural areas in Japan Isaac Moriwake, a fourth-generation around the turn of the twentieth century Japanese American and environmental to work as plantation laborers in Hawaii. lawyer, has been working for eight years to restore stream flow to the Nā Wai ‘Ehā He works for EarthJustice, a non-profit river system after two private plantation environmental law firm that provides free companies bought the land and began legal services for environmental causes. diverting the water to sell it to the public. “Because the Earth needs a good lawyer,” its motto says. These companies originally diverted about 39 million gallons of water a day “When I first started at EarthJustice 10 from the Nā Wai ‘Ehā, violating the years ago, I was the only Asian American Hawaiian Constitution, which states that in the entire organization,” Moriwake water is a public resource. says. Since then, the field of environmental law has evolved, and EarthJustice has The Nā Wai ‘Ehā has historically supported been actively working to diversify its native ecosystems and taro farming staff - it now employs at least ten Asian while simultaneously serving as a cultural Americans. and spiritual center of the island. Many of the streams that were diverted by the “When people ask me why I do this, I plantation companies caused wetland think, it’s about home,” Moriwake says. areas that were traditionally used to grow “That’s why I do this.”

rowing up, Richard Chow and his brother enjoyed fishing and hiking, but he did not realize he wanted to make a career in conservation until an ecology class in seventh grade.

Richard Chow CEO of ThermaSource

When Chow was 32, he organized a “cash-for-clunkers” campaign to get fuel-inefficient cars off the road in Newark, Del., at a time when the program was still a novel idea.

ThermaSource is an energy company that provides oilfield services and is developing new ways to use geothermal energy, which is found beneath the Earth’s surface, as a sustainable source for heat and electricity. In contrast to oilfield service companies like Halliburton that focus on oil and gas exploration, ThermaSource is dedicated to finding sustainable energy sources.

For cars older than a particular year with emissions three or four times higher than newer models, Chow arranged for utility companies to pay $500. The program “I’ve never been an over-energetic collected more than 100 cars for disposal. advocate,” Chow says. “I’m a quiet person who is trying to find a solution to “We literally took them to a junkyard and conservation.” smashed them, which meant that they would never pollute again,” Chow says.

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Nearly 7 out of 10 Asian Americans registered to vote in California consider global warming to be “an extremely or very serious issue.”

The number of Asian American voters who identify themselves as environmentalists outnumbers other voters in California by a ratio.


Less than one-third have donated money or time to an environmental organization. 33%


oan Yang’s passion for conservation cuted resulted in the confiscation of over began with her moving away from 1,600 pounds of shark fins and 400 or more shark carcasses. home.

Joan Yang Pew Environment Group Senior Officer

Yang didn’t always know she wanted to focus on environmental law; she started out as a prosecutor and became passionate about marine issues after working in the Republic of Palau, a small island country near the Philippines and Indonesia. Its economy is dominated by subsistence agriculture and fishing. Yang became the first to successfully prosecute a vessel for illegal shark finning - which is responsible for the death of over 100 million sharks per year - in Palau. The case, monumental for ocean conservation, helped strengthen laws against the hunting of shark fins. Shark fin soup is a delicacy in East Asian cultures. The prosecution that Yang exe-

Yang, a Chinese American, has not eaten shark fin soup since she began her environmental work. “I’ve actually had to go to official banquets and not eat the soup,” she says. “It’s not a great situation to be in.” Today, Yang works as a United Nations representative and senior officer for the Pew Environment Group, where she helps negotiate policies regarding practices, like shark finning, that hurt biodiversity and deplete the oceans.

Fashion Forte By Maria Pitt

Photographed by Angie Llanos

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ristine Straker emerged through the front doors of the Hearst Corporation and saw escalators of full grandeur beckoning her to step further inside.

money they had saved up from their nursing jobs. The luxuries her mother indulged in years ago, like now-vintage Louis Vuitton handbags, are still present in Straker’s life.

Her first day as an intern at Harper’s Bazaar, a position she had dreamed of as long as she could remember, had started.

And she’s continued her penchant for fashion at UF. Straker coordinated the first fashion show for Asian Kaleidoscope Month and has been serving as Gainesville Fashion Week’s talent director.

The office – the fashion closet, lounge areas, work spaces, her own desk – seemed like a dream come true. Straker quickly realized this was not the Devil Wears Prada. She helped edit and write copy for spreads, aided photo shoots, networked with people she had read about and, most importantly, realized the value of her opinions. This may read like a work of fiction for some, but for Straker, an advertising student at the University of Florida, this is life. Over the past few years Straker has had the opportunity to intern at Harper’s Bazaar and ELLE. Instead of fetching coffee, she provided fresh outlook. Straker worked New York fashion week, ELLE’s September issue, and a program series with Clairol Hair Color, where she was able to meet famous designers Catherine Malandrino and Naeem Khan. She toured their design studios and saw their fashion lines for the upcoming season. Straker grew up around fashion. She recounts fashion magazines like Vogue sprawled out around the house, staples of the good life. Moving from the Philippines to Miami in her youth, Straker’s mother felt a sense of accomplishment when she and her five roommates were able to go out and purchase high-end bags with the

“I never gave up, looked back, or tried to take shortcuts when I felt scared or was rejected.” Like Straker, Marry Vuong, a UF sophomore, has found an outlet for her talent since coming to college. As a child, Vuong used to sketch and make clothes for her Barbie dolls. Her mother’s family ran and owned a successful clothing company from the first floor of their two-story home in Vietnam making high-end women’s garments. She remembers her mom sending measurements to Vietnam telling her family what to make her, and the beautiful bedazzled clothing that would follow. In 2001, Vuong’s grandmother, whom she affectionately called bà ngoai, immigrated to the United States. Vuong learned cooking and hand-sewing from her bà ngoai, and eventually, her mother

taught her how to use the sewing machine. Vuong started out with sewing an iPod bag and continued on to make her own backpacks and messenger bags. Her first successful business, “Totally Made by Marry,” emerged as a result. “Totally Made by Marry” allowed Vuong to creative ideas, sew, sell and even host her own fashion show for handbags and T-shirts during her freshman and sophomore years in high school. Vuong was encouraged by her peers in the Vietnamese Student Organization to pursue her passion by putting on a fashion show for the VSO Tet Show. For the show, Vuong created a more mature line that paid homage to her parents through its name, Lucy Tran. Vuong delves into the line when she feels stressed or inspired. Recently, Vuong has been contacted by a variety of different boutiques with offers to sell her clothing line to a larger public. “Do it if you love it, and if you haven’t tried it before, then it’s worth the try,” Vuong says.

The Man Behind Akufuncture

Between Gq and ghetto

By Patricia Potestades Photographed by Trung Phan

Samuel Wang is the founder and CEO of Akufuncture, a clothing brand based in Los Angeles, which fuses Chinese culture and urban fashion. His clothing designs have been featured on YouTube star Jason Chen’s channel and by dance crew Poreotics. You were in gainesville for asian kaleidoscope month a few months ago. how does it feel to be back for this chinese new year show?

What are the background stories for some of the designs you showcased today?

Why did you feel that it was important to incorporate chinese culture into your line?

I love it. I love Florida. It reminds me of Taiwan. It ’s wet, hot, all that goodness, so I love it out here. All the people are so friendly here, so I love coming back. I especially enjoy it, I think, because in L.A., there are a lot of Asian Americans, lots of Chinese Americans. So they don’t appreciate [these kinds of events] as much, but when you come out here, they don’t see these kinds of things as often, so they really treasure it. I really feel appreciated, so I really love it down here.

It’s our new superheroes collection. We took the Monkey King from Journey to the West and infused it with Marvel and DC comic characters to kind of connect people a little easier and a little better, so non-Asians and non-Chinese Americans can see it. And there’s a little twist to it. Hopefully they’ll ask questions like “Why does it have that golden crown on top?” or “Why is it a monkey shape?” so we can get the conversation going for people to learn about Chinese culture.

I thought it was underrepresented. There’s a lot of Filipino-, Vietnamese-, Korean- and Japanese- culturally infused items or products. The culture itself is very strong. I think Chinese culture has been lacking in that. What I really want to do is introduce this to mainstream Americans, let them know that this is what Chinese culture is about. [It’s] not just what you read in the history books, and it’s not just kung fu. There’s other parts to it. There’s a lot of beautiful stories behind it and hopefully, for the Chinese Americans, they’ll embrace their culture a little bit more, they’ll like their culture a little bit more and have something to show for it. We’re trying to rebrand Chinese culture, updating it so there’s a newer, fresher image. Hopefully we can inspire others to do the same thing in other fields.

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I know that you graduated with an engineering degree. when did you realize that fashion is what you really wanted to pursue? Like third-year, when I was still in school. Not as something I wanted to pursue. I never really knew that I was going to do that, but I had a lot of interest in fashion, spent a lot of time buying clothes instead of studying – that’s probably a bad thing. That’s why I’m not a very good engineer. But it was just so beautiful, and fashion, in a lot of ways, is similar to engineering. You have to craft all your clothes; you have to drape, layer, sew. You have to apply piece over piece. In a lot of ways, you can look at it similarly. I think there’s so much more creativity involved; there’s so much visual impact involved that I thought that it was a much better route for me. I would enjoy it more. I’m a very visual type of guy, so that’s why I enjoy it so much more than engineering.

How did you take fashion from just being an interest to something that is really a part of your life and making something out of it? First, you have to have the passion. You have to know that’s your real passion. You need to have a drive if you’re really passionate about it, to build that. The route wasn’t easy. It looks all glam outside right now, with people coming up to me and getting autographs. All that is very pretty and very nice, but there was a lot of work involved. A lot of times, you want to call it quits, you want to try and scrape for more money. That’s all the things that will discourage you from keeping on going, but you just have to believe in what you do and push on. That’s why I think these kinds of things, you have to be passionate about, because there’s so many obstacles that could stop you from doing what you want to do. You’ve got to believe in yourself, and having some business acumen will be helpful too. But those things can come after. The main thing is really finding out what you really like to do. You don’t have to start a company. You can do anything that you’re interested in, as long as you’re passionate about it.

we’re trying to rebrand chinese culture, updating it so there’s a newer, fresher image.

How would you describe your own personal style? Chic-gangster! Yeah, I mean, I’m a mix between GQ and ghetto. I actually dress pretty street a lot of the times. There are times I really don’t care. I’ll just be like sweatpants, T-shirt, hat, and maybe on the top I’ll wear a blazer, so it’s mix-and-match. It works for me; don’t know if it’ll work for other people. I honestly don’t want people to follow my own footsteps, because it’s kind of mix-and-match. But, I think chic-gangster is nice. I try to look GQ when I can, and when I’m lazy, I look whatever. Usually it still comes [out] OK.


What was your biggest accomplishment this year? This year, I found new meaning in an organization I already loved. It still has its social side, but this board has stressed its cultural roots and community involvement. I never would have expected to pick up a Chinese minor or to extend into the community the way we have. I thought I abandoned my community service activities by joining CASA, but this year has proved me wrong. - Elizabeth Wang, Sophomore

I played six intramural sports this school year, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I gained a lot of advantages out of that. - Mincheol Shin, Junior

...Getting accepted into UF Pharmacy School and surviving my first year. - Anthony Phan, First-Year Grad

I am most proud of staying true to my beliefs despite the changing social norms and expectations that college entails. That’s not to say that my perspectives and opinions have remained static and unyielding, but have evolved, mirroring my own personal growth. Successful development occurs on stable f oundations, not upon rickety structures that sway in whatever direction the wind blows.

...Probably my work with Kaleidoscope Month. To me it wasn’t about any of the famous people we’ve brought. The biggest thing for me was helping the event directors become successful and helping them create events that reflected who they are and see those events come to life. - Scott Huang, Senior

- Michael Chiang, Freshman

My biggest accomplishment this past year was probably the Fall 2012 Housing Fair, when hundreds of students came out to explore housing options. - Nha-Uyen Hua, Junior

My biggest accomplishment this year was getting on the Dean’s List last semester. It was my first time ever being on the Dean’s List, and I was really proud that all my hard work paid off. - Reginald Varghese, Sophomore

...Overcoming my fear of performing in a large crowd when I danced at the Asian American Student Assembly.

- Jennyfer Wong, Junior

Figuring out what I really want to major in, something I actually enjoy: graphic design over architecture.

- Wilfred Lee, Freshman

2011-2013 ues s is e h t t roughou


sparks | issue no.4


hen I first started Sparks Magazine, I didn’t really think much about what it would eventually come to be. We started with about 20 staff members but with a strong mission: to provide relatable, inspirational stories of Asian American people for the community to recognize. In fall 2011, we released our first ever issue with the theme Vulnerability/Strength. In 2012, we launched our website at and hosted our first ever independent release party, at which we had more than 100 guests attend. We now have more than 40 students on our staff working hard to bring these pages to life as well as producing additional content for the world to see online. But, now that we have built a solid foundation for our organization, we don’t want it to end there.

our next issue... After a fateful trip to the East Coast Asian American Student Union conference in February 2013, a few Sparks Magazine staff realized there is a lack of Asian American student publications across the nation. After careful consideration and advice from our editorial board and former adviser Leah Villanueva, I am now envisioning something bigger and better for the future of Sparks, which will involve your help. After seeing this publication grow for two years, I will not be leaving Sparks Magazine after this fourth issue. In fact, we will be establishing a new Board of Directors to closely work with the editors of the publication and expand to include editors, writers, photographers and designers from different chapters in schools across the nation. This, in essence, will truly Spark a new movement for the Asian American community. Are you on board? Email us at!

We are now also recruiting for our fall 2013 staff! If you are interested in being involved with either our print or online publications, please apply at

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