Sparks Magazine Issue No. 14 | University of South Florida

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ISSUE Spring 14// 2018

1 | Spring 2018

University of South Florida



CONTENT WRITERS Naila Hossain, Cynthia Lai, Nicole Marques, Bryant Nguyen, Trianna Nguyen • PHOTOGRAPHERS Henry Chin, Catherine Le • DESIGNERS CJ Close, Amy Le • ILLUSTRATOR Patricia Tanoeyjaya


UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Alexandria Ng • MANAGING EDITOR Alyssa Ramos • CONTENT EDITORS Joanna Zhuang, Megan Hoagland •DESIGN EDITOR • Ingrid Wu PHOTO EDITORS Megan Mizusawa, Ashley Leong • CREATIVE DIRECTOR Ashley Williams • ONLINE EDITOR Nicole Dan • PRINT WRITERS Klarizza Aggabao, Samantha Boddupalli, Kayla Davidson, Iesha Ismail, Othelia Jumapao, Jung Kim, Jerry Lee, Kaylyn Ling, Ashley Nguyen, Ashley Tatang, Jayna TaylorSmith, Denise Tran • PHOTOGRAPHERS David Chan, Zachariah Chou, Claudia Forster Torres, Jessica Lim Liwag, Hye-Jin Min, Dustin Phan, An Vuong, Shuer Zhuo • VIDEOGRAPHER Jessica Lim Liwag • DESIGNERS Elizabeth Kim, Allyson Martinez, Sarah Nguyen, Hasin Sharma, Karen Yung, Shuer Zhuo • VPROMOTIONS DIRECTOR Sarah Cheung • PROGRAMMING DIRECTOR Priya Mohan • FINANCIAL DIRECTOR Pooja Gupte • PR STAFF David Chan, Esther Kim, Jung Kim, Carla Leon, Grace Song

UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Rikki Ocampos • MANAGING EDITOR Ann Dong • DESIGN EDITOR Ebone Grayson • PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR Jordan Rich • WRITERS Anusha Makhani, Kathleen Melendez, Jasmine Gabriel, Nica Angelica Ramierez, Valentina Velasquez • PHOTOGRAPHERS Paola Chinchilla, Jenny Le, Minh Thu Nguyen, Erin Rich • DESIGNERS Simon Fevrier, Jessica Moore, Thalia Su • PROGRAMMING DIRECTOR Nica Angelica Ramirez • PROGRAMMING ASSISTANT Beck Pitman • SECRETARY Jasmine Gabriel


Cover Photo/ SOPHIA THAI

2 | Spring 2018


letter from the editor Dear reader, The idea for Sparks at USF started two years ago, when Kevina Lee and Katherine Ragamat came to Journey to the East 2016, and pitched it to our campus. They talked about Sparks as an outlet for AAPI representation, as a way to encourage activism in our community, but most importantly as a way to create something real and profound. Instantly, I fell in love, and I approached them, knowing that this was the opportunity that I was looking for.

As I graduate this semester, I like to think about the future of Sparks here at USF. I am certain that it will blossom into one of the premier Asian Organizations on campus, it will be the destination for content creators looking for opportunities to further themselves, and it will be a place where like-minded individuals can have a family.

At the end of the day, I encourage you all to explore the stories and experiences of others Since my start at USF in 2013, I searched around you, as I promise that there is always for an organization that brought light to a story worth telling. AAPI issues, and gave us an outlet to share our stories and experiences. This was that organization. It was a long trek upwards after that, setting up the logistics with National Board, registering on campus, and bringing together a staff of the willing. After a long year and a half of work, in the Spring of 2018, we had stories to share, and a staff ready to bring them to life. So that’s exactly what we did. Inside you’ll find stories from USF, UCF, and UF that bring to light a wide range of subjects and issues, and I couldn’t be happier with the results!

Sincerely, Aleem Waris Editor-in-Chief

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table of contents 6





BY Jung Kim

BY Samantha Boddupalli








BY Kaylyn Ling

BY Klarizza Aggabao

BY Iesha Ismail








BY Valentina Velasquez

BY Nica Angelica Ramirez

BY Jasmine Gabriel

THE APPROPRIATION MONSTER BY Nicole Marques and Bryant Nguyen


GOT MSG? BY Aishani Shrinath

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BY Ashley Tatang

BY Ashley Nguyen





BY Cynthia Lai and Naila Hossain

BY Anusha Makhani









BY Kayla Davidson

BY Denise Tran

BY Kathleen Melendez

BY Othelia Jumapao


FINDING A HERO BY Trianna Nguyen





41 5 | Spring 2018

“Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of,” Makhija said. “It’s a medical disease just like any other and can be treated.” From a cultural perspective, Makhija can empathize with the culture’s habits and tendencies. Makhija said that Asian Americans value

6 | Spring 2018

family-oriented and identify as part of a family unit. Families tend to play a bigger role when it comes to treatment.”

“Being that the Asian community is small, many think that if they go to a doctor everyone will find out about their weakness. They think, ‘I’m crazy,’ or ‘Who will marry my siblings if word gets out?’”

In response to the stigma associated with mental ailments, Makhija strives to shatter its bad reputation so that APIAs in the community can seek help or learn how others can provide help.

Makhija also acknowledges other facets that thwart the APIA community from acquiring proper medical assistance.

“Asians tend to be very proud people – they like to believe that they should solve all problems on their own,” Makhija said. “That becomes a problem because they deprive themselves of help.” Because of this, Makhija modifies the way in which therapy is executed. “Treatment for Asians is not different, but some strategies and steps are different,” Makhija said. “Asians in general tend to be more


The President of Health Educated Asian Leaders (HEAL) at the University of Florida, Rebekah Kim, spoke up about the dangers of


Vasudev N. Makhija, M.D., founder and president of the South Asian Mental Health Initiative and Network (SAMHIN), discussed his record of dealing with patients in the office. He noted the reluctance of Asians coming forward with their conditions.

their privacy. Acknowledging mental illness can be perceived as violating unwritten family rules, Makhija said.



s mental health disorders are steadily surfacing in various facets of society, there is a question on how best to treat them in the Asian Pacific Islander American community. As a group that’s notorious for accentuating perfectionist qualities, Asian Americans are charged with holding a stigma against signs of imbalance. APIA medical experts and students discuss how being an Asian American has affected the way mental illnesses are addressed.

BY Jung Kim

Asian Americans speak up about tendencies to repress talks about mental health illnesses

stifling warning signals in individuals. “Mostly, we as Asian Americans are afraid to show differences because we are go-getters, keeping our eyes on our goal. The rest becomes unimportant. Because of that mentality, anything that deters from success is not spoken of.” The fear of judgement often affects one’s willingness to proclaim hidden secrets. “There’s a silent condemnation of needing therapy,” Kim said. Cultural barriers that prevent proper medical assistance are among Kim’s worries regarding victims seeking help. “We never really utilized healthcare in the first place. That’s where I have so many issues with APIAs in the healthcare system because there’s a lack of knowledge. Our parents had that language barrier,” Kim said. “Because they didn’t raise us going into healthcare, we grew up without knowledge of it. That’s another reason why those struggling with mental health don’t seek help.” Eric Luo, the internal vice president of the Chinese American Student Association (CASA) at the University of Florida, said how the organization could provide a form of backing for fellow peers. “CASA can be an outlet for students struggling with mental health disorders because we do try to make ourselves more open and to be available for our members and officers,” Luo said. When asked how Asian Americans differ from other ethnicities in their approach toward mental illness, Luo pointed out the lack of communication.

“We don’t talk about it as much,” he said. “At least for our current generation and age group, we tend to be a bit more open about it, but we still keep it toward ourselves.” Luo elaborated on his hopes for the future prospects of APIAs concerning mental health.


“I hope we become more open and have these conversations more often,” he said. “We don’t necessarily need to normalize it but rather, make people more comfortable with the subject.” The escalating recognition of Asians Americans suffering from mental illnesses is catalyzing a movement in acceptance, but the community has yet to reach the full embrace of mental health. However, as this generation of Asian Americans become more aware of mental health in the community, there’s hope. “As far as what the APIA community is doing correctly – we do well in perseverance. This goes toward any struggle that we face,” Kim said. “We really try to get through it, which goes hand-in-hand with mental illnesses. We try to move on. We have that perseverance, which we pick up from our parents.” •

7 | Spring 2018

Family First Chain migration policies attempt to put more restrictions on immigration

Because of the family reunification policy, her mother and two older sisters were able to make the journey with him. She explained that her father entered the diversity visa lottery around 27 years ago on a whim and got selected on the first try.

She recounts that her family had a comfortable life in Bangladesh, but decided to come to the United States in hopes of having a better life. “I have two older sisters. They are 10 and seven years older than me,” Majumder said. “At the time, they were very young, and [my parents] just thought they would have better opportunities if they came to America.”

8 | Spring 2018

“I FEEL LIKE [MY PARENTS] ARE HAPPY WHEN THEY SEE WHAT MY SISTER AND I HAVE AS OPPORTUNITIES.” —SHAHAYRA MAJUMDER Despite the fact that many Asian families view migrating to America as a chance to have more opportunities and live a better life, moving to the United States often comes at a price. Both of Majumder’s parents had master’s degrees in Bangladesh but struggled to find work after coming to the United States. Among all of the hardships that come with moving to another country, travelers must leave the family and friends they have known their whole life. Majumder explained that her mother’s sisters were later able to migrate to America, but as a result of being separated for so long, her mother’s sisters were closer to each other than they were to her.

Family reunification is a policy upheld by the United States for more than 50 years. It is considered a traditional value of the country. Under the family migration policy, immediate family members can petition to come to the United States. By definition, this refers to children, spouses and parents. Children must be under 21 years of age and unmarried. According to the Migration Policy Institute, as of 2003, this policy has accounted for around two-thirds of permanent immigration into the United States per year. The Trump administration has called to end chain migration, referring to the policy as “an antiquated system of family ties.” However, family reunification is a policy that is actually deeply rooted in American tradition. “[Family reunification] has been in the immigration policy from day one,” said Min Zhou, professor of sociology and Asian American studies at UCLA. “America is family-oriented. That value is a traditional American value that is embedded in the immigration policy. I think we take pride on that policy.”

DESIGN/ Sarah Nguyen

“I think there is a perception of America in a lot of Southeast Asian countries that it is the pinnacle of achievements; you have the ability to rise high in socioeconomic status and station,” Majumder said.

“I feel like [my parents] are happy when they see what my sisters and I have as opportunities available to us. I think it’s gratifying… I think they are happy with their choice,” she said.

“I think it’s valuable to have family reunification, so that you don’t end up like me — not knowing a lot of family,” Majumder said. “I didn’t meet so many of them until I was much older, or growing apart from the family that you do have, just for the sake of having opportunities somewhere else.”

PHOTOGRAPHY/ Claudia Forster Torres

One such family is that of Shahayra Majumder, a student at the University of Florida majoring in applied biomolecular sciences. Majumder’s father was selected to come to the United States from Bangladesh through the diversity visa lottery.

Majumder herself was subsequently born in the United States.

BY Samantha Boddupalli


he family reunification policy has kept many families together since its inception in the United States.

According to the Center for American Progress, family reunification has been one of the main pillars of U.S. immigration policy since its inception. It became the key to ending Asian immigration exclusion in the United States around the World War II era, spurring Congress to pass a series of laws to allow the spouses and fiancées of American soldiers into the United States. In 1965, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which favored family reunification and is still largely in place today. In 2017, President Trump called for a move toward a more “merit-based” immigration policy, with a point system that favors things like education and English skills, rather than family. In his efforts, he has noticeably referred to the policy as “chain migration,” as opposed to “family reunification” or “family-based migration.” Experts have argued that Trump’s choice of words is a deliberate move toward dehumanizing family-based migration. Referring to the policy as “chain migration” is bound to have an effect on public perception. People might be less inclined to support a policy called “chain migration” than one called “family reunification.” The term “family reunification” or “family migration” is an appeal to pathos. It paints a picture of a stable household with children growing up with their parents and couples being united. Contrarily, the term “chain migration” paints a less appealing picture of multiple immigrants coming into the country in the place of one immigrant. “A merit-based policy has its drawbacks too,” Zhou said. “U.S. society is more ‘free.’ It’s free market, so the labor market applauds the kind of labor needed in the U.S. economy, both highly skilled and low-skilled. If you have a ‘merit-based’ policy, I think that would change the labor force dynamic.” In 2017, legislators introduced the RAISE Act, a senate Republican bill intended to significantly reduce rates of unskilled immigration. Specifically, this bill targets family-based immigration by limiting family-based immigration to only the spouses and children under 18 years old, and increasing limitations on other family categories by nearly 40 percent. Currently, U.S. citizens can bring their parents, children and spouses into the U.S. Siblings and adult children are allowed as well, with limitations. Legal permanent residents can bring their spouses and unmarried children into

the United States. The countries that take advantage of family-based immigration into the United States the most include China, India, Vietnam and the Philippines. The majority of these sponsorships are under categories that would be eliminated if the RAISE act is passed, including over 70 percent of green cards from India and Vietnam.

“I THINK THERE IS A PERCEPTION OF AMERICA IN A LOT OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN COUNTRIES THAT IT IS THE PINNACLE OF ACHIEVEMENTS; YOU HAVE THE ABILITY TO RISE HIGH IN SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS AND STATION,” -SHAHAYRA MAJUMDER The phrase “chain migration” also implies the notion that multiple family members can come to America by taking advantage of the family-based immigration policy, in theory resulting in an entire family tree migrating into the United States. This is an idea that many people who support Trump’s proposed new immigration policy believe to be true. How-

ever, this notion is a myth. In fact, it is impossible for this to occur because it simply takes too long to migrate to the United States, even with a family member that has U.S. citizenship. “The current policy already discourages a lot of families who want to migrate even though we have family unification preference categories. The wait time for some countries is a long, long time,” Zhou said. “I think the current waiting time for a citizen who sponsors his or her own brothers and sisters from the Philippines would be over 20 years. Who would want to come?” The RAISE act would also eliminate the diversity visa lottery, the very same program that allowed UF student Majumder’s father to migrate to the United States. This program awards visas through random selection in select countries in order to promote immigration in countries that have relatively low rates. When asked if she thinks her family would be living in America if it weren’t for the diversity visa lottery she replied, “Probably not.” •

9 | Spring 2018

Choreographing Culture Why South Asian American dancers choreograph fusion

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Sheikh is one of the few professional Bengali artists who was born and raised in Russia. “[Dancers] take tracks from “Star Wars” and put some classical Indian instruments to the music, and we make it fusion. It’s the influence of our time, influence of globalization,” Sheikh said. “And it’s cool that we have this kind of fusion. And who knows? After a few centuries,

Similar to the expressions on your face, dance is a universal language and one of the oldest forms of storytelling. Every culture around the world has its own form of dance for every occasion. Subcultures even curate their own styles.


Audiences can sense the start of a Bollywood dance number before the music even begins. By now, the formula is simple. Dress at least 20 girls in long skirts, a midriff-baring top called a choli and add stacks of bangles on each wrists. Use neck isolations with cheeky eye expressions and a subtle smirk. But don’t forget quick, bouncy hips to add a flirty back-

DESIGN/ Shuer Zhuo

“When I was six years old, my mom had found an Indian dance teacher in the area, and I remember going to one class just to watch, and I immediately fell in love,” Panchal said. “The dance teacher taught classical Indian dancing but blended it with Bollywood fusion elements.”

“The 21st century world is developing, and it’s developing really rapidly. Classical Indian dance is not the way it was 100 years ago, to be honest,” said Ridy Sheikh, a 24-year-old professional dancer in Russia.

[fusion dance is] going to be classical [dance] for upcoming generations.”


Panchal, 22, was raised by Indian parents in Daytona Beach, Florida. Her mother, born and raised in Mumbai, India, was trained in Bharatanatyam, an ancient classical Indian dance that roots itself in the temples of South India. The strict dance form never interested young Panchal. Instead, she wanted to learn American dances like hip-hop and contemporary.

Over the past decade or so, young Indian dancers have taken classical Indian dance and combined it with Western and Bollywood styles. Dancers even have their favorite South Asian DJs, who remix American Top 40 radio hits and electronic dance music beats with Bollywood songs, to find inspiration for their routines. This combination of culture helps young Indian American dancers preserve their heritage and keep up with the pop culture and trends in the United States.

BY Jayna Taylor-Smith


s a first-generation South Asian American, Shaina Panchal said she struggled to create a life that seamlessly blended her Indian and American self. It wasn’t until she discovered fusion dance that she found the balance between the Indian traditions that surrounded her at home and the American culture she immersed herself in elsewhere.

and-forth tease between the film’s love interests. It’s playful and colorful Bollywood dancing, but the style often gets criticized for being predictable. Bollywood dancing is no longer the stereotypical “twisting the light bulb” and pelvic thrusts. This new generation of dancers wants to change the status quo. Millennials crave more than choreographing the traditional styles they learned growing up. The catalyst to create fusion styles comes from their curiosity of learning new dances and connecting cultures. “Out of nowhere, you put Indian classical in your choreography, and you make some Kathak spins, and it looks fabulous,” Sheikh said. “No one understands where it comes from. And then you explain it comes from Indian classical dance form, and people are like, ‘Whoa.’” Classical Indian dance has been around for centuries. Its history is sown deep in religious texts and fables. Each region of India even has a distinct style that demands different techniques and costumes. The six classical Indian dances are Bharatanatyam, Kathakli, Kathak, Manipuri, Kuchipudi and Odissi. By five years old, children begin to learn of one of these six dance forms. Formal training lasts until a dancer is a teenager. Then they practice actual routines once all the steps, facials and even eye movements are mastered. Routines are performed during a dancer’s arangetram — a graduation of dance. After this milestone performance where dancers prove their artistry, dancers often start teaching lessons on their own.


Only after understanding and grasping these foundational steps of classical dance do many young Indian dancers venture into the realm of jazz, contemporary or hip-hop. Having the discipline to learn classical dance sets the groundwork for learning any style of dance later on, especially fusion. “I truly believe that if you don’t know the basics of any style, you can not be a good fusion choreographer,” Sheikh said. Sheikh’s 20-year dance career began in Russia, when she learned the basics of Bengali folk dance through an “auntie,” who was a former Kathak dancer. Sheikh dipped her toes in ballet but quit early on. As a child, Sheikh’s mother also signed her up to take basic classes in Bollywood, Kathak and Bharatanatyam in an Indian cultural center in Moscow.

“I always thought that it was very boring to stick to one thing, in any

11 | Spring 2018

field of my life. If you do dance, why don’t you try different styles and fuse and try something new? Something nobody did before,” Sheikh said. “When you know different styles or different ways to express yourself through dance, it makes you unique. And what if you make a revolution in something you do?” Recently, Sheikh picked up whacking. This step is typically choreographed in hip-hop routines. Dancers vigorously whip their arms front, back and side-to-side to the beats when whacking. After taking a class in this style, Sheikh thought about fusing it with Mohiniyattam, a softer classical Indian dance form. This juxtaposition of powerful and delicate is the essence of fusion.


“I was amazed how close [whacking] is to Indian dances, and I always was interested to fuse whacking with Indian dance forms, but my knowledge of whacking wasn’t that strong because in Moscow it wasn’t that popular,” Sheikh said. “I didn’t have enough knowledge, so I could not fuse it the way it should be.” Shalini Bathina, 26, who trained in the classical form of Kuchipudi for nearly two decades said dancers should do each step technically correct when choreographing a fusion piece with classical elements. For example, in Bharatanatyam, the same hand gesture turned in a different angle easily translates to a different meaning than intended. One off elbow or incorrect foot placement could offend a dancer with years of training. This also applies to classical costumes, which Bathina said are sacred. The bells worn around a Bharatanatyam dancer’s ankles are treated like another instrument to the music. They are also blessed by the dancer’s guru, or teacher, and are never worn carelessly. Attention to detail must be precise when so much of classical Indian dance is an ode to religious gods. “Don’t disrespect the art,” Bathina said. “If you want to do a piece on it, go take a class. You wouldn’t do a hip hop number without taking a class. With [Bharatanatyam]…maybe other people won’t notice, so it looks fine to you, but you have to make sure the people who do notice are not offended by it.” At the studio that Bathina dances in Los Angeles, MKM Bollystars, dancers originate from a combination of dance backgrounds. Ballet, tap and even flamenco dancers meet at the studio to choreograph a routine that showcases a little bit of everyone’s specialty.

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When dancing fusion, Bathina said it’s best to keep an open mind. Fusion dancers learn best from experimenting. Most dancers start choreographing in one style, spontaneously switch styles midway and ask “What if?” In the mystical land of social media, inspiration and chal-

lenge for dancers is only a tap away. With 60-second video clips on Instagram, dancers have to keep their routines and song choices intriguing before someone scrolls past.

“For fusion dance teams, each song is about 30 seconds; it’s a medley of songs,” Bathina said. “I think fusion has just become more eye-catching. It’s different, and it’s using modern ways to relate to people but using classical elements. It’s just another way to relate to the masses.” Richa Shukla, a 28-year-old California native and professional dancer and actress, was surprised to see so many dancers taking on fusion. She noticed more fusion dancers than before when her social media feeds were overloaded with content of dancers promoting their talents. “It’s inspiring to see how many people all over the world are doing this,” Shukla said. “For me, fusion is great, and I think it’s really great when younger generations are inspired to do classical and branch out in different styles.” Shukla’s mother, who is from India, put her in ballet and jazz when she was only three years old. But her first real training in any dance form growing up in northern California was Kathak. Learning Kathak was something Shukla’s mom encouraged her to learn. By high school, Shukla fostered a true appreciation and love for the art form. She started learning other styles of dance after feeling some pressure to branch out to fit in with the westernized world. Her general passion for dance led her to learn new dances, too.

es, and her friend wants to teach Kathak, no parents seem to want that. Parents ask for their daughters to learn only a little bit of Kathak but mostly fusion, Bathina said. “I think the parents are looking into it in a different way. I think it’s because they see [fusion] a lot more, and they see it’s more fun for the kid and more fun for the audience,” Bathina said. “I think they’re looking at it from a fun point of view, instead of as an art form.”


Shukla echoes the same fear. She said she sees second- and third-generation Indian children getting further away from their heritage and roots. One Bollywood routine after the next choreographed to Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” might mean the loss of learning historical Indian dances. When Shukla went to India, her friends who grew up there were surprised to see her, an

American, doing Kathak. Her friends didn’t even train in Kathak, she said.

“It would be a tragedy if people just stopped learning [classical dance] because they only wanted to do Western styles or whatever they saw everyone was doing,” Shukla said.

It’s up to parents to find ways to inspire their kids to preserve these classical dance styles, Shukla said. Still, she understands that inspiring kids to learn classical dance comes from making it appealing by adding fusion elements and working with choreographers from around the world.

Bathina hopes to start an arts school in the future to reassure students that the arts don’t just have to be a hobby. The arts, she said, are encouraged during high school, but society tells students to stop after. “I think one way to preserve [classical dance] is for people like me and my friends to keep showing that this is still a good art form.” •

“Because I have the classical foundation, anytime that I’ve taken other forms of dance, like classes or workshops, I’m really quick at learning other styles,” Shukla said. Right now Shukla said she’s interested starting a project with a flamenco dancer. But she always comes back to her roots, claiming that her “love and dedication” for Kathak will always be there. With fusion choreography garnering massive attention on social media, where a majority of this generation spends their time, there’s worry that fewer Indian children are learning classical dances. While Bathina wants to teach Kuchipudi class-

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Island Identity Exploring the colors of Asian Carribbean heritage


eople always say, ‘Oh you’re Chinese Jamaican, that’s awesome,’ but no one ever breaks that surface,” said Luke Morris, a third-year political science major at the University of Florida.

Morris, whose parents were a part of the Caribbean diaspora, was born and raised in South Florida but has had a life colored by his Caribbean background.

After many years spent in Jamaica, a large part of Morris’ family emigrated from Jamaica to the United States to live in South Florida. In the U.S., Morris grew up in a “nonconventional” household. “I live with more than just my immediate family,” Morris said. “We also live with my cousins and my grandparents. It was very cool growing up. We had a lot of family support.”

Asian Americans speak up about tendencies to repress talks about mental illnesses. These silent cries for help collectively aggregate to uncover a bigger band of advocates. 14 | Spring 2018

That family support, Morris pointed out, is what he is most proud of when speaking about his heritage. “I know a lot of families are close, but it’s just different for my family because we grew up living in the same space… we’re a very close family, and I think that comes from Jamaican hospitality,” Morris said.

DESIGN/Hasin Sharma

Like many Caribbean immigrants, Morris’ ancestors came to the Western Hemisphere to find security for their future. Security meant learning how to speak English and moving to America. Like other immigrants from Asia of that time, Morris’ predecessors held a strong belief that learning English was the way to succeed.

PHOTOGRAPHY/Jessica Lim Liwag

“My parents were both born in Jamaica,” Morris said. “But, obviously, I look very Asian. My great-great-grandparents migrated to Jamaica around the time of World War II from China. They were trying to escape an exploitative environment created by communism.”

BY Kaylyn Ling

The Asian Caribbean identity is one of the most complex and unique cultures in America. Beginning in the 20th century, many Asians migrated to the Caribbean islands where there has been a large diaspora of those with Asian heritage from the Caribbean islands outward. Generations of immigrants with roots in India, China and Japan have dispersed all across the U.S., creating a thoroughly underappreciated culture of Asian Caribbean American peoples.

Islander culture has manifested itself in all aspects of Morris’ home life. As he speaks about his family, Morris continually emphasizes how islander culture has manifested itself in all aspects of his home life — the food, music and languages that drift in and out of his populous household are rich in its Caribbean influences. Namely, Morris’ parents occasionally speak patois, a Jamaican Creole dialect based on English, and his family often listens to reggae music. Morris also said that his home-cooked meals include many Jamaican comfort foods. Brooke Henderson, a third-year journalism major at the University of Florida, shares similar sentiments while talking about her experience as someone with African American, Caribbean and Asian heritage. “My mom is from Jamaica, but her whole family is ethnically Chinese,” Henderson said. “And my dad’s side of the family is black. They can trace their roots back to the Georgia-Alabama area back until slavery.” Henderson explains that she grew up with an abundance of Jamaican culture in the household, but much of her Asian heritage was lost. When asked how that Caribbean influence manifested itself in her life, Henderson responded with a nostalgic laugh. “Dominoes on the weekend. Everyone in the Caribbean plays dominoes. And the food, the music — in particular, dance hall music. There’s something so distinct about the way people in Jamaica dance,” Henderson said.

mediate family has never been to China, and they have lost the language. However, Henderson has taken initiative in exploring more of her cultural heritage. “I’m taking Advanced Mandarin right now. Language is such a huge part of everything. Just being able to understand my Chinese last name means a lot,” Henderson said. She also explained that she decided to study abroad in Chengdu of the Sichuan province in China to learn more about the Chinese language and culture. “Going [to China] was fulfilling in an odd way. I got to imagine what my family’s life would have been like,” she said. While Henderson has made strides in connecting with the Asian component of her Asian Caribbean culture, she has not done so without facing difficulties. Henderson says that the realization of differences and the disconnect between her multiethnic background was “felt most at college.” Many college campuses across America have made efforts to foster inclusivity on campus, but Henderson still believes there are strides to be made, even at the University of Florida. She voiced her opinion in regards to inclusivity efforts at the University of Florida. “I think that UF’s attempts to be aware of diversity are pigeonholing people,” Henderson said. “What happens if you’re queer, also black

“IT WAS AN UNCOMMON FIELD, AND I WANTED TO EXPLORE IT MORE.” —DR. LOMARSH ROOPNARINE For Henderson, connecting to her Jamaican roots has come easily. Jamaica has a rich history of having a multiracial population; consequently, the Jamaican population is habitually unified on a national level instead of being divided on ethnic levels. “The motto for Jamaica is ‘Out of Many, One People.’ So it was always known to me that you were Jamaican first because everyone in Jamaica is something else as well,” Henderson said. Finding connections to her Chinese history has required greater efforts. Henderson’s im-

and also Asian? For me, it’s been really weird to pick spaces.” She discussed how UF provides diversity-related organizations such as the Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs office and the Rainbow Room for the LGBTQ commuinity but how these groups fail to address an overlap of identities. Lomarsh Roopnarine, a professor of Latin American and Caribbean History from Jackson State University, concurred with this idea that colleges stifling underappreciated cultures

15 | Spring 2018

like the Asian Caribbean identity. “Right now, colleges are not doing enough for diversity,” Roopnarine said. He went on to explain how the implementation of ethnic studies classes and student organizations that embrace different cultures have started down the right path, but there is still a severe shortage of diversity-related education efforts. “Less people are pursuing courses in the humanities. They favor science and math, and the knowledge base of humanities and ethnic studies is shrinking,” Roopnarine said. “And there is an economic factor in that. When coming out with a humanities degree, even a Ph.D., it can be hard to find a job.” Roopnarine grew up in Guyana, identifying as Indo-Caribbean. Indo-Caribbean people are those with roots in South Asia that were brought to the Caribbean largely as indentured servants. These South Asian indentured servants numbered around half a million in the 19th century. Because Roopnarine grew up in Guyana, he never felt separated from his culture, but he found reason to study it further. “Pursuing Latin American and Caribbean History as my career was both a personal and academic choice,” he said. “It was an uncommon field, and I wanted to explore it more.” He noted that the Indo-Caribbean people’s tendency to be “family focused” is one of the most unique parts of the culture. Like Luke Morris observed in his Chinese Jamaican family, trends of strong familial support and influence are common in Indo Caribbean households. Whereas Roopnarine grew up intact with his cultural heritage, intimacy with one’s roots is often lost with third or fourth generation immigrants. This issue is especially prevalent for Asian Caribbean descendents in the United States today. When asked about how students today can reconnect with distant cultural roots, Roopnarine emphasized that motivation is pivotal.

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“You must first ask yourself why you [want to reconnect to your roots],” Roopnarine said. “Your motivation must come from the heart.

People can have different reasons for wanting to learn about their heritage, be that personal or academic, but you must understand your personal reasoning.” Elizabeth Jaikaran, a journalist and author of 2017 Guyanese American feminist book, “Trauma,” presented a different light in examining the Asian Caribbean identity. After living in New York for the majority of her life, her perspective on being Asian Caribbean is largely shaped by the Indo-Caribbean experience in America. “Loss of [Asian Caribbean] culture is prominent,” Jaikaran said. Jaikaran spoke about the “dilution” of cultures that has occured over time. Some traditional aspects of subcontinental Indian and IndoCaribbean culture, however, have survived the many diasporas of generational change. For instance, Jaikaran highlights the “prevalence of family. ” Having large families and marrying those within your culture is a common theme in the Indo-Caribbean community. “Unfortunately, violence against women in Indo-Caribbean communities also translated from traditional cultures,” Jaikaran said. Domestic violence is an issue rarely talked about in the Asian Caribbean American community. “Caribbean culture is rooted in shame,” Jaikaran said, explaining why this trend of closed doors is so common. The domestic and social issues that still linger around the Asian Caribbean identity are not always talked about in mainstream public media, but people are gradually becoming more vocal about such issues. As this happens, awareness grows. This allows for uncommon cultures to be celebrated more wholly and shared with others. The Asian Caribbean culture in particular is indeterminately unique and has great reasons to be appreciated. “I have really come to appreciate my Asian Caribbean descent,” Jaikaran said. “I have this whole culture that is gratifying, rich and legitimate.” •

Tradition with A Twist

Asians and Asian Americans celebrate holidays with a cultural twist through food and celebration DIWALI


irthi Thiyagarajan remembered the fireworks bursting in the skies, the parades in the streets, the elephants and the people downtown – it was Diwali in India, and she was in Chennai, a city located on the Bay of Bengal. Diwali, also known as Dipawali, is a five-day holiday that has many different meanings to Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. Thiyagarajan, an 18-year-old Florida State University student, is Hindu, and she said that Diwali is a holiday in which she and her family celebrate the conquering of good over evil.

On the first day of Diwali, Thiyagarajan and many others light small clay lamps called diyas at night. For Thiyagarajan’s family in India, they would leave the diyas lit outside of their homes. “This is to symbolize inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness,” Thiyagarajan said, remembering the clay lamps and decorated candles from her childhood.

“Diwali is a pretty big event,” Thiyagarajan said. “It is the equivalent of Christmas but for Indians.” Born in America, she learned about Diwali from her parents, family members and the many Diwali events she attended when growing up. Today, Thiyagarajan said that her family celebrates Diwali in a smaller magnitude in America, adding twists to traditions. For example, instead of lighting and leaving the lamps outside of their home, they would leave the lamps indoors.


Thiyagarajan has traveled back to India and saw how different the celebrations are. Her best memory of Diwali was when she was among her extended family. “It was just more interactive for me,” Thiyagarajan said. “There is a lot more emphasis on Diwali back in India. Here in America, it’s just me, my dad, my mom and my sister. When I celebrated it in India, I could connect with it more there than I could here.” Living in America has exposed Thiyagarajan to different cultures. Even though Thiyagarajan isn’t Christian, she and her family still decorate a tree and exchange gifts with friends and family, but during Christmas dinner, Indian food would be on the dinner table. But despite living in a cultural melting pot, Thiyagarajan said that going back to her roots influenced her. “I think celebrating holidays like this when you’re not at home, it really connects you with your culture and your background,” Thiyagara-

jan said. “By celebrating Diwali, I understand more of my Indian culture and the Hindu religion. It would definitely be different if I didn’t celebrate any cultural events here.”



nson Tam, a UF microbiology major, keeps a red envelope under her bed. Inside the red envelope contains money from her parents. This tradition involves the exchange of money between elders and younger children, wishing each other good fortune, wishes and a long life. Tam is from Hong Kong, and Chinese New Year plays a major role in her life. Chinese New Year, which follows the lunar calendar, is the most important Chinese holiday. Families come together to celebrate and honor deities and ancestors. On Chinese New Year every year, Tam picks up the red envelope from under her bed and exchanges the money inside for new ones. She then returns the envelope back under her bed, where it will stay until the following new year. “[The money] is for good luck,” Tam said. “You also go house to house, and you say the traditional phrases, like ‘Happy New Year,’ and they give you food, and you also get money from them as well.” Tam was eight or nine years old when she last celebrated Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. She remembered when she feasted with her large family, eating dishes with multiple courses, and on Chinese New Year, a bun with a green bean paste inside. “We went to my grandparents’ house the night before, and they made a whole meal,” Tam said. “There were eight courses, and eight in

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BY Klarizza Aggabao IllUSTRATION & DESIGN/ Ingrid Wu

“Diwali is my favorite holiday,” Thiyagarajan said. “It directly translates to the festival of lights, and it is considered to be one of the more popular holidays in India. Whenever I visit family in India, this holiday is more like a reunion because everyone is there.”

For the next four days, Thiyagarajan would visit friends and family to exchange gifts and best wishes for the rest of the season.

ing student didn’t start going to temple until she was 12 years old – first attending youth groups and then finally converting in 2012 after falling in love with the faith and the values of Judaism. “For a very, very long time, I hated going to service,” Lipman said. “I loathed my parents for making me go. But my [step] father said, ‘Just go to two group events, and you don’t have to go to any more.’ Just to test it out.”

Chinese has a good connotation.” Tam immigrated to America when she was nine years old and said that her family still celebrates Chinese New Year today but with a smaller group of people. “We just have a small dinner, gathering in our house with a few of the family members who also moved to America,” Tam said. “It’s not like it’s 30 of us, it’s just 10. It’s my dad’s side of the family. In Hong Kong, it’s everyone on my mom’s side.” Along with Chinese holidays, Tam and her family also celebrate traditional American holidays, although they celebrate it a little differently. “We didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas back then like how we do now,” Tam said. “We have Thanksgiving dinner, and we have a turkey, but we also have Chinese dishes on the side. And on Christmas, we have pies, but there’s also rice and Chinese food. We kind of put a food twist.” Since starting college, Tam said that school has made her busy, and she is unable to do more when it comes to celebrating the holidays. “It’s kind of sad that we don’t get the chance or the opportunity to celebrate it as often because it is part of our culture,” Tam said. “That should be a huge deal, but we’re in college, and life is hard. And exams and school is prioritized over holidays and cultures.” Despite her current busy lifestyle as a college student, she said that she hopes to continue celebrating her culture and heritage. “I looked forward to Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year and all the festivals, especially since I grew up in Hong Kong where it was celebrated more – the streets are all decked out. I think when my life is set, I’m going to keep this going because it was a huge part of me when I was little,” Tam said.



enise Lipman is Filipino and Jewish – an unlikely combination. But she is proud of her religious upbringing.

Lipman, 21, grew up in the Philippines as a Roman Catholic, celebrating Christmas and other Filipino holidays until she was seven years old when she moved to America after her mother remarried. From then, the Florida State University social entrepreneur and market-

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Two events became three, which became four, and Lipman became more involved in the temple, gaining friends and loving the people there, she said. “So I said, let me give this another shot,” Lipman said. “So, when I did give it a real shot, I realized I love the religion. I love the community. It had a lot of values and a lot of things I believed in. At some point, I just realized that I can see myself like this.” Although she is Filipino, she considers herself to be an American because she spent most of her years growing up around American culture. “There are three things that I identify with,” Lipman said. “I identify first as an American, second as Jewish and third as Filipino. Being Filipino is a part of me, but I don’t think it’s a big characteristic.”


Even though she grew up in an American household, Lipman was still be exposed to Filipino lifestyles. “My mom puts twists in her cooking,” Lipman said. “There are times when she would cook Filipino food. Maybe when I was younger, we did celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, but we’ve embraced Judaism more because of all the years we’ve lived here in America.” For Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, Jewish people would celebrate the holiday through fasting, a complete Sabbath. The holiday is a day set aside to atone the sins of the past year.

Lipman stated that during the holiday, she would fast and spend the day with her family going to temple or attending service.

could never escape our culture when it comes to identifying who we are.”

No matter how deeply involved Lipman is with her faith, there are Filipino characteristics that she would like to incorporate in her life.

When he moved to America, Carreon and his family learned American customs and national holidays. He learned about Thanksgiving when he was visiting family in Canada. His parents were quite hesitant about celebrating the holiday at first but decided to celebrate it anyway. Carreon said that his family bonded together when they watched and learned how to cook a turkey on YouTube.

“The family orientation is really interesting because everyone is so in touch with one another,” Lipman said. “I feel like in the United States, once you leave your family, you’re gone and you do your own thing. But I kind of love how everyone lives in the same place. They don’t go halfway across the country. I just love how Filipinos are aware of each other in that familial sense, in comparison to Americans in general.”



n the Philippines, people come together to celebrate heritage, history and culture through festivals, dances and food. Flores de Mayo, or “flowers of May” in Spanish, is a holiday celebrated throughout May where Filipinos offer flowers to the Virgin Mother of Jesus, Mary. Eighteen-year-old Patrick Carreon participated in Flores de Mayo when he was growing up in the Philippines. He remembers the bamboo sticks that are used to dance the tinikling, a popular folk dance, the lechon, or roasted pig, that people would serve during the event, and the number of people who came to see the parade, watching the performers wearing traditional Filipino clothing. He especially remembers his big role as a prince in the holiday parade. “My lola, or grandmother, is the head of our barangay, or village, and she was in charge of the Flores de Mayo,” The University of Florida behavioral and cognitive neuroscience student said. “We had the parade around our neighborhood, basically like a presentation of flowers and the princes and princesses. I remember I was the one in the front, and I was a prince, and all I could remember was that I had a sword for some reason.”


“We cooked the turkey, but we also went to a Filipino store and bought different kinds of Filipino dishes,” Carreon said, reminiscing about his family’s first Thanksgiving. “We had dinuguan, lechon kawali and rice. Definitely rice – that is essential for Filipinos.” No matter how far away he is from his native country, Carreon considers himself blessed and lucky to have learned, participated and raised intimately with the Filipino culture. He even urges people to go back to their heritage. “Even though we are Americanized, we will always have our culture embedded in our roots,” Carreon said. •

On the last day of May, Filipinos celebrate Santacruzan, a day commemorating Reyna (Queen) Elena and her finding of the True Cross. Carreon recalls his cousin, who was Reyna Elena during the parade, carrying flowers and walking alongside him downtown in the parade. He remembers being in the parade, fireworks and performers dancing the folk dances like the Pandanggo sa Ilaw, a dance where oil lamps are balanced on top of the head and on the back of each hand. Today, Flores de Mayo is celebrated all over the United States where Filipino communities flourish. Men and women of all ages are picked to be in Santacruzan parades as versions of Marys, queens and consorts while an arch decorated with flowers are carried over each couple. Carreon, who immigrated to the United States when he was a freshman in high school, said that he likes people celebrating their culture and heritage, even in America. “Even though we live far away from our native country, it’s still a part of us,” Carreon said. “Even if some of us didn’t experience this first hand, our parents did, and they are the ones who raised us, and I feel like we should also celebrate these holidays because it’s part of our identity. We

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Mystified and Misunderstood Asian American women realize and combat their fetishization in popular media


loat like a gentle flower petal or strike like a dragon: are these the only two destinies laid forth for Asian American women? The essence of her beauty rests in her exoticness, her mere existence in the Western world seen as rare as a precious jewel. This is the mystique enshrouding Asian and Asian American women. This attitude is not exclusive to the silver screen as many have internalized these ideas of the “exotic” Asian woman, leaving her at a loss for expressing her own unique and dynamic identities.

As an Asian American woman in the entertainment industry, Wong knew she could help rewrite the Asian woman’s narrative, but not without facing difficulties with advancing herself in her career.

Wong’s experience is not uncommon in Hollywood.

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DESIGN/ Sarah Nguyen

“I was 30 at the time when I hired this manager who was a white man, and he really didn’t do anything for me. His excuse for failing to find me opportunities was, ‘Well let’s look at who’s on television; it’s mostly white men,’” Wong said.

PHOTOGRAPHY/ Megan Mizusawa

“[Men] often explain that their fetish isn’t a fetish but an admiration,” said Kristina Wong, performance artist, writer and actress.

BY Iesha Ismail

Popular media throughout the decades has reanimated Asian women as extreme caricatures leading to a major fetishization of Asian American women. TV shows, movies and popular literature continue to paint one-dimensional depictions of Asian American women. She is either a shy, vulnerable and docile damsel in distress or the domineering, sexually alluring and fierce dragon lady.

“I thought, ‘Well, no one is going to manage me, so I have to keep him as my manager,’ but I was just a thing on the side. If I did well in the industry, that would be cool, but otherwise, I was just his charity project,” Wong said. “Because I didn’t see any Asian women get TV specials or any of those opportunities at the time, I felt stuck. But now I see a lot of Asian women moving up in the industry, and I think, ‘wow, why did I accept that kind of treatment?’”

Asian woman. Mainstream media at the time, particularly theater, dramatized all those interactions into exaggerated and frankly sexist and racist narratives.

Thousands of years of Western interactions with Asia have contributed to Asian stereotypes of Western culture. Sheridan Prasso is the senior editor of Hong Kong’s Bloomberg News and the writer of “The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls and Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient.”

According to Shimizu, Anna May Wong’s “Toll of the Sea” was one of the first films that unabashedly reinforced the female Asian subject as docile and willing to succumb to the white man’s desires. More films featuring Asian women fetishization soon followed, as the sexualization of the Asian woman became popular among Western audiences.

“For centuries, history has been filled with the idea of the ‘exotic other.’ We’ve seen a kind of progression of those stereotypes, as they were codified in the late 1800s where colonial Britain interacted more with East and South Asia,” Prasso said. Unfortunately, as ties between the East and the West grew more hostile, so did the image of the “Orient” as a place of delicacy and femininity in Western culture. When World War II ensued, Americans felt the need to emasculate Asian men and dominate over Asian women in order to instill a sense of superiority.

“Plays like ‘Madame Chrysanthemum’ and ‘Madame Butterfly’ tried to figure out the racial otherness of Asians, and these stories of the self-sacrificing, suicidal, sexual Asian women kept repeating over time,” Shimizu said.

To further complicate the issue, popular media more recently introduced the “Dragon Lady” trope, almost to counterbalance the effects of the geisha girl image. The dragon lady stereotype involves a woman of color who shows excessive aggression, domination or ferocity. The dragon lady is shown as a domineering, sexual being with fiercely “exotic” qualities, like sword fighting or Asian fan combat in skimpy clothing. Asian American women grew even more distraught with this new form of objectification, which was completely different but just as demeaning.


“As we see in Hollywood films, many of these stereotypical notions were reinforced by the American experience in the Pacific during World War II and later in Vietnam,” Prasso said. “We continued to solidify these ideas and have been putting them on the screen for decades.” As with any stereotype, there may be some truth to these images of Asian women. Celine Parreñas Shimizu, a Filipino Asian studies scholar and esteemed filmmaker, recounts the late 1800s when popular media birthed the first accounts of sexual fetishization of the

“I think it’s easier for people to understand or think they understand an issue if it’s a dichotomy,” Prasso said. “If there’s a stereotype of Asian woman as submissive, you can look at that and say ‘Oh I know someone who’s not like that,’ and therefore, you have to have a contrary example to prove that’s not true. But the dichotomy presents the extremes of both directions.” When these two ends of the spectrum are presented, we tend to consider that model to be representative of the whole of Asian women, since it seemingly includes all the “differences.”

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However, the dragon lady and the geisha girl stereotypes are both ultimately reductionary, eliminating room for the “average” Asian or Asian American woman. “These two dichotomies, which are continually played out, are not representative of reality, which is actually right in the middle,” Prasso said. But now, going from theatre to film and television, has it gotten better? Some recent shows in the 2010s, including “Hawaii Five-O,” have continued the trend where the Asian female character, Kono Kalakaua (played by Asian actress, Grace Park) in the show, was consistently shown as an inferior Asian female subject. In one episode, Kono was kidnapped and displayed in black underwear as she waited to be saved by the white protagonist – a cookie-cutter example of Asian female sexual fetishization.


On the other hand, in the past three years, television shows and movies have begun to advertise their new inclusion of diverse Asian stories. “Fresh Off The Boat” is one of the most well-known examples of a show that appears to diverge from common Asian stereotypes. Jessica Huang, played by Constance Wu, is not seen as a delicate sexual object but rather, a normal mother figure in an Asian American family. “There are more images. It’s exciting to see Rose Tico star in the newest Star Wars movie. She’s non-normatively beautiful, and she even saves her man in the film,” Shimizu said. “We’re also seeing quite a number of Asian Americans making independent films, the establishment of Asian American film festivals across the country and YouTube content creators like Wong Fu Productions. It’s really exciting because we haven’t even seen what could be.” Media has continued to fetishize the Asian

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American woman into an exotic sexual souvenir, derived from a long history of misunderstanding and stereotyping of the Asian culture. However, the American media world is expanding and will continue to expand when audiences and actors put all their efforts into diversifying the images we see every day. Changing the status quo is truly predicated on educating others on where media fails to represent people fairly and justly – not just Asian American women but minorities in general. “People need to realize that women are women,” Prasso said. “Accepting Asian women as

individuals is the first step, and the way to do that is by fostering understanding.” Asian American women cannot be boxed into simple categories of gentleness or ferocity, even if popular media convinces American audiences of otherwise. Rather than confine Asian American women, people can recognize Asian American women’s agency, intellect, strength. No longer will Asian American women have to be mystified and misunderstood, but recognized and realized as real, everyday yet extraordinary American women.•

Can’t Buy Buddhism T

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DESIGN/Thalia Su

Dr. Ann Gleig, a professor of Philosophy with a focus on Asian religions at the University of Central Florida explained, “Historically, the first big wave of non-Asian Americans practicing Buddhism occured in the 1960s, and it was the time of the counterculture and so a lot of especially young people in their 20s/college students were experiencing a disillusionment and a kind of cynicism towards American society and really turned away from Christianity and Judaism, especially with Christianity as a dominant religion. I think they were really looking for an alternative and around that time we have the second wave of Asian Buddhists coming to the United Sta After 1965 because there was an Asian Immigration Act that had excluded Asians from coming to America, but it was lifted in 1965. Several Asian Buddhist teachers took up residence in New York, San Fran, big centers of the counterculture, and these young Americans found them romantic.


The introduction of Buddhist religion dates back to around the 19th century with the wave of Chinese immigrants in the West Coast, as well as Japanese immigrants. The first wave of non-Asian Buddhists started in the 1960s.

BY Valentina Velasquez

The representation of Buddhism in the West

he melting pot versus tossed salad dichotomy of United States of America has been an ongoing theme for decades. Some have argued for the melting pot, saying the United States has one uniform culture based off of many cultures, whereas others have deemed it a “tossed salad” due to its heterogeneous diversity of people and cultures. Many have also argued that it’s both. America does not have one set culture, due to the fact that this country has a broad history of immigration, and with said immigrants, there’s the introduction of different cultural importances such as foods, art, and music, as well as a huge defining factor of many cultures: religion. With the introduction of different religions because of immigration, specifically eastern religions coming into the west, there was and still is a large influx of western individuals who practice Asian religions. For example, as of 2017, 1 percent of the U.S. population identified as Buddhist.

Given this historical background, it’s easy to see why so many people take such an interest in Buddhism.” Dr. Gleig then elaborated that “Buddhism, especially, has been presented in America as a very rational, scientific religion. In fact, some people say Buddhism isn’t a religion, it’s a philosophy. A lot of non-Asians who might be disillusioned/feel like science has challenged some of the metaphysical beliefs of Abrahamic religions see that even though Buddhism has a lot of its own metaphysical beliefs, it’s been presented in the public eye as a kind of scientific religion.” Fast-forward to fifty-three years later and it’s clear to see the impact of both the first wave of Buddhism with Chinese and Japanese immigrants in the 19th century, and the second wave with the lift of the Asian Immigration Act and the counterculture of the 1960s. When looking at age distribution, the highest percentage of Buddhist practitioners here in the U.S. ranges from 18-29 years of age. This puts many self-identified Buddhists in the collegeage demographic. One of these many young individuals is Anna Rahr, a Sociology major at the University of Central Florida. Rahr said she was a bit hesitant to start practicing in the philosophy, “I didn’t want to, my sister-in-law is Buddhist and before she and my brother got married, we all lived within a block of each other in New York. I have a hard time meeting people/making friends, she suggested I go to this meeting with her and I was not about it, I really did not want to go.” Dorothy Christopher, a young leader of a lait Buddhist organization, does not identify as Asian, nor did she convert to Buddhism. “I was born into the practice, my mom was raised Jewish and my dad was raised Greek Orthodox, and through their own independent journey, they found Buddhism in the 70s in New York City,” said Christopher. Christopher describes her connection to Buddhism as “having no other choice,” being that she was raised into it, but she’s still very true to her beliefs. Christopher’s youth really helped shape her as a leader and as a person. “Growing up Buddhist, I was always

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taught that I’m pretty much in the driver’s seat of my own happiness. I hold the key and the answer to any of my deepest, burning questions are within myself. I have all of the answers and I don’t need to ever seek outside of myself for absolute happiness.” There are, however, some dangers between Buddhism and the United States that are reflective of much larger racial and transitional systemic issues, which mainly stems from common misconceptions due to the misrepresentation of Buddhism in western media. Some of the most common misconceptions, as described by Dr. Gleig, are the following:


All Buddhists meditate: “Meditation has been a kind of elite practice in Buddhism, only for the Monsatics, only for some Monastics. There’s a lot of Buddhist monastics who don’t meditate, they focus on scholarship or they focus on ritual practices instead.” Dr. Gleig then elaborated on the introduction of meditation to the lait people during the colonization era in Asia. All Buddhists are vegetarians: “Now, the Buddha said ‘you must eat whatever is put in the bowl, the only exception is if you know that a villager has killed an animal just to put it in your bowl.’ You can’t participate in a direct killing of an animal.” Meat serves an important role in many Asian cultures, this contributes to the debunking that all Buddhists are vegetarian. While there are some communities that do participate in vegetarianism, it’s wrong to generalize and group other communities together with this belief. The third and final misconception Dr. Gleig mentioned is the idea that all Buddhists are

pacifists and that Buddhism does not have a violent past. Dr. Gleig used the example of Myanmar and the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim population: “That, unfortunately, is not true and it’s something quite shameful that’s happening now, that’s a great tragedy and I think it’s really important to destabilize and challenge these romantic ideas of Buddhists. All religions, unfortunately, have violence in their history.” The media is the main factor in presenting these stereotypes and misinforming the public about different aspects of Buddhism. “There is a strong sense of romantic “orientalism” that borders on fetishism when it comes to Eastern cultural practices,” Dr. Gleig stated. “There are two ways in which Asian religions and philosophies have been represented, one is that they’ve been very romanticized, so they’ve been constructed in a very ‘orientalist’ way: ‘the romantic east’, ‘the orient’, ‘the mysterious orient’, and we can trace that back to colonialism, we call it the ‘romantic lineage’. Asian religions, especially with Buddhism, as a scientific religion/an empirical religion/a rational philosophy, and not as a real religion. We call that the enlightenment lineage because it really shaped Buddhism through the lense of the western enlightenment.” One of western media’s worst offenses when it comes to representing eastern religions is the whitewashing of religious and cultural practices. One example of this is the mindfulness movement, a movement focused on meditation.” Dr. Gleig explained, “Mindfulness is historically a form of Buddhist meditation, but it’s become separated and decontextualized from Buddhism, so now a lot of people even practice mindfulness and have no idea that it was ever connected to Buddhism.” Mindfulness began being seen as a trend, versus an actual religious practice and eventually gained some rather controversial recognition from Time Magazine. “Time Magazine had two covers on mindfulness about ten years apart. One was on meditation and then one was on mindfulness and both of the covers featured a white, blonde, blue-eyed, skinny woman meditating, and that was the face

of mindfulness,” said Gleig. This has become a huge concern because of the erasure of Asian Americans in the history of Buddhism. Western media has an infamy when it comes to Eastern narratives being completely erased in the North American timeline. Dr. Gleig gave the example of Pure Land Buddhism, a type of devotional Buddhism brought by Japanese immigrants during the Gold Rush in the 19th century which later became The Buddhist Churches of America. The large influx of non-Asian Buddhist practices overshadowed The Buddhist Churches of America, and now few people even know about them, and less history textbooks will tell people about them. Dr. Gleig states “[Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans] practiced Buddhism when they were interned in internment camps, they kept Buddhism alive when they practiced it in the internment camps. Most people don’t know about them because mostly the white Buddhists have gotten all the limelight.” Historic and cultural erasure is a harsh reality faced by many communities, and it’s important that young people bring these stories to light. Not only is erasure disrespectful to said communities, it’s also dangerous. Although Buddhism continues to flourish as an alternative to Christianity because of its values, it is because of this exotic,

orientalized fascination people associate with the religion, which has been influenced by racial relations. However, the expansion of Buddhism has also prompted some global recognition; “Buddhism started in India and, as it spread, it made its way up north and reached Tibet. Fast-forward to the 1950s when China occupied Tibet and caused Tibetan Buddhists to flee.” Dr. Gleig recounts, “Tibetan Buddhism in in the diaspora; a lot of Tibetan buddhists had to flee Tibet because of the Chinese occupation of Buddhism in the late 1950s. The biggest Tibetan community is in India and Nepal as refugees. Western interest in Tibetan buddhism has had a positive impact on Tibetan Buddhists in exile because it has really raised a lot of awareness about their plight.” As westerners, many of us have privilege, especially if we are from groups that benefit from society, it’s important we recognize our privileges in the name of transnational activism. Those who have helped bring the plight of Tibetan Buddhists to light are prime examples of using your privilege to elevate marginalized voiced and raise awareness of injustices on a local, national, and international scale. “We’re in a cultural moment now with Buddhism in America where there is more dialogue about racism in American Buddhism and cultural appropriation

in Buddhism,” said Gleig. Anna Rahr has an optimistic outlook on the impact of Buddhism, “I feel like it helps really give me focus, but it is mainly through mental health that it helps. I think that it helps give me a direction and it helps me feel more confident in my decisions and the path that I want to take for my future. Through this I am getting better at my interpersonal relationships and skills,” Rahr said. A lot of Buddhism’s core values come from improving yourself and loving yourself unconditionally, so you can better serve your community and help others learn and grow the way you did. As a leader of a lait Buddhist organization, Dorothy Christopher wants Buddhism to help and empower others the way it helped and empowered her: “There’s a lot of hopelessness in our society, especially right now and I just want anyone that attends a Buddhist activity to leave feeling truly empowered and inspired to take control of their own happiness.” While it’s clear that Buddhism and Buddhist teachings can have transformational values on society, it’s important to have a critical eye on the idea of treating said practice as a commodity.

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Power and Peril: Anti-Blackness in Asian American Cultures Asian American identity has historically been constructed in the United States as a driving wedge between “model minorities� and other oppressed ethnic minority groups. Although the model minority myth is now understood as fiction, the manifestations of internalized racism still troubles Asian American communities today.

BY Nica Angelica Ramirez Photography/Paola Chinchilla DESIGN/ Ebone Grayson

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Seeing the World in Black and Yellow: A Theoretical Explanation


nti-Blackness is known as a global system that marginalizes Black people and people of African ancestry. This system is clear in instances such as the adoption of Jim Crow in postwar Japan, the multi-billion skin whitening industry in Asia, and the exclusion that Polynesian cultures feel today. Although blatant forms of racism and institutional oppression are easy to denounce, the microaggressions we face in our lives are harder to combat. Before addressing race relations between minority groups, there is a need to understand the history of antiblackness. Dr. Jonathan Cox, a professor at the University of Central Florida (UCF), teaches classes on Race and Ethnicity. He presents the idea that anti-blackness is woven into the history of the United States. “Anti-blackness is kind of a key tenant of our, the United States’, racial ideology,” Dr. Cox said, “The country and the ideology of the country were built on anti-blackness and the positioning of Blacks as less than human and inferior to the Whites who were coming in and colonizing the land.” Racial stratification could be changing with the introduction of large racial groups outside of Black and White, however. “We’re starting to see more people give more attention to various racial categories, so some scholars are suggesting that we’re moving from a biracial system to a different type of racial system, as we often see Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans get removed or excluded from the picture,” Dr. Cox said. The model minority

myth is generally thought of as something to be taken for granted, but it may stem from a social need for a buffer group as well. Dr. Cox explained the cultural background that could lead to the emergence of the “model minority.”

the local policy and mobilized protests in their neighborhoods at this time. Many Korean stores in these neighborhoods received property damage, causing racial tensions between Korean and Black Americans.

“Asian Americans kind of serve as this buffer group between Black and White... in particular, the model minority myth kind of comes out of East Asian cultures, so Chinese, Japanese, [and] Korean. Those Asian groups in particular have achieved status parity with Whites and sometimes doing better than Whites in terms of Education and income,” Dr. Cox said. The myth is harmful in part to other minority groups who are not entering the country with the same education level, although it is usually viewed through an Asian American lens.

“If you look at how Asian Americans tend to think about Blacks, it gives us a clue about this event. Korean Americans, based on some of the research, seem to have the most negative views of Blacks out of all the Asian American groups. Korean Americans tend to have businesses and shops that are in predominantly Black areas and are interacting with Blacks in a different way than other Asian Americans are,” Dr. Cox said.

“It is easy to position Asian Americans as “models,” kind of being the model that other racial minorities should strive to. In particular, Blacks are expected to meet this ‘if they’re doing this and they’re doing well, Blacks should do it as well,’ kind of mindset,” Dr. Cox said.

Dr. Cox explains the negative views that Korean Americans tend to have of Black Americans and the reasons for the so-called riots. “Korean shops that were in these neighborhoods were collateral damage of the uprising of the people in response to Rodney King being beaten by the police... since people were doing some property damage, some of the Korean shops that were in the neighborhoods were destroyed and torn down,” Dr. Cox said.

The Rodney King or Los Angeles Riots of 1992 highlight a breaking point in race relations in the United States, involving Korean Americans in Black communities. Rodney King was a victim of police brutality, and videos surfaced of four Los Angeles Police officers beating him during his arrest in 1991. King did not die in custody, however, three officers involved received acquittals and the jury failed to reach a verdict on the fourth. This series of events caused a public outcry and lower-income African American communities rose against

Because of the American media, Asian Americans often fail to understand the unique experiences that cause Black communities to express their discontent. Asian Americans are not unique in their anti-Blackness. Dr. Cox also expressed that the emergence of the police state in areas like Baltimore are often used to contain protests within a community rather than stop them. Just as the L.A. Riots of 1992 created strife between Korean Americans and Black Americans at the time, recent events such as the shooting of Akai Gurley by Peter

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“WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING THIS HISTORY, AND THE FACT THAT THERE IS A KIND OF SHARED DISCRIMINATION, EVEN THOUGH THE DEGREES OF DISCRIMINATION ARE QUITE DIFFERENT AND FOR DIFFERENT REASONS, THE PROCESS OF MOBILIZATION WILL BE DIFFICULT,” -- HARVEY NICHOLSON Liang has shown us that our communities may not have the understanding and acceptance that are valued among Asian Americans. Harvey Nicholson, a PhD student in the University of Central Florida Sociology Department, suggests that the Peter Liang protests may not be rooted specifically in AntiBlackness, but in a lack of understanding. “If the Asian protesters didn’t really have any experiences with Black people and don’t know the commonalities that they do share, as racial groups in the country in terms of discrimination, things that they have shared in the past in terms of political collaboration, when something happens in a split second, you’re going to come out on behalf of someone you identify with, regardless of the situation.” Although police brutality and the original action may be rooted in institutional racism, a lack of common knowledge may have encouraged the protests. Perceptions of commonality and a lack of discussion create tension and a misunderstanding of activist goals between APIA and Black Americans. Nicholson asserts that due to Anti-Black stereotypes in mainstream media, collaboration of Asians with Black Americans is seen as lowering your social status as an Asian American. “Without understanding this history, and the fact that there is a kind of shared discrimination, even though the degrees of discrimination are quite different and for different reasons, the process of mobilization will be difficult,” Nicholson said. This raises the question: how do we foster productive and respectful discussion to understand each other? “What a college campus can do, this kind of center [is] where people can come together collectively and try to understand the historical nature of each sides’ discrimination and how that relates to what’s happening today, and to understand that if we were to band together and work together more, then more positive things can happen for Asians and Blacks. This

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reaching out has to occur on both sides,” Nicholson said.

Cultural Competency: Living in Color Viewing Black Americans as the “other” has consequences that are more personal than political and social collaboration. Those who identify as both Asian and Black may feel ostracized in their own communities. Social and cultural pressures may make individuals feel that they are not “enough” for cultural spaces. Adrianna Barnett, a Sociology student at the University of Chicago, feels strain when discussing her Chinese and Black identities.“It’s less of a question of whether or not I feel uncomfortable in the Asian community. I never had a place in it at all,” Barnett said. Because she did not look like other Asian Americans, she was immediately coded as non-Asian in school, partially due to her Black features. This made it difficult to be seen as an Asian by her peers. “On top of that, my dad was never around, so I was raised Black without Chinese culture,” she added. Sometimes, the alienation falls the other way. Celina Wong, a student at the University of Florida, is heavily involved with the Filipino Student Association, Asian American Student Union, and the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers on campus. Although she is Chinese-Jamaican and Filipino, Wong has a difficult time expressing her identity fully in Asian American organizations, as well as in other spaces. “My college experience has kind of been limited to the Filipino Student Association. Because of how I look, if I were to find myself in the Chinese Student Association, I may not necessarily fit in,” Wong said. She also expressed that her involvement in the Black or African American community is “almost nonexistent.” Her experiences and discussions with other multiracial peers has led her to a firm conclusion on the multiracial experience, and the development of identity through this lens.“We all feel like watereddown versions of each of our ethnicities, and because of that we feel like we can’t connect

with either one. I feel like that affects our sense of belonging,” Wong said. Colorism in the Asian American community was not helpful to Wong in navigating the landscape of a multiethnic and multiracial background, either. Beauty standards in Asian countries and cultures favor lighter skin and East Asian features. In Filipino cultures, European features are prefered, as well. Verbal remarks from her family about her darker skin tone led Wong to drastic measures as a child. “I was around five at the time, and I remember being in the darkest part of my house, which were the stairs, and I had a towel, and I was just scrubbing my skin because I just didn’t want to be that skin color anymore. My sister found me and explained that this is who we are and this is probably going to be my skin color forever,” Wong said, “Just being dark-skinned in general is associated with being dirty, and peasant work, I guess,” Wong added. Colorism manifests in skincare ads, casting choices, and everyday life for many darkerskinned and multiracial or multiethnic Asians. Asian American communities are not exempt from these beauty standards, either. Wong wishes for more organizations to address social issues within APIA communities, instead of being uncomfortable about topics like race. She offers ideas to improve minority solidarity on college campuses. “Discussion and not hiding away from the issues can definitely help. I feel like a lot of times, especially on-campus organizations, they never talk about these things. It’s more about embracing the culture and having fun with it rather than about the issues that are actually in the culture,” Wong said. Travis Slocum, a Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Central Florida, identifies as Black and Asian, and has an ethnic background consisting of African American, Native American Seminole, Filipino, Chinese, and Spaniard. He is involved on campus in the Social Justice and Advocacy department, and facilitates events for the Multicultural Student Center. Slocum has always had his racial identity questioned, and continues to navigate college with an open mind. “I feel that my racial identity is still being formed. It’s very difficult being multiracial, but I also grew up in a household that was a military family, so I also grew up in a lot of different countries during my childhood. I feel

like my sense of cultural identity really is based upon my parents. I lean more to my mother’s side which is my Filipino, Chinese, and Spaniard ethnicity. That ethnic culture really kind of dominated the other half. In college, it really moved to the other side,” Slocum said. Although it was complicated growing up in society, Slocum also had difficulty having to explain his identity to each community as someone from such a vibrant background. His looks were a subject of interest, regardless of his desires. “In both Asian and Black cultures, I was viewed as an exotic creature or exotic animal or something that someone hasn’t seen before. They are intrigued by, I guess my multiracialness,” Slocum said. Race was a sensitive topic in the home, but Slocum still grew up with cultural awareness, and could differentiate between cultures relatively easily. He learned how to identify cultural differences growing up. “My parents never explicitly discussed race in the household- never. Even to this day, I feel like, if anything, what they did push was the culture. I did have to ask them once about my race because of the U.S. Census, and asked my mom, ‘do I circle Black or do I circle Asian, or do I circle other?’ and my mom just said, ‘why not just circle all of them?’” said Slocum.

of digest all the information that’s coming at them. You have to put up a veil of ignorance, and understand that you have to put aside your own biases from your own culture and kind of dive deep to understand it from their point of view. I feel like that’s the only way you can have an honest understanding about race,” Slocum said. Slocum feels that minority solidarity is an important topic to address on campus, and believes that cultural programming is the key to building a conscious campus. He believes that creating brave spaces for people to talk about social issues is imperative to student success at UCF. “What we need to do when we talk about race, or religion, or even cultural understanding, is [knowing] that we came to America for freedom, to practice beliefs and cultures that retain our identities and who we are. However, we stereotype everyone and we segregate ourselves from everyone, as well, and we try to make a hierarchy of race, which keeps us away from solidarity,” Slocum said. “We need to have a roundtable effect so that way every person at the table has an opinion that

is on an equal playing field as everyone else,” Slocum believes that multicultural individuals in activism should never doubt their opinions and worth in monocultural activism, and that allyship should be cherished. “Activism, especially within the Asian communities is a necessity. Never feel like you are less than able to advocate for a community if you don’t have the ‘full-blooded’ or ‘100%’ Filipino or Asian or another ethnicity that you identify with,” Slocum said. He believes that ‘defaulting’ to the mainstream culture leads to a loss of identity and that expressing what makes you unique is a key step in embracing diversity. Although activism and social justice seem like daunting tasks that will never be resolved, small steps can be taken to change how our communities function and understand one another. Embracing the identities of our peers is a step that each person can take to create social change.

Performing race seems to be a challenge in multiethnic families as well. Although his personality never changed, Slocum felt that he had to conduct himself differently depending on his cultural environment.“I feel like when I’m with a certain side of my family I have to act a certain way,” Slocum said, “If I’m with my Asian family, if you want to categorize it like that, I would eat with my hands because that’s what Filipinos do. If I came up to them and said ‘Kamusta po,’ (How are you, sir/ma’m) they would say, ‘Oh, he knows po!’ and they would be surprised if I did karaoke or if I knew things like Wowowee. If I’m with my dad’s side, things are different. My slang would come out… it was a little less formal.” Slocum has suggestions for having an honest and productive discussion about race in our own families and communities, and wishes for a focus on openness and understanding. “I feel like with multiethnic children and families, they have to have a high level of patience and cultural competency to kind

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Against the Current

The underrepresentation of Pacific Islanders in higher education


ansing Sugita was always encouraged to strive for better. With the support of her parents, she was able to take advantage of the opportunities that were available, enabling her to do exceptionally well throughout her academic career. Being a senior at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, earning a degree in Mechanical engineering, having a strong support system was exactly what she needed. The encouragement to participate in educational enrichment programs assisted her in being

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successful. “I was really fortunate,” Sugita states. Sugita graduated cum laude in high school and received the Chancellor’s Scholarship at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. She is also a member of the National Pi Tau Sigma Mechanical Engineering Honor Society. In the summer of 2017, she participated in an internship at Harvard University, where she co-wrote a research paper on 3D printing. Currently, she is the project manager for her senior design team, working on a

Brachytherapy Active Needle. She is currently in a program for native Hawaiians in STEM fields, which provides financial support, mentorship, and outlets to internships. Her academic journey has evoked an interest in the future, moving back to Hawaii and encouraging native Hawaiians to pursue science. However, academic achievement in the Pacific Islander community is not conventional.

BY Jasmine Gabriel PHOTOGRAPHY/Jenny Le DESIGN/Ann Dang

Although there is an abundance of opportunities to help native Pacific Islanders especially, these students are not taking advantage of them as much as they should. This is because many parents do not stress the importance of pursuing higher education, due to their culture’s beliefs. Because of the high poverty line in many Pacific Islander areas, individuals are often urged to dedicate their time to supporting their families at home, rather than enroll in a university. This mindset follows them to the age of the college

While there are individuals that decide not to attend college, there are many that do choose to further their education. Despite this, Pacific Islanders still fall short compared to other groups. According to the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, “Pacific Islanders are half as likely to have a bachelor’s degree in comparison with 27 percent for the total population and 49 percent of the Asian American population.” Furthermore, “15 percent of single‐race Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders hold at least a bachelor’s degree PACIFIC ISLANDERS ARE HALF AS LIKELY compared to 28 percent for the entire population and TO HAVE A BACHELOR’S DEGREE IN 5 percent hold a graduate COMPARISON WITH 27% FOR THE TOTAL or professional degree compared to 10 percent of POPULATION AND 49% OF THE ASIAN the entire population.” AMERICAN POPULATION.” There may be a difference –WHITE HOUSE INITIATIVE ON ASIAN in educational attainment AMERICANS AND PACIFIC ISLANDERS between Pacific Islanders and other groups, but application process. They are less motivated to the percentages when compared to Asians take initiative in preparing for college. In 2014, also vary. The WHIAAP has reported that ACT, known for their standardized test used while 29.3 percent of Asian Americans for college admissions in the United States, have a bachelor’s degrees and 19.5 percent released a study revealing that there were lower have a graduate or professional degree. percentages of Pacific Islanders compared Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Guamanians to all other students that met the readiness or Chamorros, and Micronesians have less benchmarks for all four subject areas: English, than half of their population receiving either Math, Reading, and Science. bachelor’s degrees and/or higher degrees. Low

graduation rates are mainly due to the high poverty in Pacific Islander areas. Studies show that this could also trace back to who these students are seeing in the classroom. Teach for America, a non-profit organization that recruits graduates from top universities to get into education, states that “Less than 1.5 percent of our nation’s teachers identify as APIA – a number that does not reflect the percentage of AAPI students or the changing student demographics in our schools.” Additionally, the misclassification of Asians and Pacific Islanders as two distinct groups may be another reason for low percentages of Pacific Islanders in schools. Up until 1997, Asians and Pacific Islanders were put under one umbrella. Unfortunately, the tendency to generalize the two very different cultures, stories, and needs is still apparent in many APIA spaces. It takes ambitious and determined individuals like Lansing to transcend the boundaries of culture and inspire others to do the same.

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BY Aishani Shrinath PHOTO/Catie Le

DESIGN/Amy Le DESIGN/Amy and Ann Dang Le


n the recent half century, there has been this obsession with food and what we are eating the United States. It seems as if every month or so there is a new fad diet craze or a new superfood has been “discovered”. Many of these foods, such as quinoa and tumeric, are foods that people of color have been eating for centuries. Most ethnic foods have been glamorized and fetishized for their healing powers and medicinal abilities. However, one food group in particular has been vilified, criticized, and ostracized from our society. That food group is Chinese food. Even in the present day, Chinese food has been condemned for its use of a chemical called MSG. Countless studies have shown that MSG is not harmful for health, but the public still seems frightful of this. It could be because of the antiChinese and the anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States.

MSG, also known as monosodium glutamate. It is made up of sodium, which makes food salty, and glutamate which gives food a savory flavor. MSG is used in food production to add this savory flavor, which is also known in the culinary world as umami. Although MSG can be manufactured, it is naturally occurring in foods that we eat everyday. Chinese cuisine is not the only food, or food culture, that uses MSG. MSG is in different types of foods, like cheese, broccoli, and walnuts. Also, many American fast food chains, like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Chick-Fil-A, use MSG in their foods, according to both companies’ ingredient lists for their products. However, these fast food chains have not received the criticisms that Chinese food from takeout restaurants have received. In the late 1960s, Robert Ho Man Kwok stated that he had been suffering from “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”. It

was “discovered” that MSG causes nausea, headaches, and other ailments. However, since the 1960s, there have been countless studies have proved otherwise. In a study conducted by food scientists Tarrasoff and Kelly found that when giving one group of people doses of MSG and another group a placebo, both groups had no negative health effects. This means that the consumption of MSG had the same effects on health and wellness as the placebo did. In order to understand the racial overtones in the demonization of MSG, it is important to understand the influx of Chinese migration into the United States. The first Chinese in the United States came in the early eighteen hundreds. This is known as the first migration wave of Chinese*. In the 1800s, most Chinese settled in the West Coast, predominately California. Majority of the migrants were males and the worked in railwork, mining, and other

IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND THE RACIAL OVERTONES IN THE DEMONIZATION OF MSG, IT IS IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THE INFLUX OF CHINESE MIGRATION INTO THE UNITED STATES. agricultural related jobs. In 1882, the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. This act outlawed the immigration of Chinese people to the United States. To this day, discriminatory attitudes towards foreigners have remained, especially those directed towards Chinese immigrants . This discrimination was heavily influenced by labor unions that encouraged lawmakers to inhibit Chinese communities from forming. Chinese migrants often worked for low wages, so they were seen as competition

by those in labor unions. Given that the Chinese exclusion Act was not repealed until 1943, Chinese culture was also stunted within the United States, being restricted to only a few pockets of ethnic enclaves. Most Americans received information about Chinese people and culture through media outlets. The second wave of Chinese migration was in the 1970s and found a niche in operating particular kinds of businesses, one of which included the food industry. These early Chinese business owners altered their cuisine to accommodate American tastebuds. Utter disdain continued to develop towards Chinese people. Many Americans held antiChinese sentiments. This is mainly due to the Cold War and the anti-communist sentiments held at the time. The distaste the majority of the country had towards Chinese Americans manifested in various aspects of Chinese American culture, particularly their food. MSG has been an excuse for hating Chinese food, but the larger hatred has been against the Chinese in the United States. It is important to note that Chinese food is not the only type of cuisine that uses MSG. Popular fast food chains serving American food use MSG. Healthy foods, such as broccoli and tomatoes contain naturally occuring MSG. There are not bans against hamburgers and french fries. Broccoli has not been demonized and villainized. The hatred of Chinese Americans stems from the first wave of Chinese immigration, and later manifested on during the Cold War and anti-communism sentiments of the later half of the twentieth century. Attacking Chinese food, because of MSG, is just another vessel in American society to show the disdain for Chinese Americans.

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BY Ashley Tatang PHOTOGRAPHY/Shuer Zhuo

The Distance Dynamic Students discuss pursuing education away from home

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At the University of Florida, there were about 7,107 international students enrolled in the Fall semester of 2016. Most of these students come from China, India and South Korea; it was found that the number of international students in the U.S. has grown 72 percent since 2000. But what does this mean for the students who must leave behind their family, friends and country in order to fulfill their family’s ideas of the land of opportunity and what it may bring?

DESIGN/Allyson Martinez


tudents all over the world leave behind their family, friends and country in pursuit of the “American Dream” and what it promises. In Asian culture, your family’s well-being is often synonymous to your own; family comes before anything else. However, many Asian families are willing to separate for months on end in order to pursue this dream. In 2015, it was found that 974,926 international students moved to America to study and chase the American dream. They made up about 4.8 percent of the total U.S student population.

Youngseop Lee, a 19-year-old international student from Korea, was one of these students who is pursuing his studies, and the elusive American dream. “For me, the American Dream is getting a decent job, a good family, a house; I just want a “normal” life,” Lee said. “I have a lot of pressure [from my family] because my brother would have had a chance to come here if he was the oldest.” According to Lee, in Korean culture, the eldest child has more priority over the younger siblings, and carries the pressure of fulfilling the family legacy.


The idea of fulfilling a legacy is the same as giving back to your parents and to your family, reminding you why they have made sacrifices and thus making them worth it. While the relationships between international students and their family have changed, it can be thought of as going full circle as the sacrifices are made in order to create the highest quality of life for future generations.

see them, I appreciate that time a lot.” While his family relationship has been maintained from a distance over a long period of time, it indicates that a family dynamic may not always boil down to proximity. For Lin, she is still in close contact with her family despite living independently from her family since her undergraduate years in China. To describe her relationship, she says that they are very close. “I can talk to my parents every day, sometimes we do live chat. Even in undergraduate school I would call them every evening. We talk about everything.” Apps like FaceTime, WeChat and WhatsApp have changed the way families can connect despite being separated by distance. These apps make the world seem smaller and allow you to bring your loved ones into your

Jiehui Lin, a second-year University of Florida graduate student, separated from her family in China at 23 years old. Lin has lived independently from her family since her undergraduate years in China, but she values the American education system. Lin noted that international students are drawn to American’s holistic approach to education particularly in their admissions process and teaching styles. “The teachers here inspire you to think about things rather than just giving you the answers,” Lin said. “It allows you to be more active in your work.” According to Kathleen Struck’s “International Students and the Economy,” this influx of international students largely benefits the U.S. In 2013, Struck writes that “international student spending added more than $27 billion to the U.S economy.” This is also a part of the notion of the “American Dream” and the endless things their market has to offer. However; there is still an adjustment for international students as the family dynamic changes. “I had a really tough time getting used to being so far from my family,” Lee said. “They give me a lot of comfort just by talking to them.” Short conversations over the phone, often cut short by poor connection or signal, are sometimes the only instances where they will be able to connect for a while. These moments become more precious as they are fewer and far between. With no guarantee of when they will be together again, mundane conversations and small talk have more value. However, this family separation is not new for Lee who attended an international boarding school in Korea since middle school. “I was so used to that [distance],” Lee said. “I wasn’t seeing them that often, I was always talking to them on the phone about school life. I didn’t really get to talk to them about my personal life. But now when I

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life in ways that they never have been able to before. However, the time difference can make family feel a lifetime away. Finding the right time for both members of the family can be difficult to balance. When issues or arguments arise, there is sometimes only a small window of opportunity to discuss it and fix it. This is also true for moments when you only want to talk to your family; their day might just be starting while yours is coming to a close. “My parents don’t even want me to come back to Korea,” Lee said. “The reason is because there are more opportunities here [in America].” Even though the family unit is so close for Lee, creating a better life for posterity is ultimately worth the distance and lost time between family. According to Shuchang Kang, a doctoral candidate in counseling psychology for the University of Florida, the changes to the family dynamic that comes with students studying on exchange “largely depends on the original dynamic.” She believes that it is important for parents of these students to allow them room to grow apart from their family, and to find their individuality outside of the role they have played in the family.


Because the family ties in Asian culture are so strong, the role they play in their family has a large hand in the way they may express themselves and in their beliefs. The student’s independence and their autonomy may be compromised by who their family wants them to be, or who they feel they should be for their family. Their beliefs and goals may be highly influenced by their family, and they may be unsure of who they are outside of the family. Moving across the country forces them to find their identity separate from the familial unit. “They are learning how to cook, learning to be independent financially,” Shuchang said. “These little things help students to grow in many different aspects of their life as they learn to live on their own.” •

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Yellow Strikers and Brown Rabble-Rousers Understanding how APIA workers fit into the labor movement

“Asian American workers have had a profound effect on the American labor movement,” said Paul Ortiz, who teaches United States labor history at the University of Florida.

Chen went on to become a founding member of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), which operates as the only national organization specifically for APIA workers. As an organization under the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), APALA addresses concerns for APIA in the American workplace by engaging with unions and fighting for immigrant and civil rights.

As such, in order to fully understand the Asian American experience, it is necessary to understand the complex history of APIA labor in the United States. “[When] you think of states like New York, or California, or Washington [or] Hawaii, you think of big unions,” Ortiz said. “A tremendous amount of leaders and organizers in those unions have been Asian American workers, and their work has been overlooked.” Labor history in the United States is colorful, and it is impossible to ignore the struggles unique to Asian American workers and the legacies that Asian American labor leaders have left on the movement. We do not often learn about iconic organizers such as Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, who worked tirelessly for agribusiness to recognize the rights of labor and collective bargaining. Both Itliong and Vera Cruz, Filipino American farm workers and union men, were instrumental in the Delano grape strike. They fought for federal benefits, political power, better working conditions and a voice against the oppression from agribusiness. We don’t often learn about the substantial impact of Asian women on the labor movement, who often bore the brunt of employer abuse and the lowest wages for the hardest jobs. Chinese American labor activist May Chen, for

“A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF LEADERS AND ORGANIZERS IN THOSE UNIONS HAVE BEEN ASIAN AMERICAN WORKERS, AND THEIR WORK HAS BEEN OVERLOOKED.” - PAUL ORTIZ We don’t often remember how hard our Asian ancestors fought for us to be able to benefit from basic working conditions and for us to have the ability to fight back against employer abuse. We forget that our ancestors resisted abusive power structures every day, so we can enjoy the workplace rights that we have today. Today, Asian Americans continue to have a significant purpose in labor organizing. Specifically, what makes Asian Americans such important figures in labor is their rich backgrounds in organizing. “Today, [the role of Asian American immigrant workers in America] is a global role,” Or-

tiz said. “And what I mean by this is that many workers who come here from, say, the Korean peninsula, come here with a very strong background in labor movement organizing. South Korea has some of the most militant trade unions on the planet. There’s a number of those workers who come here from outside of the country and immediately play a big role in the labor movement.” Drawing on his own experiences with Asian immigrants in the labor movement, Ortiz relays a poignant anecdote from his earlier days as a strike organizer during the 1990s Greyhound Bus Drivers’ Strike with the Amalgamated Transit Union. “I remember this strike because as a younger labor organizer, this was one of the first times I held responsibility for a picket line,” Ortiz said. “I had to take responsibility for a picket line at the downtown Olympia, Washington, Greyhound terminal because the nine drivers who worked out of that terminal were on strike and had to take other jobs in order to make ends meet.” Near the terminal was a diner owned by a Korean woman. “We knew that she was supportive of the strike, but no one had ever bothered talking with her about her background. We’d be sitting, grabbing coffee, and when a bus would come in, we would run out and have our picket signs and make a show. We had to make sure people knew that the strike was still on,” Ortiz said. “One afternoon, when the drivers were still involved in the picket line, we’re sitting in the cafe talking, and the bus pulled in, and we had missed the fact that it had pulled in. So, we had not done our jobs.” The driver of that bus walked into the diner,

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example, along with the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union in the 1980s, helped organize one of the biggest Asian American strikes in U.S. history.

BY Ashley Nguyen


hrough the experiences of APIA workers, it is evident that Asian labor has always been inseparable from the struggles of the American working class.

and by definition, he was a “scab” – a pejorative term designated for strikebreakers, or those who would take work during a strike. “We look at this guy who’s walking in, and he’s in his uniform – big guy. And the proprietor turns around, sees him, and she grabs a cast-iron skillet off of the hotplate and runs at him and says, ‘Get out of my restaurant, you dirty scab!’” Ortiz said. Ortiz, chuckling at this memory, remembers the bus driver looking down at the 4 feet 2 inches tall Korean woman and then fleeing the diner. As an immigrant from the Korean peninsula, this particular restaurant owner came from a country with a rich labor history. “She gave us a history of the Korean labor movement and said, ‘In Korea, we take labor seriously. I don’t associate with scabs,’” Ortiz said. It is specifically stories like this that remind us that we should not forget

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the power of APIA workers. The history of Asian American labor activism is rich, and stories like this give us a glimpse into the full-throated strength that can be harbored as the movement progresses forward. “The first thing to knock out of the park is recognizing that the American labor movement – a lot of its foundations were very anti-ChineseAmerican, very anti-South Asian labor. For example, the AFL was directly involved in enacting anti-Asian laws that enabled a lot of violence,” said Alvin Zhang, a former intern with the APALA. Presently, workers of the Asian community face several problems unique to their identities. For example, according to research by the National Women’s Law Center, depending on ethnicity, Asian women in the United States typically make about 80 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic male earns. A poll conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that more than 25 percent of Asian Americans have experienced discrimination in the workplace and in housing. Asian women face sexual harassment in the workplace.

by powerful unions. Strong unions can force employers to the bargaining table. Strong unions can demand that rights are given back to workers. Strong unions have the potential to give workers back their livelihoods, and we need to pay attention to the roles that Asian American workers play in labor unionism.

there is a need for change in labor organizing strategies in order to effectively build political power. Zhang echoes these sentiments.

This is not to say that there isn’t a disconnect between Asian labor history and Asian American millennials.

In addition to liberal apathy towards the labor movement, Ortiz points out that legislation from the political right threatens the strength of unions.

“From my experience in the community of newly-educated Asian Americans going to college, there’s always hardly any people who have been here longer than two generations,” Zhang said. “In that context, we have an awkward understanding about American historical context, labor and politics.” In terms of the movement at large, Will Kong, a University of Chicago graduate student and organizer with UChicago Graduate Students United (GSU), is not optimistic about the state of labor. “The labor movement has hurt itself a lot,” Kong said. “If there is a return to organizing something along the lines of class struggle, then there is a chance that things might work out.”

Asian immigrants – the fastest-growing group of undocumented immigrants, according to AAPI Data – are by and large being left out of the dialogue surrounding DACA. The list of issues that the APIA community faces is endless. Undocumented workers have less leverage over employers given their citizenship status, and the uncertainty surrounding DACA has the potential to cripple part of the American workforce. These are issues in which the protection of the union is vital to the rights and livelihoods of workers. Perhaps one of the most important hallmarks of labor organizing is the union – the crux of power for the employees in the workplace. A significant portion of the issues faced by Asian laborers today have the potential to be mitigated with an invigorated workforce, backed

There is work to be done. Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ January 2018 report revealed that only 8.9 percent of Asian American workers are unionized, compared to 12.9 percent for African American, 10.6 percent for whites, and 9.3 percent for Hispanics. Building a stronger foundation around labor and pushing for more Asian American involvement is an ongoing, tedious task, but there is hope. “I’ve found no shortage of Asian Americans who care about things. Once I tell them why this is important, they understand,” Zhang said. “If you don’t talk to them, people think you’re radical, and if you do talk to them, then it makes sense. Labor is a great springboard towards actual social change.” A recurring theme that is often discussed within the labor organizing sphere is the lack of national political support for labor organizers. “Neither Democrats or Republicans really support the labor movement that much,” Kong said. Without a solid political foundation for labor,

“We need to bring labor to the Democrats. Even liberals right now have lost their roots with labor,” Zhang said.

“Republicans are pushing right-to-work laws that could potentially decimate unionism,” Ortiz said.


Right-to-work laws allow members of a union to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining without having to pay dues, which would be a huge blow to union organizing power. Moving forward, Ortiz reminds workers, “Keep an open mind. Think about the global economy. We have the right to have dignity and meaningful fulfillment in work.” Power can still be wrested from the hands of employers, but to do so, Asian Americans need to touch base with their histories and understand how APIA workers have helped shaped the American workplace. In understanding how our histories are intertwined with the workplace, we can move forward with building a sturdy foundation for labor. We are responsible for understanding why our rights as workers have been decimated by those in power, and we are responsible for organizing ourselves in a way that allows us to take back our rights and the rights for other groups of workers – we have a world to win. •

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BY Cynthia Lai and Naila Fariha Hossain


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Death in Asian American Communities Death is related to a constant evolving ritual of services to mourn the deceased. Over time the traditional methods for funeral procedures has changed in Asian Pacific Islander American communities in the United States.

Japanese Practices

Similarly, Japanese Americans have redesigned practices to American norms. In Japan due to the constraints of land and density cremation was the universal practice allowing for urns of ashes to be placed in small family plots. However, in southern California an estimate of 50 percent of deceased Japanese Americans are known to be buried, with the availability of land for burial plots (Leonard, 63). Furthermore, in the past it is noted that embalming is not common in Japan with closed caskets ceremonies and family of the deceased would dress the body in a white kimono with packing in a wooden coffin with money and straw sandals for their journey. Deriving from early immigrant experiences, the casket is now left open for viewing and white kimonos are seldom used for the departed and mourners are rarely seen wearing the once-customary black kimonos (Leonard, 64).

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DESIGN/Jessica Moore

In the Samoans culture, they have adapted to their new home in the United States by modifying their funeral practices to be based on church and mortuary rather than in the home. The home has been central to funeral activities in various cultures but due to the limitations of urban homes and economic statuses of families certain traditions have evolved stated Susan Phay, faculty of San DIego State University in her thesis Traditional Southeast Asian Funeral Practices: A Study of Cultural Maintenance, Environmental Adaptations, and Effects of Western Funeral Practices in the United States.ronment, culture and lifestyles.

In an article published in 1989 by Kearl discussed, societies typically view death based on three typologies: death-accepting, death denying, and death-defying (Howarth 2007). In the Chinese culture, American influence has begun to be incorporated in the sense of haircuts and clothing for the deceased. Julia Frances Lacy, University of Victoria, 2009, Master of Arts in the Department of Anthropology, noted that “by 1916 Christian ministers adopted the method of burying the Chinese members of their congregations in American clothing, using burial hardware and personal goods. After the Christian ceremony, some Chinese Americans would still perform their own ceremonies with candles, roasted chicken, flags, burning incense, incantations, and goods by graveside.” The Chinese culture while adapting to the North American customs has been able to also conserve their important rituals throughout time. Another tradition maintained was the common practice for guests to receive two envelopes, a white envelope contained a coin and a piece of candy to signify death with the candy to ease the bitterness of death, while the red envelope contained only a coin to provide good luck (Crowder 2008:205).


Samoan Practices

Chinese Practices

BY Anusha Makhani


aren Leonard, author of Mourning in a New Land: Changing Asian Practices in Southern California, professor of Anthropology at University of California, Irvine, mentions “Different death rituals and changes in them provide an obvious measure of cultural difference and adaptations, although definition of an “American norm” is somewhat problematic. Death rituals in the United States differ greatly according to ethnic and national origin.” In the past it was customary for families in the home to take care of the bodies of their loved ones, however now in the United States due to health concerns and regulations, bodies must be prepared and disposed of by specialists who work in institutional settings such as crematoriums, mortuaries, and funeral homes.

Muslim Practices

Cemeteries have also been adapting to cultural funeral practices by designating areas according to ethnic affiliations. If a Muslim was to be buried in a regular section of a cemetery, they would purchase two plots to allow the body to be placed in orientation toward Mecca. In Karachi, Pakistan, it is known that Ismaili Muslims bury the deceased in only a white cloth. It is stated in the Quran, “To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return�. The tradition of not wearing clothes symbolizes how humans enter the world with nothing and now they leave the world in the same fashion. Funerals in America have a viewing of the body while the deceased is fully clothed in American apparel. In addition, it traditional in the past to avoid cooking in the house of the deceased until the burial services were complete. However, due to infeasibility and lifestyles that is not a tradition continued in Muslim American households today. Ultimately, traditions continue evolve based on the environment, culture and lifestyles.


A Self-Study

Quoc Pham,a second-year theater major, agrees that more can be done especially when considering the significant lack of relevant Asian studies available. Currently on track to graduate with an Asian American Studies (AAS) minor, Pham said “I can see why there would be not a lot of support for it from the university, mainly due to general student interest.” Whilean AAS minor is available, there is very little knowledge of the minor as a whole. In fact, when requesting funding information from the UF Public Records about the AAS minor, the response was: “UF offers an Asian Studies Minor, not an Asian American studies Minor. The Asian Studies Minor consists of courses related to Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese and can be language courses and/or non-language courses such as literature or culture as indicated in the 2017/18 UF Undergraduate Catalog.”

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Furthermore, no information could be provided by the UF Public Records about funding and enrollment information, as they only track statistics for majors. This lack of knowledge in general reflects the attitude toward Asian American Studies at UF, as well as the significant lack of recognition regarding the program. In a college where approximately 8 percent of the student population identifies as Asian, this fact is significant. Dr. Malini Schueller, an English professor at UF, agrees with the thought that the representation of Asian Americans within curriculum could certainly be better.

Though this workaround implies a lack of influence or presence regarding the minor, students that have taken it have nothing but good things to say. Jessie Wang, a recent graduate from the University of Florida with a major in psychology and a double minor in education and AAS, recognizes the importance of AAS

“IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT TO KNOW WHERE YOU COME FROM, TO SEE HOW IT’S IMPACTING HOW ASIAN AMERICANS ARE TODAY IN SOCIETY.” - JESSIE WANG Being the primary founder of the AAS minor, Schueller has a desire to facilitate recognition for Asian American studies minor. However, she notes that the main issue is that there isn’t enough interest generated around Asian American studies. On multiple occasions, more classes centered in Asian American politics, culture and interactions with other ethnic groups have been requested by students in the AAS minor. Although the intention of these courses is often the right idea, it’s up to the professor to execute the material in a representative way. In

as a way for communicating Asian American history and increasing awareness. “It’s really important to have ethnic studies because there’s a lot of history that people aren’t exposed to,” Wang said. “It’s really important to know where you come from, to see how it’s impacting how Asian Americans are today in society.” The history of Asian Americans is acutely important in understanding the accomplishments and hardships of generations before, a point that Wang has recognized in her work



he University of Florida is known to speak about promoting diversity, inclusivity and acceptance. However, The UF’s Undergraduate Catalog in particular shows a clear the most obvious sign of insufficient representation. The 2017-2018 cCatalog shows that there are majors offered in multiple ethnic and cultural studies. However, one major in particular isn’t available: Asian American sStudies.

that regard, the classes that compose the Asian American studies minor are interesting in content, covering topics such as Asian American and African American Hip Hop, Asian American Politics and Eating Food in Asian America. However, in many circumstances, curriculum surrounding Asian American interests have to be fought for in finding a place within sections of pre-existing classes.

BY Kayla Davidson

The importance of the Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies

with speeches, protests and interviews to fight for the continued availability of resources for the AAS minor. “For second generation immigrants, they often feel as though there’s not really an Asian American history, but when you see where you fit in and how all of these puzzle pieces come together, you see the history of oppression, you see the same things people went through in the 60s, the 80s, that are still holding Asian Americans back today,” Wang said. The importance of Asian American history extends even further than the group itself. Interactions with other ethnicities and racial groups reflect the significance of understanding this unique background holds. The story of Asian Americans shares many similarities with battles fought by other groups that similarly struggled with representation. “It shows you where the Asian American story fits in along with the Hispanic/Latina and the black power movements,” Wang said. “People often don’t think that there’s a lot of overlap, but in reality, there is a lot of history that all comes together in one great, beautiful story.” Pham has a similar sentiment, agreeing with the idea that the minor is a good opportunity to learn more about the history of Asian Americans. The very presence of the Asian American studies minor reflects the changing dynamics of the University of Florida, and such positive change shouldn’t be ignored. Pham recognizes the student desire to know more about the history of Asian Americans.


“I think students in the Southeast Asian minority don’t know a lot about how geography comes into play when we talk about advances in ethnic studies or general social justices for minorities as a whole,” Pham said. “So I think it’s important that we have the opportunity to learn about the history, not just of ourselves, but of ourselves across the country.”

the issues is that for more classes to be created, more faculty would be needed to teach those classes, and there isn’t enough interest to justify hiring more professors. This means that without an incentive, the progress of Asian American studies on campus is essentially at a standstill. One potential solution is creating more awareness of the existence of the AAS minor.

“IT SHOWS YOU WHERE THE ASIAN AMERICAN STORY FITS IN ALONG WITH THE HISPANIC/LATINA AND THE BLACK POWER MOVEMENTS,” - JESSIE WANG “A lot of students in the classes were fourth years, so they were taking a class but it was too late for them to be able to take the minor,” Pham said. “From an organizational standpoint, students know about the minor, but they aren’t really able to talk to anyone that’s currently pursuing it.” In this sense, it isn’t necessarily that there is no interest; rather, students aren’t knowledgeable about the specificities of the minor. The students that do hear about the major are too far along in their education, meaning that the best way to solve this issue is to increase underclassmen awareness. Schueller suggests that awareness be brought to various organizations, such as the Asian American Student Union (AASU), that has more of an impact on younger generations of UF students. “Depending on where the student is in their tracking, they might miss the chance,” Schueller said. “Whereas someone coming in freshman year that wants to take the minor, they can take all three courses and be done with the requirements for the minor. So if they’re aware of it from the beginning, and the minor is something that is interesting to them, then they can plan it. Some sort of publicity for the minor would be a good thing.” •

Despite this, the sheer volume of interest is lacking. For example, since the creation of the AAS minor in 2004, only 11 students have graduated from UF with the minor. Though this number is reasonable given the relative newness of the minor, it still doesn’t generate the interest necessary to justify creating more classes. “There are not that many people who take the minor, so I think sometimes students ask about the minor and have their hearts in the right place,” Schueller said. “But if there’s not a huge demand for the minor, you can’t really make a major request that they hire more faculty or provide more classes.” Naturally, having more representation at an institutional level is desirable; however, the question arises of how to achieve change. Unfortunately, the solution isn’t as simple as creating more classes and waiting for more students to show interest in Asian American studies. One of

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The APIA Archive

UF APIA recall impacts they’ve made and future of APIA student population


To Cheng’s surprise, the archivist looked him in the eye and said, “I don’t have anything. The university was not set up to report the experiences of individual students.”

The archivist gave him a box and told him to fill it with history, and Cheng did just that. Pamphlets, flyers and T-shirts were taken into account. He flipped through yearbooks in search of Asian American predecessors, but he was not given much attention for his findings.

For his graduate thesis, Cheng decided to write about the research he conducted as an undergrad. He went back to those yearbooks, flipped back to 1915 and started writing. Through his paper, he filled the gaps that the archives lacked, documenting the rich history and experiences of Asian Americans at UF from past to present. “I do this research not only for my thesis, but for the University of Florida,” Cheng said. “It’s for students and future students, and it’s for people to understand that UF may have started as an all-white male institution in 1853, but we

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It is essential for APIA students to realize that there is a collective history amongst them at

WE AS ASIAN AMERICAN STUDENTS HAVE A VERY LONG HISTORY AT UF THAT WE SHOULD BE PROUD OF.” —PHILLIP CHENG, 29 UF. With this awareness, current students can appreciate the strides that alumni have taken in order to achieve the status that they have earned today. Along with this, they can evaluate and focus on issues that still need resolving. The APIA community has a strong history at UF, which includes alumni who fought for the inclusion of an Asian American studies minor and the creation of a first-of-its-kind space in the southeast for Asian Americans. At the end of 2010, UF received funding for an official Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs office, and Mona Sayedul Huq was the first APIA affairs graduate assistant. As an undergrad, Huq was a volunteer for inclu-

Her active influence led to the renaming of the position of AASU Representative to the Vice President of External Affairs in order to connect with each sub-organization. She also realized that FSA could be more than just a social organization if they implemented the service aspect that she emphasized. Her advocacy prompted their philanthropy, Gawad Kalinga. “I was listening to students who identified as queer and APIDA (Asian Pacific Islander Desi American) who wanted to talk about their identities within a safe space,” Huq said. “They needed help, and I assisted them by just being someone to count on. They really didn’t have anyone else to go to.” As a graduate assistant for APIA Affairs, it took her a while to learn more about herself and what it meant to be a part of the APIA community. There is a perceived “model minority myth,” a stereotype that generalizes the Asian experience as high achieving in academics and socioeconomic status. This has systematized the Asian race in its entirety and remains a prominent struggle. Likewise, the “dual identity model” or “bicultural identity” is often a reality for Asian American students, who have to face the dichotomy of being part of two cultures simultaneously. These ideas formulated questions within her, and her experience allowed her to bridge such gaps. She has not stopped her journey at UF, as she is now an adjunct faculty member in the department of Health Education and Behavior at 28 years old. “Things have certainly gotten better, but there

DESIGN/ Karen Yung

After Cheng left the university with degrees in industrial systems and engineering and East Asian languages and literature in 2011, he moved to Hawaii to teach and is now continuing his education at San Francisco State University. There, he is pursuing his second master’s degree in Asian American Studies.

Cheng’s time at UF has allowed him to come to the realization that the people who came before him worked very hard to give Asian Americans the future they deserved. He continued their legacy by becoming the CoPresident of AASU and a member of CASA, as well as pushing for the Asian Alumni Association and the Asian American studies minor. At the time, the minor was only a certificate. Now, Cheng serves as the interim president of the Asian Alumni Association at UF and has pushed for new initiatives and campaigns, such as scholarships and local gatherings across the nation

sive fitness and unified sports at UF, a tutor for local kids and a member of the Filipino Student Association (FSA). In her senior year, she joined FSA’s executive board and pushed for more community service action among the organization.


“It’s such a pity that we don’t have any history.” Cheng thought.

as Asian Americans have a history here much older than other minorities on campus.”

BY Denise Tran

s an undergrad in 2006, Phillip Cheng, 29, pondered the history of the ancestors at UF. He went to Library East, now called Smathers Library, and took to the University Archivist. He asked for resources about the history of Asians at UF.

is still a lot of work to be done,” Dr. Huq said. “We can do better in unifying all Asian organizations because there is still a community of queer Asian and South Asian brothers and sisters that are not being included in the conversation.” Though the APIA office is fairly new and the goals are not quite clearly defined, the fact that a specific space exists to cater towards the needs of Asian American students is a feat in itself. “Twenty years ago, Asian Americans were still fighting for recognition; now they are a full fledged body on campus,” Cheng said. The progress that has been made has come a long way. The current APIA Affairs Director, Jack Nguyen, emphasizes the importance of the individual experiences that make each Asian American student unique and explains why he is in the field of student affairs to improve such matters. “To me, it was important to have the representation, but it’s moreso important to have the conversations, especially around identity development and the intersections of our identities,” Nguyen said. “That’s really what sparked my interest, is the social justice foundation of the work that we do in higher education student affairs.” Nguyen is working on collecting the data and input needed in order to visualize the student experience at the university. He agrees with the issues that exist amongst representation in that there is a wider span of people who identify as Asian American but are not being presented as so. He realizes that not all students are capable of becoming involved in student organizations due to potential barriers that some may face. “We fail to acknowledge and represent the South, Southeast and even Middle Eastern, Muslim, Arab students experiences on campus, and that’s something we want to change,” Nguyen said. “It’s difficult for us to have that conversation when the identity development has never happened.”

The current APIA Affairs Graduate Assistant, Shalini Mirpuri, is someone who is participating in this field of work and embracing her identity, regardless of how she may look externally. “As someone who is ethnically ambiguous, I’m biracial, and I’ve always been involved in social justice work but never really felt like I was a part of it because I don’t look the part,” Mirpuri said. “I’m very white-passing, so I always felt very secluded from social justice circles, particularly Asian American ones because I don’t look it.”


To these APIA from UF, inclusivity embodies a wider span of people. It is not enough to include the present-day members of the extensive community but rather, to incorporate advocates that gave the community a voice and the defenders that maintained our position of prominence. With this, the population can leverage their power into an allencompassing body that acknowledges all identities. Individuals can start by using the term APIDA, which recognizes Asian Pacific Islander Desi American students. “It is our priority and under our purview to support all students on campus, not just APIDA identified students,” Nguyen said. The community has maintained the core of its essence but has grown continuously. There may be infighting and disparities, but there is more acceptance. Following the example of Cheng, who catalogued the historical ancestry of Asian Americans at UF, and Huq, who worked hard to promote identity acceptance, the present-day generation can fill in the gaps of inclusivity. Even with the current progressive circumstances, the goal towards unity has never changed. “Keep doing our best and learn from others. We Asian Americans work hard, and we will accomplish what we want to do at UF,” said Vy Nguyen, a Gator since 1998, who moved to Florida from Vietnam. This mindset has not changed, and it is the inherent responsibility of APIAs at UF to be educated in the history and culture in order to appreciate what has been obtained and what can be achieved in the future. “In the end, it’s about the students who are utilizing the space, it’s about the students who are working in this space, and it’s about students who aren’t even here in this space,” Nguyen said. “How can we create a sense of visibility and also a sense of community on campus?” The APIAs at UF, from a decade ago to the present, understand the importance of being familiar with our history and continue the work that the people in the past have started. “It’s not that our history doesn’t exist,” Cheng said. “It’s that we haven’t uncovered it yet, and it’s still meant to be discovered.” •

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Representation Matters

The contribution of Asian artists to the media industry has been substantially reduced, unwittingly or not, to 5.9% according to a study from the Media, Diversity, Social Change Initiative in the top 100 top films of 2016. “Westernization,” or the reimaging and modern Hollywood interpretation ito the film and tv industry, has produced a struggle for equal opportunity with the lack of visibility. Most importantly, when Asians are represented they are usually depicted in stereotypical roles. “Here comes the real issue, we have things making Indians have accents

It’s a dismal fact about the media industry. However, it doesn’t stop there. As seen most recently in the fashion industry last month, Zara, a large retail store, was criticized by Twitter for selling, “check mini skirts.” People began noticing the similarity it had with lungis, an Indian and South Asian dress wear. Sally Lin from Twitter called out Zara by posting, “Lol @ZARA check yourself before you appropriate clothing from another culture. This brings grandpa-chic to a whole new level #zaralungi.” Adding insult to injury, Zara is selling the lungi at $90 when this typical ‘fashion piece’ usually sells for a few dollars at the local street markets. The renaming and profiteering of Asian culture are especially high.“The stories behind what they mean are sometimes lost or not included with the item. As a result, many times a person can end up being disrespectful by failing to understand the purpose or meaning of that object,” Charles said. Asian dress wear can be found appropriated in any Forever 21

DESIGN/ Simon Fevrier

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Whitewashing occurs as a result of “the practice of erasing signifiers of race or difference from another culture’s artifact and replacing them with in-group signifiers” as defined by Charles. That is precisely what the media industry continues to do when they turn away from Asian roles in playing the main characters, even when the show or idea is in the basis of Asian countries. Mailé Nguyen, president of Students Teaching Against Racism (STAR) at Ohio University, highlighted that this affects young individual’s minds. “As a kid, I think that cultural appropriation inadvertently gave me an exotified perception of other Asian people. Cultural appropriation is like a really foggy White American lens of what another culture actually is, and I couldn’t get past it until I began to be aware of it,” said Nguyen.

in movies. All are in very stereotypical roles like Abub from the Simpson, playing from a very stereotypical role of owning a gas station and having an accent. It’s very few who are breaking that role,” said Faiza Begani, an International and Global Studies student at UCF. The Pew Research Center reported in 2015 that over 20 million Asian Americans reside in the United States. This ever-growing and creative industry generating films and tv shows should, therefore, be more reflective of the population who live here and are invested in finding entertainment that truly reflects their culture.

Photography/Abigail Murray

On a cursory glance, Asian appropriation is enmeshed throughout the fashion and entertainment industry. As seen with Ghost of the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson, and Death Note featuring Nat Wolff, both films originated from a Japanese manga series and excluded casting an Asian actress or actor for the leading role. Top movie production companies like Marvel have especially been at fault for shows like Iron Fist on Netflix, and Doctor Strange, which casted actress Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, who is notably illustrated as an Asian monk in the original comics. Hollywood casting directors reproduce these roles to be what they think as more “palpable” to American audiences, resulting in what is known as “whitewashing.” In a University of Southern California study, called Inclusion or Invisibility: Comprehensive Anneberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment, found that, “at least half or more of all cinematic, television, or streaming stories fail to portray one speaking or named Asian or Asian American on screen.”

Overall the numbers show that about 72% of whites are shown on screen versus 5% of Asians.

BY Kathleen Melendez


t’s time to call out Western mass media. Controversy over cultural appropriation has been an ongoing and heated debate on the difference between appropriation versus appreciation. There is also a case that these cultures have been subjugated to participate in this forced cultural exchange due to colonization, exploitation, and the inequality of power. According to University of Central Florida sociology instructor, Chris Charles, cultural appropriation is “when the dominant cultural group takes ownership over a minority culture in a way that is disrespectful, ignorant, or for profit.”


culture originated from without credit. The media seemingly FOGGY WHITE AMERICAN LENS OF WHAT fails when it equates ANOTHER CULTURE ACTUALLY IS, AND I COULDN’T the whooping billions in profits at the Asian GET PAST IT UNTIL I BEGAN TO BE AWARE OF IT,” box office to be the success of casting wellknown Caucasian --MAILE NGUYEN actress and actors store, re-labeled as Bohemian Festival wear. cast despite having Even cultural garments such as kimonos are appropriated the Asian culture. Nguyen, in sold at Urban Outfitters as a cute staple of this case, said, “The media only likes “Asian dress wear. This, however, entirely disregards culture” if it is profitable and edgy. Perhaps the cultural symbolism dating back to the that’s why Asian people have been reduced Muromachi period (1392-1568) as well as the to stereotypes such as math nerd, quirky significance of wearing it correctly with left sidekick, or a submissive china doll. When panels of the kimonos going over the right. those stereotypes are perpetuated, it keeps When examining pop culture, there has to white society in power and Asian people as the be an adamant discussion on rejection and dominated.” ownership of Asian people and their culture. It is necessary to criticize and parse the roles the The entertainment industry and fashion Asian culture plays both on and off the screen. industry is proliferating objects or behaviors A variety of clothes are renamed and sold off as that they do not understand, while fashion pieces with complete disregard towards simultaneously promoting stereotypes. It roots the harsh treatment and stigmatization that the stark hypocrisy that minority groups face has befallen Asians, and the roots that their when they are ostracized for wearing and

expressing their own cultures. It is inherently belittling for dominant cultural groups to strip the significance from different aspects of a minority group’s culture, for economic profit. Cultural appropriation isn’t just about artists and performers taking inspiration from global cultures, it’s rather the blunt severing of the culture from its people and roots, for the purpose taking ownership of it for one’s selfprofit. Faiza Bengani also stated that once you are aware you are perceptive of the underlying problems, “It’s a concept of consumer culture, Indian people are looked down upon what is seen as acceptable in American culture. They don’t want our connotation or an object being used to be tied to us. It’s easier to sell to people and consume if it’s labeled something different.” Intent becomes an integral part of understanding the difference between appreciation and appropriation. The question then becomes, when will mainstream culture stop selling and co-opting the Asian aesthetic, and start respecting the culture enough to stop playing Asian.

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Stefan Rayer, the director of population program in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida, has conducted studies on the Asian population in Florida. According to Rayer’s publication on “Asians in Florida,” the population of Asians has increased by 70.8 percent from 2000 to 2010. In 2012, Alachua County in Gainesville, FL, was found to have the highest percentage of Asians of the total population at 5.4 percent. Wendy Ng, a 21-year-old information and systems engineering

DESIGN/Sarah Nguyen

Wei Li, a professor of Asia Pacific studies, geographic sciences, planning and social transformation from Arizona State University, explained the importance of cultural communities which have been defined in various ways as “ghettoes,” “ethnic enclaves” and “ethnoburbs.”

“I was trying to differentiate [them] conceptually because these communities – I termed as ethnoburb[s] – from formation dynamics to socioeconomic demographic characteristics, are very different than enclaves, beyond the fact that they are located in different places,” Li said.



n the bustling Orlando Chinese Church, a long table groans under the weight of 30 to 40 dishes of your typical Thanksgiving dishes, with platters of traditional ham and turkey, but this bountiful harvest does not stop here. Crowding the table are plates full of Chinese dumplings, duck and noodle dishes. Uncles, aunts and community elders mill about the church to celebrate a holiday that honors the importance of family, yet judging by the table spread, this get-together also characterizes the cultural preservation and resilience of the Asian diaspora in the United States.

BY Othelia Jumapao


major at the Georgia Institute of Technology, remembers that her main exposure to the Asian community came from her local Chinese church in her hometown of Orlando, Florida.

learn about Asian cultural traditions. These young adults would participate in various activities like dragon boat racing and dragon parades for festivals like Lunar New Year.

“Every Sunday we have Mandarin classes that we would go to, or we’ll host different events like Lunar New Year celebrations at my church,” Ng said. “[I was] growing up around a lot of potlucks where people brought in a lot of different types of food from all over China.”

REACH provided her with a community of individuals of the same age who were able to support her and give her a sense of belonging, which Ng did not have in school.

One main avenue for celebrating Asian American heritage is through Asian-language schools which have popped up with the goal of instructing Asian Americans on improving their skills with the language of their homeland. A mutual understanding and a process of integration manifests between Americans and Asian Americans because of this cultural sharing. In “Contemporary Asian America,” Li, Emily Skop and Wan Yu explain that a transnational culture forms when Asian immigrants and U.S.born natives interact. This fusion of Asian culture and American culture means a proliferation of festivals in city enclaves and the suburbs. These festivals succeed in teaching other Americans about the cultural traditions of Asian Americans. Kate Refuerzo, a 21 year-old pre-nursing major at Florida State College at Jacksonville, also reminisces of the times she spent growing up in her own local church, the Filipino International Baptist Church. Music played a large role in Refuerzo’s family, so she gravitated toward the children’s cantata, a children’s choir, and eventually progressed to the praise and worship band, where she performed as the pianist.


Refuerzo recalls how the pastor would sometimes speak in Tagalog to emphasize a point during sermons. Her church also offered Tagalog Sunday school classes. In addition, the churchgoers would celebrate the holiday called Simbang Gabi, “night mass” in Tagalog, which would continue for three nights leading up to Christmas Day. Ng and Refuerzo shared their similar feelings of nostalgia and yearning to dig deeper into their roots and maintain the cultural exposure they had as children. “So those are my main kind of connections back to my culture, which I still really don’t know all too much about,” Ng said. “I think it’s something I definitely miss since leaving Florida now in college.” When she was in grade school, Ng joined an Asian outreach group, called Recognizing Experiencing Asian Cultural Heritage (REACH) of Central Florida. REACH aims to spread Asian cultural awareness in their local community of downtown Orlando and to educate young Asian Americans about their own cultures. She and her fellow middle school and high school peers would meet in the office of their adviser to


“That was really cool. Especially in high school, [when] you’re preparing for college in senior year and junior year,” Ng said. “I think it was good to have a community who you know we had similar parents, who had similar ambitions for us. [We could] talk through and support each other.” Ethnic settlements have always offered a sense of security for Asian immigrants struggling to adapt to a foreign society. Karen Leonard, a retired social historian from the UC Irvine Anthropology Department, said, “They provide a service for incoming immigrants in finding fellow countrymen, perhaps restaurants, perhaps [other] services.” The city of Jacksonville, FL, has multiple restaurants that serve Filipino cuisine. Refuerzo spoke on how the only sit-down Filipino restaurant was Maharlika, where she hosted her high school graduation. “It’s really great, they’re so nice over there. That’s where I had my high school graduation party because they also have a restaurant and hall,” Refuerzo said. “They have a really big dance floor, an A/V booth and a bar. And they have really good food.” According to the article “From the Ghetto to the Invisiburb,” by Skop and Li, Asian migrants have been know to settle in the suburbs, recreating the sense of community found in metropolitan areas but in outer surrounding neighborhoods; ethnoburbs sprout out of existing ethnic neighborhoods. Meanwhile, invisiburbs exist in cities where there has not been a historically large amount of Asian migrants beforehand. Thus, these communities remain invisible because the population of Asians has not reached a critical mass to be noticeable. For instance, Alachua County would be considered an invisiburb slowly becoming an larger ethnic community. ”What’s different is that immigrants aren’t clustering in central cities anymore, so they find new ways to negotiate their identities,” Skop said. •

51 | Spring 2018

Finding a Hero

The comic book industry has seen an increase of Asian representation, but is it enough to make a difference?

Jubilation Lee (Jubilee) Uncanny X-Men #244 (1989)

Colleen Wing Marvel Premiere #19 (1974)

Tatsu Yamashiro (Katana) The Brave and the Bold #200 (1983)

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Kimiyo Hoshi (Doctor Light) Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 (1985)


Afro-Latino teenager, took over the mantle of Spider-Man from the more commonly known Peter Parker. Morales shares many of the powers and skills as Parker and even fights some of the villains Parker faced in the past rather than his own original gallery of villains. Other “legacy” characters from Marvel include Amadeus Cho as the Hulk, Sam Alexander as Nova, Riri Williams as Iron Heart, and Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel. Cho is of Korean descent and Khan is of Pakistani descent. Khan quickly become a fan favorite among comic readers as she was not only an interesting character, but she was also the first Muslim superhero to get her own comic series in 2014. One of Khan’s co-creators, Sana Amanat, is also a Pakistani-American Muslim who wanted to create a character that had the same experiences she and other Muslims in America had. Khan’s creators made her stand out while still paying homage to her mentor, Captain Marvel, by giving Khan her own unique powers like being able to change the shape of her body. DC “legacy” characters are a little different than Marvel’s. While in the Marvel universe there are one or two characters who carry on


a comic before to name a black superhero and many could probably say Black Panther, Storm, or Cyborg. But could they do the same for an Asian superhero? The fact of the matter is that the comic book industry is behind when it comes to Asian characters. Today, the only people who know of any of the small list of Asian heroes from Marvel and DC are avid comic book readers. Even more recently, there has been a increasing demand for diversity in comics, and for the most part, comic creators are doing their best to deliver in order to both please their current readers and acquire a new audience. Many, however, believe that companies are trying so hard to churn out more characters of color that they often do not put much thought into it; it has become more of a competition. Rather than creating original superheroes with their own backstories and powers, some writers are just creating characters that take over the mantle of popular superheroes. These Marvel characters are often referred to as “legacy” characters. However, while some characters are different from their mentors, others are quite similar to them, which is where the issue lies. For example, Miles Morales, an



uring the mid-twentieth century, the comic book industry created an escape from reality with the action packed adventures of superheroes from the two most popular comic book companies: Marvel and DC. Ever since their start, the two companies created a lot of white superheroes written by white writers for primarily white audiences. Though there were a few minor characters of color within the pages, it was not until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s when readers started to see prominent superheroes of color. In 1966, Marvel created Black Panther who was the first black superhero in mainstream comics and is arguably still the most popular black superhero today. Whether Marvel introduced Black Panther as a political statement is still up for debate. Whatever the true motive, after this, both Marvel and DC started creating not only more black superheroes for readers, but superheroes of other ethnicities as well. However, though there was a slow increase of superheroes of color, it was still lacking when it came to Asian superheroes. You can ask someone who has never read

the legacy of one popular character, DC has one superhero title that many people will use. For instance, there are about six Green Lanterns of Earth and there have been at least four different Flashes. One of DC’s most well-known Asian superheroes was introduced in the 1990s. Cassandra Cain, is a mute ex-assassin who took over the role of Batgirl from Barbara Gordon and was later adopted by Batman. Cain is the daughter of villains David Cain and Lady Shiva, the latter of which is of East Asian descent. However, Cain’s ethnicity does not play a big part of who she is. Cassandra Cain is easily the most skilled of all the Batgirls and even Batman himself has said that she had surpassed him as a fighter. With these two characters in particular, though they have a superhero title that was

passed down to them, they also have their own skill sets and personalities that set them apart from their successors. So if the writers and artists who created Kamala Khan and Cassandra Cain can create an original legacy character like them, why can other creators not do the same with theirs? More recently, DC introduced a new character named Kenan Kong who is the main character of his comic series “New Super-Man” that takes place in China. Kong was picked to be a part of a project that gave him the powers of the Superman we all know and love. Though Kong is a very interesting character, it does not take away from the fact that he has the same powers and skills as the original Man of Steel. The only difference seems to be that instead of the iconic red and blue suit, Kong’s suit is red

and gold, colors that hold a lot of meaning and importance in Chinese culture. Though there are not as many Asian superheroes in mainstream comics as there could be, the current characters from both companies have been bringing in more readers, showing comic creators that diversity is important, especially when it come to characters of color. Because many of the newer Asian superheroes that have been showing up in the past two decades have been young, they are giving younger readers someone to see themselves in. With the continued support of the current Asian superheroes in both Marvel and DC, the editors, writers and artists will known that readers want more inclusion in their comics and will be more inclined to create even more and unique characters in their future comics.

Cindy Moon (Silk) The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (2014) Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) Captain Marvel #14 (2013)

Cassandra Cain (Batgirl, Black Bat, Orphan) Grace Choi Batman #567 Outsiders #1 (1999) (2003)

Amadeus Cho (The Hulk) Amazing Fantasy #15 (2006)

Kenan Kong (Super-Man) New Super-Man #1 (2016)

53 | Spring 2018

Bridging the Divide Exploring the APIA family dynamic between generations



ome of Ava Gomez’s best memories of her grandparents include one car and one long road trip all the along the East Coast. “I mean when you are in a car with them and pretty much forced to talk to them for like three or four days at a time, you really get to know them a lot better,” Gomez said.

Ava Gomez, 17 and an incoming student at the University of Florida, is half Irish and half Filipino. She and her grandparents currently live in Tampa Bay, but her paternal grandparents originated from the Philippines. Their strong relationship is made easy through proximity and clear communication. Although her grandparents live over an hour and a half away, they visit extremely often, which she is grateful for, since she’s not particularly close with her maternal grandparents Her Filipino grandparents on her dad’s side are extremely close not only to her, but her whole

54 | Spring 2018

However the same cannot be said with every family. Professor Hui Zou, an architecture professor, has looked into the history of his family through vague scraps of information and thorough research. Zou was born during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, when changing cultural and political atmospheres caused intense suffering among the civilian population. Three of the four of his grandparents passed away at the end of the revolution.

Zou attributed the disconnect between his grandparents and grandchildren to the during the Chinese Civil War. The civil war took place roughly between 1945 to 1950 when the Chinese Communist Party took power over the Nationalists. For his family, their Nationalist party ties stifled any talk about his family past for fear of persecution. Supporting Zou’s statements about the American dream, Gomez’s grandparents have been in the United States for a long time, immigrating to the United States in the 1960s.


For many Asian American households, the family values are evident in the its dynamic. Many Asian American families live with their immediate family, namely their elders or remain very close to them. Taking a look into the family dynamic from generation to generation allows us to explore the condition and stories of Asian Americans.

“My grandfather speaks better English than my grandmother – she has a twang of an accent,” Gomez said.

“It was not a very happy time with not a lot of opportunity,” Zou said. “I only had a short memory with my one grandmother. It is not like what we think in the United States where you can do whatever you want, and you can dream big.”

BY Jerry Lee

When recalling her experiences, Gomez halfjokingly said that being cooped up in the same car on the way to Canada for vacation encouraged a dialogue between her and her elders. With every mile she was she grew closer and closer to her paternal grandparents.

family. As English-speakers, they have no language barrier, which allows them to speak freely to one another.

However, it was not always smooth sailing for Gomez and her grandparents. Gomez explained that there have been ideological differences between her and her grandparents, but also mentioned that over the years her grandparents have become more liberal. “From my memory, my grandparents have always been more liberal, but they have become more open-minded over the years,” Gomez said. “Filipinos are typically Catholic, so a lot of the ideology that they have is with the Catholic religion.”

Professor Liu Rui, a professor within the design, construction and planning college at the University of Florida offers a different perspective. For her, the assimilation into American culture has been more difficult, but maintaining a strong relationship between her children and her parents helps them stay in touch with their heritage. She explained that she wants to encourage her children to speak Chinese as part of shaping their identity. With their grandparents on their father’s side, they are forced to speak Mandarin because their grandparents do not speak English.

“I think at this age, under ten, they enjoy the time with them, so every time they went back to China, they ask when are they going to come back,” Rui said. “They always want to video conference with them, so “EVEN IF THEY SAY SOMETHING THAT I they have a really good relationship.” DON’T AGREE WITH OR TELL ME TO DO

As life brought new events and Gomez’s aunt came out as homosexual, their perspective began to change allowing for more liberal ideas. “From there, they were kind of forced to accept it because they weren’t going to disown someone from the family,” Gomez said.


In regards to her future, her grandfather supports her decision to pursue her passions, but she notes that her grandmother would rather her pursue a degree in STEM, which isn’t what Gomez wants. She plans to pursue a business major and often feels torn between her loyalty to her family and her personal lack of enthusiasm for the subject.

“My grandfather ultimately wants to see me happy, he’s always been one of my biggest supporters. He’s out at my soccer games; he’s at everything I do for theatre, and whenever I talk about my future, he would always be supportive,” Gomez said. On the other hand, Gomez’s grandmother has other expectations. “My grandmother thinks that my worth is determined by if I am a doctor, lawyer, engineer or nurse. Everyone in my family wanted to be a nurse, so it is almost like a rite of passage,” Gomez said. However, despite some of Gomez’s ideological differences between her and her grandparents, she has a firm belief that she owes her grandparents respect no matter the situation. “Even if they say something that I don’t agree with or tell me to do something that I really don’t want to do, or if I am just not feeling it that day, you always have to respect them no matter what,” Gomez said.

However, Rui can sense a distance both figurative and literal between her parents and her children.

“Everytime they video conference, the kids don’t know what to share with their grandparents,” Rui said. While her parents visit their grandchildren for three or four months a year, both pairs of grandparents reside in China, and the distance, so not every value is always carried over. Like Gomez, Rui believes that respect for her elders is unconditional, but the concept can still be elusive to the younger generation. “They don’t really see that – respect for your grandparents. They see it as whoever is more fun. When my mother-in-law is here, she is actually the one taking care of them, but they like my father-in-law much better because he is the one that plays with them, and he is more fun,” Rui said. “They don’t really care who is cooking. They’re learning, but for sure, they are not very obedient unlike older generation Chinese kids.” From a grandparent’s perspective, Gerald Gomez values his relationship with his granddaughter. He’s been present and involved in the lives of his grandkids proudly saying that he was there for many of Ava Gomez’s milestones such as her baptism and first communion. Gerald Gomez speaks very passionately about their family gatherings from having his grandkids sleepover once a month to holiday gatherings. “My son never hired a babysitter,” Gerald Gomez said.

They paved the way for their entire family in the United States, and Gomez appreciates their efforts to provide for her family. For them, this meant helping their children assimilate into American culture.

Although every Asian American family is not identical by any means, there are still strains of commonality in every family dynamic that can bridge all generations.

“They universally speak English with us, and they never taught my dad Tagalog because they wanted him to be assimilated into American culture,” Gomez said.

Because perhaps at the end of the day, it’s the persevering love that families have for one another that matters the most. Regardless of the distance between grandparents, one thing that is certain is the generational exchange whether it be wisdom from the elders or ideas from the youth. Together, there is nothing to fear. •

Her grandparents even named their children Richard and Mary-Beth Ann to help ease their assimilation to Western culture.

55 | Spring 2018

University of South Florida

56 | Spring 2018

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