What does being Asian American mean to you?
Being Asian American has also been difficult for me. Mainly because I have an alternative ethnic identity, which is Vietnamese American, and that’s not always what comes to mind when you think of Asian American. It’s not a predominant Asian American group in the United States. Being involved with VSA (Vietnamese Student Association) and AASA (Asian American Student Association) at the same time was incredibly difficult. Being in VSA, I felt like I was exploring my ethnic identity, and being in AASA, I felt like I was exploring my political identity. I was putting aside my ethnic differences with other Asians and really just trying to reconcile with the fact that people who aren’t Asian treat us the same. Therefore, I’m trying to find similarity among other Asians (even though we all come from very different cultures) and just realizing that yes we grew up with the same values, and we are treated the same way and we are identified the same way. So we do need to work together as a political group to further our rights, further our identity, and also to fight for how the media portrays us. I feel like it’s been difficult but it’s something that I have explored a lot here at Georgetown.
How do you see being Asian American tie into social justice?
Since coming to Georgetown, social justice has had a very big impact on my perception of the world and what I devote my time to. I think that is why I still continue to tutor through DC Schools – I’m like the only senior in the van. I think it’s about contributing to a community that I have once come from, and as someone who learned English as a second language. But in terms of activism…there’s a quote that I will never forget that I read in Beloved, by Toni Morrison…I’m not going to get this right but it went something like this: “the definition of who you are will always belong to the definers.” I feel that Asian Americans and many other minorities have long since been defined by American media and outsiders, and it’s really the Hispanic and African communities that have broken that mold and felt that they were being defined the wrong way and stood up for themselves, whereas Asian Americans have been defined as the model minority, which overshadows a lot of struggles that the community faces. I know from personal experience because, you know a lot of Vietnamese Americans don’t actually end up finishing college and so it’s something that is a little more pertinent to my ethnic experience. Because we are constantly being defined as the model minority, it’s difficult to take part in this activism because people don’t realize that there are Asian Americans who are undocumented, Asian Americans who are queer, or just Asian Americans who are also involved in gangs or targeted by police brutality. It is unfortunate that these issues get overshadowed by the model minority status. The other thing that Sophia mentions is that it’s really hard to put difference aside and to come together as a political group and fight for our rights. I really hope that as time goes on, more Asian Americans start to realize that we have more shared identities and experiences than we realize.
Man, there are so many things I want to tell my younger self, so many pieces of advice I want to give to all the underclassmen who will be reading this. I guess I’ll speak to something that a lot of my other peers didn’t do. Something I did a lot throughout my Georgetown experience was to take leaps of faith, to take on a lot of risks, to do unconventional things – and that has taught me to grow as a person. From interning in Vietnam and South Africa, to doing ASB and YLEAD, all these things have challenged me to grow. They are not things that I planned on doing coming into Georgetown. They were opportunities that I took hold of, and they have inspired me to always be open-minded, and to look out for these opportunities. College is a time where you really should be discovering yourself and what’s out there in the world for you, not taking risk-averse cautions. So, to whoever’s reading this, if you’re deciding between a few internships, if you’re deciding between transferring schools, whatever it may be, stay open minded. Go with the flow. Whatever decision you make, even if it’s a more conservative choice, something great is going to come out of it and there will always be opportunities for you at Georgetown.