In the spirit of Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Heritage month celebration, our journalism intern Libby Hobbs has been tasked to speak with his fellow University of Georgia's students on their sentiment and hopes as AAPI individuals.
By Libby Hobbs
In 2018, Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) were estimated to make up 4.9% of the Athens, Georgia population, according to Athens Clarke County Unified Government. In Fall 2021, AAPI were 11% of the undergraduate student population at the University of Georgia, according to the UGA Fact Book. This meant AAPIs were the largest minority represented on campus.
Tracy Chen, Sidney Chansamone, David Tran, Aliyah Momin, Grace Conn, and Alvia Pham are six AAPI students bringing diverse perspectives to the growing UGA community.
Four are first generation immigrants, one is adopted, and one is an international student. Momin is Indian, Chansamone is Laotian, Chen is Chinese, Tran and Pham are Vietnamese, and Conn is both Chinese and Vietnamese.
The multitude of ethnicities once again prove that there isn’t just one “kind” of Asian and there isn’t just one “Asian American experience.” Despite the many differences these six AAPI students at UGA have, all seek a community where their experiences are desired and welcomed.
When did you first begin sharing your experiences as an Asian American, if ever?
“I guess the first memory of being in middle school, being a Florida, and inviting my friends over and letting them try the traditional Vietnamese dishes … As of right now, I'm with the Vietnamese Student Association so I'm trying to spread my culture,” Tran said.
Through food, Tran invited others into his culture. Chen also formed relationships with others through food. Her parents started a restaurant to provide for their family, a story that Chen says is common among many first generation immigrants.
Chen said she started regularly working at her family’s restaurant at the age of 12. She speaks with other first generation or second generation immigrants to find similarities and differences in their experiences and decipher how that shaped their personality.
For Chansamone, food stirred up some unpleasant memories. At 6 years old, they recall going to a friend's birthday party where only hot dogs and cupcakes were served for dinner. Chansamone had never eaten either of these foods which made them uncomfortable, upset, and hungry. Today, they still struggle to share their experiences.
“To be completely honest, it’s something I still really struggle with … I wanna say late high school, during pandemic era, I was like ‘I am kind of sick of being ashamed of my race.’ On social media, there [were] a lot of social movements … for the first time ever I was starting to see some Asian representation online. I was like ‘I feel less alienated,’” Chansamone said.
Momin also began sharing her experience in late high school to early college because that’s when she started to process everything she’d gone through. Conn has never felt comfortable telling others about her experience as an adopted Chinese and Vietnamese American because she feels like it’s always looked down upon by others.
Even though Pham has only lived in America for three years as an International Student, she’s felt most comfortable with sharing her story recently. Having grown up in Vietnam, she knows her perspective is one that other students in the UGA Vietnamese Student Association find interest in, making Pham feel proud.
Every Asian American has a wave of experiences that either inclines or discourages them to share more. But, these six students prove that as the world becomes more aware of diversity and inclusion, they too just want a community where people want to hear what they have to say.
How do you feel being an Asian American person today?
“I feel uncomfortable to the point where I want to move … I don’t want to be targeted for something that I can’t control and also just something that’s completely normal. Other countries are diverse as well and ours [is] just more racist,” Conn said.
Discomfort, frustration, pride, confidence, and fear are on the vast spectrum of emotions AAPI feel today. Chen has family living in New York and just wants to keep Chinatown as her safe place. Pham feels concerned, scared, and frustrated because she doesn’t understand why people attack based on differences.
“We are people who also want the same thing … A lot of stuff has really happened because people don't understand each other and people are scared of differences. People are scared of the stereotype that they know, people are scared of the misunderstanding that they always have but they still hold. So, I feel like I am concerned,” Pham said.
On the other hand, Tran feels good about being Asian American because he’s made it a goal to show the culture in a good light. Momin has become more confident with her Asian and Muslim identity because she doesn’t feel like it needs to be hidden anymore. Chansamone is somewhere in the middle and feels better but still believes Asians often get the “short end of the stick.”
“Despite a lot of diversity efforts and everything, it’s still very catered to White people and a lot of diversity things, it’s either they’re White or they’re Black. I feel like there's not a lot of Asians in [the] media, still. But, it’s getting better,” Chansamone said.
As many AAPI piece together their mixed emotions, the simplest conclusion may be that it’s just confusing and overwhelming to be Asian in America right now.
What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of being Asian and America?
Among all six students, there was one answer that took the majority: approaching the discussion with an open mind, ready to listen and not judge.
“Come to the conversation with an open mind … I feel like people who I’ve talked to in the past, not necessarily in the college environment, have always come to me wanting to know more about me but already having had a semblance of what Indian culture is or what Muslim’s are like. They expect me to break down all of their problems with those things and address each of their little bullet points,” Momin said.
Chen also noticed an approach people had that she referred to as “at least sentences.” She would voice her thinking process or experiences and be faced with “at least you didn’t have to do” or “at least you had.”
“I hope that people will just be more willing to listen and more aware that there is a difference. People who try to say there isn’t a difference because they don’t want to be racist, they are just denying the fact that there is [one],” Chen said.
Pham wants to see people understand and respect one another's differences and live in a world where everything is equally given to everyone. Conn wants to see diversity programs or diversity curriculum in elementary schools in hopes that young people won’t be ashamed of their different culture but rather celebrate it. Tran wants to see more people of Asian descent be successful and in the spotlight so that the culture becomes more recognized.
“I hope that every Asian person growing up in America doesn't have to feel as scared or as ashamed as I felt when I was coming to terms with my identity,” Chansamone said. “I hope that there will be more Asian entertainment in mainstream media that they can see comfort in … I just hope we can get to a point where you don’t have to be ashamed or upset in your own skin.”
With eyes turned toward the future, it’s hard to escape the past. The various experiences that come with various kinds of “Asian” build up over time and begin to mold when AAPI speak out, how they feel, and what they hope for in the future.
Even with the endless possibilities and stories Asian Americans have to share, one thing proves true: they hope to be listened to and wanted in a community because they’re people, just like everyone else.
Libby Hobbs is a first year student at the University of Georgia and proud Chinese American. There, she is an intended Journalism major and Music minor. In addition to writing for the Georgia Asian Times, Libby is a full time student and also contributes to the Culture beat of the Red and Black. She hopes to combine her passion for music and writing by sharing stories of artistry with the world. As an adopted Chinese American, Libby hopes to continue lifting AAPI voices, whether it be in the music world or elsewhere.