What does it mean to be Asian American? What does it mean to be an Asian in America? These questions guided the conversations, discussions, and points of inquiry we explored during our retreat and our academy kickoff this week. While neither of these questions were directly asked, when people shared their experiences and those of their families I was able to learn and observe how their identity was shaped through their studies, social interactions, and sometimes unfortunate experiences.
It was through hearing the experiences of people like Zenni, a fellow intern, who said, “The term Asian American serves as a way for the hegemony to clump a distinct and diverse group of cultures under a term that is simple for them to understand but does not encompass the experiences and diverse backgrounds of these communities,” that I was able to question the preconceived notions of progress that has been made in our country when it comes to minority communities.
Through our leadership retreat all of the incoming interns were able to share their personal experience with being Asian American and their reasoning for applying and taking part in the Leadership Academy. Within our group of eleven interns, I was able to notice how even though many came from the same area they were all so unique and their experiences truly couldn’t be classified under one label.
It was refreshing to see how sharing our backgrounds helped us not only inspire but also empower one another to continue fighting for this community which is at often times misunderstood and misrepresented.
Hearing all of these different stories also helped me personally reignite my passion for advocating for the Asian American community in order to ensure that the stories that are often neglected from our textbooks and mainstream media do not go unheard.
At the kickoff event during our speeches Xuan said, “Growing up, I didn’t have many role models who looked like me – Asian American, woman, and from a low income background.” This quote encompasses the experience of many communities of color and is what drives my passion for public service.
Organizations like CAUSE aim to close this gap by empowering the community and ensuring that they are proactively involved in issues that impact them. The Leadership Academy in particular is a perfect example of how CAUSE aims to expose young leaders into a field that is out of the norm for people of color. Through the retreat and leadership workshops we have received thus far, we are learning about the importance of staying grounded to our community and striving to be advocates for people who often times go under the radar.
While some people may find it unconventional that I have decided to intern for an Asian American nonprofit instead of a Latino one, I think it is important to understand communities other than our own. Over the next 8 weeks I hope to build on the lessons we have received thus far and hope to continue learning about this community which is so interesting and important to me.