By Quan Nguyen
“Be a doctor, lawyer, or businessman.” Almost every Asian has heard these words from their parents, friends, or other family members. These external pressures tend to encage the Asian American student community and give it little exposure to other professional fields.
I’ve lived my life hearing those words. However, since joining the Nikkei Student Union, I have been exposed to a diverse group of students majoring in fields ranging from Photography, to Film and Media Studies, to Asian American Studies – all fields into which we rarely see Asians expand. The Nikkei Student Union is an on-campus organization that focuses on Japanese American culture while also creating a safe space for people of all ethnicities.
The Nikkei Student Union’s publicity chair, Erika Kodama, had her work featured in March at Little Tokyo in Los Angeles at the Changing Tides exhibit. The exhibit focuses on Japanese American identity and contemporary concerns within that community such as mental health, self-expression and the history of the culture.
Many different cultures, ideas and thoughts were represented by other student artists gathered for the exhibit. Each one had its own story and deeper meaning and it struck me how beautiful they all looked. They told stories of mental health, passion, love, adversity, and cultural history. I took in their experiences with my own eyes and it made me wonder about myself a little. But I was unaware of how much of an impact it had on me at the time. Upon reflection, I realized that these stories paralleled some of my life struggles and brought out a new open-mindedness in me.
Growing up, I found art as exciting a hobby as playing video games or going out with friends. My parents never forced me to put down a paint brush for a pencil or trade in my camera for a calculator. But it wasn’t until college that I realized what art truly meant to me. It offers an outlet for Asians and other minorities to express themselves and their cultures. Now, in media and television shows, Asian Americans are also beginning to take steps to shine a public light on their experiences.
Asian Americans are typically obedient and reverential, especially to the older generation’s sayings and knowledge. With that, it is difficult for some to express themselves and be their authentic selves.
The ones that push themselves to greater heights and uncommon areas of study are the ones that truly make a difference. Ken Jeong, a famous actor, went to Duke Medical School and became a doctor. He then turned his life to a different route and chose to do comedy and film, a field where few Asians are represented. Ken Jeong is famous for his roles in the Hangover saga, his Netflix stand-up comedies, and other television shows. People like Jeong are the ones who continue to push us further as a community and give us a presence amongst others. Their passions carry on their stories and gain the respect of many like me.
The Nikkei Student Union brought a creative voice out in me. From seeing the artwork presented, the passions spoken and the friendships created, these events led me to who I am now. I learned to work my passion into what I do for the club and in general. When I interact with people in the club, I’ve noticed that our differences merge with our similarities. I realized that this generation is different from others because we control our futures with our passions rather than with our hard work. I’ve seen people switch from Economics majors to Asian American Studies. I’ve seen people boldly discussing issues in the Asian American community such as queerness, mental health, generational approval, and the Asian Bubble. All of this inspires me to care for the club more and to continue to push for its growth and the growth of my Asian American student community.
It’s time for a change—one that may seem unacceptable to some traditionalists, but is something that we know is best for us, because our passions will carry us to success.
Quan Nguyen is a second-year UC Santa Barbara student majoring in Pre-Biological Sciences. He wrote this piece for his Journalism for Web and Social Media class.